Hardman's Thoughts

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Ramble #16

The Derby

I wonder what it must be like to wake up on derby day morning and actually feel like your team has a chance of winning?

Everton have not won one since 2010, we’ve only won four in this millennium and the last victory at Anfield saw Francis Jeffers sent off. Our last three performances at Anfield are amongst the worst I’ve ever watched (Jagielka’s last minute leveller two years ago was brilliant but lucky). 

So I’m not excited for today. I’m not even expecting a draw. We will lose, there’s no doubt about that. Especially without Seamus Coleman and Morgan Schneiderlin. 

But BBC Breakfast’s coverage has annoyed me. They started the segment on the derby by talking about how Liverpool have lost two key players, therefore making today harder for them. But they didn’t mention in the same breath how Everton have also lost two key players (and, for the record, Funes Mori and James McCarthy as well). 

They ended it by finally talking about Coleman, except they even got that wrong. They said Koeman had an argument with Martin O’Neill over the Irish managers treatment of Seamus. I mean, did the writers ever stop to ask themselves if that made sense? The argument was about the Irish treatment of James McCarthy who they selected even though he wasn’t 100% fit. For all of O’Neill’s faults, he couldn’t predict Coleman’s leg break! 

I don’t mind that we’ll lose the derby, I’m honestly used to that. I mind when the coverage is biased and wrong. Both clubs have pretty big histories, both clubs are in the top half of the biggest league in the country. Neither have ever won the Premier League, so give both the same level of detail and fairness to your coverage. 

If organisations like BBC can’t give fair coverage, then we have to get all our news about our club from local sources and the club itself, which is far from ideal.


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Three sports, three players, three hundred words

Romelu Lukaku has now scored more league goals than any other Everton player in the history of the Premier League. People are, ridiculously, making a big deal about it. Let’s put this into some perspective. He’s scored 61 goals, one more than Dixie Dean scored in the 1927-28 season (yes, football existed before 1992). Everton have been in the top flight since the PL was created, along with Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham. Their top goal scorers have 175, 180, 128, 147 and 97 goals respectively. Yes, Lukaku breaking Ferguson’s record is a little bit of history but that doesn’t mean we should be celebrating it.

Eoin Morgan scored another one-day century this week. Only seven players (four from South Africa) have scored more runs than him in the format this year, and only one from the same amount of innings. Our captain is fourth on the all-time list for English players, while the century in the first match against West Indies pulled him level with Kevin Pietersen. It means only Marcus Trescothick has hit more tons. Trescothick’s 12 centuries is well within reach, as is Ian Bell’s record of 5400 runs (Morgan is about 900 behind). England’s greatest? Possibly, at least until Joe Root catches up!

Andy Murray has remained at number one for the 18th week in a row. That makes it sound defensive, the truth is he’s comfortable there – at least until the French Open! Djokovic has points galore to defend at the next two tournaments – Indian Wells and Miami, where Andy lost in the third round at both last year. Andy won in Dubai last week as Djokovic lost to Kyrgios in Mexico. Djokovic will almost certainly still finish the year top of the pile, but March is a great chance for Murray to continue cementing his place in tennis history.


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The Return of Jose Baxter

If you gave me a million years to think of things that could happen to Everton in this transfer window, I would never even have considered the possibility of a return for Jose Baxter.

Yet that is what is being claimed in many newspapers this morning. That the 24-year-old will, at the end of the year, receive a 12-month contract with the Blues. It’s a genuine report, as the articles contain quotes from U23 manager David Unsworth, the man behind the deal.

The deal isn’t, according to Unsworth, a first team contract – Baxter will link up with the U23s, and is free to move to a league club during or following the contract. It follows a stint where the young striker has been working with our charity, Everton in the Community. Baxter’s career highlights include becoming the youngest player to ever play for Everton, fading into obscurity with Oldham and later Sheffield United (interestingly, signed by Unsworth there too) before two drug bans have left him outside of football.

It’s fair to say that the twitter reaction to the news hasn’t been 100% positive. I’ve seen a few people following my stance, but most people are claiming that this is a bad deal for Everton. I don’t see why.

