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COLUMNIST KEVIN SPARKE

Review of 2009 (The Ups and Downs)

By Kevin Sparke :  29/12/2009 :  Comments (15) :

The compliments of the season fellow long suffering blues. Well, Santa left me a decent bottle of single malt to enable me to drown my sorrows and numb the pain of the missus playing her ‘Joe' single on repeat — I'd have preferred three points instead of one for freezing my bollocks off at the Stadium of Light, and glad we got three against the “10 men” yesterday, after making it look like bloody hard work for most of the game - but still. At this time of the year as 2009 limps towards 2010, it is customary to reflect upon the past 12 months and pick out the highlights and lowlights. It's been a mixed bag of a year with some excellent things occurring at Everton FC and some all too familiar really depressing happenings. In this piece I'm highlighting my three highs and my three lows of supporting Everton in 2009; you may have your own — these are mine.

First, I'll start with the highs

Gosling's goal against Liverpool. Picture the scene, a packed Goodison Park filled with Derby match angst, those old familiar friends hope and dread keeping me company; Stevie GBH has been substituted and the blues are pressing forward with purpose but leaving me with the worry that taking the game to them now will leave us wide open to a counter attack. The much missed Jagielka sprays the ball wide to ‘Shandy' and the guy whose previous Everton highs involved turning up for training once without the smell of stale lager and kebab on his breath, clips in the perfect high dipping cross. I'm hoping to see a striker on the end of it but it isn't — it's a kid called Gosling — he checks one way, checks the other “Shoot, Shoot, SHOOT!” I find myself screaming... and he does shoot and the ball clips a couple of Liverpool players and ends up in the back of the net. Now, I've had fun and games with some really lovely woman (And some nasty ones — The ‘She' club/Grafton circa 1980s) but nothing has ever come closer to total joy than seeing that net bulge. The ‘old lady' erupted and the gormless Kopites who had amused us all with their ‘witty' banter and chucking their foul and pestilent sweaty socks onto the pitch were silenced as Goodison rocked to the ‘City's all ours' — what a goal!

Saha's Goal in the cup final. Wouldn't you know it; I'd no chance of a cup final ticket and the telly went on the blink Friday night. I didn't want to watch the match in the alehouse as there was a little bit of bad blood between me and the manager after disagreeing on Shearer's credentials as management material. (I said - ‘You Geordies would have a better team if you appointed a manager instead of a Messiah, I'm made up you went down, you dirty shower of knob-heads — he said... ‘You're barred you Scouse bastard!...) I ended up trawling the Newcastle Metro Centre trying to find a telly. ‘Want that one” I said pointing at a 50 inch. “You can have it Monday” says the assistant. “Want it now” I says. Eventually I got my way and then had to get it home in a two seater MG — difficult but not impossible if you leave the missus behind with enough change for the bus. I missed the build up and got the telly on and working at 5 minutes to kick off.

We'd done things the hard way getting to Wembley and beaten two of the ‘Sky Four' already. I didn't have much confidence we'd beat Chelsea; I thought we'd stand a chance with a full set at the back; but Jag's cruel injury dented my confidence — and yet... you never know with Everton. I was still opening my first of many bottles of booze when Saha slotted that goal; what precision and coolness — I said it at the time of his signing — the guy is pure class and in terms of skill is perhaps a candidate the most accomplished all around forward I've ever seen wearing the blue shirt of Everton. After the elation and the lap of honour of the kitchen holding a bottle of Guinness above my head I looked at my watch — “Too early, much too early!” I thought to myself... and I was right. I spent the rest of the first half poking holes in the top right hand corner of the plasma screen showing Tony Hibbert where he should be taking position and telling him just how shite she was. To be fair, the lad had just come back from injury and perhaps shouldn't have played. But for those few brief minutes of leading Chelsea in the FA Cup Final life was brilliant.

The Kirkby Decision

I know this is controversial and I know that there will be some out there with the opposite viewpoint, held with conviction equally as firmly mine. But as I was travelling up the Motorway and got that text off my brother saying ‘Kirkby has been knocked back' I cheered as if we'd scored; pulled into the next service station and rang my brother to discuss this decision. I'm absolutely convinced that if this shambles of a move would have been given the nod; Everton Football Club would have inevitably spiralled into a sharp decline and been even further marginalised from heart of the region, the City of Liverpool. The whole premise was built on smoke and mirrors and, sad to say, downright lies from the off — ‘effectively free' ‘World class Stadium' and the best of the lot ‘There is no plan B' If that really was the case ‘No plan B' then you might want to consider that you are not really cut out to be a leader, a chairman and a director Bill — there should always, always be a ‘plan B'. There should never have been the ‘exclusivity clause' that tied us to this potential nightmare and I dread to think how many millions have been wasted on the doomed project already... which leads me to my next point and the lows of 2009.

