The portrait of a Premier League football supporter has changed a lot in recent years. Fans, in the the main, aren’t the trigger when it comes to conjuring an atmosphere. The match-day demographic has altered and the backdrop to a game is typically formulated by what’s on display on the field.
Of course, sides like Crystal Palace, and their ultra culture, are an exception. But over the past 15 years, Goodison Park has always struck me as a venue which needs kickstarting into life by a flashpoint.
Unless it’s a mammoth occasion, it’s tough to recall Everton supporters stirring without a prompt. That’s no criticism, as each team has its own culture, different traditions and various quirks; it’s what makes the English game refreshingly unique. But for Goodison to shake and intimidate, there have to be certain stimuli and that’s why the manager’s veiled criticism of supporters in the wake of a 2-1 loss to Swansea riles.
As the Everton boss of almost three years, Roberto Martinez should be acutely aware of what brings the best from these supporters. We were all bewitched by the brilliant football he brought to the club in his maiden term in charge, but Goodison Park needs something a little more full-blooded to bristle.
We’ve seen as much this campaign. Two of the highlights of this dreary season have been the home win against Chelsea in the league and a victory over Manchester City in the first-leg of the League Cup. They’re matches in which the team started the game with a vivid intensity and feistiness, traits which have been so scarce as of late.
So is it any great surprise to hear groans when Swansea keep the ball for two minutes from the kick-off in a key home game? When an out-of-form defender and past-it goalkeeper conspire to cause another calamitous moment? When the team plays without structure, sense or any kind of killer instinct?
Reading between the lines, there seems to be a feeling prevalent amongst the players and manager the Goodison Park support has contributed a lot to this moribund run on home soil.
“We haven't found the right way of playing at home. That is the truth,” said Martinez after the Swansea loss. “…We want to impress our fans, play attacking football and become a winning team, but we are finding it tough to free ourselves.”
Already this season, there have been other glimpses into some division. In his programme notes ahead of the City game, captain Phil Jagielka wrote he’d noticed there was “anxiety amongst our supporters.” Gareth Barry said after the Swans defeat “slowly, teams are picking up on that [anxiety] and coming here and realising that Everton can be got at in front of their own fans.”
There have also been visible signs from the players, with Tim Howard and John Stones both gesturing at fans to calm it; the former has sarcastically clapped the Gwladys Street too.
In an ideal world, the supporters would be right behind their players every week from the off, regardless of the result or style of football. But the bald reality is that at Goodison, and a lot of stadiums around the country, this simply not the case anymore.
Anyway, in this instance the fans have a right to be unhappy. After all, as we’ve heard so often recently from the manager, this is a squad consisting of some of the best young players in European football, yet the Toffees are languishing in 12th position in the Premier League.
At home especially, the performances have been shocking. Just three wins all season in L4, five defeats and a whopping 22 goals conceded in 12 games; that’s three more than any other team in the division. It’s a trend which has carried on from last term, in which Everton suffered a disappointing five defeats at formerly fortress Goodison.
These remarks from the manager will do little to help the situation. Over the festive period and into January there’s been a swell of supporters beginning to doubt Martinez and taking a swipe at those who flock to Goodison week in, week out won’t curry favour with those on the fence. They’re comments which will add to the angst, not lift it.
What will aid the healing process is supporters seeing a side which plays which endeavour on home soil. A team which begins games with intent, puffs its chest out and defends with aggression. As aforementioned, undertake these rudimentary duties and this crowd will be right behind the team, regardless of the results which follow.
Ultimately, the type of football on show will be mirrored in the fanbase. If Everton play in a high-octane, intense and daring fashion, those in the stands will be swept up by a similar bullishness. But act lackadaisical, make silly errors and allow opposition sides an easy ride, the reactive modern-day supporter will follow suit.