Brian Viner: Rooney's return turns pleasure into pure pain

The Last Word
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The Independent Online

Not many of my fellow Evertonians exult in Wayne Rooney's performances for Manchester United, and certainly, after he had scored a hat-trick in his Champions League debut against Fenerbahce in 2004, I compared my lurching stomach with the feeling I'd once had seeing an ex-girlfriend, not long after we'd split up, looking gorgeous on another fellow's arm. Pathetic, I know, but that's the emotional maelstrom that constitutes life as a football supporter.

Feelings change, however, and I don't mind admitting that Rooney's barnstorming second-half display against Milan on Tuesday brought a broad smile to my face that of course will contort into a reasonable simulation of Edvard Munch's The Scream if he barnstorms anything like as devastatingly on his return to Goodison Park this afternoon. Except when he turns out against Everton, though, Rooney's transformation from prodigy to paragon fills me with nothing but pleasure, and I wish it were the same for all the Goodison faithful.

He will be taunted this lunchtime, as always, for the "Once a blue, always a blue" slogan. The "once a blue, always a red" banners will swirl, the abuse will cascade down from the stands. But he was just a child then, for heaven's sake, and besides, it would take an intransigent Everton fan indeed to argue that the journey down the East Lancs Road has not been to the almost infinite betterment of his football career. One has only to read the blogs, however, to know that such fans exist.

Rooney is not entirely innocent in this love-hate relationship. He has been known to give his United badge a highly inflammatory kiss in the stadium where he was once regarded as little less than a boy messiah. But who among us know for sure that we would not put on a similarly provocative show in the face of nastiness that found its utmost depth in the "Rooney Die" graffiti?

Most Evertonians are better than that, and Rooney himself has matured since then. Besides, the rancour has never been as horrible as when some other so-called turncoats step back on to their old stage in the wrong colours. Croxteth's most famous son has never known the vile chanting that Sol Campbell endures at White Hart Lane, and that in turn is like cathedral evensong compared with the hysteria generated when Luis Figo first went back to the Nou Camp in Real Madrid white.

Moreover, Rooney has himself made some friendly overtures, even admitting recently that he owes David Moyes, whom he libelled in his autobiography, a debt of gratitude for developing his game. My colleague Tim Rich, in these pages earlier this week, asserted that Rooney might one day, towards the end of his career, play again for his once-beloved club. Maybe, maybe not. But let us at least hope that this romantic notion isn't buried in badge-kissing and bile.

How Piggott ensured Devon Loch wasn't Francis's only trial

The obituaries of Dick Francis offered a reminder of just how much one human being can squeeze out of an admittedly long life, although of course the irony that accompanies him to the grave is that his many accomplishments were eclipsed by a single sporting calamity, the collapse of the Queen Mother's horse Devon Loch so close to victory in the 1956 Grand National.

About four years ago I had the enormous privilege of sitting next to Francis at a charity lunch, and I will never forget the grace, good humour and enthusiasm with which, at my urging, he recounted the Devon Loch story. It was as if he was telling it for the first time, rather than, at a rough estimate, the millionth. He also treated me to his memories of writing Lester Piggott's official biography. Faced with the challenge of teasing reminiscences from his famously taciturn subject, he decided to start by asking Lester about the most cherished of his nine Derby-winning mounts, the 1968 victor Sir Ivor. Piggott nodded, and during a long silence seemed to be composing a worthwhile answer to the question. Finally, he cleared his throat. "Good 'orse," he said.

A bonny example of our diverse language

It was Shaw – not the English scrummaging behemoth Simon, but the Irish playwriting polymath George Bernard – who once said that England and America are two countries divided by a common language. Yet the old paradox is even truer when applied to England and Scotland.

My good friend Graham Spiers, a sportswriter of some renown north of the border, wrote last weekend about Steven Pressley's bold declaration of intent on taking up the tricky job as manager of beleaguered Falkirk.

Pressley, a feisty former captain of Hearts, who also played for both branches of the Old Firm, evidently demonstrated, in assuring his audience that he was absolutely the right man for the challenge, all the humility of Muhammad Ali in his prime. To which Graham's response was that "he is going to look very silly if, having decreed that no power in heaven and earth can stymie Falkirk's survival, the club then plunges like a brush down a cludgie into the morass that is the Irn-Bru First Division".

Even taking that celebrated elixir Irn-Bru out of the equation, it's safe to say that Graham's colourful metaphor is not one you'll ever find in a Sassenach paper.

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