Sleeping Giants: And Another Thing

From the June 2007 issue of FourFourTwo...

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Our panel, left to right:
Andrew Bourne, recruitment consultant, Man City
Ged Clarke, author of Newcastle United: 50 Years of Hurt
Dave Berry, teacher, Leeds
Steve Flack, mental heath advocate, Everton

Bearing in mind your recent lack of success, can you still claim to support a big club?

Leeds I don’t think we can anymore. To be a big club you need a big following and fans that will stick with you, even when you start dropping down the leagues, as we have done. Most importantly, you have to win things and we’re not exactly doing that at present.
Man City These days you have to say Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool are the really big clubs, but I think you can justifiably extend that to those who consistently finish in the Premiership’s top six.
Everton Based on the last 15 years, you could say Everton are not a big club due to the lack of trophies, money and where we’ve finished in the league. However, over throughout history, we’re the fourth most successful club in the country.
Newcastle If you are asking literally, ‘What is a big club?’ I’d say it was one with lots of money, lots of fans and a big ground that is full most of the time. But all of that is fine only so long as you have the team to match it.

Do you believe you have a divine right to success?

Newcastle No, I don’t think anyone has a divine right. I just think that by the law of averages we should have won a trophy in my lifetime. We did win the Fairs Cup when I was just a young lad and I thought ‘This is great, we’re going to win trophies all the time’, but we’ve won nothing since. When you see how much we’ve spent and look at the size of the crowds we command, you assume there’s might be an inevitability about it. Glenn Roeder said recently he felt failure was stitched into the club badge and that losing had become a culture at Newcastle – maybe he’s right. Keegan gave us a glimpse of what might be possible but if you can’t win the league with a 12-point lead, then when can you?
Leeds I think the problem with Leeds is they thought they had a divine right to success a few years ago and that’s part of the reason they started spending so far beyond their means. Right now, we’d take a place in the Premiership and beating Man United home and away. That would do us.
Man City I agree that no club has a divine right to win things. You have to have the right players, fans, manager and spirit – everything has to come together and any club can do that.
Newcastle Reading and Wigan are typical of a new breed of clubs who have neat, little stadiums and are run sensibly but they will never get into the Champions League because you need big money to do that. They’re just happy to be in the Premiership. As far as I’m concerned, all of G-14 can go and play in their Intergalactic League so we can get back to a level playing field.
Everton If you spoke to a large number of Everton fans, they would tell you they do believe they have a divine right to win trophies, even though we’ve won nothing for almost two decades. There is still the tradition and belief within the fabric of the club that we should be best. Finishing sixth just isn’t good enough.

Do you think the longer you wait, the harder it becomes to actually win any silverware? Does the lack of success weigh heavy on the players’ shoulders?

Man City I think the opposite is true – at least for the fans. You tend to think, ‘maybe it’s our year’ because, deep down, you know one year it has to be you.
Newcastle That’s not the case at Newcastle where I think we have a mentality that we are not destined to ever win anything. In 1998 we reached the FA Cup final we all went along thinking that it couldn’t be as bad as 1974 – but it was. Then, we went back in 1999 we all thought that it probably would be as bad as the last two occasions – and it was! That’s when we started singing ‘Pull It Down’ about the old Wembley, and they did. We just seem to tense up like a rabbit in headlights when we get a sniff of success – just as we did in the UEFA Cup against AZ Alkmaar. There is a fear of failure and it may come from the fans.
Leeds You have to lower your expectations the longer it goes on, whether you’re a player or a fan. We don’t go into cup competitions any more thinking we’re going to win it or even have a decent run to the last eight.
Everton My dad said to me the other day that he couldn’t see Everton ever winning the league again in his lifetime. After thinking about what he’d said, I reckon he’s probably right - unless there’s some kind of miracle.
Man City The Premiership is boring now and many City fans crave the excitement of our promotion chasing seasons of a few years back. It’s far more exciting to be involved in a relegation battle than go through the motions in mid-table.

If there was no guarantee of coming straight back up, would you accept relegation to win the FA Cup?

Newcastle Like a shot. Just to have one piece of silverware on the sideboard and a day in the sun, I’d take it. But it’d be very selfish on my part and I doubt Freddie Shepherd would agree. But what does the future hold? Mid-table for eternity? We’re in this to win things, that’s what football is all about.
Leeds I’d take that because I don’t think the standard of football between the Championship and League One would be that different. Given we’ll probably go down anyway…
Everton It’s one of our sad boasts that we’ve not been relegated since 1955. It’s something we cling to. Everton also top the all-time points table for the top division – something else we preciously hold on to. So I’d have to say no to relegation for the FA Cup.
Man City We’ve had plenty of experience of being relegated so that’s a really tough question. You always aim to be in the Premiership so I’d probably say no…
Newcastle Even if you beat Man United in the final?
Man City I’d take that one…

In the recent past, are there any Mickey Mouse competitions your club has entered in a desperate bid to land silverware?

