Everton protests are pointless as football fans are all dead boiled frogs in 2023

Everton fans protest at West Ham Credit: Alamy
Everton fans protest at West Ham Credit: Alamy

Everton fans are just the latest in a long line of supporters who have major issues with their club’s owners and officials.

They have shown a more creative use of banners than is usual, with some catchy rhyming stanzas as well as the more typical ‘the fans are the club’ messages. It isn’t hard to understand why this is happening. And I’m sure most supporters are sympathetic. What is harder to see is how all of this gets resolved in a way which would satisfy the fans in the long term. Are these really just protests at losing a lot of games for quite a long time?

Everton fans, like many before them, are powerless in the shadow of a mountain of money, greed and hubris as embodied by Farhad Moshiri and others. Football clubs are bought and sold by the fabulously rich for a variety of reasons, but none of them could pass themselves off as a fan of the club in the way that those holding the banners are.

That basic fact makes hearts grow colder and takes football further away from those who it used to belong to. It is a ridiculously romantic notion that it should be otherwise in 2023, but that doesn’t make anyone feel any happier about the situation. Too often it feels like the rich bloke is taking the piss out of the fans.

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But what change can any of us make happen? No matter how many banners are made, how many flares are lit, how many chants are made and how many abuse the players, the directors and the owner, it’s all, sadly, pissing in the wind. It changes nothing and will change nothing. The owners will do what they want to do, what suits them. Threaten them and they’ll just stay away, as happened recently. Money talks, everything else walks. We can’t do anything about it.

We live in an era of financial stratification; an elite and the rest. Everton are very much in the rest. Bigger than plucky newcomers like Brentford who are full of the fizz of being on a new adventure, but smaller than the super rich clubs who, no matter what their position in the table is, will always use money to make things better sooner or later and can afford to waste money like it’s going out of style.

And while it feels a truism to say that the fans are the club and that football is nothing without fans, Covid showed us that in the Premier League this wasn’t really true in the way we hoped it was. When you’ve got £150 million of free money from just being in the league, it dwarfs what clubs generate from fans. Clubs, in effect, literally don’t need us at this level, the way they do lower down the pyramid.

With a few financial cuts, or a few extra ‘partners’, all games could be played without anyone there, or without charging us for a ticket. Given the audiences for a lot of live football between the ‘smaller’ clubs can be somewhat shrivelled, and even the big games are only relatively popular. it doesn’t even seem to matter if no-one is watching football on TV or if there are fans there. They’ll just buy the rights and show it anyway. The legacy of 30 years of the Sky model is that fans don’t matter. They’ll show it even if the grounds are empty.

In 2018/19 Everton earned £14.2m in gate receipts from 19 Premier League games and four cup matches. Matchday hospitality generated £11.7m. This is loads of money, the sort of money that the vast majority of cubs in the pyramid would love. But they don’t have a wage bill of £80million to pay. That £25million barely makes a dent into that. That’s why Everton fans don’t matter to the owners the way they once used to. It’s the modern way. It’s sad but true.

Moshiri has flushed half a billion quid money down the metaphorical toilet and has made the squad worse. It is a failure of immense proportions. If they drop out of the league, it isn’t a big stretch of imagination to think the club will be in danger of calling in the receivers, or at least, having to conduct a fire sale.

All Everton can ever hope to achieve in this environment is survival, seasoned with rare victories over the financial elite. The best outcome is an occasional top-half finish. This is the basic dysfunction of the Premier League. 37 years ago Everton could and did win the league. They will never, ever, ever do that again. Is that right? Is that what we want? Isn’t that actually something we should all be protesting about?

But, like killing a frog by slowly boiling it, the changes that have ensured this reality have been slow, so slow that we didn’t realise they were even happening until it was too late. And now here we are. The only way to become part of the elite is to be owned by a country or a c*nt, or preferably both.

We can protest if we want, but what can we achieve? We simply don’t matter anymore. I hate saying that, but it’s true. All owners know the vast majority of the fanbase would rather go to the game and moan about it, than absent themselves en masse. Fans’ loyalty is used against them all the time and most just pay up and put up, no matter the indignities it involves. Big money was sold to us as a way to success but it was just a way to sell our souls to the devil. The devil has all the best tunes and all the best clubs too.

Long term, the only way to have a chance of breaking the financial hegemony is to do a Newcastle which, to massively understate it, comes with a lot of issues. Surely Everton fans don’t want that.

There are blips of course. Leicester are one, the relative failure this season of Chelsea and Liverpool another. These kinks allow everyone in the business to pretend anything is possible, even though it isn’t and these are just anomalies.

The more competent owners and their emissaries will voice the emollient words that fans want to hear, but they don’t mean them. It’s just marketing. They see the paying fans as cash cows or inconveniences, not as the repository of the soul of the club. More often than not, they assume their money has bought those souls in return for winning some games. And sadly that’s usually true. It has. Success, however relative or by what means, makes so many problems go away in football, at least for a while. The examples are legion. That’s how the evil seeps in.

Everton fans’ demands seem to be ‘can we just play a bit better and be run a bit better please’ and it is hardly a revolutionary demand and one they have every right to make as loudly as possible. But given where we are with the sort of people who buy football clubs, the answer may well be, ‘err…what’s it to do with you, mate?’

As fans, we like to think we’re important, but in the Premier League, we’re not and protests are ultimately worthless. The war was lost years ago. We are all dead boiled frogs. You know it, I know it, we all know it.

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