August 28th, 2014
Oddly enough, one of the very early footballing memories I can muster is the 1995 FA Cup final. I was only eleven but I distinctly remember what felt like a two day build-up being a haze of Blue versus Red and a sense of a David versus Goliath clash unfolding.
Had I known any better back then, I’d have realised, even then, just how big a football club Everton were but in my early adolescence, and growing up in a GAA household, I’d no one to fill me in on the history of the blue half of Merseyside. Paul Rideout’s bullet-like header in that first half is as vivid a goal as any of my childhood even if the subsequent celebrations in the aftermath are a blur lost to the innocence of youth.
In the mid-nineties, Everton were bopping around at the lower end of what was then referred to as the ‘Premiership’ and did so for a number of seasons up until David Moyes appointment in 2002. Year-by-year, brick-by-brick, the Scot re-laid the foundations of what is now a fully verified fortress at Goodison Park.
He did it all on the back of very little net investment, too. Bill Kenwright – an owner with shallow pockets but a heart as blue as a Spanish sky – simply didn’t have the funds to bankroll an assault on the top teams. Instead, the former Preston manager had to adopt a rigid style of football, utilise the talents of an experienced squad and the funds from the sale of a precocious 16 year old Wayne Rooney to further Toffee ambitions.
Over the next decade, Everton charged up the table, consistently hanging onto the coattails of the top teams, even momentarily flirting with the Champions League. As Moyes departed for the hallowed halls of Old Trafford, he handed over the reins to a man with designs on building his own Theatre of Dreams.
Roberto Martinez isn’t so much a fantasist as a fantastic idealist. A believer in playing free-flowing, attacking football; in giving youth its chance; in being humble, positive and mannerly – it’s incredibly difficult not to have a deep sense of admiration for him.
With a strong platform already provided for by a decade’s worth of work by Moyes, Martinez has taken Everton to new levels; not just on the pitch but in the transfer market, too. A record-breaking £28 million move for striker, Romelu Lukaku sent a message to their competition: Everton mean business.
The Spaniard also made Gareth Barry’s loan move from Man City permanent in a vital continuation of last season’s central partnership with Ireland dynamo, James McCarthy. Further canny purchases of Bosnia World Cup midfielder Muhamed Besic, Ghana’s Christian Atsu and a shock move for Samuel Eto’o has lit the blue touch paper ahead of a new season which holds big expectations.
None of that will faze the former Wigan manager, though. The Catalan is a man of deep convictions and utter belief in his ability and that’s visibly transmitted to his squad, too. They play with a freedom and belief you only see in the most positive teams.
It would be remiss of anyone not to mention the role Everton fans have played in their success. Renowned for the fiery, gladiatorial atmosphere they create at Goodison Park, they also know what it’s like to suffer the ignominy of being supporters of a club with the label of being a ‘sleeping giant’ and treat others accordingly, save a bit of joshing fans of all teams engage in.
As a football supporter, when you think of how you’d love your club to operate, it’s hard not to think of Everton Football club as the ideal. Long may their ascent continue.