It is rare for me to write a book review, my columns largely focus on the more structural aspects of the club and try to provoke debate. However not only was getting review this book far too good a chance to pass up, it is also a privilege for me to be given the opportunity to review such a passionate exploration into Everton’s history. It is true of any book you review that you are reviewing the author as much as the text, that is especially so within this text. I first came across David on the Toffee TV channel talking about his book in a broader conversation of Everton’s season. I was struck by his knowledge of the game, passion, clarity of thought and his modesty when talking about a unique and innovative text. On seeing David representing everything that is good about Everton FC I had made my mind up that I was going to read the text. Subsequently on joining twitter and having the pleasure of some twitter exchanges with him it’s clear the warmth he speaks about towards Everton extends to those who get in touch with him. As indicated above, it is a real privilege of me to review not just a fantastic book, but one that is written by a terrific author who I hope will go onto do more projects.
The premise of the text is straightforward enough, it is looking at 13 players and the impact they have had upon Evertonians, presented as 13 individual Sermons. For the players David has seen there is a clarity and a romance in how he describes them, from remarking about Ferguson’s first goal to Sheedy’s mercurial left foot. It is more than just a recollection of great games and goals though and a real focus on how they him feel as a fan looking on. Stats alone do little justice to how players make us feel. Big Duncan’s stats don’t tell the story of his dominance in the mid 90’s or his enduring love for the club and it’s supporters. This text goes some way to bridge the distance between those two facts. It is something of a twilight zone for supporters that we all exist in, that sits somewhere between reality and dreams. The text effectively frits between both.
The gem of the book is the Alan Ball Sermon. Without trying to give too much of the chapter away it is easy to envisage the downtrodden 8 year old stating that his support for Everton may have been indefinitely put on hold while Ball played for another team. It is widely remarked that when Ball left he also cried and the Greek tragedy of his departure is given a unique micro history of one person’s story and response to this. This one response though, for those who lived through it gives us something to relate too and for those too young to remember him leaving gives a valuable insight into the mindset of Evertonians losing their talisman. The chapter finishes beautifully with an unseen twist which I will not give away, but it is enough to make any Evertonian enduringly proud of the bond that exists between club and fans.
While the gem is undoubtedly the Alan Ball chapter, the most impressive, interesting and important work David has done is around the pre-war players. Through family members he is able to provide us with a rich oral social history about the role and importance Sandy Alex Young, Tommy Lawton and Dixie Dean had upon the club. Previously only Dean ever gets the recognition he deserves from that trio and for me this text is a welcome start to a process that should see Evertonian’s begin to educate themselves on the role pre-war players had, a process that I can only hope will end with a comprehensive Museum at the new Stadium. While Lawton could quite easily rank as the second best striker to ever play English football more needs to be done to look at the role played by Millward, Chadwick, Southworth, Geary and Collins who represented Everton with fine distinction in the pre-war years.
Perhaps the most enduring quote from Alan Ball is “once Everton has touched nothing will ever be the same” and a big part of this statement can be attributed not just to the warmth of it’s fan base but also the appreciation Everton supporters have for the history of the club and the former greats. I would say this is almost unrivalled amongst our rivals, yet one area where we can do better is getting together information from those who had relatives who saw some of our greatest players. In the same way I hope people will still talk about Alan Ball in 50 years time (and David’s text will be a valuable source for this discussion) we need to do our upmost for the prewar players to do them justice.
While the synopsis is straightforward to have done it well and with the detail, emotion and passion David has is anything but straightforward. He writes in a unique and complex manner that is a cross between a regular at the Wilmslow, a ecclesiastical preacher and a poet. While this is not always the most accessible form of writing it should not allow people to become detracted from the relevance of the text, indeed we should appreciate the passion of what is a very unique and powerful testimony. What you can always relate to in the text is that passion, the pride and the knowledge that David has built over the years of supporting Everton.
I am told he sells the book most home games the Church by the Gwladys Street, and there is also a paypal account to make the purchase. Contact @lcabbabeh on twitter for more – I would urge any Evertonian who wants to arm themselves with some fascinating insights into our former players or anyone who wants to support a talented writer to purchase the book.