They say that he’ll hold back the development of a proper prospect, yet I doubt that’s the case. Unsworth’s U23 are doing incredibly well and we’re talking about a man who in the one game he managed with Everton’s first team started Pennington, Dowell and Davies and brought Kenny off the bench. I think it’s incredibly harsh to accuse Unsworth of potentially holding players back – after all, he’s the one actively pushing for further opportunities for his squad.

Secondly, they say it’ll block first team players getting back to fitness with the U23s (due to the quotas on the number of players over 23 allowed to play). That would be the case if there was a limit on the number allowed in the squad, rather than on matchdays. It’s simple, if we have a rare time where more than 3 over 23-year-olds are unfit, then Baxter won’t be involved. That’s a non-issue.

The benefits of those are both for the club and the player himself, admittedly mainly the latter. But what I find most amusing is that the fans who are moaning the loudest tend to be the same fans who berate clubs for not showing loyalty to fans, managers and players.

This is a fine example of loyalty. Here is a player who has become lost, returning home to regain fitness, get regular playing time and have an opportunity to decide what he wants to do with his life. Let’s be clear here: there’s no future for Baxter in Everton’s first team. I see this deal as a free pass, the perfect chance for Jose to reboot his career, or change it completely.

There are many rumors flying around, one suggests he has been studying accountancy. If that’s true, is this not then going to give him the financial support he needs to complete that and find a job elsewhere? If that doesn’t go well, this will allow him to get a more permanent contract with lower league clubs. I severely doubt Unsworth will allow him to rot in the U23s for much longer than a year.

But above all that, this deal is exactly what I want Everton to be doing. Looking after their own, helping young people who have strayed from where they should be and offering a comfortable and familiar surrounding for rehabilitation and reignition.

It was strange news to wake up to, but I see it as a positive step and I’m fairly proud of my club for doing it.


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2015/16 Prediction League Results – The Cups

At the start of the season, the We Only Sing When We’re Winning team got together to go watch the first match of the 2015-16 English Football season. Brighton beat Nottingham Forest 1-0, in a match none of us remember for quality!

On the long drive back to Nottingham the next day, we decided to pass the time by predicting which teams would win the domestic trophies, and how the Premier League and Championship would finish. We came up with a scoring system, and I kept a record of all our data.

It’s now time to start compiling the results – and we’ll start with the easiest, the cups. The scoring system for this was simple: 5 points for correctly guessing a winner, 2 if they were runners-up and 0 if they failed to make the final. Any changes in predictions would be an automatic loss of two points.

Firstly, some introductions:

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Photo credits: ©Emma Still

Now, let’s deal with each of our blogger’s predictions in turn, starting with Charlie.

Charlie predicted that:

  • Manchester United would win the Capital One Cup
  • Arsenal would defend their FA Cup

Manchester United entered the League Cup in the third round, where they defeated Ipswich at Old Trafford. However, the fourth round was as far as they got, suffering a shock penalty shoot-out loss when hosting Middlesbrough.

Charlie must have felt confident about his FA Cup prediction. Arsenal were two-time defending champions when they entered the third round draw, and victories over Sunderland, Burnley and Hull gave them a quarter-final match up against Watford. Despite being at home, it was one hurdle too many for the Gunners.

As neither of his sides reached the final, Charlie gets 0 points for the cups.

Gareth predicted that:

  • Chelsea would win the Capital One Cup
  • West Ham would win the FA Cup

Chelsea only managed one win in the League Cup. An away victory against Walsall was followed up by an exit at the hands of Stoke in the next round, on penalties. Entering at the third round, they exited in the fourth.

The brave selection of West Ham was not as inspired as I hoped. It was looking good when the Hammers beat Wolves, Liverpool (after extra time in the replay) and Blackburn to reach the quarter-finals. Drawn against an out-of-form Manchester United, the semi’s beckoned. However, United found their touch and dumped West Ham out of the tournament.

Gareth gets 0 points for the cups. 

Josh predicted that:

  • Liverpool would win the Capital One Cup
  • Manchester City would win the FA Cup

Josh was an inspired Willy Caballero away from getting all five points on offer for the League Cup. After a run to the final knocking out Carlisle, Bournemouth, Southampton and Stoke, Liverpool scored an 83rd minute equaliser to take the final into extra time. However, three penalty misses ended their chances of glory.

