Fans’ placards seem unlikely to convince the Premier League to rescind Everton’s 10-point penalty – Getty Images/Shaun Botterill
“Corrupt,” screamed the banner on Goodison Street, in what became the day’s constant refrain. “Premier League, we’re coming for you.” But how? Everton fans’ quest to repair the grievous damage of a 10-point deduction is unlikely to be best served by opaque threats of mass mobilisation.
For all the emotion in the stands, a rescue act will only be delivered through a show of defiance on the pitch. And this, to judge by the ease with which Manchester United swept to a 3-0 victory, is far from guaranteed.
Everton have suffered a profound trauma, that much is evident. The problem is that nobody seems too clear about the cure. In the hours before kick-off, supporters marched past the Royal Oak pub on the corner of Spellow Lane, under a banner of “All Together Now”. In the press room, a closely-typed two-page letter was distributed on behalf of Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester and Everton season-ticket holder, accusing the Premier League of an “abuse of process” and calling for the club’s punishment to be declared null and void.
But when Alejandro Garnacho doused the home fires with his stunning bicycle kick, these statements sounded less like clarion calls than impotent howls of rage. The crowd had come spoiling for a fight, jeering and hissing as soon as they spotted Premier League branding. One of the most hostile receptions was saved for the poor youngsters who brought out signs bearing the hated lion logo. Then came that glorious overhead strike – a “worldie”, as Sean Dyche acknowledged – and all the air seemed to rush out of the ground.
Garnacho’s extraordinary bicycle kick was the last thing Everton fans wanted to see – AP/Jon Super
It was a cruel twist for a place already in crisis. One moment, 35,000 fans were mobilising to deliver a message the Premier League would not soon forget. The next, they were watching Garnacho wheel away after a goal-of-the-season contender. “We shall not be moved,” they had chanted in the streets outside. “You cannot ignore us.” It was an admirable riposte and the latest act on a weekend of co-ordinated fury, with a light aircraft flown over the Etihad to ask why Manchester City – accused of over 100 financial breaches that they vigorously deny – were not facing more severe punishment. Over £40,000 had been raised by supporters’ group Everton 1878 to fund the protests.
But amid the sound and fury, the pitiless realities of a relegation battle started to bite. Dyche sensed as much, as Everton’s meek second-half retreat underlined the scale of the task that awaits. “We all know the news, but for all the words we can use, it’s a fact – subject to appeal,” he said. “The connection with our fans is going to be really important. We can cry about it, but the situation is how it is, so let’s get on with it.”
The mood here did not mirror the manager’s acceptance of the circumstances. The anger was molten, beginning with booing of the Premier League anthem and reaching a peak with the mass waving of “Corrupt” placards in the 10th minute, the timing designed to symbolise the number of points docked. Some banged the huge sheets of metal encasing the stands. Others outside Goodison Park set off fireworks, a curiously pyrotechnic way of conveying their unhappiness.
On a giant sheet in the Gwladys Street End were the words: “Where there is power, greed and money, there is corruption.” Much though this resonated as a universal truth, there was an impression of Everton preaching to the converted. “Corrupt” was not an allegation they could make stick with the Premier League – not with the club already having admitted their breach of profit and sustainability rules, having exceeded its permitted losses by £19.5 million. To hear the word on repeat in all corners of the stadium was to wonder whether these fans had a back-up plan, a more productive way of articulating their hurt.
Everton’s protests would have more going for them had the club not admitted wrongdoing – Getty Images/Robbie Jay Barratt
They feel, palpably, as if an obscene act has been perpetrated against them. Dyche, even if he did his best to urge a dose of pragmatism, did his best to champion their cause. “I cannot be involved with what is outside my domain, but the swell of Evertonians getting behind the club shows the feelings of injustice,” he said. It was the day’s motif, this notion of injustice. At every juncture, supporters acted as if conspired against by dastardly forces beyond their control. Referee John Brooks was a particular focus of their ire, with his failure to issue United a yellow card until late in the first half singling him out as an enemy of the state.
You feared for Brooks’ welfare when it came to checking the Var monitor for a potential penalty, which he eventually awarded for Ashley Young’s trip on Anthony Martial. It is part of Goodison’s timeless appeal, the proximity of the crowd to the touchline. But not in an environment as febrile as this. The longer the referee deliberated, the more stewards had to contain the aggrieved fans who knew what was coming. By the time Martial applied the gloss with a third, a few had drifted off into the frigid autumn night. Indignation had given way to weary fatalism at the tortuous road ahead.
Sign up to the Front Page newsletter for free: Your essential guide to the day’s agenda from The Telegraph – direct to your inbox seven days a week.News Related