Such has been David Moyes’ reputational plummet that it’s difficult to imagine him being so astute, but on his appointment as Everton boss in March 2002 he played a strategic blinder. “I am joining the people’s football club. The majority of people you meet on the street are Everton fans,” he growled while staring down the press pack. If the sentiment was a touch Blairite in its condescension and his intentions entirely transparent his words still did the trick as Evertonians responded more than favourably to hearing a terrace boast forcibly echoed by their manager. He got them.
His successor Roberto Martinez similarly played to the cheap seats throughout his unveiling scattering his remarks with plenty of ‘pride’ and ‘passion’ and talk of togetherness and he continued this deference to the club’s merits throughout his three year tenure. It could even be argued that it was the Spaniard’s open respect for Everton’s traditions and character that earned him sufficient grace to ride out the first few bumps as his stint on Merseyside began to go awry.
This week David Unsworth was at it too, although at least in his case the two-time servant on the pitch and under-23 coach has the club in his bones so presumably his flattery was spoken with a large slice of sincerity. Even so the announcement that the 44 year old would be temporarily taking up the reins at Goodison was awash with platitudes aimed at making the fans feel special. “Who wouldn’t want this job? It is a wonderful club with amazing fans,” was just one of several allusions to the fan-base having equal importance to the playing staff and bricks and mortar. After the detachment of Ronald Koeman these past sixteen months the supporters duly lapped it up.
It is of course hardly unique for a manager to talk up the faithful upon arrival at a new club realising as they do the immense value in having them on board. It’s hard to shake off the feeling though that it’s a tactic more paramount at Everton than at any other destination. And not appreciating this was perhaps Koeman’s biggest error, even above and beyond presiding over a string of poor results, flat football, and playing so many number 10s they negated one another. As previous examples have shown underperforming in your coaching duties can be excused – for a while at least – so long as you’re an Everton man and Koeman evidently was not, referring to them as a separate entity in interviews, adorning his Christmas tree in red, and most unforgivably of all suggesting that a 139 year old institution that have won the league nine times was merely a stepping stone for his ambitions. Koeman didn’t get them and the phrase ‘We’re Everton aren’t we’ was as foreign to him as English mustard.
To elucidate what there is to be ‘got’ is to succumb to stereotype, but it is hoped that any Bluesnoses reading this acknowledges that in this instance the listing of these stereotypes comes from a good place. You see, I used to be someone who would deride Everton supporting friends for the values they held so dear. There is the cherishing of history that forms so much of their identity and fills much of their songbook; their constant demand for commitment that when roared from a ground in desperate need of updating feels like a throwback to a bygone decade. There is the tribal pride in their authenticity that translates as they’re doing something morally right in an industry that’s doing something morally wrong and they’re being made to suffer for that. It’s a grand old team against a world that is changing rapidly for the worse.
Which brings us to the brilliant sight of Evertonians watching their side in any given pub. If you haven’t experienced this it can only be recommended as it contrasts so starkly to their peers. Whereas Reds of both persuasion, or Arsenal or Spurs fans, or indeed any supporters who are reduced to seeing their team play away from home in the lounge of the Hare and Hounds will generally celebrate a goal with jubilation and broad grins Evertonians will respond with a vitriolic release of pent-up anger. “About f***ing time,” they will holler, banging a fist on the table. “Now get into them!” A shinned four-yard deflection from Niasse is lionised as a strike against modernism and a long overdue reward for years of unfair hardship.
I used to mock all of this. Worse, I used to regard it as an archaic attitude that was out of touch with modern climes. After all Everton’s average Premier League placing over the last ten years is seventh which hardly puts them among the proles but rather the elite. They are as much a part of the problem as anyone else then yet still choose to distance themselves from the gaucheness that comes with it. Who are they to spend and reside as a big club yet still proudly wear the sackcloth of the underdog?
I was so, so wrong. Firstly, it gets boring real fast teasing your mates that they support a club stuck in the past when they only consider it as a compliment. It certainly makes you reassess. In the homogenised, plasticized world of football how perfectly ace it is that there’s a Premier League fan-base out there who views old-fashioned values not as a negative but something to strive again for. Frankly the fact that Evertonians get mocked for this says more about us than it does them.
Then this week’s reaction to Koeman’s departure made me re-evaluate further. It would be a stretch bordering on untruthfulness to suggest that Blues would be willing to compromise their chances of success in order to get the ‘right’ man in. But their sincere priority to source a coach who spiritually connects with the club and the fans over and above reputation is a rare and commendable take in an age of superstar managers. It’s almost unheard of.
If there is one thing I’ve taken from these past few days it’s that Blues utterly mean it. There is no shred of affection about it, designed to rile or play to stereotype. They truly believe that they are different, that they are special, and they insist they have a manager who understands what that all means. I don’t see anything to joke about there, only admire. They’re Everton aren’t they.