Manchester City may have won the League Cup, however they weren’t able to repeat this success in premiere domestic cup. Fielding youngsters, as they had bigger priorities, they lost 5-1 to Chelsea in the fifth round. The only highlights were victories over relegated clubs Norwich and Aston Villa.

Liverpool’s final appearance means Josh gets 2 points for the cups. 

Martyn predicted that:

  • Stoke would win the Capital One Cup
  • Crystal Palace would win the FA Cup

All in all Martyn had a pretty good year with cup predictions. Stoke were a penalty away from reaching the League Cup final, after eliminating Luton, Fulham, Chelsea and Sheffield Wednesday. The Potters won the second leg of their semi against Liverpool, however it was only enough to play extra time, and eventually penalties.

Crystal Palace went very close to producing a surprising FA Cup winner. Wins over Southampton, Stoke, Tottenham Hotspur, Reading and Watford propelled them into the final. At Wembley, they took the lead against Manchester United in the 78th minute. However, they couldn’t hold on, and Jesse Lingard’s 110th minute volley finally put the Eagles to bed.

This surprise finalist means Martyn gets 2 points for the cups. 

The first set of results are in, leaving the table as follows:

Cups table


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Bye Bye Bobby

So, it’s official …

Roberto Martinez is no longer Everton’s manager. His first season was spectacular, his second was unconvincing and his third was only decent in parts. One win in ten Premier League matches is not good enough. He’s left a team who don’t want to play for him, or each other, or even the fans and a very uncertain future.

I was at Sunderland last night (sat in the Sunderland end – an incredibly strange experience) and I would love to say I’ve never seen anything more pathetic on a football pitch in my life. But that just isn’t true. I saw worse in the Derby, I saw worse at Leicester last Saturday. We lost 3-0, and yet I thought it was our best performance, bar the harsh semi-final defeat, in weeks.

The future is uncertain. Sunderland were by far the better side last night, which doesn’t bode well for next season. Sure, it’s one match – but just how many of those players will be there next year? I severely doubt Lukaku, Stones and Barkley will be. All they need is a good Euros, a decent offer from a club with actual potential and the promise of higher quality football and they will be off. I can easily see Mirallas, Oviedo, Hibbert, Osman, Pienaar, Gibson and Kone buggering off too. While none of those except Kev will be a huge loss, this summer will be the end of an era. I’ll be especially sad to see Osman leave, I’ll always have nothing but positive memories of his career at Everton.

I could say that hopefully this will see youngsters such as Garbutt, Dowell, Pennington, Davies, Connolly, Ledson, even McAleny breaking through but, just as easily, they could all leave.

Maybe upheaval is a positive thing? I’m not sure.

All I know is that it can’t get much worse than it has been this season.

Most Everton fans are happy today, they are glad Martinez has gone. I’m not. I loved Roberto Martinez, as a man, and, yes, as a manager of Everton. My final year as a season ticket holder was his first season and I’ve never seen football that pure, that stunning, that beautiful. Everything clicked, and we were world beaters on our day.

I saw us pass Arsenal off the park, destroy a Moyes-led Manchester United, win games 4 and 5-0 on more than just rare occasions and had such an air of confidence and belief I had never felt at Goodison Park.

No season means more to me than that one. You don’t beat that, you just can’t, and the sad fact is, we never will.

So, am I positive?

No, I’m not. It doesn’t matter who comes in, Everton are a mess from the top to the bottom. And no-one can save that. This will go one of two ways. Either we will do an Aston Villa, try having scapegoat after scapegoat of managers before sinking into the Championship or we will recover and be a renewed force. I hope for the latter, I’m genuinely concerned it’ll be the former.

Roberto Martinez wasn’t the man for Everton in the end, I’m gutted this didn’t come true. I regret writing this, and I’m sad it had the chance to end as it has. It was the love affair you always wanted, only to find out you weren’t right for each other. And it slowly destroys you, ruins your confidence and leaves you with no prospects for the future.

I’m sure we’ll rebuild. I just can’t see it being any time soon.

And, for Bobby, good luck for the future – I wish you all the best and I sincerely hope you find a club that suits you and your style. We need more good guys in football.


