The Burden of the Past

Jim Keoghan 21/09/2016  19 Comments  [Jump to last]
Share:

Expectation is everything in football. When a side like Hull starts the season expecting a fight against relegation, anything better is deemed a success by the fans. Similarly, when Arsenal's supporters begin a campaign demanding the title, finishing 4th is seen as something of a failure (even if most clubs would give anything to enjoy such an outcome).

The expectations of fans can fluctuate season to season, often shifting with what is seen as the club's innate potential. Doubtless Leicester City supporters now expect a higher level of success than has been the case in the past. But underpinning these often fleeting spikes are longer-term attitudes, forged by experience, and which quickly reassert their hold if temporary hopes prove to be flawed.

In the Leicester example, decades of yo-yoing around the divisions has conditioned supporters to the reality of relegation. A poor campaign this time around will surely see those long-held expectations of mere survival once again grip the hearts and minds of the faithful, as dreams of further silverware and adventures in Europe dissipate in front of their eyes.

What are the expectations of us Evertonians? With the Moshiri millions, a new manager, and the prospect of a new stadium, we should be confidently looking towards a bright future. But our expectations of what Everton should be capable of are often weighed down by the past, specifically the recent past.

I recently wrote a book on the 1990s (Highs, Lows and Bakayokos) and was interested by how much that particular decade shaped the expectations of Evertonians in the years that followed.

As a fanbase, we've long been a slightly pessimistic bunch. When you've had two title-winning squads broken apart by World Wars, had your best-ever side undermined by a European ban that was nothing to do with your club, and possessed neighbours who seemed to have the devil's luck, it's very hard to see the silver lining amongst the clouds.

But despite the ingrained pessimism, a generation ago we collectively aimed high. In the modern-era, between the 1960s and the mid-1990s, Evertonians believed that the club should be shooting for the very top. The title remained a realistic aim. We considered our club to be a part of the elite, capable of challenging for the top prizes. So, even in the erratic 1970s, the challenging early 1980s and the mediocre late 1980s and early 1990s, the expectation was that Everton should be up around the top.

Such expectation meant that a mid-table finish was disappointing, that a season without silverware was an opportunity lost, and the prospect of relegation almost unthinkable.

And then came the 1990s — a time of tremendous change, both at the club and within football as a whole.

For about 10 years, 1994-2004, the threat of relegation became a near-annual concern for Evertonians. Try as the club might, despite new owners, new players, new managers, the gravitational pull of the bottom three rarely released its grip. Like a modern-day Sunderland, the axe appeared to hover over Everton's head almost every season. It conditioned the fans to the threat of the drop, making mid-table mediocrity the Promised Land for many a Blue. The magic ‘40-point' mark entered the Evertonian lexicon; a sad indictment for a club whose fans not long before had thought titles, cups and European football their right.

But, more than just this persistent threat of relegation, the club also slid off the pace when compared to their peers. Give or take a few blips here and there, Everton had been part of the game's elite, certainly in financial terms, since the foundation of the Football League back in 1888. That changed, perhaps irrevocably, in the 1990s. Former peers, such as Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal raced ahead, grabbing the riches provided by the globalisation of the English top flight, the largesse provided by Sky, and the increased money offered in the Champions League.

During the 1990s and beyond, if you got yourself a big stadium, a sophisticated commercial department, and maintained a position at the top, there was money to be made on a level thought inconceivable just a few years earlier.

And it was the kind of money you needed if you had any notion of wanting enduring success. Wages rose exponentially and transfer costs soared as more and more cash was pumped into the game. For those who successfully boarded the gravy train, all of this could be accommodated. But for those that didn't, it meant that the gap between you and the elite became ever more yawning.

To breach it, you'd need a sugar daddy (or daddies). This was why you got the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea swelling the ranks of the elite, becoming part of the handful of clubs that were realistically capable of challenging for both the title and the limited number of European places available.

