Move closer. Don’t worry, we’re not going to take a swing at you.
It’s been a rum old time for Ross Barkley – starting with playing great against Leicester City and answering his critics to a degree, only for the rest of the day to be blighted by more ‘sign on or ship out’ comments from Ronald Koeman and then a highly-publicised dig in the kipper from some little nark in town.
Is it just an Everton thing or is it modern football that doesn’t allow you to enjoy watching your best players any more? In Barkley and Romelu Lukaku, the Toffees have two extremely talented young players who are, apart from in the odd game against the best sides in the league, are creating and scoring goals on a consistent basis. If they have a quiet game the debate rages over whether they are in fact overrated, and if they play well then all the talk is about how we won’t be able to keep hold of them – how they need to leave Everton to ‘reach their potential’.
It’s exhausting, quite frankly.
That first bit was written before the Burnley match and before Kelvin MacKenzie’s ‘four pints of Stella at lunchtime, oh shit I’ve got a deadline to meet’ article graced the pages of the old currant bun.
Everton had no option but to ban The Sun from the press box. If they hadn’t, when already under pressure to follow Liverpool’s recent lead, then they would have appeared impotent in the face of a ludicrous piece that insulted one of the club’s employees and most of its customers. The newspaper is still free to write about Everton, and indeed besmirch Scousers, living and dead, if they please, but they are no longer entitled to matchday access and privileges.
They can’t really complain.
Let’s be honest, even they must be stunned that they have got away with it for this long.
After all, they employ MacKenzie. And they do so for one reason, and that is because he, like Katie Hopkins, expresses opinions that ultimately allow papers to monetise hatred, insecurity and ignorance. It’s what they bring to the table. Their gift to the world.
And let’s be honest, the only reason The Sun suspended him was because he shit the bed by choosing to use the language of racial hatred against a young mixed race lad – some poor woman’s son – who had the temerity to be attacked and then have that pretty shocking assault broadcast for the world’s entertainment. MacKenzie and The Sun then had the brass neck to ‘defend’ themselves by saying that they wouldn’t have said he looks like a gorilla if they had known that Barkley had Nigerian family.
Essentially: ‘They do look like apes, don’t they, you’re just not allowed to say it in public any more’.
MacKenzie and The Sun could have used that high-profile column to discuss anything that day. Absolutely anything, in this enormous, complex, nuanced world we live in. And yet they chose that.
All eyes were on Barkley and his shiner for the Burnley game then, and in all honesty, for much of it he struggled because he was clearly so eager to make an impression after the shitty week he’d had. A couple of wildly miscued shots summed up his frustrations, but those incidents were notable in that they highlighted how eager the crowd were to show their support for a fella who usually elicits his fair share of groans when things don’t go his way.
Crucially, at the other end he did get his head onto two goal-bound efforts that had completely beaten the ticking MOAB (Mother Of All Balls-ups) that is Joel Robles, as the visitors made light of their dreadful away form to give the Blues a proper argument.
Phil Jagielka broke the edgy deadlock right after the break, scrambling the ball home from a corner. Minutes later though, Robles knee-slid out like a sweaty-fringed kid on the dance floor at a wedding and conceded a ludicrous penalty.
Sam Vokes converted and Robles stood there, wiping his hands on a towel and doing his weird conversation-with-the-disappointed-voices-in-his-head thing that he does whenever he fucks up massively. Which is too often for him to be our starting keeper next season.
However, this was Barkley’s day, and although it’s been officially classed as an own goal, he deserves the credit for a shot that took a couple of deflections and wrong-footed Tom Heaton before finishing in the net in front of an adoring Gwladys Street.
The Burnley keeper was beaten again, moments later, by the inevitable Lukaku Goodison goal. There was nothing on when Leighton Baines rolled a pass into the feet of the Belgian on the edge of the box, but Lukaku simply spun, held flavour-of-the-month Michael Keane at arm’s length like a horrible little twat of an older brother who has your melting Cornetto, and pulverised a shot inside the near post.
Ronald Koeman, who appears to have something of a complex relationship with Barkley, showed a touch of class by subbing him minutes from the end and allowing the crowd to once again show him some love. And for a lad who, you suspect, doesn’t always feel appreciated by the supporters – who he does often frustrate, let’s be honest – it did feel a little bit like the bond was strengthened here as a direct result of his recent misfortune.
So if there’s anything positive to come out of Barkley’s recent travails, well, perhaps it’s that.