The interminable saga of the Felliani/Baines “transfer” to Manchester United will, er… terminate on Monday, when we will know whether or not the Bruiser from Belgium and the Kid from Kirkby will be playing in Blue or Red henceforth. Whilst not everyone involved in the tug-of-love has covered themselves in glory, both players have shown admirable sang-froid, much to their credit. Even if they do go, they’re likely to be held in good regard by Evertonians and welcomed back to the sound of cheers rather than jeers – until Fellaini catches Barkley with a trademark flying elbow, that is.
It wasn’t always this way. Twelve years ago, twenty-year-old Francis Jeffers moved in the close season to Arsenal for £8M and invited the ire of Evertonians everywhere. I don’t recall exactly what he said to send disappointment into anger and on to apoplexy, but the “fox in the box” was not as cunning off the field as on it and was as good at getting his foot into his mouth when talking to the press, as he was at getting a boot to a low cross. (He famously encouraged English forwards to dive in a BBC interview – admirably honest, but perhaps best kept inside the dressing room, not inside the living room).
Evertonians did not like what Jeffers had done – not one bit. If he had never worn a “Once a Blue, Always a Blue” T-shirt like the one worn by a defector of some three years later, he had played fewer games for Everton, had fewer credentials for a big move and, if truth be told, thought rather more of himself than fans did of him. Rooney was a superstar – Jeffers, just a star. Having not served his time but merely used our club as a stepping stone to a bigger payday, Evertonians waited for him to come a cropper – and they didn’t have to wait long.
When he wasn’t injured at Arsenal, he wasn’t good enough for selection (Wenger preferred Thierry Henry to nobody’s surprise) but he did play a few games, many as substitute. In October 2002, over a year after he left the club, he trotted out at Goodison as a 71st minute substitute for Kanu – and the boos and whistles rained down from all four sides of the ground like I had never heard before (including the cacophonies for Jimmy Case and Wayne Rooney – whose booing was more panto than vicious).
Things were already going badly for Jeffers and haven’t improved since, and he’s a man probably more in need of help than hisses these days, but I can still hear that reception now and, I’m sure, he can too. I doubt that the Goodison faithful will ever react like that again – maybe that’s a good thing – but I am sure that such a reception will not be given to Fellaini and Baineson their return, should they leave. In fact, I think the opposite is more likely.