by Daisy Cutter
The unspoken rules of football fandom appear to be thus.
In addition to your club – the allegiance that is forever tattooed on your heart – you are permitted to ‘support’ any number of foreign outfits. This usually entails an ideological kinship with Barcelona or cheering on Milan whenever they’re shown on ESPN because you had their kit as a kid. Rarely does the bond extend beyond this most casual of following.
You are also allowed to have a ‘soft spot’ for a club that plays at a lower level to your own. For reasons that are too drawn out to elaborate upon mine are Yeovil Town and Berwick Rangers.
As for clubs that can be regarded as rivals things become much more stringent. You are okay with ‘liking’ as many teams as you wish – for whatever reasons you wish – but the deepest emotion that is generally accepted here is admiration. For their sustained excellence; their ability to ward off relegation each season; or their history. Admiration is fine.
When I was 11 years old and just beginning my lifetime of adhering to these scriptures I immediately broke the cardinal one. For despite having a Manchester City bedspread and ‘Simmo’ scratched onto my pencil case I fell in love with another. A club close enough in size and geography to be considered off-limits.
Castigation may be justified but at least admire my impeccable taste because the team I fell head over heels for was the Everton side of the mid-eighties.
Not the club itself, for which there has always been a certain ambiguity towards, and certainly not the manager – who I instinctively disliked as a child and was later proven right to do so when he jumped ship at City – but the side itself.
And what a team it was; a perfect and balanced exponent of 4-4-2 where no player – Southall aside who was undoubtedly the best keeper in the world at that time – was greater than the sum of its parts. To be honest Big Nev would have been enough for me; a man who looked like he should be draining dregs at the Dog and Ferret pulling off point-blank amazing feats of acrobatics to deny the top flight’s clinical best. Usually with his socks down and his shinpads flapping.
Then there was the kit; a classy affair sponsored by Hafnia, a Danish sausage manufacturer. I loved that kit and following a pre-internet failed hunt for the Subbuteo version I ended up tippexing white triangles onto an Ipswich Town XI discarded by my brother.
Best of all though was Kevin Sheedy, pinging, curling, floating and drilling balls with his left peg and an air of refined elegance.
What is it with the Irish and cultured left feet? Their authors wrote amazing stream-of-consciousness novels with them whilst their players could find the diving head of Andy Gray without even looking up. Alongside Liam Brady I naively assumed as a nipper that this is what the Irish exported on a regular basis – slender, unassuming artisans with a left boot tied to a wand.
It took me many years to realise that these two were in fact very rare jewels indeed.
Brady’s calibre was never in doubt – from the age of seventeen he graced Highbury like a skinny dauphin – but Sheedy’s succession took longer to materialise.
Three years at Hereford led to a move to Anfield where he made precisely three appearances before heading across Stanley Park to what would become his spiritual home for a fee of £100,000.
I find this brief period of under-appreciation mystifying and, being too young to recall it, I can only surmise two things.
Firstly that Sheedy was too callow to force his way past an imperious Ray Kennedy into the Liverpool first team. There’s no shame in that: Kennedy is arguably the most under-rated English footballer of his or any other generation. And secondly because his style of play was urbane, a subtle sophistication that requires a mature mind and body to do it justice.
Putting Sheedy’s class into a teenage frame is like giving Vermeer crayons.
At Goodison his exquisite gifts were allowed to flourish, his finesse was honed and his scope expanded, in a team that swept all before them playing scintillating attacking fare. With Steven rampaging down the right, Reid and Bracewell hustling and bustling in the centre and Gray a one-man war the Toffees flattened opponents like a viscous hurricane at times.
Kevin Sheedy is chiefly remembered for his set pieces – against Ipswich in ’85 he pearled one in from 25 yards only to be forced to retake it. The quietly spoken genius nonchalantly curled his second effort into the opposite corner – but I remember his time there as being the calm amidst a perfect storm. And there are few sights more tranquil and mesmerising than that.
Watching him play was a privilege – watching him play as a kid was an education – and so the sad news yesterday that Kevin has been diagnosed with bowel cancer jolted me and every supporter irrespective of allegiance. That’s another unspoken rule in football – when one of us stumbles whatever club you follow matters not a jot.
The 52 year old – now an academy coach at Everton – spoke yesterday with dignified stoicism saying “It’s not ideal but I have to remain positive”. He is already making plans to return to his position following an operation later this week and a period of rehabilitation. Those qualities he displayed on the pitch were evidently not exclusively reserved for there.
Get well soon Kevin. You made a Manchester City supporter break the cardinal rule of football fandom. And I thank you for that.