Everton I think the one we hated most was when English clubs were banned from Europe and we took part in the Simod Cup and Full Members Cup. We should have been in the European Cup at the time and we believe we would have won it during that period. It’s still something that turns Everton fans’ stomachs today.
Leeds I can remember the Full Members Cup… and beating some Norwegian village side 18-0 in a pre-season tournament. I think we got a trophy for that.
Everton The Intertoto Cup used to be a joke but now it’s taken more seriously. One thing that makes me sick is when Man City got into Europe for being the highest placed English club in the Fair Play League. What was that all about?
Man City Is that because we just pipped Everton on the last day of the season?
Newcastle We actually won the Intertoto Cup this year - but nobody knew! We were given the cup because we went the farthest of the 11 clubs who qualified for the UEFA Cup via the Intertoto. And we’ve won the Anglo-Italian Cup. Bizarrely, we also won the Texaco Cup twice in one year. So when we moan about our lack of trophies, the actual truth is our cabinet is full of them – just the ones nobody else wants.
Leeds What did you get for the Texaco Cup? Free petrol for a year…?

Have the terraces adopted a gallows’ humour following your recent lack of success?

Everton There’s always been an element of bitterness at Everton because of Liverpool’s success, but yes there’s still plenty of humour. It’s an essential part of being a football fan, isn’t it?
Newcastle The longer it goes on the more it becomes gallows humour – or in our case Gallowgate humour. We used to sing ‘When the Toon go up, to lift the FA Cup we’ll be there, we’ll be there.’ Now it’s not ‘we’ll be there’, but ‘we’ll be dead’. It’s typical of the black - and white - humour we have at Newcastle.
Man City I don’t think City fans are bitter. United fans will say different, but I think they’re jealous of us. Bizarre as that sounds.
Leeds Yep, you keep telling yourself that!
Man City No, it’s true. They are jealous of our passion and loyalty and the fact they can’t get to us because of our thick skins. If you’re a City fan you stick by the club through thin and thin and often it’s our own humour that carries us through the bad years. When we knew we’d been relegated to the third tier of English football on the last day of the season in 1998, the first song we sang was ‘Are you watching Macclesfield?’
Leeds I’m bitter! I think Leeds fans are bitter about how the club has been run and particularly with the way Peter Risdale handled the funds. There’s still a certain amount of disbelief about where we are, but I think that the fans that have stuck with the club are the real hardcore fans and there’s plenty of humour among us. The truly bitter Leeds fans are the ones who’ve fallen away in the past five years or so. We still sing ‘We are the champions, champions of Europe!’ The only thing that really gets to us is that we’re not hated the way we used to be.

Knowing ‘The Big Four’ are likely to dominate the league and cups for the foreseeable future, what’s the incentive to keep turning up each week?

Leeds Everyone realises there is another league within the Premiership beneath the top four clubs and so now you have to set your sights a lot lower they were. I don’t think you’ll ever see a team winning promotion and then the title a couple of years later, like Leeds did in 1992.
Everton I think there has to be a breaking point. We’ve had almost 10 years of the same four clubs being at the top. Can we put up with another decade of the same thing?
Newcastle It could end up like Scotland, where the other clubs have had to put up with two clubs dominating forever…
Everton ...and the other clubs don’t have any fans. It’s not good for the game and something has to give. The average age of the Premiership fan is about 40, people who are addicted after years of attending matches, so when they’ve had enough, what happens then?
Newcastle I think most fans are happy to go if your team is playing entertaining football and scoring goals – it’s supposed to be an entertainment industry, after all. I know that I will always keep going, because the day I give up my season ticket is the day Newcastle will go and win something.
Everton These days it’s more about business than playing football and games often bore the pants off me. Because of the huge amounts of money involved with staying in the Premiership, the fear factor dictates that a lot of teams adopt negative formations. David Moyes often plays 4-5-1 and though we’ve done well this season, there’s a lot of discontentment among the Everton fans. After the home defeat to Tottenham the team were booed off - which hardly ever happens at Goodison Park - because they played safe at 1-1 instead of just going for it.
Leeds Football’s got very little to do with entertainment. It’s an addiction. I cant stop going to see them because I invest so much in them emotionally. If Leeds get turned over it still ruins my Saturday. Fortunately I’ve managed to get my moaning period down to about an hour.

Finally, if you had to place your club in the Top 50 in England, where would yours be?

Everton We’re the fourth most successful club in terms of success over the past 120 years. The Premiership makes out football began in 1992 – it didn’t – it started in the late 1800s and Everton have consistently been a big club. Ten years ago Chelsea wouldn’t have been in the top, so I’d have to say we are in the top five.
Newcastle We annually feature in the Deloitte Football Money League, which is a load of nonsense. All that matters is that in our supporters’ eyes, we are the number one club in the world despite there being 32 clubs that have won domestic trophies since we last won something.
Leeds History and tradition suggests we are among the top 10 clubs in the country, but if you go by league positions, I think we are 39th
Man City We’ve been up and down so many times over the past 20 years, it’s almost impossible to answer that question. City are a huge club in almost every sense - except winning trophies. Like the Newcastle fan says, their club is number one in the eyes of the supporters and nothing else matters.

Interviews: June 2007.