When Anthony Gordon left Everton recently, a defensive secret was revealed.
Gordon was not the man the youth blues supporters were led to believe when he burst onto the Goodison Park terrace. As a youngster, he followed his choice Liverpool to the cup finals, photographic evidence circulated on social media as proof of the ‘treachery’.
For some, Gordon’s motivation to seek a move the previous summer and get it in January was a bit of a run of the mill.
“He was never one of us,” a phrase often heard in the days leading up to Gordon’s move to Newcastle United.
In recent years, other graduates of the Goodison academy have shuffled uncomfortably when asked about youth loyalty, publicly asserting Evertonians although it is privately acknowledged that they switched sides across Stanley Park for professional reasons.
He points out that there are still concerns about how the most tribal fans will react to the reasonable assumption that not everyone at Everton considered Liverpool a rival in their youth, and in some cases they were highly regarded. .
Amidst this history Sean Dyche heads into his first Merseyside derby, the newly appointed coach tap-dancing through a minefield before leading his team to Anfield while admitting his childhood support for Bob Paisley’s all-powerful team in the 1970s and 80s.
“I don’t mind telling you,” said Dyche.
“At the age of seven I’m in Kettering, which isn’t exactly a football city. I was a Kettering fan. I actually had a season ticket and went to watch Kettering. The side is that there are many children in [Kettering] in the 70s also supported Liverpool. My friend had the yellow Liverpool kit. You know the yellow one with the stripes down it? We have a picture of me and him together. I thought ‘that’s a nice outfit, who’s that?’ and he said ‘Liverpool’ so I thought, ‘we’re Liverpool fans from now on’. It still is. So that was my first point of reference to support Liverpool.
“I only came to Anfield [once] by Phil Neal because he is from Irchester, a small place near Kettering. We were invited as a local team if you like to play half an hour before kick off. I almost scored an own goal actually. I hit it off the line. I put him over my own guard, ran after him and swept him off the line.”
Suffice it to say that Dyche, 51, could not be more different from his seven-year-old self, and the many battles he has had with Liverpool – particularly Jurgen Klopp – during his bid in Burnley’s reign as strong evidence as the adult. answer up to questions about childhood heroes.
While Kop fans are happy to tear down their opponents for ‘appointing a red’, Evertonians may consider it long overdue for the young Liverpool supporter to damage the opposition given the youth blues’ long history changing colors; Ian Rush, Steve McMahon, Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman, Michael Owen and Jamie Carragher never hid their childhood affiliations and it was never a question, with the latter even turning up for Liverpool training as a teenager in his Everton kit.
It used to be the same at Everton. One of Liverpudlians most successful youngsters is a Goodison legend – Peter Reid – was a visitor to the club’s training ground in midweek and there is no greater symbol of what it means to passionately represent the club on derby day .
But across the country there is still patience before Manchester United or City stars, or those from Tottenham, Arsenal, Newcastle or Sunderland will openly admit to swapping sides.
Supporters love to chant “he’s one of ours” every time a player steps into the first team, so the smarter PR teams of Premier League clubs are reluctant to break the facade. With some justification they fear that it will be a stick to beat during tougher times.
Witness the desperate efforts being made to explain why a young Harry Kane was once pictured in an Arsenal kit. The thought of him even flirting with North London rivals Tottenham seems to have been too much to accept.
“I was at Arsenal for a year and I’m obviously a kid,” Kane explained of his Spurs hero.
“I wanted to wear the Tottenham kit but I don’t think it would go well. I was eight years old.”
If a player of Kane’s class feels compelled to explain, what chance will an underdog have when a picture of his younger self in a rival’s kit hits social media?
Whether Dyche’s acknowledgment of the past will encourage the next Gordon to be as honest as the manager is likely to depend on the high regard the player immediately commands from Gwladys Street. Sadly for Everton, not enough of their recent graduates have found and retained determination or confidence, Gordon after Francis Jeffers, Wayne Rooney, Jack Rodwell and Ross Barkley were linked with a big money move shortly after starting with him.
Of course, Rooney introduced himself to the football world with the ‘Once a blue, always a blue’ shirt. On Monday, Everton’s derby win would have been well received by ex-fans in Liverpool at Goodison Park.