Do any of you remember ‘Harry’s Game?’ It was a 1975 novel – a thriller, set against the background of The Troubles in Northern Ireland – by Gerald Seymour, made into a TV mini-series by Yorkshire Television, seven years later. That already dates this article, doesn’t it? Yorkshire Television…
If you don’t remember the drama, then you will almost certainly remember the haunting theme tune by Irish group Clannad, which reached number five in the charts. On a day when U2 are, of course, riding on Bob Geldof’s coat-tails over the atrocities in Myanmar, I remember a U2 gig in the mid-1980s at the Milton Keynes Bowl where Harry’s Game was played beforehand to remind us all that there really was life beyond mud and incessant rain.
So, those of you who are still reading this may ask, ‘what has any of this got to do with football satire?’
Well, mud and rain always conjure up images for me of the ploughed fields and dark skies that seemed a permanent feature of football in the 1960s and 1970s – maybe Gerald was similarly affected? It’s as though I remember football in black and white rather than colour because we didn’t get a colour television until 1973 (for Princess Anne’s wedding, obviously, but also, far more importantly, Match of the Day).
During that period another Harry – Catterick – ruled the boot-camp that was the Everton football club, delivering two league titles and an FA Cup. Harry was a no-nonsense loner from County Durham, who shunned the limelight. His team may not have become the trophy-laden vehicle of their near neighbours, Liverpool, in the two decades that followed under Shankly/Paisley/Dalglish, but that 1969-70 team was one of the finest in a generation that not just Merseyside but all of Europe had witnessed.
Harry’s game was based on a midfield of Howard Kendall, Alan Ball and Colin Harvey that became known as the ‘Holy Trinity.’ George Best, who formed a threesome of his own, said of Everton at the time that, “they were a delight to watch and indeed play against.”
Kendall – also from Durham – re-created much of that great combination of resilience and creativity in another great Everton side that won so much in the 1980s and would have dominated the decade had Liverpool not so frequently popped round for a cup of sugar and stolen the kettle.
Harry was truly an Everton great and, eventually, in 2009, a small blue and white plaque was placed on the side of the Goodison Road stand in his honour. I’m not sure what the Everton hierarchy make of Howard’s legacy, though the wider football community inducted him into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2005 and he remains the last English manager to win a European trophy with an English club.
In the Modern Era when so much talk is about money, fame and ‘big clubs,’ it saddens me that giants of the North East, who had to leave the area because of the long-term decline in coalmining, shipbuilding and association football, then became Merseyside legends who maybe only the Everton fans still revere.
Everton are simply not a big club anymore. They haven’t won the league title for 30 years and a trophy of any kind for more than 20.
Bill Kenwright is clearly more toffee than nut but I was once told by a Goodison insider that the club will never win anything until the ‘old men of Goodison’ are removed (and that isn’t to be confused or associated in any way with a deep, watery hole in the Lake District).
There remains a clamour – almost hysteria – for a foreign manager to take over as manager at the ailing club, just as there was for Roberto Martinez and Ronald Koeman after the barren years of David Moyes.
Marco Silva seems to be the latest in a quest to ‘stop the Klopp.’ I thought Silva was unfortunate at Hull City – whose name may well have changed to Hull Kittens by the time you read this – and, undoubtedly, he has Watford performing well through a midfield that is encouraged to mark spaces rather than make tackles. Not sure whether that is ‘holy’ or just full of holes. Tom Cleverly never chased shadows, did he?
Marco was dismissed by Sporting Lisbon for refusing to wear a club suit at a Portuguese cup match and, no doubt, he will leave Watford at the end of the season because that is the long-term strategy they follow – known unofficially as the Pozzo Way, which is all about winning in the right way. It’s hard (or foolhardy) to criticize it when its perpetrators are from Italy – a country that used to play in World Cup Finals.
I do worry about the future of English football, both in terms of young players getting opportunities at Premier League clubs, but also young managers. The media like to pretend that Sam Allardyce is the only English manager capable of saving English clubs; Everton fans should see through this as a product of the same money-making monster that employs Phil Thompson and produced Super Sundays featuring Stoke City.
George Best would probably not miss the muddy pitches, but he would certainly have loved playing against Everton these days, even more than he did when Harry was playing the game. There was an Everton way of doing things in those days and, if a modernising of the club and new ground can inspire the money men off the pitch, perhaps a bit of that old Durham grit could turn things around on it?