Right, thrashing Toon was the easy part. Now for Everton. We call them a bogey team; they say they’re just better. Last season pretty much ended for SAFC with the FA cup exit in a Stadium of Light replay that was painful to watch after a good draw at Goodison. Earlier, we’d had the infamous Leon Osman fall-over-and-claim-a-pen routine that our friend Howard Webb fell-for-and-gave. That piece of odious cheating aside, Everton deserved their point on the day, were incontestably better in the cup replay and naturally won the Goodison league game with complete ease. Martin Fricker*, from the Daily Mirror, is a lifelong Everton fan. He fondly recalls Peter Reid and “Zinedine Kilbane”, has interesting thoughts on derby rivalries, wishes this game had happened before last Sunday but expects another draw …
You realise what a massive game this has become for Sunderland (and is still so despite us beating Newcastle). And you almost always seem to do well against us. Should we fear the worst?
Having experienced life at the wrong end of the table in the 1990s (twice surviving relegation on the last day of the season) us Evertonians know only too well how massive games are for struggling teams at the back-end of the season. It’s difficult to know which Everton will turn up each week, let alone for this game. Will it be the team that was stuffed at home against Wigan in the FA Cup quarter-final, or the one that beat Man City 2-0 the following week? That’s the joy of being a Blue! How we do on Saturday partly depends on Tuesday night’s game at Arsenal (which may have already happened by the time this goes online). It’s our game in hand and is against one of the clubs we’re competing against for a European place. There’s a risk we could mentally switch off if we know a top 4 place is out of reach. Then again, with Liverpool breathing behind our necks – and with them still to play at Anfield – the fans would be furious if we just switch off. But never fear the worst – stay positive!
Did Wigan reaching the final make you angrier about the semi – and did anything about Sunderland’s performance at SJP give cause for worry about Saturday?
It was annoying watching the semi-final, knowing it could have been us back at Wembley (and seeing the masses of empty seats in the Wigan end). But Wigan deservedly beat us, and also deserved to beat Millwall, so good luck to them in the final. It’s also nice to see an all-northern FA Cup final.
I saw the MOTD2 highlights of the Tyne/Wear derby and was really impressed with Sunderland, especially the cracking goals. And forgetting his politics for a second, how good were PdC’s celebrations?! Seeing the manager displaying that kind of passion must have a positive effect on the players. It could be the start of a good end to the season for your boys. Put it this way, I wish we’d played you before you went to St James’ Park!
Are you surprised at how badly we’ve done this season or did you see it coming?
To be honest I’ve never been a big Martin O’Neill fan. His style of football hasn’t changed since his Leicester City days. He spent millions on mediocre players at Aston Villa and didn’t really make any progress. Again at Sunderland, he spent a few bob and only really Steven Fletcher seems to have been a success. Lee Cattermole gets lots of stick for his red and yellow cards, but he’s a great player and I think you’ve really missed him. You also had the same problem as us in January, not being able to spend as much as you would have liked. Saying that, with the likes of Reading, QPR, Southampton, Wigan and Norwich all in the Premier League, I wouldn’t have predicted Sunderland being where they are in the league.
What did you make of the row over PDC’s appointment?
I personally thought it was a PR disaster from Sunderland’s point of view. It should have been nipped in the bud very early on, especially knowing how ruthless some sports hacks can be. He should have gone into his first press conference and categorically said he wasn’t a fascist. He didn’t do that, and clearly wasn’t briefed to do that, and rightly so the media had a field day. There was a sense of ‘too little, too late’ when they later put out a statement. Having said that, I’m slightly bemused as to why the furore has only erupted now. He was Swindon Town boss for almost two years and it didn’t seem to be an issue then – at least not nationally. The outrage at his appointment seems to be blowing over now, but I get the feeling there are a lot of people out there – both in and out of football – desperate to see him fail.
Everton have had a strange season, booed off after the FA Cup defeat vs Wigan, sluggish earlier in the league but now (as I write) pushing for a top four place. Discuss!
Welcome to the life of an Evertonian! We actually had an unusually good start to the season, but being a pessimistic bunch we all said, ‘It won’t last’ … and it didn’t. Most fans – and I’m guessing most people inside the club – knew we needed to strengthen in the January transfer window to keep the momentum up. We agreed a deal with FC Twente for Leroy Fer, but the move collapsed because of a problem with his medical and we ended up making no big signings in the window. Coupled with David Moyes’ refusal to discuss talking about a new contract until the end of the season, and Nikica Jelavic’s poor form, I think this had an affect on morale. We’ve also drawn too many games, especially to lower-placed teams at home (Newcastle, Norwich, Swansea, Aston Villa) and conceded late goals. It just makes it even more infuriating to think where we could be in the league if we’d avoided those setbacks!
