“Father Christmas doesn’t deliver to Liverpudlians.” My mum’s matter-of-fact declaration, delivered to my four-year-old self on a cold December evening thirty-odd years ago has been running through my mind of late.
In part, it’s because I think it might be the only time I’ve ever heard her refer to that lot as ‘Liverpudlians’ rather than ‘ the Shite’ or ‘Scum’.
But equally, with the holiday season upon us and my own son firmly wedded to the Blue cause, I’ve given thought to how far I would have gone to ensure that he is and always will be an Evertonian; essentially would I have done to him, what my mum did to me?
The whole Father Christmas strategy represented my mum’s last ditch attempt to wrest me away from the claws of Liverpool FC.
Back then, I was a pre-schooler increasingly forming my own opinions of the world around me, one of which had been the recent decision to fall in with the red half of the city.
I liked the colour red, Liverpool played in red, so the choice seemed simple. And yet, to my family, a cabal of ardent Evertonians, it amounted to little more than heresy.
For months they had sought to undermine my tentative attachment with entreaties to family loyalty, bribes of Panini stickers and the constant highlighting of any inconsistencies in Liverpool’s form. But it was to no avail, the more they pushed, the more I dug in.
Fearful that my attachment was strengthening to the point where it would soon be cemented for life, my mum took this last roll of the dice.
And faced with this new information, what four-year-old wouldn’t switch allegiances?
On the morning of the 25th I awoke to see the heap of presents at the end of my bed and felt not excitement but relief. I had been forgiven for my earlier transgressions and my mum’s timely intervention had saved me from a lifetime of miserable Christmases.
Much later I of course learned that this was all a lie. Not only did Father Christmas hold no footballing prejudices he was also a fictitious construct. From that point on the only morbidly obese, white-bearded, borderline alcoholic I’d see at Christmas would be my Uncle Peter.
But by the time I’d realised their deceit it was too late. My attachment to Everton had become entrenched, the affiliation coinciding with an upsurge in my interest in the game and cemented by those all important first experiences of live games at Goodison. The dye had been cast and I was Blue, come hell or Mike Walker.
It might have been horribly manipulative but I can understand why my mum did it. Having a Red under her roof would have been a problem. In a family dominated by Blues my allegiance to the dark side would have upset our domestic harmony. So what she did came from a good place, even if it was ethically questionable.
Introducing the Everton Mishmash!
But the situation with my son was always a bit different. Unlike mine, his wider family is less dominated by Blues. Evertonians still feature but their supremacy has been diluted by the presence of one West Ham supporter and a significant proportion of family members who couldn’t care less about football. We also live in the footballing vacuum of East Sussex, meaning that the whole atmosphere is less intense too.
And so in theory his choice of club should have been be less of an issue. Having a Brighton fan, or a Chelsea supporter, or a follower of Arsenal in the family would have been much less toxic than having a Red amongst a family of Blues.
But although I did try and picture him as a fan of other clubs, on each occasion I just feel a sense of mild revulsion, or in the case of Liverpool horrifying disgust.
In my dark, bitter, partisan heart I always want him to embrace Everton, with all the misery, frustration and anguish that this brings.
But converting him to the faithful was no easy task. Growing up in Liverpool there was only ever one of two choices to make. You might get the odd, and I mean very odd kid who opted to support Manchester United or even Tranmere Rovers, but these were rare exceptions.
By contrast, all the lads around where I live now are drawn to the top flight and in particular the Big Clubs (and I’ll charitably include Liverpool in this). This means that whereas my mum was battling for attention against one team, at best I was up against several.
And because of Everton’s unusual approach to consistent football and general shunning of the conventional definitions of success, they were a hard sell. Young lads are generally left cold by discussions about which team won the third most points in top flight history. What they want apparently is shiny stuff, not dry statistics. And Everton didn’t help me out in this area.
Fortunately, after years of hard graft (and more merchandise than an average Newcastle supporter buys in week), I eventually brought him into the fold.
He’s now elated when we win and viably crushed when we lose (which is all any parent wants really). He knows the squad inside out and actually clamours to go the game when the opportunity arises. And (when his mum is out of earshot) he also refers to our neighbours in less than flattering terms; something that makes my heart swell with pride.
I never had to resort to the kind of drastic actions my mum did. But, if it had come to it, I think I would have done the same. I know that as parents we are meant to allow our children to make their own choices but there has to be a limit to this. There is something elemental about families supporting the same team, something magical about those shared experiences, something to be cherished in those common bonds.
A few weeks back, I looked at him staring at the league table on my phone, genuine anguish in his face at our lowly position. And I knew then that I had made the right decision.
He was feeling what I felt, the same sense of disappointment, the same bewilderment at a season unravelling, the same emotional punch in the gut that Everton can deliver so well. We now share something that can last a lifetime. And who wouldn’t want that?
Jim Keoghan is the author of Everton’s Greatest Games, the Toffee Finest 50 Matches, which is available at Waterstones, Amazon and Everton Two