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Ramble #6

The Return of the Old Firm

Today, Rangers beat Celtic. It’s the first time that sentence has been written since 2012. It’s the first time it’s happened since the new chapter of Rangers’ illustrious history begun.

I don’t think I need to go into the background of what has happened to Rangers, the story has been repeated many times, both inside and out of sport. But now, the exile from the top flight is over. Rangers are back, and are hungry for more Old Firm clashes. 

Way back when, the Old Firm was said to be hindering the development of Scottish football. It was said that Rangers’ relegation would help Scottish football improve. I’ve always disagreed, always believed it would just make it worse. Celtic’s existence would be pointless, and the competition would fade.

I think I’ve been proved right. Celtic’s European record since Rangers got relegated is shocking. It reads: first round of Champions League knock-outs, group stage of Champions League, last 16 of the Europa League, group stage of the Europa League. 

The Bhoys have had it easy in the Scottish Premier League. They’ve won every title, and haven’t even been challenged in the final stages. They look unbeatable in the league, but in decline in Europe.

I wrote an article in 2013 saying that players would reject Celtic as their league had no competition. Why go to Scotland, where there is no rivalry and no chance of European success? 

Even if players haven’t rejected them, it looks like Celtic have become complacent. The European record underlines this point. They don’t need to win the league, so why should they bother? They know they only need to give 50-60% each week and have fallen way behind in European competitions as a result. 

Honestly? I hope they lose the league next year. I hope Rangers win, and I hope Celtic get shown up. 

However, one thing is for sure: Celtic will get more competitive. Now they have their old rival back, everything has more point to it. And that, that has to be good for Scottish football.

Celtic fans, strangely, still don’t see this, but Rangers’ liquidation was the worst thing that could possibly happen for domestic football in Scotland. It’s created an absolutely pointless league which is decided before it begins. No team has stood up and taken on the Rangers role, and Celtic have gone backwards. Rangers sending Celtic a message by beating them today might just be what Celtic need, to inspire and encourage them to actually work hard to defend their title next season. 


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Ramble #5

FA Cup Replays

When it was first announced that there were plans to scrap FA Cup replays, my first response could be summed up as “oh here we go, the big clubs screwing over the little ones again.” 

It’s fair to say I was very much opposed to the idea, and classed it with the same bracket of stupid decisions such as to have FA Cup semi’s at Wembley and FA Cup finals kicking off at 5:15. 

However, over the last 24 hours I’ve read more about the subject, and my opinion has been completely changed. 

The arguments which are mainly used to defend replays come with the financial benefits for the smaller club or the excitement value of an extra tie. When opposing the practice, people will usually point to the sheer amount of games English clubs play compared to others in other countries. 

While both have merits, one is based purely upon sentiment and the other on fact and common sense. 

Replays do provide small clubs with a much needed cash boost, but these instances are few and far between and in reality very rarely lead to anything other than an immediate help. I can’t think of any examples where a club has had so much financial help from a replay that they’ve sailed through the leagues to join the big boys.

The best example of the top of my head is Exeter. Earlier this year, they held Liverpool – then lost the replay 3-0. In 2005, they earned a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford, only to lose to Rooney and Ronaldo in the replay. Exeter currently sit 14th in League 2. Has the money from these two replays really aided them?

In terms of excitement, we only remember the modern day replays that came to life in the last few seconds of the game. My two favourite FA Cup replays were both awful matches, with late late goals. In ’09, Dan Gosling scored a goal which no-one in the south saw to help Everton beat Liverpool, and in ’11 Leighton Baines scored a free kick with seconds remaining to help force Chelsea – Everton into a penalty shoot-out. Even this season, West Ham’s last minute winner against Liverpool only meant the finish was exciting.

I could go on, but the argument for scrapping replays is best summed up by Oliver Kay writing for the times – a screenshot of which can be found below.

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Kay mentions a winter break. It’s an idea to which I am still opposed (you can’t beat Boxing Day football) however we definitely should look at reducing workload around this time of year. After all, one of the reasons England never do well at international tournaments is because our players burn out. 

I never thought I’d see the day where I’d argue against change and against tradition, but here it is.

FA Cup replays: your time is up.