From the 1990s onwards, membership of the elite mattered like never before. Frustratingly for Everton, the club chose exactly this time to balls everything up, as organisational incompetence, poor appointments, and a succession of bad seasons led the club to slide off the pace.

So what did all this mean to us Evertonians? Mentally, I think it limited our horizons, imposing a glass ceiling on our thinking. We'd lost our elite position, so even when the club recovered under Moyes, finishing in the top four was rarely expected and the title not even considered.

Of course, part of this was rooted in financial reality. Until Leicester proved the exception, clubs outside the financial elite simply never crashed the party. But part of it was also an inability to believe that we could be more than the sum of our parts. The famously conservative Moyes benefited from this, finding justification for his inability to grasp the opportunities that were occasionally available.

Although financial realities and lack of self-belief altered our expectations, we were equally haunted by the daily reality of relegation that had hovered over us for that 10-year period. The stress of ‘the drop' damaged our collective psyche, making safety hugely important. After Wimbledon 1994, Coventry 1998, and the other seasons when our relegation seemed inevitable, mid-table mediocrity no longer seemed such a bad outcome for a season. Although Moyes banished the reality of relegation, for many Evertonians, he never fully banished the fear of it.

And if you want proof, then look at the past few campaigns. Under Martinez, both last season and the one that preceded it, relegation was never realistically on the cards. The team was too blessed with talent, other clubs much poorer, and the manager — despite his manifold limitations — no Mike Walker. But still, the little voice inside the head of many an Evertonian whispered the word ‘relegation' at our darkest moments. As a club, we haven't been in a full-blown relegation fight for over a decade. But still, that slight fear lingers courtesy of the 1990s, the decade that fundamentally altered what it means to be a modern Evertonian for a whole generation of Blues.

Hopefully, we are at the beginning of a new chapter for Everton. Yes, we've had another transfer window that looks slightly disappointing. Yes, it's still a concern that fresh investment looks conspicuous by its absence. And yes, despite much talk, the idea of a shiny new stadium is just that, an idea.

But our foundations are good, our potential great and it looks like — for the first time, in a very, very long time, the club is starting to be run competently. We survived our ‘Sunderland' years, came through the other side and stubbornly ground our way back into relevance. Now, all we need to do is take the next step and believe. I'm optimistic that Everton can do just that. We need to forget what we were and think about what we can become. The 1990s and the early 2000s might have cast a long shadow but now is the time to step out of gloom and into the sunshine.

Jim Keoghan is the author of Highs, Lows and Bakayokos; the story of Everton in the 1990s. It is out now, available at Pitch Publishing


Reader Comments (19)

Note: the following content is not moderated or vetted by the site owners at the time of submission. Comments are the responsibility of the poster. Disclaimer


Gerry Quinn
1 Posted 21/09/2016 at 16:38:50
Jim, a great read – and you knock the nail bang on the proverbial head with those recent '90s feelings towards our various seasonal adventures. THAT word has certainly always remained lodged within the rear lobe of my brain – you know, that Evertonian bit of grey matter with the blue tinge to it!

Need to get a copy of your "Highs, Lows and Bakayokos" – but where from, pray tell us?

Again, great read, Jim

Kevin Hudson
2 Posted 21/09/2016 at 16:46:17
Good read. The questions for me now are: How much money can we expect to come in? Is Moshiri capable of genuine, massive change? Is the stadium idea real, or Kenwright-esque 'pie-in-the-sky?' (You did mention that we're a sceptical bunch..!!) What is the actual level of ambition of the club, over the next 5-10 years?

Will we paradoxically become both as successful yet as soulless as say, a Chelsea or a Man. City?

Finally, would that be a good thing?

Chris Williams
3 Posted 21/09/2016 at 16:50:26
Jim

I'm with you on this all the way. My father infected me with the Everton virus as a youngster, with his tales of Dean, Stein, Dunn, Lawton, Britton and Mercer, and bunking into Wembley in 1933. He took me to my first match in the early 50s.

