Words: Robert Gavin
Images: Offside Sports Photography
As a six-year-old lad, in the first full game of football I remember sitting all the way through, I saw my beloved Everton win the FA Cup. Naively, I thought that this must be the norm. Bring on the glory days…
Fast forward through nine long years of pure, incomprehensible shite from the boys in blue and a Steven Gerrard inspired trophy haul in 2001 for the team across the park: things were looking bleak. Then, in 2003, we found the golden ticket. Out of nowhere. A local lad, the finished article, in the team at 16. He used to ride his BMX to training, had the right accent, and scored wonder goals for fun. The likes of Arsenal, Leeds, and Aston Villa fell victim to his bustling, street-tuned style of play and razor-sharp right foot. Four goals in 13 games for the national side would follow, and the world was in on north Liverpool’s secret.
In 2004, Rooney was selected as part of Sven-Göran Eriksson’s mixed bag of plucky underdogs and golden generation stalwarts to make the trip to Portugal. Within the first few moments of England’s opening game against France, Rooney nutmegged Robert Pirès, turned Claude Makélélé inside out, and galloped at Mikaël Silvestre with such anger and intent that the defender had no choice but to concede a penalty. Although Beckham would go on to miss the spot kick, leaving Zinedine Zidane to steal the Skinhead of the Match award with two late goals that secured a 2–1 victory for France, there was rightly a huge buzz surrounding an Everton player for the first time in my life.
Two goals against the Swiss and two more against Croatia attracted praise from the press and raised hopes in the hearts of a glory-starved English support. Comparisons were drawn to the Three Lions’ last great sunburnt ball of energy and skill, Paul Gascoigne, and plans were drawn up for the beatification of Croxteth’s finest export. The country genuinely believed that an 18-year-old scally was going to win it for England but, as it so often did and does for Evertonians, things went very wrong.
A cruel and untimely fractured metatarsal in the quarterfinal against Portugal put an end to both Rooney and England’s tournament. My attention, along with that of thousands of other long-suffering Evertonians, turned to an overwhelming sense of impending doom. Could plucky little Everton hold on to the world’s most exciting, dangerous striker? Of course we fucking couldn’t.
Wayne would never pull on an Everton shirt again, signing for Manchester United that summer for a fee that would see the Blues plod along nicely for a few years. He would achieve phenomenal success at Old Trafford, but Everton would never replace him. Things would never be the same for either party.
A wonderful trophy haul for Rooney at United would always be counterbalanced by a dimming of excitement of sheer raw talent. To Evertonian eyes, the energy had simply been coached out of him, his goals at Goodison and the way he played the game in Portugal were repeated for neither club nor country. Reckless abandon was swapped for utilitarian gamesmanship. He could now pass to Roy Keane rather than having to deal with Mark Pembridge. Shinned overhead kicks and debut hat-tricks were brief glimpses of magic, but he became a different player. The music had died, and everyone went home.
I’ve never really forgiven Wayne Rooney for leaving us, but those precious memories of Euro 2004 will stay with me forever. The joy and raw excitement of a pink-faced boy who started in the Walton and Kirkdale junior league scaring the shit out of the best in the world on the biggest possible stage. And to think, for a time, we had him all to ourselves.