SCHOOL OF SILENCE
Mickey Blue Eyes.
Sometimes I get to be prescient. For example, before writing this opinion I consulted my piece on our opening match this season at Leicester City. I found this sentence:
"The only ominous sign was slight hesitancy between Jags and Sylvain, so noticeable because it is so rare."
Later, "ominous" was spot on and "slight hesitancy" an understatement. Then for the next four months what was "rare" became a sad commonplace; hence we are in mid-table, not clear of relegation and have a goals against record that would make Coco the Clown blanch. At first we were bemused. Then we were irritated. Then we were alarmed. Then we were bemused again. Then alarmed again. The experience has played havoc with my digestive system, probably yours too. Out of necessity we now play sternly in domestic league games, before Sunday only one last-minute dubious goal conceded in four matches, but alas in the same period only one scored via a knee rebound, one win, one loss and two scoreless draws. How distant that pre-season optimism. But at least we are clawing our way back to......you tell me.
Last Thursday came a part-answer, a Europa League game at Young Boys Bern (or to be more accurate, Berner Sport Club Young Boys 1898 ) and a lot of raw ale-house comments about the Stade De Suisse Wankdorf in the corrupt rogue state of Switzerland, one of the hot money criminal ratlines you can reach via the equally corrupt money-whirring laundromat that is London. Instinctively I fancied our chances for a draw despite our terrible domestic league form and their artificial pitch: the latter has improved since I long ago specified it for a couple of sports clubs in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, played a game on it, made a sliding tackle, and almost barbecued the skin off my upper right thigh. I still bear the mottled scars. I understand contemporary design improvements mean you now merely singe your leg hair and leave behind the odour of overdone chicken. In my book Mother Nature fields are still best.
Unable to make the trip to Switzerland, I settled down to watch ITV4 live, a fine bottle of slightly chilled Torres Viña Sol Rosé Catalunya 2011 for quaffing, carefully chaperoned by a wary family. Throwable items and the fruit bowl were removed. The studio talking heads were our very own Peter Reid, plus Gordon Strachan and soon-to-be-unemployed frontman Matt Smith. The match commentators were the wonderfully named Sam Matterface and our very own Kevin Ratcliffe. I liked Sam despite his Eton tones and air of discovery that the working class is still here. Kevin, of course, is a saint and can say and do no wrong......whatever Ludwig Kögl of Bayern Munich might say.
So, astonishingly, we only go and obliterate the Swiss bankers 4-1 in their own safe deposit box, despite playing the last half hour with ten men. All things considered, it was a phenomenal performance. I wish I could explain this, on the grounds that if I could I would be able to guide us to football miracles. In fact it was a crazy game which we could have won by eight, never mind three. We even let in the first goal in our usual this-season fashion: after ten minutes everyone in defence did a slovenly after-you-Claude shtick, midfield in disarray, Tim with his weight on the wrong foot, a hopeless fresh air dive......and the ball nestled comfortably in the bottom left of his net. Mind you, the boy took the chance brilliantly from outside the D. I groaned, rolled my eyes, and yelped, "Here we go again." The room cleared. My mobile phone went off like a texted riprap tied to a roman candle. It seemed to make no difference that actually we started quite well, hit a post and had two good chances well saved. I kicked the coffee table, endangering the rosé and a metatarsal. In fact it was the last time I need worry.
To the great credit of manager and players nobody panicked. Well, it was too early really. Ten minutes later we equalised, got a string of corners, and then scored two more in the next quarter hour, a couple with a whiff of offside, all of it apparently without blinking or breaking sweat. Lukaku got two of them, the first a classic well-directed down-and-in near-post header from left of the penalty spot after a dazzling left wing interchange move and cross, and his last a tap in at the far post after a similar left side moment. In between Seamus got a leader at the same post after, er, another scintillating move down the left. It seemed as though Roberto had done as much Europa League homework as he did against other European opponents. There were a few other chances too. The homesters hit a post a minute before the interval whistle. I had to pinch myself to make sure I was watching the same team that this season has us pulling out what remains of our hair.
