No one remembers a losing FA Cup finalist and even fewer remember the defeated semi-finalists. Indeed most of the football world have already moved on from Wembley last weekend; the Champions League, Drogba, Messi, the battles for the league title and to avoid relegation, upcoming fixtures, even Abu Qatada or Ken versus Boris are now front of mind for many. Not though for Evertonians; a third defeat of the season at the hands of Liverpool is bad – even though the first occurred after Jack Rodwell was incorrectly sent off and the second was a much weakened team. Wembley was supposed to put the record straight; after all Everton were the ‘form’ team with a gifted new striker, a solid defence, Baines at left back, Gibson undefeated, Fellaini in midfield and rocket-man Drenthe to frighten them to death.
All this makes defeat harder to bear, it wasn’t supposed to happen, it was unthinkable. A season turned in thirty fetid minutes from the cusp of glory to raw disappointment. No wonderful Sunday morning contemplating a Wembley Cup Final and those European games under the lights next season. And still no well-heeled buyer riding over the horizon. Back to the bleakness of a summer spent trying to resist all the rumours linking our best players, even our manager, with United, Arsenal, Spurs and all the rest, back to a world devoid of dreams, a world which tells us, over and over again, that our football club is a failure and that we, by association, are failures too.
Evertonians of a certain age have seen two great teams and bags of silverware through the era of Labone, Ball and Royle to that of Southall, Steven and Reid. We passed our youth and middle years gorging on these highs and now our kids get nothing it seems but sand. We saw lows, the Gordon Lee years and Bernie the Bolt, but we saw the glorious highs too. Our highs were not earned by having to bear decade after decade of disappointment, they came in a seemingly natural cycle, for us the sun would always rise again. It is a much tougher proposition being an Everton supporter these days in this League of ours, unbalanced as it is by the dollars of billionaires and the outrageous partiality of paymaster News International and its assorted organs. This all sounds negative, gloomy and irreversible and it is tough, but not without hope.
Some might, unkindly, call Sylvain Distin a journeyman; after all he played for lots of clubs before Everton – PSG, Newcastle, City, Portsmouth. Yet it was our giant centre-back who showed by his behaviour after the final whistle what it means to be an Evertonian. He stayed on the pitch and supplicated himself before 30,000 broken and angry Evertonians in a heart-felt apology for his mistake. In this Frenchman, nickname ‘cyborg’, we see the antithesis of the diving, card waving, conmen of the modern game, in him resides the true spirit of the game and the club. It is in safe hands. There were lots of mistakes last Saturday, there have been mistakes made over the years in the stewardship of the club, but just so long as the spirit, the heart of this club, is kept burning, for the day when we once again walk on the high ground, as we surely will, then this writer for one can be content.