Such is the power of football tribalism that it’s hard not to feel wildly upset when your team is dealt what feels a particularly harsh, targeted blow. For Everton fans this week, that’s certainly the case.
A ten point deduction from the Premier League for their alleged breach of Financial Fair Play was akin to a body blow to the stomach in the tenth round from a heavyweight boxer. It was quick, powerful, and something Everton were wholly unprepared for.
In this particular analogy, Everton were the challenger completely out of their depth for the fight they were in and they’ve been punished.
None more so than the fanbase, who it’s fair to say have had a rough few years. Two straight years of close relegation battles, managerial changes including arch enemy Rafa Benitez in the dugout, an owner who has lost interest and soul sapping malaise have worn them down.
Football is supposed to be joyous, a release at the weekend from the working week and the stresses of normal, day to day life. For Everton fans, following their club has just been another worry, another burden to carry. Just as that burden appeared to be lessening, the joy returning, the Premier League struck.
Punishing the fans is unfair, or at least that’s what they told us when six of the Premier League clubs tried to destroy the English game as we know it.
When Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham tried to break away to form the European Super League, it was all about the fans.
Despite a move which would have destroyed the Premier League, left the rest of the clubs in financial ruin and threatened the entire football pyramid in England, it was the fans who we really had to worry about.
Many journalists, media personalities and ex footballers churned out the same decree, “you can’t punish the fans”. Except, it seems what they really meant is “you can’t punish some fans”. The rest are fair game. And they seemingly couldn’t wait to punish Everton fans.
Yes, Everton appear to have broken the rules. Even they don’t deny that, and they deserve to be punished for it.
But when the Premier League’s own evidence suggests they were a mere £20m over the allowed spending after being in special measures for several years, with every movement monitored and approved by the Premier League while fully complying with the investigation, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.
Everton have essentially been punished for being honest, while other clubs with more money continue to obfuscate and dodge the issue, pushing it further and further away until it all blows over. That’s essentially what Manchester City did to dodge UEFA charges.
The feeling at Everton for some time has been that they wanted to make an example of them and they’ve certainly done that. It’s a Premier League publicity stunt.
Some will ask why, but the answer is an obvious one. The Independent Football Regulator. The Premier League have been fighting that for some time, determined to rally against the government’s desire for football to be monitored and controlled by anybody but themselves.
The Premier League don’t want that, and they never will. They want to govern themselves and do as they please with little oversight. They like their world and how they run it and it has to stay that way. Punishing Everton this severely is a sign of strength, a political message to the government that they’re fine as they are.
You see, Everton are an easy target. They’re one of the founder members, sure, but their power is limited. They’re not one of the top six and they won’t kick up a fuss like their neighbours across the park. They don’t have the voice, the media friends, perhaps even the willpower, to really stir the hornets nest. The Premier League have taken advantage of that.
So what if the fans are punished? They’re used to relegation battles by now. Everton and their fans will take it on the chin and get on with it. Like Wolves, or Fulham, or Crystal Palace or the ‘other’ clubs that the Premier League really don’t care about.
“You can’t punish the fans” they told us, again and again and again. The reality is that they can, they have and they probably will again.