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No Flying Start!

By Tom Quinn :  10/08/2009 :  Comments (3) :
No Flying Start! (A Fellaini start maybe?!...) – The Trials and Tribulations of an Optimist in Evertonia.

I am sorry to come recounting the stories of our disasters but, as the new season approaches, needs must… It is a cautionary tale, with just a foolish hint perhaps of “Don’t Panic”!

All who live in Evertonia are familiar with the Everton state of mind, that two-sided mental state which runs all the gamut of emotion from A to Z and beyond and which brings us alternately from unreasonable exaltations to unplumbable depths of despair often in the same afternoon or evening.

I am one of the “Lucky” ones* perhaps — given to very nearly relentless optimism where Everton is concerned, an optimism perhaps rooted in a great need to provide an impermeable defence against disappointment, while others have shielded themselves with potent pessimism... expecting disaster at every turn and happily or unhappily justified when it strikes. Perhaps they are the “Lucky” ones? I don’t really know…

I do know the upside of the Everton state of mind, the winding upward path of optimism, can lead the unsuspecting or unwise fan where angels fear to tread. It happened to me — it happened to very many of us — and in all too recent memory too, this time last year in fact.

The warning signs were all there. The pre-season was a shambles. There was an unprecedented level of managerial instability under David Moyes, and not only did we have no bright new signings to make our expectations glow, but we were depending on schoolchildren it seemed not just to survive pre-season but to get our Premier League campaign started. The writing was on the wall for any who wanted to see it.

And yet, and yet, to the undying optimist there was more than slender grounds for hope… The fixtures list seemed at its kindest. In our opening games, we had been drawn at home against Blackburn and Portsmouth, while away we had to play the three newcomers to the Premier League, West Brom, Hull, and Stoke (in case anyone needs reminding). The sixth game of the season would be at home to the Dark Side, and it seemed we had been gifted with the perfect preparation for facing them.

I optimistically imagined us sitting high if not on top of the League by derby time. It was not to be. Woe to Optimists! Especially those optimists who live in Evertonia…

So there I was, rubbing my hands in gleeful anticipation of a Flying Start to 08-09... Top of the League, Havin’ a laff!... You know what I mean.

It could hardly have been worse! It was to be a Heydey for Pessimism!

The new season began at home with a dreadful performance against a poor Blackburn ending in last-gasp demoralising defeat. We did get a first win of the new season away to the Baggies, but we did not deserve it. A second defeat at home trounced by a rampant Portsmouth was a hard steel nail in the coffin of all our optimisms, but a topsy-turvy away win at Stoke shored them up ever so slightly. Still, the warning signs would not go away… Away to Hull we were 2-down before dragging a point from the jaws of defeat.

Come derby time, I had rarely seen so little expected from a Merseyside derby by optimists and pessimists alike. In fact, I think we were all honorary pessimists going into that game and no-one came away disappointed! We were out-classed, played off the field, and easily beaten. And we had lost our first 3 home games… In our next home game, we surrendered a 2-goal lead against a Newcastle team en route for the Championship, and then lost our unbeaten away record with another sorry defeat at the Emirates after going 1-up. We had culled 8 points from 8 games, just 1 of them coming at home — we were relegation fodder. Even for the most optimistic of supporters, life in Evertonia was certainly looking bleak.

Things were going from bad to worse. As if our league form was not satisfyingly dire enough, Blackburn had dumped us unceremoniously from the League Cup, and then came one of the new season’s lowest ebbs, the failure to get past Belgium’s Standard Liège in the Uefa Cup. Of the first 11 games of 08-09 in League and Cup, we had lost 6 games, drawn 3, won only 2…

And, adding to the “stuff of bad dreams” of which we often seem made, in there somewhere there had been a grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented trilogy of own goals in consecutive games from Jagielka, Yobo, and Neville… So much for the Flying Start! So much for optimism!

Even the most hardened and inveterate of optimists were finding it hard to find solace of any kind, most of us were simply looking away. The next visitors to Goodison? Champions elect and bogey team: Man… U’ve guessed it!

This game demonstrated the ability of Everton to defy the expectations of optimists and pessimists alike. It was indeed to be one of the season’s turning points as, following a dreary first half display, a mighty tackle on Ronaldo by Neville and a storming assault on United gave us a home point and Blue hearts beating with real emotion and pride for the first time that season. The optimists at least were sitting up again. Hope is eternal in Evertonia!

The eternal cry of the optimism in distress is surely “Things just have to get better, don’t they?” And they did ever so slightly. We struggled in our next away fixture to wrest a desperate win from Bolton, before managing a highly fortunate first home win (and our only one of the first half of 08-09) from perennial losers at Goodison, Fulham. And then, as the dark afternoons of early winter gathered menacingly around us, a dire performance away to West Ham suddenly yielded a late flurry of winning goals and precious points.

In our next games we were poor and undeserving getting a point against Boro, utterly dismal losing for the first time away to Wigan, and then came home with all the points from White Hart Lane for the 3rd consecutive season. Everton are often quite simply inexplicable!

Our next home game was against Villa, a game we felt we could not afford to lose. It was perhaps our best performance of the season so far but we gave away goals and one right at the death very nearly killed any lingering optimism in our hearts. Shattering! I still feel sick!