You were especially down on Phil Neville after the FA Cup setback. Is that it for him at Goodison and what is the legacy?
Phil has been a magnificent servant to the club and has never given anything other than his all. However, in the past 12 months ‘his all’ hasn’t been good enough – especially in a team fighting for a European place. David Moyes stuck by him, especially in midfield, where he was constantly over-run by teams because his legs had gone. But even Moyes couldn’t fail to notice that the end had come in the Wigan game. He had a shocker and was hauled off at half-time. He hasn’t played since. My favourite memories of Phil are his winning penalty in the 2011 FA Cup shoot-out at Stamford Bridge (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNQnHZAV_Ps) and his crunching – but legal – tackle on Cristiano Ronaldo against Man United at Goodison (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8i0J_zoxdM). His legacy will be the lessons the younger players have learned from his attitude. Seamus Coleman, our young Irish right back, spoke last week about how Phil was his mentor. I’m sure Phil will make a great coach. I wouldn’t be surprised if he became Everton manager in the future. I’ll be at our final home game of the season against West Ham and will join in with what is guaranteed to be a great ovation. After all, as the Everton chant goes, he’s still ‘got more medals than Steve Gerrard’.
Lots of connection between our two clubs – Peter Reid springs straight to mind but also Paul Bracewell, Don Hutchison, Kevin Kilbane (who had a torrid time with us), Gavin McCann and more if you go back in history. Do any stick out for you?
Ah, Zinedine Kilbane. Probably the least inspiring transfer deadline day signings Everton have ever made. But he was great for us. Everton fans love nothing more than a player who gives his all, and Kevin never stopped running … albeit slowly … for us. It also helped that he was part of a very good Everton team that qualified for the Champions League. Peter Reid was my dad’s favourite player when I was a lad. I seem to recall he used to drink with Peter’s dad at a pub in Liverpool in the 1980s. I used to pretend to be him in school playground kickabouts, trying to copy his sliding tackles played havoc with my knees though. Peter’s a living legend, I wanted him to do well as Sunderland boss solely so he could then progress (joke!) to be Everton boss. Alas that wasn’t to be.
Do you reckon Moyes will stay with Everton or has the time come, from either perspective, for a change?
I fear he’ll go this summer. He’s come out in the media recently and said a lot depends on whether we make it into Europe next season. But he’s had four goes at managing us in Europe now. Unless we get a Champions League spot I think he’ll head to pastures new. I wouldn’t blame him. There’s clearly no money in the coffers to strengthen the side as much as he would like, and there is a big chance the likes of Fellaini and Baines could be leaving in the summer too. There is a lot of talk of him going to Germany, which I think would suit him. I can’t see him managing Chelsea, and I don’t think Sir Alex Ferguson is going anywhere soon. The only realistic option for him in the Premier League is Arsenal. I’m still amazed Spurs didn’t go for him after they sacked Harry Redknapp.
And what is needed, apart from a fabulously rich sheikh, to recreate your glory days?
Sadly, in this day and age money talks. And we ain’t got any! There was doom and gloom around Goodison after the Wigan game because it felt like the end of an era. That may have vanished after the Man City game, but can you imagine the gloom if Moyes, Fellaini and Baines all leave in the summer? We’re reaching a defining moment in Everton’s history. If Bill Kenwright is serious about selling the club, he has to lower the rumoured £150m asking price – or find an investor happy to pump money into the club while allowing him to stay in charge. It’s depressing that money is the only answer – but we’ve got one of the best managers in the business and even he can only take us so far on a shoestring.
Compare and contrast the Everton/Liverpool and Sunderland/Newcastle riivalries.
The days of Everton and Liverpool fans sitting together happily in the stands is a thing of the past. Sure, Sky TV will pick out a pair of fans sat side by side in the family enclosure at Goodison, but try cheering a Liverpool goal in the Paddock or Lower Gladwys and you’ll see what’s happened to the ‘friendly derby’. The same goes for Anfield. You wouldn’t catch me cheering an Everton goal on the Kop. People say things soured after Heysel, when Everton’s best-ever side was banned from playing in the European Cup because of rioting Liverpool fans. But I think it’s also society in general changing. So many supporters come from out of town and don’t know the history or the banter. Families on Merseyside are still split bue/red and that will never change, which is where it differs to the Sunderland/Newcastle situation. And because of that there will never be the hatred of the Tyne-Wear derby.
What have been your own highs and lows as a supporter?
