It’s all about the journey these days, isn’t it? It used to be about having passion, but now everybody has that, for everything, and so whether you are a sportsman, politician or talent-show tithead, what everyone wants to know about – or what you are going to bore them with anyway – is your journey.
And guess what, that’s right, with the appointment of a new manager, Roberto Martinez, it feels like Everton are on a new journey of their own. Please note here, the whole journey motif is meant tongue-in-cheek, because despite desperately trying to create the illusion of ‘momentum’ and ‘direction’ football clubs on the whole do pretty much the same things year in, year out and generally only make quite superficial changes. As institutions clubs are inherently conservative – after all, everyone’s getting paid fortunes just for turning up, why would they want to venture too far from where they are now?
Anyway, with Everton’s trying a different approach to their play and introducing some new players, the first few fixtures of this season have held the fans captivated. We have faced familiar opposition with more or less the same approach and a pretty settled squad for the last decade, so there is a curiosity as to how Martinez’s team will play against an unadventurous side like West Brom at Goodison, for instance, or one of the top teams like Chelsea, as they did last week.
This Saturday’s visit to West Ham is another test similar to the games away at Norwich and Cardiff City, but there is the added element this time of Martinez having pretty much all of his own signings to pick from – most notably Romelu Lukaka.
It seems like whoever we play, apart from Chelsea themselves, announces that they tried to recruit Lukaku in the summer, and it’s really no surprise that Sam Allardyce is an admirer of the Belgian big truck. Instead he has Carlton Cole hanging around like a bad smell, training with the Hammers and presumably pleading for a new contract every day like Bobby Chariot: ‘Come on Sam, I need this. I’ve been sleeping in the Jag.’
Before Lukaku has even played a game for Everton there is speculation and indeed Chelsea fans are ‘clamouring’ – there have been a couple of Tweets – for him to be recalled to alleviate their present crisis – they have lost a couple of games. Presumably there is some sort of provision in his deal with Everton that states that they can’t just do that, otherwise what would happen if he or Victor Moses at Liverpool were playing out of their skin and those clubs found themselves challenging Chelsea for the title (fourth place)?
Everton certainly need someone to stick the ball in the net. This season they have had more shots on goal than aynone else, but that statistic tells the story of two things. We have been dominating possession, which is clearly a plus, but struggling to open sides up cleanly – a lot of those shots have been from distance and as a result of frustration. ‘Speculative’ is the word that the commentators generally use.
Another fun football fact that always gets brought up is that Leighton Baines created more chances and slung over more crosses than any other player in Europe last season. Given that our highest goalscorer never made it into double figures, that would suggest we were one of the worst takers of chances around.
In short, this Lukaku character better head at least a couple of goals in every game or we’re going to be awfully disappointed.
West Ham, for their part, well, they are one of those sides who never finish above us but whenever you read previews on their fanzine-type websites always call Everton ‘the sort of team we need to be beating’ and end with a prediction of ‘2-0 to the Irons!’
As things stand though they haven’t beaten us home or away since 2007. Ally that to the performance last week against Chelsea, and the Hammers’ last game at the Boleyn Ground – a 1-0 defeat by Stoke City – and you would like to think we go into this one as favourites. In fact, anything less than a win will be quite deflating as we have a little bit of ground to make up following those draws in the three opening matches of the season.
Everton will be wearing rainbow-coloured laces for the match in support of the charity Stonewall’s anti-homophobia campaign. Anything that discourages cuntishness and makes anyone’s life a bit easier is to be applauded, although just reading this BBC article shows what a minefield the whole area is and how even when the message is essentially a positive one, the whole spectre of commercialism is never very far away.
The Premier League come out of it really well, don’t they? It comes to something when you are being shown up by Joey Barton.
One thing that always stands out is how professional football is always assumed to be this last bastion of unreconstructed male boorishness and the absolute last place where anyone would feel comfortable coming out. Are no footballers annoyed by that presumption, one that’s peddled in the press constantly? As well-travelled individuals who work in a more ethnically diverse environment than just about anyone else in the country, do no players get the hump at being automatically labelled as small-minded bigots?
And what about the fans? Would they ‘make life hell’ for a gay player? The supporters of their club almost certainly wouldn’t – fans continually show a willingness to ‘forgive’ anything of their idols – and as for abuse from the opposition, could that be any worse than the hot air that is hurled at players now?
Perhaps the tabloid press, who make so much of the lack of gay footballers while running salacious stories about sex lives of celebrities on their front pages, need to question their own role. Maybe there are gay players who, like their straight teammates, are simply loving their life as millionaire sportsmen and just want to be spared the media hysteria and intrusion of their privacy that would ensue if they no longer kept their sexuality to themselves.