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My introduction to blogging…

This is the post excerpt.

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A life-long Evertonian, keen fisherman and nature lover, I’ve spent my working career in the automotive industry with over 30 years associated with Mercedes-Benz in the UK before working abroad in Sudan and Ghana.

My passion is sport and for over twenty years, as a hobby that turned into a job, I was heavily involved in professional ice hockey – a sport that afforded me the chance to write, broadcast on the BBC, travel and meet many sporting heroes and legends.

Football and Everton have always been number one and these days, I contribute match reports and occasional feature articles to the biggest independent Everton fan website at http://www.grandoldteam.com

I am also a keen environmentalist, Greenpeace supporter and Green Party member – in my opinion, it’s high time everyone – governments, businesses and the general public – thought more about the damage we’ve done and continue to do to the planet and its wildlife.

This, my first attempt at a blog, will therefore contain my thoughts on a variety of subjects (probably most about Everton) that I hope will be both readable and entertaining.

They’ll be purely my views on things that interest and concern me, thanks for reading.

Andy

Don’t Go Breaking Blue Hearts…

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In 49 years of watching Everton, I’ve seen some wonderful footballers play some magical football, the Holy Trinity, Latchford and Thomas, the Kendall mid-80s’ sides and the occasional flirtation with success of the ‘punching above our weight’ teams under Moyes.

Along the way there’s been trophies and despair, but in hugely uneven proportions the wrong way. Too many times we’ve been the bridesmaid when being the bride was within reach – 2009 FA Cup Final and the 2016 League Cup and FA Cup semi-finals to name just three.

But that was history and we have to deal with the ‘now.’

Up until the mind-boggling added-on time defeat at Anfield, there were some reasonable signs of improvement emerging, albeit slowly. But given the depths of anguish under Koeman and Allardyce we were seeking to break free of, Evertonians well used to needing patience in bucket loads, were sensing daylight at the end of a very long, dark tunnel.

Since that derby loss though, the despair has returned as the signs of improvement have all but disappeared. The green shoots of recovery have either died or gone back into hibernation awaiting sunnier days.

We’d begun to play some attractive, attacking football. We’d begun to look like a team, something we haven’t done, dare I suggest since season one under Martinez. We’d begun to play some footie with a swagger, a style was emerging and hopes were raised, maybe prematurely, that a corner was being turned.

Almost all of that pre-December optimism has disappeared, evaporated into the ether and Everton Football Club needs to fathom out precisely why, and furthermore implement strategies and policies that will prevent it ever happening again.

Is it the players, is it the coaching, is it the manager, is it the board of directors, even is it the supporters? We all have opinions, some much stronger than others as to what the hell has and appears still to be going wrong.

Boxing Day at Burnley was a most welcome Yuletide gift, but we didn’t build upon it. Was the somewhat fortunate win over Bournemouth a new dawn? We earnestly hoped so but after a quite shocking and supine defeat at Southampton, the rather overwhelming thought now is that we aim for the mythical forty point survival mark and then take a deep breath of relief.

Farhad Moshiri joined the club and has invested heavily. Bank debt was resolved, Goodison got a facelift, ambitious plans for a new stadium at Bramley Moore Dock were launched and the transfer business went into overdrive.

Almost three years have elapsed since Moshiri arrived, but for the rank and file supporter, little appears to have changed for the absolute better where we can see the evidence – on the field of play.

Borrowing a catchphrase from National Rail about problems on the trains, we need to ‘See it, Say it, and Sort it.’

Moshiri upon listening to and reading the match reports from St.Marys’ might find himself thinking, “Do I need this?” But then, if you’re a billionaire, I guess you also think, “I have (some) responsibility for this…”

Let’s cut to the chase… it needs saying… Moshiri probably needs to be wondering whether Marco Silva is the right man for the job, or organising and getting the best from a group of young men? Moshiri might need to be calling a meeting with his newly appointed Main Board Director of Football Marcel Brands to ask, “Marcel, what do you think right now?”

What such a conversation might need to also address is… is this manager ever taking this club into serious European competition?

He can be given all the statutory soundbite statements – support, patience, adjustment period blah, blah, blah but beyond his bent to attack, which is admirable, where’s the philosophical steel that players can cling to when things go wrong? And as many are posing in lots of other forums, if there was a plan A yesterday there certainly wasn’t a plan B.

Whether that conversation takes place and what might be said, is all a matter of pure conjecture. And as we’re still carrying financial responsibilities for previous managers and coaching staff, it’s probably reasonable to suggest that Marco Silvas’ position is safe… for now.

So let’s look at other issues…

Not for the first time this season, at Southampton our team were beaten, simply and pretty straight forwardly by another ordinary team – because that’s what we are at present – who simply wanted it more.

Southampton came into the game off the back of an exit from the FA Cup last week that went to extra time and penalties. Shouldn’t they have been both mentally and physically tired, well if they were they gave a pretty fair imitation of not being. They were hungrier for the ball, quicker to the ball, stronger on the ball and they played to their strengths, as individuals and as a team.

Their manager put together a game plan based on quick counter attacking and occasional Route One football, and his team clearly understood and adopted the plan successfully… and Everton failed to see it and consequently had no idea how to adjust to nullify the hosts.

In contrast, it was hard trying to figure out exactly what our game plan was other than to dominate the possession. Sure we did that but in so doing, failed miserably to register one shot on target in the first half and only two in the second half.

Playing Richarlison as a lone striker just doesn’t suit the boy, lumping balls out of defence for him to try and win in the air was and is futile. Gylfi Sigurdsson saw the game pass him by for long, long periods, he’s got skills of that there’s little doubt, but does he have it within him to take a game by the scruff of the neck and run it… the jury is out.

The adoption of zonal marking continues to astound and confuse many fans and seemingly one or more of the players too.

Andre Gomes has gone from looking breath-taking in November to looking lost in January, and his early substitution didn’t appear to come as any surprise to him. Collectively, Everton were second best all over the field, with the possible exception of Jordan Pickford and on loan Kurt Zouma.

