Pride and Prejudice
by Lyndon Lloyd
In an Evertonian era of endless false dawns, financial hardship, ulcer-inducing league performance, shocking luck where injuries are concerned, and a shortage of style, coherence and confidence on the pitch, one aspect of the club has come into sharp focus: loyalty and commitment to the cause.
In the absence of funds to strengthen the squad following last summer's exodus from the midfield and a season-long injury crisis - and there really is no other word for it than crisis - we, the fans, have closed ranks around those players who appear to genuinely care for the state of the club and have the stomach for the fight that remains to preserve 47 continuous years in the top flight.
Paul Gascoigne, Duncan Ferguson and Richard Gough fall under the category of adopted Evertonians, players who would - and actually are - risking long-term damage to their bodies by playing when medical advice would have them on the sidelines. However, because of the extent of their injuries, and the repetitive nature of them, neither is likely to figure prominently in the final four games of the campaign.
Kevin Campbell, having just repaid the adoration of the fans and the faith the club and Walter Smith showed in him two years ago when they plucked him from his Turkish nightmare and provided the stage for him to relaunch his career by signing a new contract at Goodison Park, is another adopted son; a player who has become an Evertonian by virtue of his contribution to our plight and the way he has taken the club to his heart.
And then there are two players who, in stark contrast to a 19 year-old striker who will remain nameless, have stood up against fan prejudice and been counted this season, epitomising the spirit, commitment and dedication we have come to demand from our players in this trying era of the club's history.
Michael Ball and David Unsworth, products of the Everton youth setup and Evertonians through-and-through, have demonstrated recently their pride in the Blue jersey and their desire to see this club safe for another season.
Ball, increasingly a misfit in the side having clashed with the manager over discplinary issues when his apparent partner in crime, Richard Dunne, was still around, has had a renaissance this season and emerged as the classy, confident and inspiring player we knew he could be three years ago and had been reduced to hoping he could still be in the years since then.
Making the central defensive berth alongside David Weir (a player who is often overlooked purely because his dedication is so understated) his own, Ball has forced his way into the senior England setup and, of course, attracted the attention of bigger rivals in the Premiership. He is also a front-runner for player of the season.
Pleasingly, Michael has thus far repeated his desire to stay at Everton. He is, as far as rumours and impressions go, going nowhere unless he is forced out by those in charge at the club. The likes of Walter Smith and Bill Kenwright would be mad to let go of the player who famously use to train with Liverpool Boys in his Everton shirt when he has shown such loyalty and faith in their own ability to turn the club around.
Unsworth - sold to West Ham four years ago, he returned to the only club he calls home a season later - is equally deserving of the praise being heaped on him at the moment; quite a change from a couple of months ago when he was the object of much vitriole and criticism from the a fickle element of the Goodison faithful.
"Rhino" has responded the only way he knows how; by wearing his heart on his sleeve and playing his heart out for the Everton cause. He has scored more goals in the past 8 weeks than any other Everton player, mostly down to his "balls of steel" approach to taking penalties; cases in point were his spot-kicks against West Ham and Liverpool when he was succssful despite the histrionics of Paolo Di Canio and Jamie Carragher respectively.
When the chips are down, as they so often are at this time of the season at Goodison, be thankful that we have players like Messers Ball and Unsworth, Blue Bellies through and through who are working for the salvation of the club and not to merely line their pockets. If only all our of imports and homegrown talent had the same loyalty and dedication.
Michael Ball and David Unsworth, take a bow and may you be offered the contracts you deserve.
©2001 ToffeeWeb, 18 April 2001