BOURNEMOUTH manager Eddie Howe supports Everton. Eddie Howe is a blue. Eddie hates the Reds. Eddie thinks Kopites are gobshites. He hates you. He knows that Liverpool are genuine title challengers but he’s fuming about it.
Eddie Howe sleeps in an ‘80s Everton shirt with Hafnia written on it. It’s his most precious possession. It used to belong to Adrian Heath and it’s the shirt that ‘Inchy’ wore in the 1984 cup final. That was a day that changed Eddie Howe’s life. Up until then he supported his local team, Watford, but when his dad plonked six-year-old Edward down in front of the family’s new 22” colour Grundig TV to watch that final in ‘84, he was blissfully unaware of the stirrings in his young son.
The Everton blue. The Azurrian blue. The bluest blue. It fair blinded the fledgling Howe as he took in the majesty of that team of Howard Kendall’s. Visions in blue. All 10 of them. And Neville ‘the binman’ Southall too. Young Eddie Howe gawped at the screen. His eyes wide, his jaw slacker than Everton sub Alan Harper’s.
Howe was transfixed. Ne’er had he seen true beauty till this ‘night’. His local heroes Watford paled in their yellow. Lost against the backdrop of the sun drenched Wembley stadium. Faded into the green baize and gone from Eddie’s affections forever. From that day forth, Eddie Howe was a blue and things would never be the same again.
His parents hoped it would just be a passing phase. But as days became weeks and weeks became months became years, they knew their son had been lost and simultaneously found. To a higher calling. Goodison was calling. The Old Lady’s siren song had thoroughly lured him to her blue bosom.
His behaviour began to change and by his teens he wasn’t the lad his mum and dad had known. He was like a stranger in his own home. A cuckoo in their nest. Their happy go lucky ray of sunshine was morphing into an angry, perhaps even bitter, young man.
“What’s up with our Eddie?”, his mum was always enquiring.
“It’s those bloody Reds, ma,” his dad would say. “Those bloody reds are ruining his life. He can’t find himself no peace. The poor little pillock.”
He’d shake his head witheringly.
It was true. The Reds were ruining Eddie Howe’s life. His love at first sight of all things Blue became a solid deeper bond in the ensuing post-1984 years. Title followed cup followed title. Kendall’s reign of blue terror looked like it would go on forever. But it came to a halt. It pulled up sharply in the Autumn of 1987. It ran into the headlights of a red juggernaut.
The Liverpool team of 1987/8 was a force too great. Too powerful. An irresistible tornado that swept the hapless Blues up, span them round, and then discharged them. Dismissed them. Everton were gone. Finished. Their once mighty hull sunken beneath red waves. Never to resurface again.
It all came at a terribly bad time for the adolescent Howe. Where once all was before him and his beloved Blues, now just a wasteland. His teenage angst, his growing bitterness, knew no bounds. He tried consolations such as making Manchester United his second team. But their red only served as a poking reminder of his true redder nemesis.
His parents tried everything to get their young charge back on track. They looked hard for distractions. Then they struck gold. They bought him a Labrador. He called it Rodney. Rodney became his soul mate. His guiding spirit. Boy and dog were inseparable. Through the love of Rodney, Eddie was able to break out of his blue jail. The blue ties that had once bound him so tightly were now looser. The shackles weren’t off but the pain and the anger was easing.
Eddie started to concentrate on his studies and on playing football. He was good. Very good. He was channelling that rage to productive effect. The rest is the history of a respectable professional footballing career that made the name, that made Eddie Howe the football man, the football manager, he is today.
But he can never quite let the Reds go. Their spectre will haunt him forever. Now, at least he can do something about it. Now he can plot Liverpool’s demise. Around the Bournemouth training ground there’s an increased fervour in Howe’s work this week. His players sense the mania. They’re worried, curious and maybe even a little inspired by it.
He’s talking up this game like it’s the World Cup final. He’s giving Braveheart speeches. He’s thumping tubs. He’s banging those fists on all manner of flat surfaces.
“All that stands between you boys and greatness is them. And they’re evil boys. EVIL. Don’t look them direct in their eyes or they’ll have you. Just hit them hard. Hit them like there’s no tomorrow. I want you to lay down your lives if necessary to beat this shower of cunts!”
His Bournemouth players give each other little sideways glances. A nervous first clap at the end of his speech, building to a crescendo.
Meanwhile. Over on Merseyside, Jürgen klopp and his Reds aren’t thinking about Bournemouth or Eddie. They’re thinking about winning. This is what the Reds do.
Klopp has had another good week. Back to back 2-0 wins with different selections for each game have confirmed for him that there is breadth as well as depth in his squad. In victory over Leeds on Wednesday night, three teenagers stole the show. Ben Woodburn, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ovie Ejaria. Aged 17, 18 and 19. A vision of Liverpool’s future but very much in minds for the present. None will start at Dean Court on Sunday, but at least two of them have probably earned positions on Klopp’s bench.
Divock Origi has been kicking his heels all season. Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane have proved an immovable barrier to entry into the front three positions. Now Phil Coutinho is out, stricken by ankle ligament injury. Danny Sturridge has his own concerns and is not available to deputise. This leads a clear path back into the first 11 for Divock. He has passed his two auditions as Coutinho’s understudy with flying colours. Two goals in two games suggest he’s ready.
The Liverpool manager should welcome back Adam Lallana. One of the players of the season until he picked up a knock on international duty, Lallana is back in training and raring to restart his campaign. This development enables Klopp to reconvene 10 of his first choice 11. Emre Can would probably make way for Lallana, while Origi will seamlessly slot in alongside Firmino and Sadio Mane.
Plenty for Eddie the Blue to seethe about. Eddie is stronger now, though. Those teenage years’ agonies of a bitter young Blue have held him in good stead. Rodney the Labrador left him for the big kennel in the sky some years back, but in Eddie’s heart, in Eddie’s soul, Rodney lives on.
Five to kick-off on Sunday. The players lining up. Managers, coaches and subs settling in their sideline berths. The crowd restless and excited. The air chilled. Crisp. Eddie Howe. Lips pursed. Looks straight ahead and into space. Then he looks down. Eddie looks at his wrist. He looks at the letter ‘R’ tattooed there. He brings his wrist up to his lips and plants a gentle unnoticed kiss. That’s for you Rodney. Keep Eddie safe.
The red 11 to bash the bitter Blue:
Karius; Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Lallana; Mane, Firmino, Origi.
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