We played with no great pace, too often – as in recent seasons – players looked for the safety first pass, more in a ‘get rid’ way of playing rather than a way of trying to hurt the opposition.

If we’re not going to do any January transfer business as appears likely, surely we need to stick DCL up front for the rest of the season with the service to him from Richarlison wide left, Lookman wide right and Sigurdsson from midfield?

There’s no real need to go much further with a hatchet job on the performance at Southampton, we’ve all seen pretty much the same traits since the beginning of December. We’ve lost that sense of confidence, swagger and style that was slowly emerging and we’ve scuttled back into our shells, hoping the next error or goal conceded can’t be blamed on me.

There’s another question that also needs to be asked and answered… about leadership. Right now, we just don’t seem to have a natural leader on the team. We’ve had no fewer than five starting captains this season but I still cannot see a player who all the rest can and will readily turn to for direction, guidance and inspiration. Moreover, who in this current squad can we honestly point to and say, ‘he cares as much as we do.’

I’ve only ever been a fan and being honest, it’s been a few years since I went traipsing all over the country to cheer the Blues on, these days my season ticket in the Main Stand is my footie fix, but I admire and respect the stoic steadfastness of the fans who do still make the every week effort to follow the Blues.

What I know for absolute certainty though is that a fan lays his or her heart on the line every single time the team comes out to play, the roar that greets the players merely serves to confirm that.

We all know we can’t win every game and if we played Barcelona tomorrow, we’d expect to get beat, but equally, we’d expect our team to play to the best of their ability.

When that simply doesn’t happen and on a hideously regular basis, a fans heart breaks.

Back in 1976, Elton John wrote the following lyrics, and they describe perfectly the relationship between football fans and the club they support… “Right from the start, I give you my heart, Oh… oh I give you my heart, So don’t go breaking my heart…”

It seems in this day and age, that doesn’t count for diddley-squat.

And as a final thought we perhaps and albeit reluctantly have to accept, that clearly Guardiola and Klopp are the best and most recognisable examples that it is possible to take and mould a bunch of strangers into a functioning, proud unit.

Right now, this Everton squad are neither functioning nor proud.

Zonal Marking, a blight on the Blues?

This might seem something of an over reaction to recent results, but the wheels are dangerously loose if not quite coming off for Marco Silva’s Everton. The reason I propose is the adoption of a system that hitherto has been largely unsuccessful in the UK, namely Zonal Marking.

Before we get into this divisive and often ditched defensive formation, let’s first just throw some conjecture at why Marco Silva was pursued so strongly by Everton and in particular major shareholder Farhad Moshiri in the wake of the dismissal of Ronald Koeman.

Silva doesn’t have a trophy laden CV like a Mourinho, Guardiola or even a Benitez, nor did he have a proven record or reputation in a level of football as high as the English Premier League. So what was it that Moshiri found so attractive?

Well, Silva does like his teams to play attacking football, and there have been times this season when Everton have played really good looking football… just not for a solid ninety minutes, totally taking a game by the scruff of the neck and dominating it start to finish.

The 0-0 at Chelsea was good, the game at Anfield proved why we were right to be optimistic because we gave them a game, a real game, and held our own till… but that single moment has shattered the belief, the bubble, and we are watching the air escape right now. Silva tends to make the majority of his substitutions offensive only occasionally putting caution first to protect a lead or maintain equilibrium for a draw.

So, rightly or wrongly, this leads to the conclusion that Moshiri likes maybe prefers an attacking, offensive approach to football, and to some degree even a somewhat cavalier outlook. Silva certainly favours attack over defence and this is sadly borne out by the alarming rate at which Everton have been shipping goals in recent weeks, indeed all season.

Silva’s philosophy of attacking football is therefore the element Moshiri wanted to bring to Everton, and we should celebrate that. However, a team must be balanced to believe in itself, and its managers philosophy and without a solid defence (which we obviously do not have) the castle cannot stand.

In Jordan Pickford, we have Englands’ first choice goalkeeper, in Lucas Digne a massively impressive new left back, three centre backs in the improved Michael Keane, on loan Kurt Zouma and Columbian Yerry Mina, and the RoI international captain at right back.

Yet somehow these six or any combination of them seem unable to stem the flow of goals into our net. Why – Zonal Marking, the system Marco Silva advocates and that patently isn’t working.

And it’s not just against the teams in the Premier League, because only this weekend in the FA Cup, Lincoln City gave a clear indication and abject lesson that any opposing manager with half a brain cell can figure out how to play against and capitalise upon a system that breaks down far too often if not properly implemented. Let me stress at this point, I’m not suggesting Danny Cowley only has half a brain cell, just that he only needed half a brain cell to figure how to counter Everton’s zonal marking deficiencies.

Look at their goal… a free kick forty yards out, wide left. Where were the big Lincoln players? Not in the middle where you’d be forgiven for expecting it to be where the ball would be delivered. No, they had guys towards the near post, others on the back post and the rest loitering with deadly intent centrally, but three or four yards further behind waiting to pounce.

The free kick was sent towards the back post – beyond Zouma where Shackell easily got above Baines to power in the header. Pickford did well to beat it out, but with Zouma and Mina marking a mythical zone, Bostwick was able to steam in from that slightly deeper attacking position to pounce and score. Once again, and not for the first, second, third, fourth or even fifth time this season, Everton had conceded from a set piece, and the reaction of Pickford spoke volumes.

Later in the game with Lincoln defending well against an Everton attack that largely misfired after the opening quarter of an hour, and looking to push forward for an equaliser that might earn a replay, Cowley sent on 34-year old Matt Rhead. The former Mansfield striker looked like he was carrying a few extra pounds following the festive period, but he knows a thing or two about causing defenders problems.

So when Lincoln won a couple of late corners and free kicks, you’d fully expect the Everton defence to assign either Mina or Zouma to mark the veteran forward, but oh no, we again saw the set pieces swung over and Rhead being marked by either Baines or Kenny… Mina and Zouma were busy (?) elsewhere marking zones… tantamount to footballing suicide.