Back in the half time studio Smiffy said, "That. Was. An. Impressive. Performance. By. Everton." Gawd knows who taught him English, punctuation and breathing exercises. Gordon Strachan said, "Willyercannaebeetguidfitbaaa." Or something. Reidy was deeply Scouse ecstatic, alveolar fricatives everywhere, and so was I. Surely even we could hold onto this, especially as Young Boys were playing - as if we cared - with cow bells round their necks and both legs in one side of their knickers. But given this season we could be excused for cackling like a gang of sadists.
It was more of the same in the second half, though I can only speak for myself when I say these days I cannot settle unless we are at least three goals in front. Even then I get nervous if the enemy looks likely. So we go and make it three goals difference on the hour mark when Rom broke clear, ran forty metres slightly left and tickled it over their 'keeper as he came out. More sheer brilliance, which was promptly disturbed when Stonesy stupidly got sent off for again dawdling on the ball and then dragging their man down when he lost it; an unarguable penalty which their man hit well over; just about now it should be landing in Crater Hevelius. Anymore of this and, much as I admire him, I will open a book on Stonesy's Weekly Howler......What was I saying about getting nervous?.....Anyway it scarcely mattered. If anything we could have had a few more goals. It prompts the question: How can we play as well as this in the Europa League and then look like a right pack of charlies in the Premiership?........Of course if I knew the answer to that it would be me out at the dotted line and not El Bob. The same goes for you.
On Sunday we orbited back to Earth and faced Leicester in the return league match at Goodison. Our opponents were, not unexpectedly, anchored in bottom position in the league table and look doomed, we, irritated and anxious, in twelfth. A nailed on 0-0, then.
I can only say I am almost at a loss for words. Almost. The game finished 2-2. In fact we were lucky to get a point. Hapless bottom-of-the-league Leicester was clearly the better team and should have won easily. Fortunately for us they were robbed by a last minute own goal, which frankly looked the only way we were going to score.
There is no point trying to disguise this: players and manager were utterly appalling despite a last ten minutes of desperate cavalry charges and awful misses by Rom. Even those petered out in a series of corners to Leicester during which they might have snatched a deserved winner. Our Boys were a shapeless, clueless morass whose only excuse was the incessant rain, sleet and gusting cross winds, though Leicester coped with it well enough. It was yet another spineless disgrace of a performance made worse by comparison to the game in Switzerland. Not one player showed the slightest inclination to take responsibility or to take the game to the opposition. It was no football spectacle at all. It was a sort of terrible "athletic" mime of the worst of the Health and Safety at Work Act.
Like many other home league games - of which we have won only three - it was once again an insult to the fans who pay hard-earned money to fund the wages of "professionals" who are either incapable or simply couldn't care less or are just plain scared. At this rate the likelihood is there will be a major haemorrhage of season ticket sales for next season. And who could blame those who decide they have had enough of this sideways-backwards-lose-the-ball-anyway airhead crap? It is so bad it almost beggars belief.
We probably will not be relegated this season. But based on the evidence thus far who would bet against us surviving more of the awful same next season? We are in deep, deep trouble, people. Europa League or no Europa League - win it or not, more likely go out as soon as we meet a talented and experienced team. All the "phenomenals" and "incredibles" in the world won't change the current looming disaster. Only a root and branch morph in method and attitude by everybody will. And how likely is that?
For this long term fan I see absolutely no point in posting any further opinions this season, for the very good reason that six months of evidence in plain sight is enough. Maybe next season, if there is any improvement. Holding my breath that long is not an option.
The more I think about it, the sentence I quoted at the beginning seems almost clairvoyant. Please fate, prove me wrong. Please show me this season is the flash-in-the-pan, not last season. Please show me this is merely a very painful transition to better footy days. Only a place in the bottom three could be worse than this torture.