Dark Summer

It’s the summer time! Mother Nature’s greatest mistake.

It’s that time of the year when the air is filled with the fetid stench of your fellow man, when the male open-toed sandal makes its most unwelcome reappearance, when the stillness of a quiet afternoon is ruined by the laughter of happy children.

I am so jealous that out there, in the arctic, exists a two-month summer, where temperatures hover just above freezing. Try getting your manky size 10 feet out in that!

In short, the summer has absolutely fuck all going for it. Or at least, almost nothing. Because, despite the legions of red-faced men oscillating with the promise of an evening’s violence to come, the psychotic wasps who only exist to ruin your day, the botulism lying in wait in those undercooked chicken drumsticks, summer does provide one benefit, even for a miserable shit like me. And that benefit is, footballing serenity.

These months have a near miraculous quality. You approach the season’s end weary, tired of football. The campaign has chipped away at your reserves of hope. You’re ready for a breather; a break from Everton being ‘Everton’. Our recent campaign, in particular, ground more than most. Despite the heady elation of that Palace game, by the season’s conclusion, I think I actually hated not just Everton (that is a given after all), but football itself.

But the close season does something to you. Not long after the campaign’s end 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 everywhere as you approach the season to come.

The optimism is rooted in the summer’s eternal sense of promise. It is a time when the dross of the recent season finally comes to an end, when the decks are at last cleared, when new players arriving will allow the club to build for a better tomorrow.

God bless the summer, 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?

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.

But will it?

While there is always a quiet voice at the back of your mind whispering that your optimism is a house built on sand, this summer that voice is all I can hear.

There are so many problems evident at the club that they almost exhaust explanation. Years of incoherent recruitment, boardroom inertia, commercial failure, the list goes on and on. We have become a textbook example of how not to run a football club. To blow half a billion pounds to create a squad undeniably worse than the one that existed when Moshiri arrived, takes a level of incompetence unmatched in our club’s long history.

This, when allied to the straightjacket of FFP, a feeling emanating from the club that they are wary of making further mistakes in the transfer market, and the inevitable departure of Richarlison, means it was probably a lot to expect this summer to be stress free.

But even accounting for the above, there is little doubt that Everton have not helped, specifically in their apparent desire to move with glacial speed. While the recent flurry of activity, albeit some of it underwhelming, has done a little to allay the sense of disquiet that has built as the season opener approaches, considering where the club stood in May, this has not been the ideal summer.

Everton have had a considerable amount of time to both address the shortcomings of the squad and to do something about the Richarlison-shaped-hole that has been created. But as Chelsea looms, there remains an undeniable question mark hanging over the players Lampard is able to turn to.

This question mark, combined with a patchy pre-season, filled with unconvincing performances and the continued presence of recent failings (how hard can it be to defend a corner?), have effectively robbed me of the usual serenity that the summer provides.

I have remained in a state of Everton-induced anxiety pretty much since the Arsenal mauling in May. There has been no breather, no idle moments dreaming of footballing possibilities (no matter how unlikely). Instead, there has just been the routine grind of life as a Blue and a growing feeling of unease that has built in intensity as the weeks have progressed.

What was really needed this summer was brisk business, a pre-season in which the squad gelled together and the sense, as the opening game arrived of a well-oiled machine ready to grab as many points as possible. That has definitively not been the case.

So, thank you Everton. Thank you for adding anxiety to the summer’s heady cocktail of wasps, sweat, and dickheads playing bongos down the park.

It’s a level of anxiety that has me contemplating the chances of relegation this year. Even with the recent arrivals, you look at that squad, you consider the quality of the teams Everton will be playing, and suddenly, before a ball has been kicked, you really worry.

Perhaps, the only saving grace this time round will be the fact that it will likely be a strange season. Crowbarring an international tournament slap bang in the middle of the campaign might unsettle the narratives many of us assume will take place. Maybe, for once, having fairly crap players, the kind that won’t face a draining World Cup in the run up to Christmas will benefit Everton. It could be that all those years of dire recruitment might actually pay dividends, giving our fresh-legged mediocrities a slight edge in the post-World Cup part of the season.

That’s what it’s come to at Everton, hoping that external events can somehow enable the club to fudge its way through another year. That’s the true measure of this board’s failure. They have taken us backwards, limiting our aspirations and making ‘survival’ part of our outlook once again. You get the feeling that what happens over the next month will play a significant role in whether this latter ‘aspiration’ is achieved. But what’s happened over the previous three months has likely already made the job harder than it needed to be.

Everton still being ‘Everton’. A fact of life that seemingly never changes.

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