Okay, enough of analysing a few plays from just one game, we need to look at the root cause of our defensive frailties and it’s this crazy idea that marking zones will prevent the opposition scoring.
Zonal marking has many advocates however, it can only work and does only work, if all the players and the goalkeeper are:
a. perfectly drilled in how to perform the system
b. fully understanding of the job they’re supposed to be doing
c. fully confident of the system they’re playing, and
d. fully capable of adjusting to counter the way the opposition sets up to overcome zonal marking.

Everton under Howard Kendall, in the 1980’s glory period, employed a form of zonal marking with Stevens, Mountfield, Ratcliffe, Watson and van den Hauwe. All of these were confident, strong characters both mentally and physically and had the added insurance of Neville Southall as the last line, completely and ruthlessly controlling the six yard area.

Conversely, Rafa Benitez tried – spectacularly unsuccessfully – to get our neighbours to play zonal marking and they too shipped goals with almost gay abandon before the Spaniard saw the light and changed to a system that actually suited the players at his disposal.

For reference, here is a simple, definitive explanation of the theory…

Zonal Marking
In this type of defending (see image below), each player is given an area or zone to mark relative to their team mates.
It is advised by the manager or the coach that whenever the ball enters their zone, you attack it and try to win the ball.
Zonal defending doesn’t require fast players or great stamina like man-to-man defences do, and it’s usually employed by top flight managers where they ask the midfielders and attackers to defend when the opposing team counters and tries to break them down.
With zonal marking, whenever the team defends from set pieces, the six yard box will be divided into two or three zones for players to attack. If one player sees the ball entering this zone, he gets rid of it.

zm

So there’s the theory explained in a nutshell but right now, it doesn’t appear that Everton are ticking any of those boxes. We’re conceding from almost every free kick we concede in our third of the pitch, opposition corners are ringing alarm bells all around the ground, but apparently not in the dugout with the manager or coaching staff.

Consequently, we have a first choice England goalie beginning to look like a sieve, three centre backs verging on not knowing whether they’re coming or going and fullbacks who must dread the sight of opposition centre forwards or centre halves appearing on their flank or worse their blind side at every set piece.

As a result, our defence looks disorganised, the players, all of them, appear uncomfortable and unsure about playing zonal marking, it simply doesn’t come naturally to some footballers to mark space rather than a player.

Now, the big questions that need to be asked are…

Does the adoption of zonal marking have the blessing of the Director of Football?
Are we going to persist with a system that better managers than Marco Silva have tried and ditched?
And if the answers to both these questions are in the affirmative, then when the heck are the players and coaching staff going to get it sorted?

Marcel Brands and Marco Silva probably need to re-evaluate the adoption and implementation of zonal marking as any continuation of the goal leaking will bring Evertonian scrutiny rearing its ugly head again as it tends to have done all too easily in recent seasons.

Silva, particularly, has to demonstrate a capacity to dig himself and his squad from a deepening hole. He enjoyed similar initial bursts of ‘success’ at both Hull and Watford and it’s probably too early to judge in part because he’s never stayed long enough for others to properly judge. So the jury on Marco Silva has to sit out, as we simply can’t keep changing managers every few months but…

That’s it for this missive, the next one might, sadly, be a rather brutal assessment of some players and a genuine need for on-field leadership.

Right Back, an issue on the horizon?

Seamus 2.jpg

In January 2009, Everton paid a paltry £60,000 to Sligo Rovers for an unknown right back called Seamus Coleman – has there ever been a bigger or better bargain in the Premiership era of modern football, I doubt it.

As determined, passionate and tough as they come, Coleman quickly became a cult figure amongst Evertonians who gleefully hailed him and still do with the sixty grand song that reverberates around the Grand Old Lady and any other ground whenever he launches into one of his rampaging right wing forays in support of the attack – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67GLLvskPmw

Sadly though and as with too many footballers, injuries have played a part in his career, none moreso than the horrific, and sickening to watch, broken right leg sustained on international duty against Wales in March 2017.

That injury could have ended his career, but in January 2018, he returned to first team action in 2-1 victory over Leicester at Goodison. His mere naming on the team sheet was sufficient to boost an Everton crowd struggling with a disastrous season, his full-blooded commitment massively influential in a much needed victory at the time.

Possibly though his return to the first team, whilst gratefully received and appreciated by every Evertonian, came too early, but this question can only be posed with the benefit of hindsight looking back over 2018.

This season, Seamus has appeared more cautious with his right wing rushes, almost reticent at times to overly stretch his legs and pressure the opposition left side. Where three or four years ago he would have taken them on, this season he’s tending to check and look inside for support from Michael Keane, Gana Gueye or Andre Gomes.

Maybe the understanding he’d been developing last season with Theo Walcott hasn’t progressed enough to attain the heights that Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar reached a few years back. Maybe this seemingly indestructible Irishman even now has sub-conscious doubts over just how far he can push his right leg. Whatever the issue is, the Seamus Coleman we’ve grown to love over his almost ten years with the club isn’t quite the Seamus Coleman we grew to love.

Maybe therefore the time is coming where Everton need to consider who will take over the right back role and, possibly more importantly for the future continuity and success of the team, when?

Everton have already blooded U23 captain Jonjoe Kenny and last season brought in Cuco Martina. With no disrespect intended to Cuco, he never had a chance as he was used more on the left than his natural right, and Kenny whilst fully committed proved – to date – to be slightly short of the level required.

One name that has risen up the target list of many Everton fans is the Crystal Palace right back Aaron Wan-Bissaka. At just 21 years of age, the same as Kenny, the Croydon-born right back has given a series of accomplished and polished displays. His showing in the October 21st game at Goodison massively raised his profile amongst the home support.

None of us know if Marcel Brands and Marco Silva are even considering a change at right back in the short term, but they will surely not be unaware of concerns that Seamus isn’t delivering offensively anything like as much as he used to.

Seamus has given us many memorable moments over the past ten years, goals away at Swansea and a late game-winner at Selhurst Park amongst them, ball juggling and slippery dribbling skills against Arsenal that left Santi Cazorla bemused – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K__NIAXvWWI – and who will ever forget him fronting up to John Terry at Stamford Bridge and the Chelsea hard man wanting none of it. Seamus at his very best was and still could be quite a handful in so many ways.

