God bless the summer, the time of year when all of football’s happy outcomes remain deliriously possible. Is there any part of the football calendar more imbued with hope than right now?
Even the most hardened of Evertonian pessimists, the kind who will write our season off when Keane under-hits a backpass ten minutes into the opening game of the season, cannot fail to succumb to the sunny optimism of the summer.
These months have a near miraculous quality. In May, you approach the season’s end weary, tired of football and all its predictability. The campaign has chipped away at your reserves of hope. You’re ready for a breather; a break from Everton being ‘Everton’.
But the close season does something to you. Not long after the campaign’s conclusion you are resurrected. Like Lazarus rolling back the stone, you emerge anew. And this reborn self is barely recognisable from the world weary wreck of just a few days ago. Sunshine and optimism are abound as you approach the season to come.
All rumours are considered entirely plausible. The players that arrive will be transformative. The deficiencies of the last campaign will be addressed. This year will be different. This is the season when it all comes good.
Reason is a fickle friend to us Evertonians today. In the summer, we are caught up in a whirlwind of unfounded optimism and reckless hope. In June, an assault on the higher reaches of the table seems possible. We ask ourselves if this will be the season when silverware finally comes home and find the answer to be: why not? We imagine foundations for greatness getting laid, dynasties being built, the restoration of former fortunes claimed.
By the winter, when the nights have drawn in, the mercury plummeting, and the cold reality of a hard campaign is laid bare, we’ll spin in the opposite direction. We fall into unreasoned despair, a catastrophising spiral that sees the spectre of relegation and long repressed memories of Mike Walker haunt our restless nights. In January, we’ll be telling Silva to fuck off, raging as Everton exit the FA Cup to Morecambe and start to wonder what moves faster, Yerry Mina or an arctic glacier.
The winter is all about suffering, the summer a heady rush of unabandoned excitement. I am old enough to have witnessed my fair share of summers. And strangely, no matter how old I am and no matter how rich or poor Everton are, I still fall victim to the same sense of reasonless hope.
I can remember us, back in the late 1980s, being part of the hunting pack when that year’s hottest prospect would come on the market (and occasionally landing our quarry). I can remember us being linked with Jurgen Klinsman in 1994 and ending up with Vinny Samways. And I can remember the years of penury under David Moyes, when the arrival of a second tier Argentinian centre forward counted as a marquee signing. Through it all, that sense of boundless, unjustified hope has always been with me.
Well, nearly always. Even the sunny outlook of the summer was no match for Walter Smith, a manager for whom the phrase ‘Winter Is Coming’ fitted perfectly. Under our very own Night King, it felt as though it was always January.
But Walter was a blip, an aberration. Either side of his dark reign, I have always let the summer take me. And that’s no different today. In my head I know the seeds of pessimism are there, seeds that might well flourish and blossom as the season progresses. The league is getting harder and harder to thrive in, Everton remain a side that struggles to sustain form over a campaign, and the faint whiff that Silva might be little more than a Portuguese Pardew, a manager forever on a roller-coaster of contrasting bouts of good form and bad, still hangs in the air. I know all of this but despite it all, my sense of hope wins out
Right now I can only see the positive. I look at a Director of Football who brought in Digne, Gomes and Richarlison and wonder with excitement what will come next. I think of the side as it was towards the end of last season and imagine what added potency new arrivals will provide. I think of how bad we have been in recent campaigns and still ended up in the top eight, considering how little improvement would be needed to challenge the top four.
Will this be the summer when the club finally turns a corner? Right now I’ll say of course it is. Although I said the same a few years ago when the club brought in Klassen, Sandro and Vlasic. That’s the problem with the summer, critical reasoning deserts you.
But we should enjoy it nonetheless. The odds are stacked against Everton, as they are for so many clubs. Come May 2020, you know that surprises will be thin on the ground. The league and the cups have become predictable to the point of tedium. The most exciting league in the world is only exciting for supporters of a select few, and for those journalists and pundits who remain forever fixated on the ‘glamour’ of the top six.
But right now, before a ball has been kicked, we can kid ourselves that anything is possible. Us Blues probably suffer from an excess of pessimism more than any other group of fans in the top flight. So, let’s hear it for the summer, the one time of the year when Evertonians don’t behave like Evertonians.