The club crest that greets you as you enter Goodison Park boasts a motto that has had a hollow ring to it for nearly 20 years. "Nil Satis Nisi Optimum" it reads, "Only The Best Is Good Enough", and today even Evertonians normally too blind-eyed to recognise reality are embarrassed by the standards that implies.
The best? As Wayne Rooney, who can lay claim to being the most talented teenager in the world, prepares to leave Everton this week, the club should consider calling in a painter. "We'll have to make do with what we can keep" would seem an appropriate message.
They made do yesterday, gaining a win over West Bromwich Albion thanks to two goals from Leon Osman, but it was hardly the performance of thoroughbreds. Rather, Everton resembled a team scrapping for points against opponents likely to be with them at the wrong end of the Premiership table next May, a scenario repeated too often in recent years.
"The players and myself wanted to show how together we are here," the Everton manager, David Moyes, said as news broke that Manchester United had outbid Newcastle United's £23.5m bid for Rooney. "This is a great football club and it will go on long after I've gone and after any players or chairmen go. I've said many times this is the club for the people of Liverpool."
Moyes would not comment on the latest bid from Old Trafford, but it is he who will have to keep the club going forward on restricted means even if some of the Rooney money is made available to him.
It is hard times at the Goodison club who were once were natural inhabitants of England's Big Five and now, with boardroom battles and debts of £40m, would have to justify a place in the top 15. Most football institutions have to sell their assets at some time but it is usually the smallest of minnows who have their jewels prised from them before the youngsters have learned to shave.
Rooney, who seems likely to move to Old Trafford or St James' Park for a fee above £25m within the next 48 hours, is an exceptional 18-year-old but his decision to ask for a transfer from the club he has supported all his life is like the final admission the glory days, that were last truly enjoyed in 1985 and 1987 when they won the championship, are increasingly unlikely to return. Goodbye Wayne, hello mediocrity, and is that relegation on the horizon?.
"I am saddened and disgusted at the way fans have been treated over the last few years," a letter in the Liverpool Echo last night read. "I didn't think it could get any worse." Another was equally gloomy. "I plead with you not to sell. If Rooney goes, so does any hope or aspiration for Everton."
The mood was bleak at Goodison yesterday but, surprisingly, there were no demonstrations or banners before the kick-off. A police helicopter hovered menacingly above, but within the stadium there was a quiet resignation about a transfer that has moved quickly in the last few days but has been hanging over Everton ever since Rooney made a stellar impact for England at the European Championship in Portugal.
Events on the pitch showed almost as much acceleration because within seven minutes Goodison had witnessed two goals amid enough mistakes to last half a season.
The supporters kept their heads amid the swirl of emotions, which is more than can be said for the defenders from both sides. The first back four to go missing belonged to the visitors when they allowed Kevin Kilbane to win a header from Thomas Gravesen's second-minute throw-in and then disappeared all together when Osman arrived at the back post to aim a looping header over Russell Hoult.
Given the bad news that has been emanating out of Everton in recent weeks, it all appeared too good to be true, and so it worked out because Albion were level within five minutes. Jonathan Greening's corner from the right was met by a virtually unopposed header from Scott Dobie who rose at the near post to comprehensively beat Nigel Martyn. One man who does know how to use his head is Duncan Ferguson and it was the towering Scot's aerial nuisance that won Everton a free-kick and the winning goal after 70 minutes.
Albion's defence had not distinguished themselves with the first goal and they failed to do so again, leaving Osman alone on the penalty spot to divert Gravesen's free-kick in with his head.
It was not pretty but it was a win and it gave the home supporters enough heart for them to give vent to their feelings. "One greedy bastard," they chanted and you suspect there will be more of the same when Everton play their next match at, of all places, Old Trafford tomorrow.
Rooney, who once lifted his shirt to reveal the slogan "once a Blue, always a Blue" said that his decision to ask for a transfer had been the hardest of his life and, as an Evertonian, he will empathise with the difficult question his fellow supporters will have to make: should I watch a team who propose to bring in the Liverpool reject Djimi Traoré through one door as the wunderkind disappears through another? On second thoughts, maybe that is not a difficult decision at all.Reuse content