Coleman came through a tortuous debut in Lisbons’ Stadium of Light in October 2009 as Benfica put a weakened Everton side to the sword in a 5-0 demolition but just three days later, he appeared as a first half substitute for the injured Joseph Yobo against Tottenham, played a part in both Everton goals in a 2-2 draw and was unequivocally acclaimed as Man of the Match.

Even then he accepted David Moyes sending him to Blackpool on loan for the rest of his debut season, but the canny Scot wasn’t wrong to do so and Seamus returned an even more confident and progressive player.

Another area where Seamus Coleman has excelled is in off the field activities. He’s thrown himself into countless EitC events and initiatives and his down to earth, one of the lads approach is so refreshing in an age when too many footballers appear aloof and stand-offish.

To say that Seamus ‘gets Everton’ is a monumental understatement, his commitment to the club and its causes is absolutely unquestioned and his elevation to the captaincy in the absence of Phil Jagielka was unanimously popular throughout the fan base.

Seamus 1

Despite the fame and fortune of being a Premiership footballer and Republic of Ireland international, Seamus has never forgotten his roots in Killybegs, Co.Donegal where he started out as a Gaelic footballer and still supports his first team Na Cealla Beaga, and the fishing village welcomes him home wholeheartedly on his regular visits.

If this is reading as something of an early obituary on his Everton career, that is in no way the intention – it’s a recognition of a tremendous person and a player who many of the supporters relate to as living their dream, and it’s a recognition of the size of the job facing Marcel Brands in finding his replacement… whenever that time comes.

The Schneiderlin Conundrum…

Morgan-Schneiderlin-Everton-577878

We’re just a few short weeks and a Yuletide period from the opening of the January transfer window and for many Evertonians, one question that probably needs an answer is… what’s the future for Morgan Schneiderlin?

Signed by Ronald Koeman from Manchester United in the corresponding transfer window of 2017 for in excess of £20 million, after a decent start to his Everton career the French international has failed to maintain the early levels he displayed.

Losses of form, injuries and doubts over his attitude and commitment to the cause have been major factors in his slide from grace, particularly with large sections of the crowd, while a conservative, defensive midfield role that rarely sees him venture beyond the halfway line doesn’t appear to fit very well into the more attack minded game plans of Marco Silva.

Under both Koeman and his successor, Sam Allardyce, Schneiderlin was all too often played alongside Idrissa Gana Gueye and their similarity in being primarily defensive midfielders proved too stifling for a team and crowd crying out for ideas and invention of how to get forward quicker with attacking intent.

Schneiderlin failed largely to re-produce the form he showed for Southampton, under Koeman, that saw him selected for France and was to lead to a big money, circa £27 million, move from the south coast to Manchester United. And he patently didn’t fit into the plans of Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford and so the chance to link up again with Koeman at Everton seemed an ideal opportunity to resurrect his career.

After a decent first season, the fortunes of Koeman nosedived after a disjointed 2017 summer transfer window in which money was splashed around like confetti with no apparent structure to said spending. Koeman was sacked in October 2017 as Everton slumped in the Premier League and crashed, in embarrassing fashion, out of the Europa League.

The boring, cautious and ultra-conservative Allardyce didn’t do much after his initial month that saw Everton solidify their Premier League status. A terrible style of play coupled with a complete and utter failure to grasp the nettle and push the club to seriously chase down Burnley for the chance to qualify for Europe again sealed his fate… as if there was ever really any long term aspect to it anyway?

Marcel and Marco

Enter the new Director of Football Marcel Brands and new manager Marco Silva and a new way of thinking for the Everton squad. Brands and Silva clearly had defined and strong ideas about how they wanted to progress the club and the initial need to massively trim the size of the squad they were dealing with, while looking to strengthen and improve key areas.

The preferred formation for Marco Silva is 4-3-3 and with Gana Gueye and Gylfi Sigurdsson seemingly shoe-ins for the midfield right from the start, the burgeoning question was who would be the link between the hard-working tackling of Gana Gueye and the silkier, more offensive prowess of the Icelander?

With Andre Gomes signed on loan from Barcelona, but recovering from injury, the remaining slot in the midfield was up for grabs between the enthusiastic and young, but still learning his trade Tom Davies and the more experienced, proven international, Morgan Schneiderlin.

With doubts over his future and unpopularity among sections of the fan base, Schneiderlin was boosted by Silva in June 2018 as the Portuguese outlined he still had a future with the club. The ball was proverbially in Schneiderlins’ court – it was down to him to prove he was the player to cement the Everton midfield and look to return to something like the form he showed for Southampton that saw him net 15 goals in 260 appearances… compared to just two goals in 102 appearances for United and Everton prior to this season commencing.

Disappointingly Schneiderlin, like Allardyce before him, failed to grasp the nettle and push himself to greater efforts. For whatever reason it is within him, he’s slipped so badly down the pecking order at Everton that he’s made just seven appearances this term. He’s completed only two games this season and now doesn’t even make the substitutes bench for Silva and his attack minded style.

Andre G

The forward motion, quick passing, more energetic, positive, attack minded and more pleasing to the eye play of Andre Gomes has been widely welcomed as not only a ray of sunshine, breath of fresh air to the team, but also a massive catalyst in bringing even more from Gana Gueye and allowing Sigurdsson to truly express himself as an attacking midfielder, linking smoothly and effectively with the front three of Bernard, Walcott and Richarlison, and scoring important goals.

With the likes of Tom Davies and Beni Baningime biding their time, waiting in the wings and newspaper speculation linking Everton to another exciting French talent in Tanguy Ndombele from Olympique Lyon, coupled with the fan base crying out for a permanent deal for Gomes to be completed as soon as possible, there appears to be only one course for Morgan Schneiderlin… a move away from Goodison in January.

Morgan Schneiderlin is not a bad player, but his natural conservative, safety-first, style of play and instincts don’t appear to sit well with the more expressive mantra of Marco Silva.

With the Everton team growing in confidence and the crowd appreciating the quite stunning turnaround in both form and style since the early September showings against Huddersfield and West Ham at Goodison, a move for Morgan Schneiderlin would likely suit both parties.