Our failure (Yet again!) to strengthen the team early pre-season

It's quite simple — if we want to be serious contenders for the top four we need to get our new recruits in as early as possible and not on the stroke of midnight on deadline day. It takes time for a manager to suss out a player's strengths and equally takes time for players to bed in and get to know the strengths and weaknesses of their colleagues. Yes, I know we are skint, and have to consider the wage bill, but apparently we're not skint enough to not to fritter away cash on ‘consultancy fees' and ‘viability studies' in order to pursue ludicrous castles in the air like Destination Kirkby.

This season more than most it was important for us to strengthen early; due to the fact we had; a lengthening injury list; a want away Centre Half and a lack of guile in midfield should Pienaar become injured — which he inevitably did. You can see the result staring you in the face — 11th in the league late December with a team only just starting to gel and play some decent football. This is just not acceptable at Everton football club — not if we've any pretentions at seriously trying to win stuff. Every season is the same now; it takes us two months or more to get going — we get going for three months and then lack of depth fucks us up for the last month or so of the season, as players get knackered or injuries occur. We need to hit the ground running in August — if we can achieve this just once we might just shake the top of the tree.

Everton v Arsenal

I'm an Everton fan through and through — but I love the way Arsenal play the game of football. It's like that lad you always hated at school because he always got the best toys as a young kid; as a teenager he got a Sergio Tachini tracksuit when all you got off your skint mum was a snide Adidas three stripe; and he copped-off with the best looking girl in school; the one you were passing notes under the desk to for years — you look at him with a mixture of envy, hatred and admiration. Arsenal are right where I want Everton to be. A team who play the game as it should be played, with skill flair and determination at a fantastic stadium in the heart of the North London community. I just hate it when they play us off the Park like they did in August.

The first home game of the season is when you assess your new recruits and it gives an indication of how the following months will pan out — well, we were awful against Arsenal, we didn't have a clue; we shouldn't have played Lescott; we shouldn't have turned up — there was no guile, no commitment; no guts — and much, much worse than that seemingly no interest in even trying to fight back. Given that piss poor performance I honestly thought it was beyond Moyes to turn things around and the whole season was going to be characterised by one word — survival

Newcastle v Everton (The St James Park Massacre 22nd Feb 2009)

It normally takes more than one game to turn around a season, let alone one incident; but when Mickey Arteta went down clutching his knee during this fixture; you just knew we'd blown our chance of a top four finish. Now, to be fair, Arteta's injury came about due to an innocuous incident and wasn't as a result of any foul play, but it was totally gutting. Just before that Ryan Taylor had nearly hospitalised Rodwell with a really awful tackle; which if it had connected on his standing foot would have shattered his leg and Anichebe who was really beginning to make his presence felt in the team by playing out wide right, had his season ended by another X rated two footed tackle by Nolan. Prior to this game Everton had not lost since November and were staring to play some very nice football orchestrated by Arteta playing in the middle — after that game we ground out results rather than played the silky passing game and the intricate triangles just outside the box.

Make no mistake about it — Newcastle were sent out to kick Everton off the park and they we're ably abetted by a useless referee who let too much go in the first 40 minutes and was left with no option but to send Nolan off after his assault on Anichebe — a couple of judicious and well timed bookings might have avoided this scenario. Newcastle thought they could get away with murder — and they nearly did... but it was football who was the victim... and our top four finish, which until this game, looked a very real possibility.

So, to sum up — it's been an up and down year yet again. I've a gut feeling based upon observation that we're going to end up top half with an early Europa League exit and good FA cup run; but we won't qualify for Europe this season — which, though not the desired outcome, might be a good thing in the long run.

Anyway, the very best of the New Year to all blues, wherever you are — let's hope we can return to winning ways soon!

Reader Comments

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Steven Connor
1   Posted 29/12/2009 at 17:22:06

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High has to be the semi-final shoot out against the Mancs... Everton never win penalty shoot-outs and I was convinced we weren’t going to fucking start now, especially not against United, past masters at all this and European Champions on the back of a shoot out win....

Ten gut-wrenching minutes later, absolute delerium breaks out as Jags does you know what. And the loudset, most heartfelt rendition of Z-Cars I have ever heard... Cue a grown man's tears. Fucking brilliant!

Ian McDowell
2   Posted 29/12/2009 at 18:01:31

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For me it was Cahill's late equaliser at Anfield in the League in January, I was watching that match surrounded by Kopites (full of little snide remarks) and I fucking went berserk when he scored.

The low for me was obviously the cup final as I really thought it was ours, but I couldn’t get too down hearted cos the lads did brilliantly to get there.
James Stewart
3   Posted 29/12/2009 at 18:25:42

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Wow a complete post, Kevin, with no mention of how great a defender Hibbert is! What’s going on! ; )
Martin Berry
4   Posted 29/12/2009 at 19:58:36

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Newcastle going down was one of my favourite moments of the year. They are one of the media darlings despite never winning a fucking thing. They still get more coverage in the tabloids than us. A bit off topic but felt I had to say it.
Ste Traverse
5   Posted 29/12/2009 at 23:39:57

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High for me was winning the shoot-out against Man United followed by being at Hull and getting a text off my gilfriend telling me Kirkby had been rightfully rejected.
Chris Jones
6   Posted 29/12/2009 at 23:56:46

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High point was defo Jags’ winner in the semi-final. Unbridled joy versus silence in the United end.

