As I jumped madly around the living room 25 seconds into Saturday’s FA Cup Final, screaming incoherent words down my brothers ear and the phone line that connected me to my Dad who, in Nelson, was doing something equally inexplicable as a direct result of a ball thousands of miles away connecting with a net, I had the wonderful feeling that my joy was shared by almost everyone who feels passionately about English football.
Because unless you are a Chelsea or a Liverpool fan, you probably wanted Everton to win the Cup Final. That’s because Everton and Chelsea are in many ways, precise polar opposites. Yes, both play in a blue home strip, but otherwise, Chelsea are a corporate monster buying up footballing success like stocks on Wall St. while Everton are an old-fashioned, hard working and absolutely flat-out broke sports club.
Chelsea’s players are payed massive amounts of money, and join the club mainly because they are tempted there by huge salaries. There are exceptions of course, no rule is absolute, but it is a fact that had Roman Abramovich not bought Chelsea Football Club, they would not be the footballing powerhouse that they are today, and we would probably lament the domination of a ‘big three’ rather than a ‘big four’.
On the other hand, Everton’s squad is put together very much by hard work and coercion from David Moyes. He doesn’t have a sack-load of cash to tempt potential players with, instead he goes to them and sells them the club’s ethos and ambition. The result is a squad of players who are genuinely committed to the cause, who love playing for the club and want to help improve it.
It is no surprise then, that the likes of Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta who have proven themselves at Everton to be top class players and have attracted the interest of so-called ‘bigger clubs’ have dismissed such speculation. They get paid well at Everton, and though they could earn more elsewhere, they don’t need to. And other clubs simply cannot offer them the satisfaction that they get at Everton, the great atmosphere and the sense of connection that they feel with the fans who know that they are giving their all for the club.
In many ways then, Chelsea and Everton represent the different ends of a spectrum of footballing ideal. Chelsea are the villains, bought out by a previously faceless foreigner and bankrolled to win some titles, collecting arrogant playing staff along the way. Everton are a club owned by a fan, who don’t splash the big bucks on players and achieve success thanks to the good ol’ fashioned British traits of hard work, team spirit and endeavour.
But Chelsea were the ones that walked away with the Cup, and despite my optimism before the game, which was shared by many leading pundits, it wasn’t a surprise that Everton lost. The simple truth is that Chelsea’s side is better than Everton’s, and that is the case because of the fact that they have more money. And that hurts. The FA Cup, a competition of such tradition and heritage should have been won by the side that embodied those aforementioned British attributes, that caused a few upsets along the way.
But ultimately, the power of cash in football has been proven time and time again to be almost absolute. And what is even more painful is the knowledge that Everton need more money. If our ambition is to be achieved, we will need to be bought out by a faceless foreigner of our own. Because the self-enriching cycle that keeps the Champions League clubs ahead of the rest can only be interrupted by a unbalancing of the wealth that fuels it.
I want Everton to be successful. I want to watch my players lift the FA Cup trophy at Wembley, I want them to win the Premier League and compete with Europe’s best in the Champions League. But I don’t want Everton to be like Chelsea. I wish we could carry on and do it our way but I know that we can’t. If Everton are to take the next step it will take a lot more money, and that can’t come from Bill Kenwright, however much he’d love it to.
And so I’m divided. If Everton are bought out, it could eventuate a situation where I feel cut off from my club. At present I feel lucky to be one of a minority of fans who feel a real connection with their club – and that despite living in New Zealand. But I worry that the price of success will be the removal of that connection, the obliteration of the values that make me so proud to be an Evertonian.
All I can hope is that a buyer comes forward who is willing to bankroll the club from afar. Who will keep Kenwright at the club to run things for him, and will leave all squad decisions up to David Moyes who is one of the finest managers in the world. If that is the case, then Everton as we know it will continue, because the spirit of Kenwright and Moyes are what drive the club at present. It will allow us to fund success with the right attitude.
So that is my new footballing ideal. To balance money with anonymity, to find a way to bankroll a club without destroying its soul. Unfortunately, so far this has almost entirely failed to eventuate, perhaps only Randy Lerner at Aston Villa having come close to achieving it so far. But even this ideal will never be ideal, because ideally money shouldn’t play a part.
Because football isn’t a business, it’s a game. A beautiful game, full of passion and excitement. But the capitalist revolution has really gone to town on it and created something that now resembles little more than a sporting version of monopoly, where kettles and irons and all sorts of things that have no logical relation to the world of football dash around and buy up all the power, slowly running all the people into the ground until it is no longer any fun. Thanks to some clubs, like Everton, we’re not at the end yet, but unless they start passing Go or winning the FA Cup soon, it won’t take long for money to have a monopoly over the beautiful game.