At 29 years old, he needs to be playing regularly and right now nobody, and I suspect privately he includes himself in this, can see him regaining a regular place in this current Everton set-up. With a fairly heavy investment made in acquiring his services, Everton would probably prefer a permanent deal to recoup as much as possible rather than agreeing to a loan deal.

With the ever-growing call for the loan of Andre Gomes to be made permanent and the rumoured interest in Ndombele, the answer to the Morgan Schneiderlin conundrum probably lies with the transfer market skills of Marcel Brands.

Sixty Grand, Sixty Grand, Bramley Moore Dock…

Maybe not quite to the tune of the song for Seamus Coleman, but much has already been written and spoken about where the capacity of the new Everton stadium at Bramley Moore Dock should finally end up.

BMD2

Goodison Park used to hold nearly 60,000 back in the days of mass standing on the terraces and has hosted crowds in excess of 70,000 during an illustrious career as one of England’s premier football venues.

It’s seen eight league titles and trophies paraded, never forget, we won our first in our first home across the park. It’s seen a veritable galaxy of footballing stars, legends, the incomparable W.R.Dean and his 60-goal season, a Golden Vision who was deified in his own tv show, and the Holy Trinity, the best midfield combination ever.

Goodison has had too many memorable games to even begin listing them here, with a never-to-be-forgotten European Cup Winners Cup semi-final victory over Bayern Munich arguably the greatest. The Grand Old Lady has hosted FA Cup semi-finals, world title boxing fights and a World Cup semi-final in 1966

Germany Take The Lead

and throughout it all, it’s been a glorious home to Everton Football Club.

But the sands of time are, for Goodison, sadly running out and the club is rightly looking to re-locate to the best possible location to host our football for the next hundred years… and maybe longer.

Bramley Moore Dock has been selected, acquired and pending a successful consultation process that everyone on Merseyside and with any interest in Everton should complete – https://www.peoples-project.co.uk – and subsequent planning application, sometime in the next five years, a new dawn will break for our much storied and revered club, down on the banks of the Royal Blue Mersey.

I won’t try to blind you with the science of financial arguments for as big a capacity as possible, others far more eminently qualified and well-versed in these matters have already ventured well-researched and reasoned arguments and to that aim, I heartily recommend everyone reads this https://theesk.org/2018/07/26/the-case-for-60000/ to appreciate the complexity of the issue, but in relatively simple terminology.

So what’s my angle?

It’s simply one fans passion to see Everton once again back at the vanguard of English football. I want to see Everton competing at the very highest level, Everton going toe-to-toe with the best, not only in England but Europe and yes, the world… and winning!!

To do that, we need the best possible team on the field of play and in Marcel Brands and Marco Silva, I have a growing confidence that we might just have stumbled on a partnership to lead the club back to trophies and the glory we all yearn for.

But we also need a world class, iconic, state-of-the-art stadium, perfectly located on the riverfront, the gateway to the city and a stadium that can hold as many people as possible, and for me that has to be a minimum of 60,000 with a leaning towards a nostalgic 61,878 as a mark of respect to the year of our founding.

Everton_Stadium

Unless we ultimately face overwhelming evidence of design and construction problems that would make it impossible, anything less than 60,000 would, in my opinion, be a capitulation to negativity, to a lack of faith in the loyalty of Evertonians, and a lack of belief in the aim of returning Everton to the very top.

Some have suggested that there are or may be people within the club who may be hesitant about building 60,000 at BMD and that there’s doubts because currently Manchester City fail to completely or regularly sell out the Etihad.

My suggestion to any such doubters would be… don’t concern yourself with the problems of others, concentrate and focus on the demand and passion of Evertonians.

Thanks to continued enlightened Season Ticket pricing initiatives and the just announced freezing of ST prices for a fourth season, the Sold Out signs at Goodison will be regularly if not constantly displayed for the next 18 months and almost certainly longer still.

The club themselves are proud to advise that there is a waiting list in excess of ten thousand for season tickets, and that would take home game attendances to beyond 50,000 in the blink of an eye, before the need to go out and market ourselves to even more Blues.

Could we find another ten thousand?

I honestly and truthfully cannot think of one reason, good or otherwise, why Everton could not achieve this in a brand new home a few minutes from the city centre. A brand new home that will be infinitely better served than Goodison currently is with corporate and hospitality facilities, the kind of facilities that will attract greater numbers of corporate clientele and command premium pricing structures that will go a long way to justifying the costs of building the stadium to as big a capacity as possible.

As has been posted this past weekend on social media, if we look forward over the next three to four years, stadium capacities are destined to grow and ironically, Manchester City – often cited as a good reason to be conservative – have announced plans to expand the Etihad to 63,000 in time for the 21/22 season.

If we look at the numbers for the current biggest and proposed new build or expansion planning… Man Utd 75,640 (with plans to further expand); West Ham 66,000; Man City 63,000; Chelsea 63,000; Spurs 62,062; Liverpool 61,000; Arsenal 60,260; Wolves 60,000 and Newcastle 52,338.

Why on earth would Everton even begin to consider a brand new stadium to be less than that of at least eight others is incomprehensible to me.

Now as I said earlier, the science of the financial arguments is not my personal forte, and I’m sure that the financing of BMD is not an easy thing to achieve. But I would urge the powers that be within the corridors of Goodison fully examine and reach out to as many options as can be considered, the need for Everton to get the move to BMD as perfect as possible cannot be compromised by conservatism, fear, negativity or pessimism.

Mr Moshiri, together with the board of directors, needs to be bold, brave and tenacious in finding the ways and means to build Everton a new home that truly befits the future it will launch us upon.

Our club motto is Nil Satis Nisi Optimum – Nothing But the Best – let’s live up to it with every decision made, that’s all I’m asking, and I think I’m safe in saying I’m asking on behalf of many thousands of others too.

Too early for comparisons ?

Goodison goal

The sleeping giant of football that is Everton is stirring, the drudgery of last season where we appeared clueless, disinterested and where we were certainly without the kind of off-field leadership needed to raise spirits is quickly being banished to the back of our minds.