Low point was sitting among a quiet away following in Hull when we were 3-0 down. Still, at least we don’t have to fuckin live there!

All the best blues everywhere...
Gavin Ramejkis
7   Posted 30/12/2009 at 01:29:43

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Guys, the penalty shoot out shall stay with me to the grave, as will the pictures I took from the Everton end of Wembley of Jags taking his pen and then running up the pitch to celebrate, in those few seconds the Man U fans behind their goal literally disappear from the pictures, never seen a ground clear so quickly. DK getting kicked into touch was another highpoint but am anxiously waiting for some real decisive decision(s) from the club as to what next.
Kevin Sparke
8   Posted 30/12/2009 at 09:51:09

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I was going to include the penalty shoot out against Man Utd - but a little confession.

I couldn’t watch it — I took the dog for a walk and the missus had to text me the final score.

The dog thought I’d lost it as I was jumping up and down shouting ’Wembley’ in the middle of the park...
Chris Matheson
9   Posted 30/12/2009 at 09:59:49

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Kev, this list pretty much covers it. Nice one.

I agree with Gav Ram that although the most important point of the year was the (fantastic) Kirkby decision, we still need something to move forward with this year.

Martin nails one of my prejudices: Newcastle, and the media attention they get. I would love it, love it if they stayed down but it’s not very likely as things stand.

I watched the cup derby match on tv and was one of the lucky millions to benefit from ITV’s cock-up. Cut to adverts just as Danny-boy Gosling tees up his shot, return a short while later to pictures of our players in a pile-on. You want to assume that we scored, but this is Everton, so you keep your hopes at bay till confirmation is given.

But the strangest experience of the year for me was after the Cup Final. I was with my 9-year-old and so, after we had given the team their deserved ovation, I left immediately to miss the crowds back to the tube so I could get her home. We made good time to the tube station but already there were numerous Chelsea fans who must’ve left immediately at the whistle and certainly before the cup presentation. None of them had the excuse of minding a young child as I did. Did wining the FA cup mean that little to them?
Terry Maddock
10   Posted 30/12/2009 at 11:23:04

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The semi-final shoot out... couldn't go and watched it in Yarsity in Hanover St with the ex-GF... Very drunk, jumping round like a loon, kissing strangers. Great day, start to finish...
Martin Berry
11   Posted 30/12/2009 at 11:48:39

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Chris. I’m glad someone agrees with me. Kev how do you put up with living up there with them constantly boasting about what a big club they are? My highlights would defo be Gosling goal and Jags pen. I watched the Gosling derby at home and the dog still hasn’t got over me standing on her tail.
Kevin Sparke
12   Posted 31/12/2009 at 01:35:57

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To be honest, Martin, most of them up here don’t fit the stereotype of deluded Geordies who support the "biggest club in the World" Most of the lads I speak to hate their media image.

Though, I did have an interesting conversation with a lad who informed me that "Expectation up here is more than you get at ’small clubs’ like Everton?"

I casually reminded him that in my 50 years my ’small club’ Everton had won the League Championship 4 times the FA Cup 3 times, the European Cup Winners Cup and had never been out of the top flight...

His answer — "Yes but we had Shearer..."

You can’t win with dopes like that; but the thing that gets me mad more than enything else are the plastic kopite Geordies who wouldn’t be able to point to Merseyside on a map, let alone Anfield.
Dermot Ryan
13   Posted 31/12/2009 at 08:35:26

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In a sense, every football season is made up of two halves. And I think we really ended on a high after a really awful opening to this Winter half of the season. How I wish we had trashed Wolves, Bolton, and hull earlier in the season!! But I still think that beating Burnley after so many great draws, which represented our desire to have a team that was reviving, WAS AMAZING. So I think that our modest win against Burnley on the back of so many great draws and added to so much desire for a great Spring represents a great moment of 2009. COYB.
Andy Morden
14   Posted 31/12/2009 at 14:54:58

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From a personal point of view I’d like to add the spanking we handed out to Villa in the FA cup run. I have a large number of Villa supporting friends and I had endured some witless banter and was smarting a little from the home loss to them. It was very sweet to see their season fall apart and play a large part in that. Petty? Hell yes! But that is why being a footie fan is so much fun!
Chris Butler
15   Posted 01/01/2010 at 21:57:46

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Got to say agree with most of the points in this article. Had to laugh leaving the missus with enough money for the bus and the Shearer gag. Now 'witty' and 'Kopites' are two words I would not put together. The same ones who chant about people from Kirkby not being scousers while calling Gerrard and Carragher proper scousers is quite funny.

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