And yet again as often happens with Everton when all optimism seems quenched there is a resurgence. The game against Villa was the turning point. We were now embarked on our mid-winter of extraordinary content. A creditable draw at home to Chelsea and wins over City, Boro, Sunderland, and Hull gave us the perfect stage for a 4th round cup encounter with the Dark side. The rest is history. Pessimists, you should be ashamed!

We were on an extraordinary run, winning games with ease, and charging into the FA Cup Final beating Boro, Villa, and United, to earn our place there. We may have lost in the Final but Louis Saha’s goal after 25 seconds confirmed, in the hearts of repentant optimists at least, that this Everton team has the potential to deliver something very very special indeed, magical even. We love Everton. We live in Hope. We continue to Believe. We go where Angels fear to Tread. We just can’t help it. It’s just the way we are.

And so what lessons have been learned?

Well, this season the hands are not being rubbed in gleeful anticipation of the proverbial “Flying Start”… No, the memory of the early disasters of 12 months ago are still too fresh. There will be no “Flying Start”, and that’s the official optimists’ view!

To begin with, there is Arsenal. Like facing Death, Arsenal focus the mind. They may well have a poor season ahead but they will still want to prove their potential against us. And we will have to prove ours against them. We will simply have to perform — without optimism, without pessimism. This is a job to be done. Let’s just do it!

What then? Normally, the prospect of Blackburn, Portsmouth, Wigan, in the opening weeks of a campaign would stir our hopes but perhaps not when you think we lost to all of them in the first half of last season. Then there is the prospect of Fulham away our bogey ground despite our win there on the last day of last season. Even Burnley must be viewed with a little trepidation as they will be desperate to secure early points in the League and they will fancy taking them from us.

There is more then than Arsenal, let it be said, to focus the mind.

So, no “Flying Start” then?... Well, let’s allow our incorrigible optimists (or this one at least) to look on the bright side. Here goes.

There is managerial stability this time around with Moyes, the League’s best manager, no doubt determined to improve on the achievements of the last two seasons. True, the pre-season has not set the world alight, but at the time of writing, we have remained “Virgo Intacto” and have held on to all of our top players as Moyes promised. If we keep Joleon Lescott, and our other important players (an absolute must for any optimism as we begin our season!) we will perhaps be the only team at the top of the Premier League to face into the new season with a fully complete team of settled, bonded, spirited, and talented players. I reckon that it an essential prerequisite to achievement in 09-10. The team knows itself and its capabilities. Now let’s translate that into new levels of ambition and achievement.

In addition, players who joined the team or emerged last season can be expected to make a more significant impact in this one. To mention just a few, Rodwell is certainly a player for the future, but is he still too young to be a significant player in 09-10? Jô can deliver, but will he? If he does, we can have a super season. But Fellaini in my view is the one to watch.

Even as relentless optimist, I was sceptical of Fellaini to begin with — and even beyond beginning with, last year — but in the second half of the season he began to look more and more like the sort of player who could make decisive contributions to Everton’s cause. I am beginning to expect a lot from him in the season to come.

We may not have the “Flying Start” we would all like, but perhaps in time we will have the “Fellaini Start” which will propel us to another great season and even greater achievement. In the middle of a fully functioning midfield with Arteta, Cahill, and Pienaar, and supported by Neville, Fellaini can be the added essential ingredient in more success for Everton… In any case, there are few midfields to compare with Everton's, when of course it is fully in situ and in full flow.

We will soon know. Optimists and pessimists are busy girding their loins. The excitement is mounting. We know there will be “Ups” and “Downs” but we don’t know where, when, or how, do we? All we know is that we live for this! A new season… new hope… Everton!

When all is said and done, optimists or pessimists, we follow Everton through good and bad. We love Everton, and that is all.

But that won’t stop us hoping for the best, will it? As the crest says: “Nil Satis Nisi Optimum”… Or to paraphrase loosely “Only Optimism Will Do!” Though too much optimism like too much pessimism should probably carry a health warning.

Anyway… Heads down, fellow Evertonians, and Hearts up! The new season begins here.

Everton for Ever! For Ever Everton! Once again…Enjoy it! And Good Luck!

* Describing oneself as “Lucky” is not always what it might seem where Everton are concerned. It reminds me of the famous ad in the newspaper for the “Lost Irish Terrier”, description as follows: missing one ear, blind in one eye, tail missing, three-legs, recently castrated, answers to the name “Lucky”!

Reader Comments

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Dave Wilson
1   Posted 11/08/2009 at 05:29:39

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Wonderful article Tom.

Dennis Stevens
2   Posted 11/08/2009 at 10:23:52

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I’m reasonably optimistic about our early season matches as we have pretty much the team that completed the last stretch of matches last season & shouldn’t need to put out a team full of youngsters like last season’s early fixtures. My concern is how we cope with further injuries to that team & what will be the timing & impact of players returning from long-term injuries.
I’d also have to disagree re the Villa match - I felt the turning point came at White Hart Lane.
Michael Ward
3   Posted 11/08/2009 at 12:35:44

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Well last year we started with 6 defenders, this we will have 1 centre half.

Lescott has played his last game for Everton, the next time he comes back to Goodison, whoever it may be with he wont be gettting the same sort of reception as last time thats for sure.

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