With a new Director of Football in Marcel Brands and an innovative young manager in Marco Silva, huge strides have already been taken in righting the wrongs of the Koeman/Walsh/Allardyce regimes.

Football with a swagger, pace and excitement for the watching fans is very much back on the Goodison menu and the method with which Brighton were despatched last weekend had some older fans harking back to the mid-1980’s sides of Howard Kendall.

Back then of course, we didn’t have Directors of Football, we had managers and coaches and in Howard Kendall and Colin Harvey, Everton were blessed with two men who knew each other inside out as players from an earlier golden period, and who complimented each other perfectly as a management duo.

So is it too early, even presumptuous to start drawing comparisons with an era of success every Evertonian yearns to see again?

To do so, let’s look at the 83/84 Kendall/Harvey squad and see how the 18/19 Brands/Silva squad fares.

In goal, Kendall had the blossoming talent of future legend Neville Southall, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the finest goalkeepers ever to play the game. Southall was signed in 1981 but had to wait till the 83/84 season to become a fixture of the first team that lifted the FA Cup and went on to become a dominant force.

Marco Silva has the current England No.1 Jordan Pickford as the bedrock of his defence and at still only 24, the £30 million signing has years ahead of him to further hone his already considerable skills. It would be a brave man who would rate Pickford above Southall, but with time on his side, who’s to say the current Everton ‘keeper cannot go on to emulate his esteemed predecessor?

Kendalls’ primary fullbacks were the athletic and elegant Gary Stevens on the right with the more workmanlike, but equally reliable and more robust John Bailey on the left. Stevens was to enjoy an illustrious career with Everton and England while Bailey was eventually replaced by another tough-tackler in Pat van den Hauwe. Neither Stevens or Bailey featured regularly on the scoresheet but both were important elements in the first Kendall era that saw trophies arrive regularly.

Silva has a fan favourite and bargain-of-the-century in the sixty-grand man Seamus Coleman on his right side and, together with Brands, recruited French international Lucas Digne to replace Leighton Baines as the first choice left back. It’s probably fair to say that Digne looks more of a natural athlete than Coleman, but the Irish international plays with unsurpassed passion and barring an extra time penalty shoot-out loss at Brentford, Everton have never lost when he’s been on the scoresheet in normal time.

At the heart of the defence, Kendall was blessed with having Kevin Ratcliffe and Derek Mountfield as his twin centre halves. Ratcliffe was lighting fast and an uncompromisingly physical tackler while Mountfield ventured forward at every corner and free kick and scored crucial goals as the team strode to glory. In reserve, was Mark Higgins, a solid and reliable if somewhat injury prone deputy whose Everton career was coming to a close.

The current squad has even more options in having Michael Keane, loanee Kurt Zouma, Yerry Mina, Mason Holgate and veteran club captain Phil Jagielka for Marco Silva to choose from.

Keane endured a nightmare first season under Koeman and Allardyce, blighted by serious injury and loss of form, but has recovered superbly under Silva and now looks every inch the player we expected when signed from Burnley.

Zouma, whilst on loan from Chelsea, has made a big impression on the Goodison faithful with a string of impressive performances and many Blues will be hoping his loan will lead to a permanent move.

Mina, the Columbian international is still to prove his worth having now recovered from a post World Cup injury, but his availability and size will give Silva a nice headache of choosing his defensive formations.

In Holgate, Everton have one for the future and one who’s served us well in Jagielka, who is surely under no illusion that his future game time will now be limited to being cover for any of the others getting injured… a similar situation Leighton Baines is also in with regards to Lucas Digne.

It’s the midfield where things really begin to get interesting. Kendall in 83/84 had Peter Reid, Kevin Richardson, Alan Irvine, and Alan Harper with the emerging right winger Trevor Steven and the ever-popular Andy King to call upon. And with both manager Kendall and coach Harvey having been superb midfielders in their own right, they got fantastic results from their charges.

Reid was the heart and soul of the midfield, a canny, wily, tough-tackling battler who made up for a lack of pace with superb positional play. Around him were the more than capable jacks-of-all-trades Richardson and Harper. Both played a huge part of the Kendall era successes as exemplary squad players, never assured of a start, but never failing to play their vital part when called upon.

It’s important to remember that the dynamo of Paul Bracewell didn’t arrive till the 84/85 season, when the Everton revival under Kendall and Harvey went into full-on overdrive, but I include him because of the presence in the current squad of Andre Gomes.

Bracewell

There are similarities in the midfield options Marco Silva has at his disposal. For Reid, substitute Idrissa Gana Gueye; for Richardson and Harper, substitute two of Davies, Dowell, Baningime and McCarthy; and for Steven we have Icelander Gylfi Sigurdsson. And, as mentioned, in the (future) Bracewell role, Silva has Andre Gomes in early, albeit on loan from Barcelona.

Gomes has brought memories of Bracewell flooding back. With his upright stance, eye for a pass and always looking to go forward, the Portuguese international should be a top priority for Brands and Silva to complete a permanent deal for next summer if not before, such has been his immediate impact. His presence in the midfield has already been a massive help to Gana Gueye who now has an offensive outlet to feed as he breaks up the opposition attacks.

Gomes

And the presence of Gomes has also provided Sigurdsson with the freedom to get further forward into areas where he can hurt the opposition with incisive passing and his undoubted shooting ability.

The assured calmness and more naturally offensive tendencies of Gomes has seen game time for Morgan Schneiderlin all but disappear and the Frenchman will need to adjust his game hugely… or potentially, seek pastures anew.

In the forward positions, Kendalls’ 83/84 squad was well served with Graeme Sharp, Adrian Heath, Andy Gray, Kevin Sheedy and Trevor Steven. Sharp and Gray were both archetypal British centre forwards – brave, combative, fearless and physical. Sheedy and Steven on the flanks were pacey, superb crossers of the ball and deadly finishers in their own right.

That leaves the diminutive, but hugely effective and popular Adrian Heath. Inchy was a marvellous foil for both Sharp and Gray and in the 83/84 season, he top scored for the Blues with 18 goals in 54 games, a 1-in-3 ratio in his first full season.

