Great Expectations

Howard Kendall’s success with his Everton side in the 1980s is difficult for me to truly comprehend.

By @AlexLen1995

By the time I began to follow football as a child, Kendall’s twenty-year on-and-off relationship with Everton had long since concluded.

The protagonists of my childhood consisted of the young David Moyes and a range of other characters such as Tomasz Radzinski, James McFadden, Lee Carsley, Tim Cahill, and of course the teenage Wayne Rooney.

I remember the VHS season review called ‘The Magnificent Seventh’, and during the summer I’d sit and watch the Ceefax pages go by to keep up with the Everton transfer rumours.

Sometimes me and my dad would even get the internet cable out and plug it into the computer in order to look at the articles on Bluekipper for a bit.

As fondly as I remember my younger years following Everton, and as much as I’ll never forget the numerous outings to Goodison with my dad, I have never seen Everton win a trophy.

The childhood naivety eventually fades, and you realise that Everton aren’t actually as perfect as you thought them to be.

In fact, although they have become steadily stronger, the Toffees have done relatively little throughout all of the time I’ve spent watching them.

And there will be many like myself out there, and perhaps even reading this, who have experienced the same torment.

However it is in the nature of Evertonians to oppose mediocrity. There is a shared, hardened reluctance to accept average football.

The recent – and ongoing – protests against the enigmatic Bill Kenwright and his ruling prove how fans of the Blues are conditioned to expect great things.

This extract from an article featured in the Guardian, recalling the time when Kendall himself was under pressure, enforces the refusal of Everton fans to accept sub-standard football (*spoiler alert* — thankfully things did get better):

‘Just a week before the club faced a tricky FA Cup third round tie at Stoke City, just 13,659 fans turned up to watch an abysmal 0-0 draw against Coventry at Goodison Park, with protest leaflets handed out by fans spelling out their feelings towards the chairman and manager: “Kendall and Carter must go. 26,000 stay-away fans can’t be wrong.” Everton were 16th in the league and apparently going nowhere. Defeat at Stoke or Oxford in the forthcoming FA Cup and Milk Cup ties did not bear thinking about for Kendall.’

Of course, every football fan desires success for their club, but through my royal blue-tinted glasses, the level of expectation just feels different if you follow the Toffees. And this contributes significantly to the grey cloud of moderate dissatisfaction that is currently floating above Goodison.

Personally, I believe the high standards Evertonians have is very much down to the achievements of Kendall and his famous side.

Like many other fans will have, I grew up hearing stories of what happened in the ’80s. And it must have been incredible to watch – a European Cup Winners’ Cup, league titles and an FA Cup. I can’t begin to imagine how fantastic it must have been.

Fast-forward thirty years from that point and you arrive at Roberto Martinez’s Everton. Stuck in footballing purgatory between the ‘plucky little Everton’/punching above their weight’ reputation of the Moyes era, and what it takes to break into the top four.

The club is at an awkward point in its existence. And currently, Martinez appears to be pretty much continuing the Moyes trend. Everton have their good days – but ultimately they have an inconsistent record with no end product.

Yet what confuses me, and contributes to the overall irritation, is how strong the Everton starting XI is.

Admittedly, the overall squad is thin and has been for years – but that has not stopped the Blues almost winning an FA Cup, looking promising in the Europa League, and nearly breaking into the top four.

This falling-at-the-final-hurdle-syndrome that Everton have suffered from over the last however many years would suggest that, actually, I’m talking rubbish and Everton simply aren’t good enough to win trophies and break their own glass ceiling.

But I don’t think I am. Everton should have and could have succeeded where they have failed over recent years.

Just imagine if Everton hadn’t lost to Crystal Palace in Martinez’s first season. They could have beaten Arsenal to that fourth-placed finish and the club’s fortunes might have really taken off.

This is what it means to be a modern Evertonian – putting up with a turbulent narrative of ifs and buts. The average Everton fan spends an unhealthy amount of time lamenting missed opportunities, making excuses, wishing Tim Howard would just sod off to the MLS or wherever, and being unable to decide whether Martinez is our very own Catalan genius or that Spanish fella who was at fault for Wigan’s relegation.

If the club still possessed a squad consisting of players like Tomasz Radzinski and James McFadden, perhaps mediocrity would be more understandable. Yet the current group of players that pull on a royal blue shirt every week are a world away from the early David Moyes teams and those of the ’90s.

The current Everton eleven pay their respects to Howard Kendall.

Romelu Lukaku (on his day) is one of the best young strikers in the business.

Ross Barkley is one of the best young English talents in the modern game.

Kevin Mirallas and Gerard Deulofeu are very talented attackers.

James McCarthy can be a joy to watch. Tom Cleverley was looking very promising in his first few games.

John Stones is, to borrow a phrase, phenomenal.

Seamus Coleman, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines and the ever-improving Brendan Galloway are all excellent defenders.

The club has come a long way from fielding the likes of Alex Nyarko.

The Toffees have not had this range of quality players for years. Not in my lifetime at least.

And so I am worried that Martinez and this talented squad are not going to achieve anything. Although there is more money in the game than ever before, and Everton represent the opposite of that, the Blues have proved in the past that they can match, and even get the better of, the clubs who have ten times the money in Kenwright’s pocket.

Everton can do it – we all know this current squad can play fantastic football. But whether they will actually achieve anything is another matter entirely.

How long the club’s best players will be around for is difficult to tell. What if Chelsea come back in for Stones? What if United or City want him? What if Lukaku really matures and the big European clubs come knocking? What will the future hold for Barkley? Will Mirallas put up with barely playing for much longer? Baines and Jagielka aren’t getting any younger either.

Whether it’s possible for Everton to continue recruiting players of a similar quality is impossible to predict. I’m not panicking – but I can’t help but feel time is well and truly of the essence.

This current squad needs to be commemorated with a trophy or a real achievement. No fan of the Blues wants to see yet another opportunity go amiss.

Everton need to actually do something with the quality they have. They need to fulfil their potential and the expectations of every supporter.

And they need to do it soon.

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Alex Leonard

Everton and Widnes fan. Studying English at Sheffield Hallam University.