Its always great to get away with the lads for an away match, and this weekend was no exception despite the result at Norwich going against us. Good company and good quality ale were enough to keep spirits high as we tried to block out the football on Saturday night. But with the inevitable Sunday hangover came the inevitable and agonising investigation into the game, and as is often the case nowadays, the club, the board and the chairman.
This was the latest in a long sequence of "must-win" matches for us - every week is a must-win game nowadays it seems, and yet again we failed to win. We have not won a game now since January, despite facing Oldham, Aston Villa and Norwich in that time. This is an undeniable poor run of form for a team with lofty champions league ambitions, although one by one it seems Evertonians are starting to accept that a champions league has, since the new year, slowly become an impossible dream. Numerous explanations have been suggested for our poor form of late. The most convincing of these is that our small squad is tiring, and that the lack of activity during January's transfer window has disappointed players, manager and fans to the extent that a quiet frustration has crept in and been expressed through lacklustre efforts on the pitch and in the stands.
The January window was of course a massive disappointment for Evertonians, and after ultimately failing to make any significant moves in the transfer market, big questions are being asked. With each failure to win on the pitch of course, these questions gain volume and it becomes harder for the Evertonian collective to remain positive.
On Saturday evening, back in our Norwich hotel's bar, we were fortunate enough to meet a friendly group of Dutch tourists who were also lovers of football. They were clearly very knowledgeable about the game, and discussions ensued on everything from the greatest Dutch and English players of all time, to the recent form of one of their heroes - John Heitinga. I asked one of them about the Leroy Fer saga. He replied that all the Dutch newspapers were reporting that the deal was essentially done - no surprise really, as the English media were reporting the same. The gut-wrenching bit was hearing from our new Dutch friends, who supported a lower league side I had never heard of, that Fer is undeniably a brilliant player, and that we had missed out massively.
One theory doing the rounds amongst many Evertonians is that our attempt to sign Fer was in fact a "phantom" bid. We knew from day one that we would not be signing him, and the whole episode was staged, to preemptively dampen the inevitable frustration which would follow our failure to sign new players. I am not convinced by this theory, but I can understand the suspicion. Where exactly did this eight million pounds come from, after all? The difficulty I have with the conspiracy theory is the implication that either David Moyes was in on the secret, or Kenwright and the board, through liaising with our medical staff, had managed to keep Moyes in the dark regarding the real truth. I find both scenarios difficult to stomach, although I have no doubt that the club (like any large business) would probably be prepared to deceive the fans (its customers) as part of its longer term strategy, if it thought it could get away with it. Some call this 'PR', others 'marketing', 'spin' or more bluntly 'a disgrace'.
As is often the case with conspiracy theories, it is difficult to prove anything either way. It will be interesting to see what happens in the summer, transfer-wise. If we don't make a net spend of 8 million or more, will the club publicise why not, given the supposed attempt to sign Fer? It will also be interesting to see how Fer's career pans out. If this knee problem was so bad as to make the risk of taking him on not worth it, surely injury problems will be an inevitable feature of his career over the coming years?
I believe there is still an atmosphere of significant distrust currently existing between the club and many fans. The fans have a voice and it needs to be listened to and respected, but at the same time we have a responsibility as fans to try to stay positive and to get behind the team. In the meantime, there is certainly no harm in questioning what is happening behind the scenes. Personally it would take strong evidence for me to believe that a ploy so elaborate as the alleged Fer phantom bid would ever happen at our club. Maybe I'm just naïve, but I hope to God I'm not wrong, as this would be a scandal of epic proportions.