It’s been eight months, give or take, since Everton’s fans did what they always do in the club’s moments of greatest jeopardy. Organise. Mobilize. Use the force of their support to drag the team out of the jaws of relegation.
So there was an unfortunate irony when Frank Lampard said of the protests which preceded and followed defeat to the Premier League’s bottom club Southampton a few days ago: ‘The off-field noise is there.’
By the time those words were being broadcast on Saturday night’s Match of the Day, Everton’s fans had somehow found themselves cast as the cause of the problems engulfing this proud and broken club. Every aspect of a terrible day, from which Lampard has somehow emerged with his job intact, conveniently fitted a narrative about a ‘toxic’ fan-base, as someone called it.
Frank Lampard somehow emerged with his job after a terrible defeat to Southampton on Saturday
Sky Sports’ Jeff Stelling used the word ‘torrid’ to describe the blue flares which greeted the team bus as it pulled into Goodison Road – when they were actually let off to lift the team.
Just as they had been when the squad were given a big send-off when leaving the club’s Finch Farm training ground for Leicester, in the depths of their relegation struggle last May.
Finch Farm is out in the country near Halewood, a half hour’s drive from central Liverpool, but hundreds mobilised to be there that day. They travelled to the King Power Stadium, too, raising the roof in a 2-1 win, just as they had in a 1-0 win over Chelsea at Goodison Park, a week earlier.
Frank Lampard’s side did not know what to do as fans chanted ‘you’re not fit to wear the shirt’
That’s what support looks like at this club. It got Everton out of the mire in 1994, in 1998 and once again last Spring.
There is, of course, not the remotest justification for what the club says was ‘a real and credible threat’ to its directors’ safety which led to them missing Saturday’s game – and so not witnessing the pre-publicised protests which followed.
It was surprising to learn on Monday that Merseyside Police had received no report from Everton about this threat, which they were aware of last Thursday. Nor about the club’s chief executive Denise Barrett-Baxendale being allegedly held in a headlock at another game.
Toffees supporters let off flares to support the side as the team bus pulled into Goodison Road
That’s still no justification for those of a certain persuasion who believe that adherence to a football club brings an entitlement to anonymous email abuse or banging on Anthony Gordon’s G-Wagen as he leaves Goodison.
Yet with so many expressions of disapproval and footage of Saturday’s post-match protest in the stadium fitting a narrative about fans going too far, it seemed important to ask Merseyside Police just how many supporters had actually been arrested at Goodison Park on Saturday.
It was a grand total of five. Three on suspicion of being drunk and disorderly, one for possessing a flare and one for a public order offence.
Everton fans vented their frustrations at Goodison Park after another defeat on the weekend
They protested for very good reason, too, because when it comes to the kind of ownership that might allow a club to flourish, Everton have been left way behind and no-one with answers is willing to step up and explain.
The Premier League is a world for American venture capitalists and petrol-potentates now, yet we cannot even be sure who Everton’s ultimate owner and controlling force has actually been.
Perhaps Farhad Moshiri, the lunatic at the wheel, who has burnt through so much cash that Everton can spend no more. He materialises on the radio, most recently to blame supporters for his hiring and firing of managers, but hasn’t taken a seat in the Goodison directors’ box for 15 months.
Farhad Moshiri (L) has not taken a seat in the directors’ box at Goodison Park in 15 months
Perhaps Alisher Usmanov, a Putin associate currently under financial sanctions, who has been present at five Everton manager interviews and left some of those candidates under the impression that he owned the club, according to an Observer report last weekend.
Before the sanctions hit, Usmanov was to have helped foot the bill for Everton’s new dockside stadium. That facility was supposedly to have cost £500million, though Moshiri casually threw out on the radio last week that the figure was £760million.
Everton have been talking about and building for this stadium for years. Now no-one really knows the answer to the two most fundamental questions about it: How much will it cost and who is paying?
Fan mobilisation has saved the club on numerous occasions
The only certainties are that Everton have a lame-duck manager, a squad no stronger than it was when this transfer window opened, three wins in 19 matches and seemingly no salvation, now that talks with Maciek Kaminski, a prospective American/Polish property tycoon and a prospective buyer, have broken down.
Their transfer activity is being scrutinised by the Premier League for finance purposes, as they risk a breach of sustainability rules. They have approached four or five forwards/wingers but with very little progress.
A fan asked for Yerry Mina to ‘be a leader’ in a confrontation after the game
And that’s why it was really very hard to feel much outrage towards the Evertonian who saw defender Yerry Mina driving out of Goodison on Saturday night and, in the absence of anyone else stepping up to provide some answers, stopped him and spoke his mind.
‘If we go down to the Championship, would you stay?’ he asked Mina. ‘Show us a bit of heart, then, lad. Be a leader.’
That fan spoke as one who saw a brutal reckoning coming down the tracks eight months ago, helped his club fend it off, is now preparing for it again and wanted the player standing in front of him to feel exactly the same as he does.
There will be some tough days ahead, with Newcastle United, Brighton and Manchester City to play in April and May. But if Everton are still in with a shout of Premier League survival, that supporter and the rest will be there once more – raising the roof, letting off flares, doing what they always do. The off-field noise will be there.