I in turn did the same thing for my sons, with tales of Young, Vernon,Wilson, Ball, Harvey, Kendall, Kay and the rest. And took them to matches in the late eighties – just too late! And then into the nineties which as you say was Ground Zero for Everton. We attended Wimbledon and Coventry together and these days can reminisce almost fondly about those occasions.

Like you, I believe we may be on the verge of a new era but I'm realistic and patient (pessimistic?) enough to believe it might take a few seasons to get there – and so be it as long as we build foundations and progress from there.

I'll be buying your book for my younger son for Christmas to remind him and me of a dire time but with a trace of fondness as long as it is all in the past finally.

He in turn will be infecting his son, currently 2½, with a little help from me along the way. It would be great for him to be able to bore the arse of his children with tales of his own 'greats' when the time comes.

And so it goes.

Jim Keoghan
4 Posted 21/09/2016 at 17:34:01
Hi Gerry. Glad you liked it. You can get it here via:

http://www.pitchpublishing.co.uk/shop/highs-lows-and-bakayokos

Jack Convery
5 Posted 21/09/2016 at 18:24:41
The hangover is very much there for me. The way I look at 13 pts is 27 left to go! EFC have brainwashed me into the "glass half-empty" syndrome, I'm afraid.
Lev Vellene
6 Posted 21/09/2016 at 20:39:07
I became a fan in '77 or '78. I can't really remember now if EFC already had won the FA Cup, or if I joined the ranks just before that (I was born in '67, btw). I made a post about football trading cards explaining my conversion, I think...

And still, the glorious mid-80's were too soon past my long-time recollection (due to my early age, I guess). So I really did grow up in the '90s as a long-suffering Evertonian, and that mindset is still part of me!

We've won 4 out of 5 Premier League games, and I still silently count 13 out of 40-42 points to most probably survive... I am SO ready to be bowled over by anything better that Koeman can provide long term! :)

Patrick Murphy
7 Posted 21/09/2016 at 21:02:56
Everton FC should be aiming for 40 points every season, not as a final total but as a tally come the beginning of the New Year. Of course that's very ambitious for our current crop of players, yet if things go their way and we are not burdened by injuries and too many suspensions, there is no real reason why that shouldn't be attainable.

But, like most Blues, I'll settle for a top six to eight finish, until Koeman can get the squad properly balanced.

Stan Schofield
8 Posted 22/09/2016 at 00:49:34
Jim, interesting article, and I will read your book.

I think because my dad took me to first see Everton in 1961, when Alex Young was playing and we were just rising to 1960s glory, that's how I naturally think of Everton, as top of the pile. In this sense, the great mid-80s side was again quite natural. What happened over the last two decades seems an anomaly, a hiatus pending further inevitable success. I guess it's psychology, an imprint of Everton founded from age 7.

So I understand how the generation introduced to Everton in the 90s might naturally have lower expectations, again an imprint. A young red asked me recently why Koeman joined Everton rather than stay at Southampton, because his vision of Everton was of a small club. He was surprised by my answer, not realising the successes that I recounted, which exceeded his own experiences of Liverpool.

So success or mediocrity seems a perception based on your experience, especially experience when young, and you're in the park playing footie with your mates and pretending you're Alan Ball. In our new era, you can imagine kids pretending they're Gana or Lukaku, and more names besides as we become more successful, establish consistency in the top-6 and once again win silverware.

David Ellis
9 Posted 22/09/2016 at 02:46:35
Maybe I was lucky – I moved to Hong Kong in 1990 and it being pre-internet was not really able to follow football again until 1995 – so was somewhat inoculated against the relegation virus.

I was simply stunned when we were in a relegation dog fight and never believed we would go down (even when listening to the Wimbledon game on BBC World Service). By Coventry in 98 we had cable TV and I could watch the drama live – made it a bit more real, but I still couldn't believe we could possibly be relegated.