Silva perhaps isn’t quite so blessed as was Kendall in that despite the goals to date of Brazilian Richarlison, he doesn’t have a nailed-on No.9 in the mould of a Sharp or a Gray to lead the line and take the hard knocks week in, week out.

He does have width and pace in Theo Walcott, Bernard and Ademola Lookman to call upon and in Cenk Tosun and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, two willing strikers desperate to stake a claim. But to stake that claim Cenk and DCL really do need to make an impact every chance they get.

Ademola

In the summer with Leipzig making overtures, Brands and Silva were determined to retain Ademola Lookman, a young man with pace to burn and an eye for goal… talents that need to be nurtured and moulded into a dynamic option for years to come.

Kendall endured a couple of seasons of trying to find the right combinations to turn Everton around, and under Sir Philip Carter, he got the time and the support that eventually paid huge dividends. Kendall conceded that his early squads lacked the important ingredient of having a winner, someone who knew how to win and could inspire others.

Many thought he had made a huge error of judgement in signing the veteran Andy Gray, but the Scot was exactly the winner character that he needed to turn a competitive squad into a dominant one. Gray only played 49 games for Everton scoring 14 goals, but his impact was much greater than those numbers would suggest, his charismatic, physical presence proving vital in securing the clubs first trophy in well over a decade, the ‘84 FA Cup triumph over Watford.

And the rest is history as Howard Kendall went on to become our most successful manager with a host of trophies that would probably have continued had the club not been cruelly and unjustly denied entry to the European Cup in the aftermath of Heysel.

In this modern era of the need for almost instant success, Marco Silva is fortunate that in Farhad Moshiri, he has an owner who wanted him and made sure he got him, so he’s probably in as safe a position as any current manager in the Premier League.

This 18/19 Everton squad stacks up pretty well to that of Kendall in 83/84, with the addition of a true No.9 potentially the one key signing Brands and Silva need to find to take the squad to the next level.

Can Brands and Silva find a latter day Andy Gray type talismanic character to transform this good looking squad into one that can go on to confidently and consistently challenge for silverware and return Everton to the top table of English and European football?

Evertonians are hungry for silverware and success, and after the utter dross of last season under Koeman and Allardyce, that hunger is positively painful. However, Marcel Brands and Marco Silva have made a good start to their Everton careers and with the evidence of the last month, success-starved Blues will be willing to cut them some slack as they continue to right the wrongs and instil fresh belief throughout the club.

A respectable finish in the Premier League will build confidence, top eight would be good, top six and Europe would be a superb achievement… and come January, were a true No.9 to be signed, Evertonians will turn their eyes and desire towards a long, dare we dream of a successful FA Cup campaign?

Eddie Kavanagh

Blues, Reds – only shirt colours count…

Colour, apart from team colours, creed, race and religion and any such related animosity have no place in football.

Arriving at Goodison for the Southampton game last week, we were greeted by people handing out leaflets. Single page leaflets about the need to combat racism and fascism in society.

It seems a group has formed – the Democratic Football Lads Alliance – determined to stir up bigotry around the country. And the DFLA are apparently aiming to use football as a conduit to spread their bigotry and stir up division.

My first thoughts took me back to the days when the first black players really began to make their mark around the Football League. Some of the abuse they were subjected to was absolutely outrageous.

Horrendously worded chanting, banana throwing, monkey imitations… and I can’t honestly think of a ground where this didn’t take place.

Sadly, it still occurs in international games but, thankfully, such abhorrent behaviour has largely been eradicated here in the UK.

My second thought took me back more recently, to 2012, when I was living and working in Khartoum, capital of the Sudan.

Footie in the sun.

Khartoum is a huge city with a population of over five million and not surprisingly, it has more than one football club. The Blue and White Nile rivers meet in Khartoum, dividing the metropolis into three main areas.

Bahri or Khartoum North lies north (obviously) of the Blue Nile; Khartoum itself lies south of the Blue and east of the White Nile, while the sprawling Omdurman lies to the west of the White Nile.

The smaller Al Khartoum and Al Ahli clubs share the Khartoum Stadium, not far from the city centre in the Al Mogran district. This stadium only holds 23,000, massively different to that of the two main clubs.

They are the Al Merreikh and Al Hilal clubs whose home grounds are both across the White Nile in Omdurman. Between them, they’ve won 42 Sudanese league titles and 21 cups, they’re way out in front as the two biggest clubs in Sudan.

Imagine the proximity of Goodison Park to Anfield and fairly intense rivalry between Everton and Liverpool, half a mile apart across Stanley Park.

The home stadia of Al Merreikh and Al Hilal are less then 750 metres apart as the crow flies. Literally either side of Al Ardha Street with only two university facilities separating them.

Castles and devils.

The Al Merreikh Stadium, the Red Castle, holds 43,000, while the re-developed Al Hilal stadium hosts 62,000, both mostly standing.

My first game was a friendly in March 2012 when Al Merreikh hosted a touring Brazilian club. Al Merriekh – the Red Devils – had a Brazilian coach, Heron Ricardo Ferreira, and he’d obviously helped in arranging the friendly. Sadly I cannot recall who the tourists were. There was no matchday programme to refer to but suffice to say, they weren’t Santos or a major club side.

I’d been invited by one of the Sudanese directors of the company I was working for and as my wife and youngest daughter were visiting at the time, they too came along.

Even in March, the evening weather was hot. The sun set at 7pm as it does almost year round, but the daytime heat lingers on. The temperature was in the high 70s as we crossed the White Nile heading for the Red Castle.

Red Castle

Alla, our Sudanese host, dressed in a traditional jalabiya while I wore an Everton polo shirt. My wife and daughter wore long skirts, respectful of the local Islamic dress code for non-Muslim females.

Approaching the turnstiles, we drew some looks and welcoming smiles from locals queuing to get in, nothing untoward at all. Inside the ground, we took our seats – Alla had wisely taken us into the ‘Main Stand’. And having purchased soft drinks to keep us hydrated, we enjoyed the pleasant evening.

