Book Review: Highs, Lows & Bakayokos: Everton in the 90s
Highs, Lows & Bakayokos: Everton in the 90s
Published by Pitch Publishing
Jim Keoghan brought us one of the best football books in recent years, in Punk Football, an entertaining potted guide to supporter ownership of clubs. He now returns with a study of his beloved Everton and if the era he has chosen to centre upon perhaps wasn’t the most thrilling in the club’s history, this shows a keen awareness of the fact that most of us enjoy reading a book peering through our fingers with horror than being treated to a bland procession of triumphalism. Reviewing the book here for us is Paul Owens who can be followed on twitter at @PROwens1979 while Jim can be followed at @jimmykeo and the book is available for purchase here.
The use of plural words throughout the title of Jim Keoghan’s excellent book detailing a turbulent period in the club’s history gives the somewhat misleading impression that more than one misfiring Ivorian unable to count the number of candles on his birthday cake ‘graced’ Goodison Park towards the end of the twentieth century. Thankfully for Evertonians, though, there was only ever one Ibrahima Bakayoko. The pluralization of the first word in the book’s title is more accurate, however, and, in my mind at least, massively important as it serves to remind Blues that there was more than one high during a predominantly dismal decade.
But firstly the depressing stuff: by carrying out extensive research and interviewing an impressive number of fans, journalists, players and people connected with the club, Keoghan sheds new light on those horrible relegation scraps, boardroom battles and ridiculously bad managerial appointments – and though contributions from the likes of John Ebbrell, Craig Short and Don Hutchison, players involved in the final-day dramas of 1994 and 1998, are both interesting and insightful, and fanzine editor Graham Ennis’ likening of chairman Peter Johnson to his own wisdom teeth (crooked, hidden away and difficult to remove) is possibly the funniest thing I‘ve read all year, perhaps the most enlightening lines in the book come from the author himself, when writing about taking his then girlfriend to a ‘nothing’ home game against Leicester City in 1997:
It was as though, for the first time in my life, I looked at Everton through neutral eyes. ‘Are we just a bit shit, nothing special, nothing to get excited about?’ I asked myself. It was a worrying turn of thought and one I would revisit repeatedly over the following seasons.
Prior to reading this book, I had always put my own apathy towards the club during this period (circa 97-99, although that Coventry game nearly killed me!) down to a combination of the following:
- I was eighteen years old. I’d just met the girl who would eventually become my wife and Everton was no longer my everything. Not every weekend could now be spent watching Teletext. This was weird.
- My hero, Neville Southall, was on his way out of the club. How could Everton ever feel the same again with someone else between the sticks?
- The realization that my own dream of becoming a professional footballer (and maybe one day filling the void left by Southall) was over. Everton played football. And football was shit.
- I’d just left college and didn’t know which career path I wanted to take. For the first time in my life I had ‘grown-up things’ to worry about. I couldn’t waste time worrying about eleven blokes who obviously didn’t care about how bad they were making me feel every weekend.
Now, though, I realize that I wasn’t alone in feeling less passionate about the Blues during this time. And maybe this detachment wasn’t because of any of the above, but down to something more generic, something I had in common with tens of thousands of people: the feeling of being lied to and ultimately let down by the club:
It had been four years since Evertonians were told that ‘this’ would not happen again. The brush with death that had been Wimbledon 1994 was meant to be a never repeated event. The club had made promises, the local papers had daubed them all over their back pages and supporters had believed them.
Enlightening, to say the least.
Now for the good stuff: if you were to ask Blues to name the highs of the 1990s, I can almost guarantee that straight away every single supporter would mention the road to Wembley and winning the FA Cup in 1995. I can also almost guarantee that, if they didn’t have too long to think about it, many fans would then struggle to name another positive from that decade and that they would probably throw names such as Carl Tiler, Mitch Ward and Tony Thomas at you to highlight just how bad things were at times back then. But there were many other positives (and outstanding players during this period), and Keoghan’s book does a great job of reminding Blues just what and who they were:
- Peter Beardsley and his star quality
- An excellent record in Merseyside derbies, including wins at Anfield
- Joe Royle’s first season at the club – the Dogs of War, feeling of togetherness and the belief that we would score from every corner swung over by Andy Hinchcliffe
- Joe Royle’s second season at the club – the same tenacity but now with the wonderfully gifted Anders Limpar and Andrei Kanchelskis operating on the wings
- The signing of Gary Speed and being talked up as genuine title contenders
- The free-flowing football in Walter Smith’s second season (yes, really!)
Highs, Lows & Bakayokos is a cleverly-written account of a strange old period in our history. Thank you, Jim Keoghan, for helping me relive my teenage years and for making me feel less guilty about my apathetic period. Up the Toffees.