Before I begin this article proper, I will acknowledge that is likely to contain some bias. I have been inspired to write it because this morning I watched Everton lost to Portsmouth, and I’m a little bitter. Everton did not play as well as we know they can, but also the manner in which Portsmouth played the game was disappointing. So yes, this is reactionary to our loss, but I still feel it is a worthwhile article, and that the points I intend to make are worthwhile. Importantly, they are points that would hold even if Everton had comfortably beaten Portsmouth today, and so I hope you will forgive any bias that creeps in.
Let’s begin then. The match today was not a great spectacle by any means. Everton as usual in recent months were hampered by an obscene injury list, yet they started brightly, dominating Pompey and going ahead after just a couple of minutes courtesy of a Leighton Baines free kick. Then though, the game changed.
Portsmouth, after the shock of going behind and the evidence provided by the first few minutes that proved that they couldn’t match Everton in terms of quality, turned to Plan B: to bully the Everton players out of the match. They are an enormous side, seriously massive, with big, strong, tall players all over the pitch. Indeed, it is perhaps this that results in their poor performances – they’ve opted for size rather than skill.
Unfortunately, what the game lacked today was a referee capable of asserting his authority properly and fairly. Under constant bombardment from a very vocal Portsmouth crowd (respect to them for that, but there’s really no need to ‘boo’ Steven Pienaar for the entire game simply because he picked up a genuine injury after a dirty challenge from behind) the referee Peter Walton was soon pandering to the roars of the crowd, and indeed, it was this tragedy of influence that gifted Portsmouth an equaliser.
Glen Johnson hit a speculative shot from thirty yards out and ballooned it high and wide, but the Pompey fans screamed “corner” and corner was given. Some average defending from Everton allowed the ball to be hooked back in and Peter Crouch naturally managed to out jump everyone and bundle the ball into the net. Yes, the defending was poor and inexcusable, but that does not alter the fact that with a competent referee, Everton retain their lead.
However, this was not the only failing of the referee. Throughout the entire match, players like Herman Hreidarsson were constantly being overly physical against Everton’s players and yet remained largely unchecked throughout the match. This meant that Everton’s attempts to play their usual flowing football, already hindered by a large injury list, were rendered almost pointless against the endless physical tyranny that Portsmouth served up.
It is not that I am against players being physical. Indeed, I myself am quite a physical player and I love Everton’s spirit because we are a team that will go in where it hurts when we have to. But there is a limit, and Portsmouth, in my opinion at least, exceeded that today. It became painful to watch, as Portsmouth’s players consistently settled for going through Everton’s players to retrieve the ball, and then having ‘won’ possession, proceeded to launch long ball after long ball towards Crouch who, awkward elbows flailing, continued the oppression of good football.
This display, that ultimately earned Portsmouth a valuable three points to aid their quest for Premier League survival, induced in me a fervent desire to see the South Coast outfit relegated. It is not simply their ugly style of football that puts me off them either, but also the overall feel of the club and its playing staff.
Looking at the players they have on the books, you cannot help but think of them as mercenaries. Soldiers brought in to fight in a battle, and motivated not by loyalty or a sense of justice but by money. Portsmouth as a club means nothing to these players, all that matters to them is that they continue to take home their pay packet, and of course, they fear relegation because Championship clubs cannot pay such wages as they earn.
This is a legacy, in my opinion, of Harry Redknapp’s tenure in charge of Portsmouth. This is not the place for me to discuss the merits of Redknapp (regular readers will already know how I feel about him), but there is no denying that he has a knack for bringing together a whole bunch of unlikely players to unfashionable clubs, and keeping them happy. Unfortunately for Pompey, once the leader falls, the troops will follow, and they have seen that first hand this season.
Their players don’t give a damn about Portsmouth really, and I bet most of them can’t wait to jump ship now that Redknapp is no longer at the helm. And to be quite honest, I think that because of this, it would actually be good for Portsmouth to be relegated. Obviously no one wants to see their team sink out of Europe’s elite league, but I also doubt that Pompey fans can really feel proud and connected with their current playing staff.
What makes me so proud to be an Evertonian in recent years is the spirit and commitment exuded by everyone involved with the club. Bill Kenwright and David Moyes are both 100% committed to the good of the club, and Moyes has built a squad that possesses a similar quality. You can see in their play that they are playing for the badge on their chest, and for the fans in the stand. And deep down, that is what every football fan wants to see when they watch their team. They want to see their own commitment reflected out there on the pitch.
Portsmouth do not have that, and only the most deluded Pompey fan would even try and claim that they do. Indeed, Jermaine Defoe proved this beyond all doubt, and proved that most of the squad that Redknapp assembled on the south coast were loyal to Harry, and not the club and its fans.
If Portsmouth were relegated though, these are exactly the sort of players that would jump ship at the first opportunity. They don’t want to be playing Championship football and they would quickly find suitors back in the Premier League or abroad that more suit their egos. Thus in being relegated, Pompey would rid themselves of what can only be regarded as dead wood, players that are dragging them down because they have no investment in the club.
The money garnered from their transfer fees could be immediately reinvested in the squad and the new management team, whoever it turns out being, could build a loyal squad that will play as a unit for the club and for the fans. And ultimately, surely the Pompey fans would enjoy watching a bunch of players dedicated to their cause in the Championship than a bunch of disloyal mercenaries struggling along in the Premier League.
From a consequentialist point of view then, it would seem to be best for all concerned if Portsmouth were relegated. The rest of the league would not have to put up with their mockery of football anymore, the players marooned there would be able to slip away to more comfortable employ and the club and it’s fans would be able to rebuild a more worthy squad and reassert the integrity of their club.
So tell me Pompey fans, do you agree with my assessment? Do you feel that the players at your club are little more than mercenaries? If not, why not? What have they done to prove their loyalty? I know this article sounds a bit extreme, and is certainly fuelled by my bitter resentment for Pompey after they condemned us to a second defeat in 18 games. But I will defend my view.
I do not mind watching my team lose. If Everton are out played, then I will graciously concede that the better team won, and that we deserved nothing. If it is a tight game and it tips slightly against Everton’s favour, then I will curse our luck but certainly not develop elaborate reasons for our opponents doom to be best for all concerned. But the thing is, Portsmouth didn’t deserve to win today.
Everton did not play well, I freely admit that. We did not play the sort of good football that I’ve come to expect of us, even with such an injury list hanging over our heads. But Portsmouth didn’t play football at all! They pretty much wrestled and strangled Everton into submission, and I can’t even conjure up a memory of them stringing together more than one or two passes before clumping the ball forward. I find it hard to accept then, that Portsmouth have won a game of football without actually playing any, and I’m sure most of you out there will have had similar experiences at some point.
So yes, in a sense, I’m picking on Portsmouth because I’m bitter. But I think everyone but Pompey fans would agree with me when I say that West Brom bring much more communal value to the Premiership than do Portsmouth, because they play nice, attractive football that is a pleasure to watch, even if it’s incredibly ineffective when it comes to results. And while this doesn’t give them a right to survive, I still feel justified in saying that it would be better for them to survive and better for Portsmouth to go down.
I will watch the relegation battle with much interest then, and come the end of the season, I hope that Stoke and Portsmouth are the two sides to join a surely doomed West Brom beneath the dreaded red line. In the last two weeks I’ve been condemned to watching my team play against these two moguls of the ugly side of the beautiful game, and I will be totally honest in saying that I hope I never have to watch them play again.