The Rise and Fall and Rise again of Wayne Rooney and his relationship with Everton
With one swing of a right foot, a star was born. The ITV commentator implored viewers to remember the name, and the thousands in Goodison Park that October day had a new hero. 10 years ago, Wayne Rooney announced his arrival on the Premier League stage with his first league goal for Everton, sending a stunning effort past the helpless David Seaman as Arsenal crashed to defeat.
In the decade since Rooney’s remarkable first league goal his relationship with Everton and Evertonians has gone through peaks and troughs, while his career has largely gone from strength to strength. That first season as an Everton first team player was memorable and exhilarating, packed full of feats of sublime skill, delicious goals and shattered records.
Rooney became the youngest player to score for Everton in more than 70 years weeks before his Arsenal goal with a brace in the League Cup against Wrexham; inspired Everton to a first victory at Elland Road against Leeds United in more than 50 years by scoring the only goal of the game; and ended a 30-game Arsenal unbeaten run on October 19 with that famous goal, five days before his 17th birthday.
In all Rooney made 77 appearances for his boyhood club and scored 17 goals, a return that paid testament to his potential but fell short of fulfilling it. When he left Everton, in the summer of 2004, it was a move that threatened to tear the heart from the club and, even if financial circumstances dictated the sale was always likely to be sooner rather than later, the manner in which Rooney departed was unnecessarily controversial.
After impressing for England at Euro 2004, and returning home with a broken foot, whispers about Rooney’s future were allowed to go unanswered too long by the player’s camp. Everton chairman Bill Kenwright talked optimistically about Rooney staying at Goodison and vowed not to sell the 18-year-old for less than £50m. Rooney eventually put in a transfer request with only days of the window remaining and left for Manchester United for closer to £20m.
It was a poor show on all sides. Kenwright made public promises that were out of his hands to keep. Rooney and his representatives strung the club along. The ultimate losers were the supporters and the graffiti that turned up around Liverpool made plain the feelings of many. One, daubed on to Goodison itself, carried the slogan “could have been a god but chose to be a devil”.
The first time Rooney returned to Goodison as a United player was in the FA Cup, in February 2005. It was a bad-tempered, ugly affair on and off the field. Everton lost 2-0, Rooney’s every touch was jeered and he was involved in an altercation with a supporter before kick-off. After the match, rival fans fought each other and police in what became known locally as the Battle of Everton Valley.
A year later came the publication of Rooney’s autobiography – at the ripe old age of 20 – and shortly after publication, legal action from Everton manager David Moyes regarding allegations Rooney made in the book that were serialised in the Daily Mail. The case was settled out of court with Moyes receiving £500,000 and an apology from his former charge.
That was not even the nadir of relations between Rooney and his former club. The lowest level was only arguably reached in 2008, when at Goodison Rooney made a point of kissing the badge on his United shirt while in full view of the Evertonians in the stands after supporters had cheered ironically when Rooney was booked for a foul on Mikel Arteta.
The uproar was predictable. Sir Alex Ferguson substituted Rooney immediately to prevent him from being sent off, so high were tensions running. The Football Association investigated but took no further action after the incident was deemed to have been dealt with on the field by the referee, Alan Wiley.
Perhaps though the uproar was a little hypocritical too. Rooney, his family and his personal life were the subject of some deeply unpleasant songs in those early years after he left Everton.
While it does not excuse some of Rooney’s own reactions and incitements, he is a player who if nothing else is instinctive, often in his younger days in trouble for failing to control his temper, and the kissing of the United badge is just one example amongst many. It was misguided, but born out of the vitriol hurled his way. Much like the manner of his departure, it was a controversy easily avoided if cooler, more reasoned heads had prevailed on both sides.
A t-shirt summed up why the reaction to Rooney, his departure and subsequent return visits was quite so emphatic. It read, on the back, “We hate you so much because we loved you so much”. In those days, the feeling may well have been mutual.
Pin-pointing exactly when relations thawed is not easy. There is nevertheless a definite sense that the bond between Everton and Rooney, if not Evertonians and Rooney, is strong again. He himself has said his son Kai will grow up supporting Everton, admitted to the Everton website that Everton’s is the first score he looks for and thanked Moyes for helping him develop as a player in his teenage years.
Rooney even attended Everton’s FA Cup game with Blackpool at Goodison last season, ostensibly as the guest of Everton coach and former defender Alan Stubbs, his close friend. Rooney also wanted to play in the testimonial of former teammate Tony Hibbert this summer, but a scheduling conflict put paid to that.
The title of a blog on an Everton fan’s site likely captured the mood the best. “Why we can forgive Rooney, but not forget” it ran, and the transgressions of the former favourite son are always on Everton minds when he appears at Goodison. But he is not greeted by the same vehement boos and catcalls. That, compared to February 2005, is progress.
It remains highly unlikely Rooney and Evertonians will ever share the same depth of good feeling they did at the moment his shot crept past Seaman’s outstretched hand and dipped below the crossbar in October 2002, but if nothing else, Rooney’s own famous phrase – “Once a blue, always a blue” – might have a ring of truth to it after all.
Picture: Flickr user Wayne and Wax