Geordie Wonderland: Everton
Unbeaten Newcastle play Everton
The football stadium can be very similar to the gladiatorial arena, insofar as any weakness, be it tactical, physical or personal, are ruthlessly exploited by the opposition, and in the case of the latter, the opposition fans. Ryan Giggs is now regularly chastised for his recent endeavours, Wayne Rooney is still lambasted over his granny-bothering days and Julian Allsopp, well, I’m not going to get into what he did, but look him up and you’ll realise why everyone carries inflatable bananas in his company.
The point is this; there’s no place to hide in a football stadium. A case in point was yesterday with the Everton goalkeeper, Tim Howard. Now, no away fixture is ever Howard’s favourite day due to his huge Achilles Heel; Tourette’s syndrome. Usually, this would be a cause for sympathy and understanding. In the heat of the moment though, the football fan is not known for his empathy, and mental illness becomes just as fair game as infidelity, the most infamous case being when Rangers keeper Andy Goram public revelation that he suffers from schizophrenia inspired the chant ‘There’s only two Andy Gorams’. Howard’s own condition induces much profanity-laden chanting from the stands, which I shan’t spell out here.
Merciless? Certainly. Hilarious? Frequently. Mean-spirited? Absolutely not. It’s merely sledging, and Howard, much like most players, takes it with good grace, accepting that an appropriate response is to play well to shut the detractors up. Unfortunately, I reckon he lost this battle yesterday; his resolve being dented in the 29th minute when the aptly pumpkin-faced Everton defender Johnny Heitinga evoked a late Halloween nightmare by putting it in his own net whilst trying to deal with an awkward Danny Simpson cross. After attempting a brief rally, his confidence was utterly smashed by our elegant, ball-striking full-back, Ryan Taylor in a moment of sheer quality.
One could look at a picture of Taylor and disregard him immediately. There’s nothing special about him, physically. He’s just a tall Northern lad, with a large frame, strong jaw and angular features, but otherwise entirely unremarkable. He sort of blends in with the furniture, his ordinariness further highlighted by the fact that he replaced an overrated, exotic continental-type in Spaniard Jose Enrique for a figure (ten million!) which probably caused a lot of smirking and winking on the Newcastle end of the negotiation table. To have an in-house replacement is bad enough in these days of Premier League excess, where the solution always seems to be more money for foreign donkeys. For that replacement to be a plebeian Scouser called Ryan would make it worse still, but for the things he can do.
When static, Ryan is mundane, even forgettable. Yet in movement, he transcends this mediocrity and becomes exceptional through the brilliant things he can do with his left foot. This is as it was today, when his foot became the metaphorical conductor’s baton in an orchestra of emotion; eliciting sheer elation in the hearts of 50,000 people, and despondency from our poor Tim. To put it in more ordinary terms, he scored yesterday. And damn, was it a good; a beautifully executed 30-yard pearler, lofted over Howard, off the bar and in. Simply put, the man’s a maestro.
Yes, it was a beautiful moment, made all the more beautiful by the fashion in which we were playing, with style, grace, and élan. It was like that for the majority of the first half, anyway. Then they knocked one in at the stroke of half-time, Jack Rodwell putting his generously-proportioned head on a corner ball and past the sprawling arms of Dutchman Tim Krul. Suddenly, a game was on.
If any of you are familiar with Everton, you would know that they don’t ever stop fighting, even when the game appears to have been taken from under them. Whilst other teams often experience what I’d call a ‘Hiroshima moment’, a brutal realisation that the fight is unwinnable, Everton seem to lack that faculty. This unfortunate never-say-die attitude and the late goal led to an absolutely angst-ridden second half, where captain Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor, this week sporting a facemask that made him look like Sports Direct’s version of the Phantom of the Opera, dug down admirably in defence to withstand an Evertonian assault. The tension in the stands was palpable, the gent to my right becoming very angry at the clock because ‘it wasn’t going fast enough’, and getting ready to lynch the fourth official for daring to allow (an entirely justifiable) four minutes stoppage time. When the whistle actually blew, the relief was immense. Somehow, we’d gotten away with it, and took second(!) in the table, for a few hours at least.
Right now I’m optimistic, but it would appear that November is the month when all optimism gets kicked out of us, in which we play both Manchester sides and Chelsea. Come December, I’ll be a quivering wreck.