Brian Viner: Uninvited guests find fun at Highbury party

Jeffers' only Double contribution has been to help his team visualise the FA Cup
Click to follow
The Independent Football

It was odd walking to Highbury on Saturday to shout for Everton. I remarked to my friend Chris that we were like uninvited guests at a birthday party, and, when Tomasz Radzinski put us 2-1 up, Chris whispered – for we were in the West Stand surrounded by Gunners – that we were now like uninvited guests at a birthday party who had spilled red wine on the beige carpet.

When a couple of chances then went begging to extend Everton's gloriously improbable lead, I – never one to let a decent analogy pass without flogging it to within an inch of its life – added that we might soon become the uninvited guests at the birthday party who, having spilled red wine on the beige carpet, then leave with the two best-looking women. Alas, it was not to be.

Still, we left Highbury with smiles on our faces even after a 4-3 defeat, and even though Arsenal's fourth was scored by Francis Jeffers, former idol of the Gwladys Street, who swiftly whipped off his shirt (with those ears, a task not as straightforward as it might be for the rest of us) and twirled it at the Everton fans in an unseemly display of provocative triumphalism.

For those indignant fans, there was the consolation of knowing that one goal does not a season make. Jeffers, Arsène Wenger's so-called "fox in the box", has more often looked like a rabbit caught in headlights. He missed another sitter on Saturday. Even when fit, which has not been often, his only meaningful contribution to the Double has been to help his team-mates visualise the FA Cup sitting in the corner of their dressing-room.

But I'd hate to sound bitter. As I say, the feeling of jollity on Saturday infected even those of us with the Blues. And there was the further consolation of knowing that few teams have scored three this season against Arsenal, albeit an Arsenal who looked like they were due a home win by divine right. The match had the air of a testimonial, as if the players had confused the occasion with tonight's Tony Adams benefit.

Certainly, there was charity from both sides, not least when the Everton defence presented Dennis Bergkamp with the first goal in cellophane wrapping. I don't suppose even Thomas Thomas of Thomastown much doubted that Arsenal would complete their record of scoring in every Premiership match, but he might have expected the visitors to hang on for longer than four minutes. Chris and I assumed we were in for an epic hiding.

We shrank a little in our seats when a chant briefly went up from the chaps in the row behind us: "We've got Dennis Bergkamp, you've got Lee Carsley." But less than a minute later Carsley belted home a terrific equaliser. So in reply we sang: "We've got Lee Carsley, you've got Dennis Bergkamp." Not loudly, though. In fact, not audibly. Even at an orgy of celebration, you can't be too careful.

So much for the final Saturday of the Premiership season. What, though, of the league table it yielded? As always, it tells no lies. Every team ended up in the position it deserved, from Arsenal at the top – especially Arsenal at the top – to Leicester at the bottom. Apart from a few discrepancies (Manchester United finishing outside the top two; Newcastle qualifying for the Champions' League; Ipswich going down) it is very close to the table we would all have predicted last August.

Indeed, if Rangers and Celtic leave the Scottish Premier League, then the top division in Scotland, for the first time in living memory, will be rendered a sight less predictable than its counterpart in England. Be it Arsenal, Manchester United or Liverpool, there is no doubt that a team in red will win the Premiership in 2002-03.

It is a deep, deep shame for English football that clubs can no longer win major honours without spending obscene amounts of money. The heartening corollary to this is that clubs can spend obscene amounts of money and still fail to win major honours. Manchester United and Leeds United invested squillions, yet under-achieved. Those moody Celts Alex Ferguson and David O'Leary should not be surprised if, accordingly, the rest of us draw some satisfaction from their disappointment.

Like three other Premiership clubs, Everton sacked a manager in 2001-02.

Before that, I was lambasterised (the word of the season, unwittingly invented by Stan Collymore) by many fellow-travellers for a sympathetic interview with Walter Smith published in these pages. But then came the abject defeats at West Ham and Middlesbrough which convinced me – and, somewhat more significantly, the board – that Smith's time was probably up.

I still think, however, that other managers might not have kept us aloft for as long as he did. I also think that although Smith was widely and rightly proclaimed to be a man of honour at the time of his sacking, majority shareholder Bill Kenwright behaved honourably too. Whether he picked the right successor in David Moyes will be determined over the next 12 months.

To me the future looks bright, but then my vision might still be impaired by the celebratory fireworks let off at Highbury on Saturday.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

Comments