The curious thing about today's Everton is that their tag as one of the last bastions of reality, a "proper football club", is precisely what is holding them back from joining the ranks of Nike-clad gladiators in their oddly named superstadia, backed by thousands of carrier bag adorned day-trippers clapping nervously to the familiar beat of We Will Rock You and The Final Countdown. That wonderful, atmospheric stadium, the church in the corner, the heaving paddock, the swaying Glwadys Street, scene of a thousand and one hyperbolic Gerald Sinstadt commentaries ("...and Whittle's done it!!!!"..."Latchford at the far post, oh my word!"). Too hemmed in by the crumbly tenements of the Scottie Road, none of this can be redeveloped into glistening executive boxes and corporate lounges. The Z Cars theme that still blasts out on match days, the girls with baskets of toffees, the perimetre advertising shouting things like Hafnia and Pukka Pies. It is this quintessential "real football club" syndrome that is keeping Everton in the ranks of the slow-boil also-rans. This great historic giant lumbering along shoulder-to-shoulder with Fulham and West Brom, bemoaning its bad luck, bad timing, bad location. The very essence of what they stand for is what keeps them with their noses against the perspex in 7th place in the league, a backwater, a modern day euphemism for abject failure.
|It can be done: Part One|
The sensible transfer policy, the marvelously steadfast housekeeping that everyone applauds from a safe distance is also the sad, inevitable result of the drastic flattening out of their earning power in recent years.This remains a rather quaint land where VIPs are afforded seats with cushions, where the only tinted glass is found in the chairman's theatre goggles and the only "hummers" in the carpark have just fallen out of the back of a police horse. We admire Everton in that safe patronising way we liked our smaller brother for always being a willing but crap companion to our three-and-in games, despite the fact he had a clubfoot and prefered dominoes anyway. Everton are stuck in a time warp that they cannot escape and we feel fine admiring their cosmic struggle with a conundrum which we have been so blissfully relieved of.
Except that we don't, of course. The animosity clearly goes back a long way. To the 80s of studded golf balls and bricked coaches. To the massive away followings for the annual Manc-Mersey slugfests. If we were lucky there'd be a cup semi-final in one of the cities featuring one of the teams in question as an added bonus for the spear throwers and loin-cloth wearers. I well remember a United-Liverpool FA Cup semi-final replay in the late seventies when City's scallies spent a carnival evening lobbing bricks over the low walls into the corner terrace between the Kippax and the Platt Lane, much to the annoyance of the two sets of fans trying a) to watch their teams get to Wembley and b) concentrate on fighting each other. When Everton played Liverpool in the Maine Road semi in '77, City and Utd even teamed up to provide a welcome party. It was never quite as vile when it was just City against Everton, but the fixture has had its moments of gory glory.
|It can be done: part two|
As the years trickled by and football turned itself from sport into mass middle-class entertainment, so the rivalries cooled, simmered and fizzled out. A visit from Everton in recent times has been held in little more esteem than one from Sunderland or Newcastle. There is little or no edge, despite an attempt on their part at simmering resentment that City have landed royally on their feet whilst Everton have been knocked to their knees. All the Toffees have left is to mock us for our new-found wealth, berate us for stealing Joleon Lescott (some heist that, that leaves the robbers feeling like they were robbed) and occupy the high moral ground of those that have not changed.
It is this that seems to have stung Everton under Moyes into producing some of their best football against City. Moyes is a wily, mean-faced man. He stirs players' passions a bit like his red-nosed counterpart from Glasgow, a fellow Scot with a penchant for feeling hard-done-to. He possesses a singular ingenuity regarding when to push players' buttons, how to see red where there is only sky blue, how to produce resentment and anger at perceived disrespect and big-time-ism. They play the cards they have been given with the utmost skill. In a shallow sea of opportunity, Everton still manage to swim against the tide: Backs to the wall, them against us, the disenfranchised versus the giddy rich, dirty knees against guffawing idiots with double-barrelled surnames.
|Losing to Everton not a new thing|
The cherry on the cake is that - against City at least - this has of late worked with mechanical efficiency. Playing Everton has become a byword in recent years for having your nose rubbed through a trail of whatever the police horses left behind. We are surely still too comical in Scouse eyes to be their Bannockburn but the mists still descend and the results roll out in their favour, time after time. This is clearly a team that deserves more than just cautious respect in City's case, despite the threadbare offerings we get in return these days. They come bearing slingshots and though the likes of Big Niall, Gerry Gow & Paul Power, Shaun Goater, Paul Walsh and Anelka have all dented this blue-Scouse invincibility against us in the past, the stretch of relatively simple victories they can now count against us is becoming a little long, a little monotonous. With Champions League qualification just an arm's length away, now would be an ideal moment to knock this particular ghost back into its coffin.
addendum: 24th September 2011: "With Champions League qualification just an arm's length away...". Now it's reality and next week's trip to Bayern comes uncomfortably close on the tail of what is always a fixture which takes a lot out of the legs and lungs. Will City finally break the hoodoo? If they do, can they also reserve enough power to stave off the Bavarian giants in 4 days' time? It's the heart against the head, as usual, and in just over three hours time we will know which part of our body to trust more.