I write on my way to my mother’s funeral: more specifically, on the way to the house where I grew up – now largely gutted of the stuff acquired over 52 years – under the roof of which I shall sleep just three more times. This severing of my last connection to Liverpool, the leaving of which did not grieve me 30 odd years ago, and the final goodbye to which does not grieve me this weekend, has caused the inevitable “mixed emotions”.
For all that, I am not really leaving, because, despite distance, despots and a diversity of opportunities never open to my father’s generation, football pulls me back, Everton the last remaining link in the chain that stretches for forty years of “going to the match” and 250 miles. Why?
Well, notwithstanding Everton’s proud history and its oft tearful owner, I’m not one for the slightly sickly sentimentality that can overflow on the other side of Stanley Park. Evertonians don’t miss the binding to the cause that comes with iconography of The Kop, the folk history of European nights, the heartbreaking, endless search for Justice For The 96 – we have other compensations. It’s not the chance of winning something these days that matters either. We gathered few gloryhunters even when glory really was ours, and the “Everton brand” is about as robust as it sounds. Best of all we’re unlikely to catch the wandering eye of an oligarch looking for a trinket with a convenient helipad either – so no £80M men for us, with perhaps a twentieth anniversary FA Cup the most we can hope for. We’re turning into a Cult!
None of that matters to me. Everton now occupies a space that others may reserve for religious convictions, photographs of weddings, graduations, holidays or the thudding tradition of the extended family assembling at Christmas. Everton is my fixed point, the object of an irrational, atavistic devotion, the “thing” that has been with me longest now I am shorn of both parents and soon the house in which I went from baby to boy to man. I have come to understand why Elton John and Rod Stewart would run up astronomical transatlantic phone bills just to hear the match described by a man in their crowd. When change swirls around – as exhilarating and scary as ever – one needs to look at something and be able to say, “That’s me”. When “Everton” – as a concept more than a football club – swims into my mind, that’s what I can do. Because that’s me.
It helps that the club has changed so little, while football has bloated into a hideous hydra-headed monster, bellowing its gaudy importance all day every day everywhere. It helps that Leighton Baines and Ross Barkley play for the team, that Phil Jagielka is captain, that our manager is a decent man. But, actually, none of it matters – it only matters that it’s there and so am I.