I think the mid table expectations now are rational given the financial gap that emerged in the 1990s. I don't think it helps to have unrealistic expectations – it can be disastrous, look at Leeds, Portsmouth and most of all Chelsea after Harding (their first sugar Daddy) died in a helicopter crash. Had Abromovich not swooped in, they would have disappeared like Leeds.

Brian Wilkinson
10 Posted 22/09/2016 at 03:56:34
Spot on, Jim. What is also worth remembering is it coincided with the Premier League starting. As each season passed, the gap widened with the big four, Champions League revenue made the gap even wider. The big boys could cherry pick players, we were on our arse, becoming a selling club, making it even harder to close the gap.

What we have now is a solid foundation, we can now turn down selling players, unless the player is set on moving, we can bring players in, if those players want to move to Everton.

If we can keep picking up points, January may be more attractive to bring players in than it was the last transfer window.

For all the money we have, these next three months could be the most important to moving to the next level for Everton football club.

We need to be in the top four come January; if we can do that we really need to grasp it with both hands.

Lewis Barclay
11 Posted 22/09/2016 at 06:41:37
Good read Jim.

Losing 0-2 to Norwich doesn't help matters.

Jimmy Salt
12 Posted 22/09/2016 at 07:02:40
Ahh... that '90s feeling. I was just old enough to enjoy our '80s success. I was ready to start going the match and following our great team, then the '90s happened. I almost wish I was born a bit later so my expectations where not so high.

And so to the Everton of today, steady progression and a new stadium please. Make us believe again.

Ian Jones
13 Posted 22/09/2016 at 08:19:21
Interesting read.

Having been one of the clubs instrumental in forming the Premier League, for whatever reason we sat back, seemingly oblivious to the potential. A few clubs took advantage. Especially Man Utd who hadn't won the title for about 25 years. They were always a good cup winning shout in the 70s and 80s as were Everton.

Worked out well for them. Helped by their youngsters.

Assume if the 'commercial' department had had any nous, we would have all been better off.

Also didn't Sir Philip Carter stand down as Chairman around 1992 ish. We lost our way.

With investment, a good crop of youngsters and hopefully sound business common sense, we have the opportunity to make our way back up. May take 10 years but we should get there.

It may take a few managers to get there as I can see Koeman being interested in clubs like Arsenal or Barcelona in the near future however well he fares or doesn't with us.

I can't imagine Koeman was swayed to come to the club by the prospect of a new stadium. Although it shows the direction the club is intending going in, it is possible the only time he will enjoy the new stadium is as a Manager of another club.

However, Chelsea have had an assortment of managers in place over the years, several in one season sometimes, and it doesn't hold them back. Managers will always want to come to a well-run club.

We have that potential now. Let's enjoy it and move forwards.

Tom Hughes
14 Posted 22/09/2016 at 09:25:49
As the old adage goes, what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. Growing up in the '70s, I thought I'd never see us win anything again, and of course the horrendous backdrop to that was the other lot winning everything. EVERY year.

The '80s was more than a euphoric and blessed relief. It was absolutely imperative to claw back our credibility, and some of the lost generation of new support that had been lured away to the glory of endless trophies, and days and nights of kop folklore. God knows where we'd be now as a club if we hadn't for just a few years reminded the football world who we are.

The '90s were a complete shambles. One poor decision followed by another, then another. Somehow there was just enough substance and collective energy to keep our heads above water, though once or twice it was quite a desperate struggle on the season's last day ... The one saving grace being that Liverpool had finally fallen off the top spot, and were no longer automatic choice for silverware.

By the noughties the expectation-bar had been set realistically low enough for a club that had given up all trophy-winning ambition. We simply went into survival mode, and the financial wolves were never too far from the door. Moyes did a good job on the pitch in papering over the cracks and consolidating our Premier League status on an almost non-existent budget, where he had to sell to buy (thanks, Wayne). Off the pitch, we were a complete basket-case.

Strangely, those endless struggles and almost catastrophic failures seemed to galvanise the support to an extent. The average attendances appeared to grow almost year on year. There is now a far stronger match-going habit amongst the blue-half of the city than the red, who gave up their tickets to the tourists and have long since become telly tubby armchairs with very few youngsters in their stands.

