BY MARK GODFREY – EDITOR
Most Everton fans, particularly those over the age of about 40 – like myself – are all too familiar with the minutiae of the club’s steady decline during the 1990s.
It was a decade we didn’t so much live through as suffer, as one lurch towards catastrophe followed another; it was how I imagine a prolonged stabbing attack might feel. Everton, to put it mildly, were gut-achingly shitty.
In Highs, Lows and Bakayokos, Jim Keoghan attempts to put the meat on the bones of the story of how a once great club, who just a few years earlier had threatened to smash Liverpool’s stranglehold on English and European football, had come within minutes of the drop for only the third time in its history, and at times even struggled to maintain its very existence.
It’s against the backdrop of impending doom that the book begins with the most harrowing, yet paradoxically uplifting episode of the entire decade – the Great Escape of 1994 when Everton stood on the edge of the precipice, staring down into the pit of relegation for the first time in 40 odd years. Only a miraculous comeback against Wimbledon saved their sorry hides that day.
The on field travails that stalked Everton’s every miscalculated move throughout the 1990s came about largely because of the boardroom malaise (and later turmoil) that afflicted the club at exactly the wrong time – the Genesis of the post-Hillsborough, post-Italia 90 feelgood factor of the newly formed Premier League.
Everton can rightly point to one or two conspiracies of fate (the post-Heysel ban on English clubs taking part in European competition, most notably) as being partly responsible for them missing the boat. Yet, it was the self-inflicted wounds that probably did most damage in the long term; effects that are still being felt by the club to this day. Opportunities to capitalise both commercially and sportingly on the myriad successes of Howard Kendall’s exciting mid-80s side were not only squandered, the club was almost deliberately allowed to drift aimlessly towards the rocks of oblivion on more than one occasion.
Keoghan evidences all of this background by quoting people close to the club and many of the key figures who were connected to it during the 1990s. Added to that, his own recollections and that of other fans paint a picture of a fan base who turned their considerable apathy into even more considerable anger, which ignited a passion for the club probably never seen before, even during the glory years. As the team’s predicament worsened, attendances increased dramatically, as did the hostility which greeted opponents on their visits to Goodison Park. This book is as much about the changing nature of Evertonians’ mentality and their relationship with the club as it is a historical retelling of this tumultuous decade.
There were brief moments of respite: the Joe Royle ‘spike’ being the best example, when Everton beat the drop (again) and won the FA Cup against overwhelming favourites Manchester United in 1995 with the famous midfield ‘Dogs of War’ – so named thanks to an apocryphal tale of one of their number tackling crisp packets blown across the Goodison Park pitch on a windy day.
Everton may well be a club that leans far too heavily on its proud history and a well worn Latin motto, but that’s probably as a result of what the 1990s did to us psychologically. It’s what has shaped the 21st century version of Everton and it’s supporters. Those who experienced it were never the same again.
Highs, Lows and Bakayokos is not just a historical account of Everton’s performances during that God awful period – that would probably not make for a great book – it is an exercise in demonstrating how a football club, and specifically how it is run, can manifest itself on the people who matter the most; the fans.
It also acts as something of a cautionary tale. Everton allowed themselves to be outstripped by not only their peers, but also their inferiors by refusing to move with the times, and thus turned the perception of them from being that of a giant of the English game to hapless nobodies, squatting in the Premier League that they – as one of the chief instigators – helped to create.
If you don’t know how the ‘modern’ Everton was shaped, this is a fitting way to fill in the gaps.