How about both in the same game? Everton v Wimbledon, May 7, 1994. It was the last game of the season and we needed to beat Wimbledon and hope other results went our way to avoid being relegated. We were 2-0 down within 21 minutes and were staring at the abyss. But a Graham Stuart penalty and a screamer from Barry Horne brought us level, leaving it to Stuart to score the winner (squirming under the dubious dive of Hans Segers) and keep us up. Talk about nerve-wracking.
As I was in primary school during the highs of the mid-1980s, my memories of that time are pretty limited.
Other personal highs include beating Manchester United at Wembley on penalties in the 2009 FA Cup semi-final, beating Spurs 4-1 at Elland Road in the 1995 FA Cup semi-final and the whole experience of following Everton to Nuremburg, Lisbon (twice) and Fiorentina. Oh, and living up to the ‘bitter blue’ tag, Michael Thomas’ goal for Arsenal at Anfield to win the league in 1989 is another high!
Low point would be the early stages of the Wimbledon game and sitting aghast in the Gladwys Street end as Tranmere beat us 3-0 at Goodison in the FA Cup in 2001.
Who are the greatest players you’ve seen – or wished you’d seen – in Everton colours and who should have been allowed nowhere near them?
There are plenty I wish I’d seen play. Dixie Dean, Alex Young (my dad’s favourite-ever Everton player), Alan Ball, Brian Labone. The best Everton player I’ve ever seen is Andrei Kanchelskis. I had a season ticket in the Paddock the year he played for us down the right wing. It was a joy to watch him so close up. He must have been a nightmare to defend against. He also beat Liverpool single-handedly at Anfield in 1995 (scoring twice in a 2-1 win) which, as you can imagine, went down quite well with us Blues. While he wasn’t exactly technically gifted, Duncan Ferguson was an awesome player too, and Neville Southall remains one of the best goalkeepers of all time.
Bad players? I’d choose Brett Angell. But ask most Evertonians and they’ll say Alex Nyarko – a player so bad that one Evertonian ran on the pitch at Highbury and offered to swap shirts with him, saying he wasn’t good enough to wear the Blue colours.
What will be the top four in order and, sparing us no pain if necessary, the bottom three?
I’d love to say we’ll be in the top 4, but as I said I’m a pessimistic Blue so I’ll leave us out. United will obviously win the league, City second, Arsenal third and Spurs fourth.
At the bottom, Reading will top up the table, QPR second bottom and third bottom will be … Wigan.
Is it time to accept cheating as part of the modern game and, if not, which form bothers you most and how do we stamp it out?
If we just accept cheating we might as well just pack up and go home. It’s the worst thing about the game. I was watching an under-11s game recently and it was so depressing to see kids diving and talking back to the referee. Diving is obviously still a big problem, but referees are in a difficult position because of the way Sky analyse every decision in such great detail. If they book a player for diving and replays show he was fouled, they get slated – just as much as they do if they give a foul for a blatant dive. The thing that annoys me is players feigning injury in an attempt to get opponents booked. Nothing is more infuriating than a player going down in a heap like he’s been shot and screaming in agony, only to be sprinting down the wing 30 seconds later. I’d bring in a five minute rule: if the game is stopped because a player goes down apparently injured, he has to automatically stay off the field for five minutes once play has resumed. That way, if he is genuinely hurt he can receive treatment, and if he isn’t then hopefully the managers will not want to risk being without a player for five minutes and will stamp out the play-acting. I’d also get all referees mic’d up like they are in rugby. Maybe then players will be so embarrassed listening back to the appalling swearing that they will cut it out.
Club vs country: who wins for you and why?
Club every time. I covered the 2010 World Cup in South Africa for the Daily Mirror and have been to England games home and away as a fan and, while fun, it just doesn’t compare to a club match. Don’t get me wrong, sitting drinking with England fans in Cape Town was fun, but I much preferred drinking with 6,000 Evertonians in Nuremberg, Lisbon and Florence.
Will you be at our game? What will be the score?
Sadly not. I live in Warwickshire and because of the job I’m limited to the number of games I can get to. The North East is a bit too far this weekend I’m afraid. Score-wise, I’m going to sit on the fence and say a 1-1 draw.
* Martin Fricker on himself: I’m currently the Daily Mirror‘s Midlands correspondent. I cover any national news events occurring in the Midlands. I was born in Liverpool, but have lived in London, Leicestershire, Los Angeles and New York. I now live in a small town called Alcester in Warwickshire. I’ve supported Everton all my life and have followed them home and abroad. I now get to around half a dozen home games and a similar number of away games every season.
** Peter Reid pictured on signing up for FC Easington: https://safc.blog/2013/02/cheer-up-peter-reid-star-of-england-everton-man-city-and-easington/
Interview: Colin Randall