More so at the neighborhood shed in the portion of Liverpool painted blue than at the stadium on the baby blue side of Manchester 45 minutes away, big time football is an intimate family affair.
Like a hankering for meat pies and a distaste for the cherry red side of town, belief in the potential glory of Everton F.C. is passed on from generation to generation to generation, into the distant past and forward to a hopeful future. It’s Hogwarts-esque, but supporters of Everton football club are chosen, they do not choose.
In every row of Goodison Park, royal blue plastic seats, unforgiving on the bottoms of young and old supporters alike, smack against ancient concrete slabs as dads and sons rise up in unison at the promise of an overlapping run down the flank, the hopeful cross in the box, a shot into the back of the net from distance by a midfielder eager to slide on his knees into the loving embrace of a sea of royal blue supporters gone hysterical.
The hysterics at Everton during the 2015-2016 Premier League have not been, on the whole and much to the dismay of fans, joyous outbursts. The Toffees are loaded with international talent at the present — the muscular Belgian striker, the suave young Spanish maestro, the coveted play maker at the back, and a handful of promising English internationals scattered across the pitch — yet these are not halcyon days at the club. Something has been off all season and Everton is mired in the (lower) mid-table of the English Premier League. They are safe from relegation, yes, but they will not finish in the top 6 therefore Everton are once again not in contention for a European spot next season. This is the particular footballing spot where hope goes to die in the Premier League as a season sputters to its unceremonious conclusion.
Yet despite this quagmire, Everton fans find themselves proud owners of a sliver of joy thanks to their club punching a ticket to Wembley for the FA Cup Semifinals. This is no small feat, especially for older fans of the game who remember when that annual tournament (not the Champions League / European Cup) was paramount in defining a successful campaign.
The two disparate realities of being adrift in the league and having a chance in the cup manifested themselves in a less than lackluster performance by Everton on the afternoon I spent at Goodison Park last month, and yet dads and their sons made their way into the old ground, which sits smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood lined with Dickensian homes, brick churches, crowded pubs with barely an elbow’s worth of wiggle room, and hole-in-the-wall pie shops, with smiles on their faces, hope in their hearts, and blue & white stripped scarves draped around necks. Even the most cynical dad believed, somewhere in the deep recesses, that he would take his child to see their beloved club and that they would put in a performance against North London giants Arsenal.
You know the ending by now. Everton were proper crap on the day; a bevy of mishit passes, lack of service to Lukaku, no credible threat going forward, and mistake prone at the back. They fell 2-0 without Arsenal having to break out of a canter or break a sweat.
The young Everton fans, they will have suited up in their finest blues and whites again the following weekend and will do so most every weekend after. They will go on supporting their neighborhood club, the people’s club, the football club that chose them at birth. Dads and sons will be forever clad in their club’s colors as they hold hands, win lose or draw, on the walk away from that hollowed old ground in Liverpool.