The ground was about half full, with the singing section on the opposite side of the ground. As the teams emerged onto the pitch, loud cheers went up and the inevitable red and yellow flares billowed smoke.

Al Merreikh scored an early goal, the crowd were happy and all around us, people high-fived. We were offered more peanuts and water – they realised the white folks were maybe overheating.

Down on the touchline, the coach of the visiting team was a sight to behold. Talk about animated, this guy was a St.Vitus dancer on steroids and highly entertaining.

We laughed and those sat around us wondered why. Alla explained to them in Arabic and they quickly cottoned on. The visitors coach was duly targeted for Sudanese footie banter. By half time though, the visitors equalised and took the lead. The visitors coach and the crowd banter both calmed down.

The half time interval coincided with the p.a. system of the local mosque calling the faithful to prayer.

As the Imam wailed ‘Allahu Akhbar’ and the rest of the call, all around us, people removed their sandals. On the terracing and even the police on the pitchside running track, people turned to the east, knelt and prayed. We’d never seen anything like this at a football match before.

We sat there quietly and then asked Alla if they would have prayed for the team. He replied that they’d probably prayed for their young star striker to make an appearance off the substitutes bench. We laughed with him at that.

More water and orange juice came from the friendly folk around us and the second half began. The visitors had the better of the play and were coped well with the well-grassed, but apparently bone hard pitch.

As the chanting from the crowd opposite increased in frustration – Alla was translating – the crowd favourite came off the bench. The cheering and support increased markedly, flares returned too. And when with ten minutes to play, he laid on the equaliser, the Red Devils fans exulted. Their prayers had been answered.

The visitors coach returned to doing his whirling dervish impersonations, and the crowd responded hilariously. Even the dignitaries in the ‘posh seats’ including the Mayor of Omdurman joined in the heckling.

Leaving the ground after the 2-2 draw, once again, the sight of three white people raised the odd eyebrow. But not one word of abuse came in our direction. The famed friendliness and hospitality of the Sudanese people was there in abundance.

Proper, serious footie.

The following month, April 29th, another of the local guys invited me to go to see Al Hilal play, I gladly accepted. Abubakr Gafar, Bakri for short, lived in Bahri, north of the Blue Nile. After work he drove home to change and then back to Amarat near the airport to pick me up. Then we drove through the city to cross the White Nile to Omdurman. He really went out of his way.

The match was a CAF (Confederation of African Football) Champions League second round tie. The first leg, saw ASO Chiefs of Algeria the visitors, and Bakri said a good crowd was expected.

The streets around the ground were crawling with cars and fans, blue flags abundant everywhere. We parked in a side street and walked to the ground. Again the sight of a white man drawing glances and friendly smiles… I had a blue Everton polo shirt on.

Bakri had sorted tickets towards the back of the Main Stand just to the right of the directors box and media area. There we met his father and uncles, all rabid ‘Blue Wave’ supporters.

Al Hilal old

Introductions done, soft drinks and peanuts bought, we chatted while people walked around the terracing handing out complimentary blue flags. The game was televised and the Al Hilal hierarchy obviously wanted to make an impression for the watching millions (?).

One of the flag distributors spotted me and made a huge effort to attract my attention. He launched a flag in my direction. Someone caught it and the thrower went nuts. He animatedly yelled something in Arabic and I caught the word ‘khawaja’ – foreigner, or more colloquially, white man.

The catcher took his verbal tongue lashing well and the flag was passed back to me. I happily thanked them by waving it.

The ground was filling up. The redevelopment  – see the picture below – that subsequently took the capacity to 62,000 hadn’t taken place,

Al Hilal new

but I guesstimated over 30,000 were packed in. It was another very warm evening, the mercury well in the 80s.

As with their neighbours Al Merreikh, the Al Hilal ‘ultras’ were on the opposite side of the ground. The noise was loud to say the least. Flares were lit, scarves and flags waved enthusiastically, this was a proper football atmosphere.

Barely ten minutes in and El Tahir opened the scoring for the home side. The Al Hilal stadium went absolutely mental… more flares, more flag-waving. To say the least, the Blue Wave fans were happy. But they couldn’t add to their lead and one nil up at half time, Bakri said they’d lost their chance.

He was right. Less than ten minutes after the restart, Ali Hadji levelled with a twenty yard screamer into the top corner. It was no less than the Chiefs deserved, they’d been the better team.

The Algerians dominated and it took some stout defending and no shortage of luck for the game to end level. However, the final ten minutes saw the atmosphere around the directors box get very hairy to say the least. Police in riot gear surrounded the home dugout and the directors seating. Bakri advised that many supporters were unhappy with the French manager Diego Garritto, his tactics and the board.

We left right on the final whistle. Bakri wanted a quick getaway to get me back to Amarat and himself back to Khartoum North before midnight. Leaving the ground and in the streets, the ‘khawaja’ again drew looks, but no adverse comments or observations.

The following day in work, someone asked if I’d enjoyed the match. Assuming Bakri had told them, it was amusing to learn I’d been spotted on TV when the cameras had panned around the crowd.

I never got the chance to witness an Omdurman ‘derby’. Both Alla and Bakri told me those games are not for the faint-hearted, and tickets are always at a premium.

The somewhat obtuse point of relating these memories is to illustrate it is possible to go to football without encountering racism.

Mafi mushkila – no problem.

When I was in Sudan, a closed country you can only enter by invitation, I was the immigrant. I was the infidel, the ‘khawaja’ taking a job that maybe could have been filled by a local. In my 18 months in Khartoum, I never felt unwelcome. Never vilified for my skin colour. Never vilified for not being a Muslim.

My wife and daughter thoroughly enjoyed their visits to Khartoum and their night at the footie. There was never a mushkila (problem) never mind a mushkila kabeera (major problem).

We have to hope that the unwanted appearance and actions of groups like the DFLA are quickly denounced. We have to hope that they themselves grow up and accept the modern multi-cultured world we live in. And we have to hope that the days of racial discrimination and abuse everywhere, will soon be behind us.

Originally published on https://taleoftwohalves.uk