It's a thin line between pessimism and optimism, or skepticism and belief. A few wins with a new man at the helm has given renewed confidence. Similarly in the boardroom. Hopefully we can now build on the strengths honed through years/decades of footballing adversity, both on and off the pitch. We missed the boat in the '90s... maybe it's back "in dock".

Don Alexander
15 Posted 22/09/2016 at 10:59:01
Lucky enough as I was to be born in the city of me Ma's birth my owd fella, a Glaswegian, took me to Goodison from the outset (thanks to Bobby Collins in no small measure - the Scottish prototype for Alan Ball!).

Hooked from there I revelled in the 60's success, just couldn't believe the break up of the 1970 team exemplified by the disposal of Bally, endured from there to mid 80's and by Christ did that seem a VERY long time.

Heysel destroyed that team, so cue the 90's and our one unlikely success in '95.

Since the zilch, nowt, nada. The club have failed on so many levels it's scary, all the while with BPB in the boardroom.

The quality of football has been grim, except for very brief periods under Moyesy (and a genuine thanks for that by the way) but now, right now, we have some grounds for optimism AND effective successful football that's a pleasure to watch.

Who knows what's around the corner, but the looks like it will be a blast.

COYB!

Don Alexander
16 Posted 22/09/2016 at 10:59:44
Lucky enough as I was to be born in the city of me Ma's birth my owd fella, a Glaswegian, took me to Goodison from the outset (thanks to Bobby Collins in no small measure - the Scottish prototype for Alan Ball!).

Hooked from there I revelled in the 60's success, just couldn't believe the break up of the 1970 team exemplified by the disposal of Bally, endured from there to mid 80's and by Christ did that seem a VERY long time.

Heysel destroyed that team, so cue the 90's and our one unlikely success in '95.

Since then zilch, nowt, nada. The club have failed on so many levels it's scary, all the while with BPB in the boardroom.

The quality of football has been grim, except for very brief periods under Moyesy (and a genuine thanks for that by the way) but now, right now, we have some grounds for optimism AND effective successful football that's a pleasure to watch.

Who knows what's around the corner, but the looks like it will be a blast.

COYB!

Don Alexander
17 Posted 22/09/2016 at 11:00:39
Lucky enough as I was to be born in the city of me Ma's birth my owd fella, a Glaswegian, took me to Goodison from the outset (thanks to Bobby Collins in no small measure - the Scottish prototype for Alan Ball!).

Hooked from there I revelled in the 60's success, just couldn't believe the break up of the 1970 team exemplified by the disposal of Bally, endured from there to mid 80's and by Christ did that seem a VERY long time.

Heysel destroyed that team, so cue the 90's and our one unlikely success in '95.

Since then zilch, nowt, nada. The club have failed on so many levels it's scary, all the while with BPB in the boardroom.

The quality of football has been grim, except for very brief periods under Moyesy (and a genuine thanks for that by the way) but now, right now, we have some grounds for optimism AND effective successful football that's a pleasure to watch.

Who knows what's around the corner, but it looks like it will be a blast.

COYB!

Clive Rogers
18 Posted 22/09/2016 at 20:05:42
Ian #13,

Carter stood down as chairman when Johnson bought the club in 1994, but returned as chairman in 1998 to 2004. He later returned to the board when Wyness resigned as there weren't enough board members (3) to hold a meeting.

Ste Traverse
19 Posted 23/09/2016 at 13:02:22
Clive #18

Carter stood down as Chairman in the of summer 1991 with the hapless Dr David Marsh taking over until Johnson bought the club 3 years later.

Add Your Comments

In order to post a comment, you need to be logged in as a registered user of the site.

» Log in now

Or Sign up as a ToffeeWeb Member — it's free, takes just a few minutes and will allow you to post your comments on articles and Talking Points submissions across the site.


© ToffeeWeb