Joe Royle was a very nice man, an Everton hero but out of his depth

No 212; Everton; Malcolm Dome
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The Independent Online
Evertonians are a peculiar bunch. We moan ceaselessly about the lacklustre performances of our beloved Blues, wistfully recalling the all-too brief glory days of the 1960s and 1980s. Joe Royle, Colin Harvey, Howard Kendall, Peter Reid, Andy Gray, Kevin Ratcliffe. Great players. True disciples of the School of Science. And we always believe that better days are just around the next corner.

Yet, if the truth be told, over the past 30 years or so we have had precious few teams of any worth or quality. The 1969-70 championship winning side was among the finest in history, but within 12 months of setting the League alight that team was in disarray, and we had to wait until 1984 to see another great team in blue. And by 1987 that little epoch was over, since when... well, we've been struggling on a generally downward curve. A giant club acting like minnows, forever refusing to face facts, believing the new messiah was just about to arrive at Lime Street Station. Which brings me to Joe Royle.

Genial Joe arrived at Goodison on a wave of expectation. This was his dream appointment, the job he was born to take and make his own. In November 1994, with the team languishing at the foot of the Premiership, he really had a simple task ahead: save us from the dreaded drop. That he did so was achievement enough. But he went one step further - one step too far as it turned out - and won us the FA Cup. Caught in a web of euphoria, we convinced ourselves that the glory days had returned, never to leave again. But the truth was more prosaic and altogether less palatable.

We were still overrun by mediocrity, both on the pitch and behind the scenes. Chairman Peter Johnson talked a good game - so, indeed, did Royle - but that wasn't enough. One cup could not brush aside years of waste and short-sightedness. We were nowhere near ready to take on the elite. Yet, the club kept insisting that they were so close to re-establishing a football nirvana. Andrei Kanchelskis and Nick Barmby arrived. There was much talk of a new 65,000- capacity super stadium.

But again we have shown a remarkable capacity for shooting ourselves in the foot. Transfers have publicly gone awry - most notably the Nigel Martyn fiasco, and the inexplicable arrival recently of the Dane Claus Thomsen - and the team have been performing with a lack of focus for most of the season.

A promising start - talk of Everton being the dark horses for the championship - was rapidly forgotten. And slowly the screws turned on Royle. He was either incapable of seeing the problems in the team (lack of a genuine goalscorer and a midfield playmaker, a defence with a soft centre) or of dealing with them. And as our star names such as Kanchelskis, Barmby and Duncan Ferguson failed to inspire, Royle became increasingly desperate.

Our manager was doing a passable imitation of someone suffocated by the increasing pressure. Slowly, it dawned on all of us: Joe was a very nice man, an Everton hero but way out of his depth. He joined Harvey and Kendall as great Evertonians eventually destroyed by the magnitude of trying to manage this club. He had to go for all our sakes, including his own! His departure as such wasn't a surprise, merely the timing.

So now we look forward to the future. Johnson promises a world-class manager (please, no more ex-Evertonians) and a summer full of exciting arrivals. He is determined to make Everton a genuine power again. Should we believe him? Since his arrival, Johnson has sensibly preached evolution. Now, though, it's time for a revolution, both on the pitch and behind the scenes.

What Everton need right now is a visionary with the sure, confident touch of the late Sir John Moores, the chairman who dragged the club into the modern era during the early 1960s. Is Johnson that man? How he handles the current situation will shape this club for generations to come. And you know what? I'm convinced Peter Johnson will make us great again. But then, as I said, Evertonians are a peculiar bunch.

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