A few years ago, I was killing time in my local record store—a place specifically designed for killing time—when I came across one of those albums whose art alone intrigued me enough to make me pull the trigger. Now the pantheon of pop music is filled with album art that excels in moving the soul in indescribable ways. I’m sure you’ve got a few that automatically spring to mind. But there was something about this one that sparked something inside me in a very “Robin Williams is my therapist asking me what I make of the painting of the guy rowing a boat in the storm” sort of way. Take a look:
I found myself staring intently and with deep (mostly non-stoner) thought at the image. What that astronaut gets to see, I cannot. He’s finally made it to this unknown planet after god knows how long. He discovers this mystical temple-like structure and takes his first steps in. But I don’t know what it is he’s seeing. I can only see him seeing something, but the perspective of the piece means that I don’t know exactly what it is. I can use my imagination, but all I know is that he’s on a far-off world, most likely seeing some cool shit I’ve never seen!
The album is called Jet Black Hallucinations (more on that in a moment) from a Newcastle psych-metal band called BLOWN OUT. The entirety of the album—consisting of three long instrumental tracks—feels like the soundtrack to a journey into deep space to confront something unknown. The music is the sensation of the journey and the sensation of all you see and feel along the way—even if what you’re seeing and feeling may not be exactly what you think it is. What is real and what is simply the by-product of seemingly endless trauma and travel? In that way, “Jet Black Hallucinations” seems like an oddly apt metaphor for the sensation of years of being aboard this magical and mystifying spacecraft called Everton. We’re on this legendary vessel, we know we’ve got this nirvana-like place we want to reach, and we’re going to see some undoubtedly cool as well as some equally scary shit along the way.
Yet in other ways, the title could more narrowly describe the visions plaguing the current journey we’ve all been on since just this last summer when Marcel Brands took over the helm of all things football at Everton along with the handsome, yet flawed figure of the increasingly enigmatic Marco Silva as manager/head coach. So after seeing Everton crumble before our eyes once again on Saturday at home to Wolves, I thought about this album again and how we see some things clearly and some things not so clearly. One minute, a flash of quality. The next, that quality vanishes into a cloud of nothingness. And I’m also consumed by this image of an explorer (us) who has traveled so far and paid such a great emotional price in search of a particular prize. But he honestly couldn’t have been certain of what he’d find, regardless of the preparation and planning. Some things in the universe can only be grasped once they’re right there in front of your eyes. It’s just that getting there to see it may take more time than you thought possible, and when you finally arrive, who knows if you’ll even be happy with what you find? Will it have been worth it? You hope so, but life offers few guarantees that our often ill-informed expectations will be fulfilled. The discussion of what success looks like for Everton can wait for now—especially when the debate over the nature and expectations of the journey rages on as it does today. Such is the overwhelming existential weight of Everton on our brains and hearts at the moment. It doesn’t even feel like we’re close to a destination, but we’ve been put in the hard-to-swallow position of being asked—by relative strangers no less—to have faith that we will indeed come through this darkness in time and that what we will find will have been worth it. It’s a big ask and one that we must truly wrap our brains and hearts around.
It—whatever it is (trophies, titles, relevance?)—feels far away. We’re in the middle of the journey to get to “it”. We don’t know what we’ll find (if anything) at the end of this particular journey or even if we’ll like what we do find. The crew is growing increasingly restless as the journey is littered with setbacks and the payoff seems frustratingly far away. We were all buoyed by the idea that the right resources, the right plan, and an executive with a proven track record would finally see us break through—and maybe it will. But we’re in that period where—regardless of the assurances and regardless of the acknowledgement that the implementation of said plan would have its dark days—it doesn’t FEEL very promising at this moment in time. We’re being asked to trust and that itchy, uncomfortable scar across our hearts from past failures has a voice of its own. And it whispers in our ear that this is how it will always be. This is what being an Evertonian is. Better to accept it and get on with it. And you ignore it for as long as you can, but you know that the voice will persist. How long can you hold out? Because there is that nagging sense that supporting Everton means that even when we finally get the things we’ve always wanted which are supposed to help us get the things we’ve always wanted, it still doesn’t make a difference. There is a nobility in “staying the course”, but overcoming the toxicity of creeping doubt is no small feat—even for the most rational of us.
So where does this leave your travel-weary narrator? I am teetering, but still grasping onto the shreds of hope that remain like cold death. The new parts we’ve begun to add are promising. A new stadium is on the horizon. Money is on offer. The guy whose plan we’re attempting to execute has a proven track record of success. These may be oft-repeated bullet points, but they are not insignificant. Yet I sympathize on some basic level with those of you ready to blow it up mid-journey and start again. At the end of the day, I guess I just don’t have the stomach to turn the ship around and look for a new captain—at least not yet. So I’ve made three agreements regarding where I stand with Everton:
- While there are reasonable explanations for why the form of the team has been bad, it does not mean that the form is acceptable for an extended period of time.
- I’m not ready to give up on Marco Silva this quickly given the ill-fitting squad he necessarily inherited.
- If the team doesn’t begin to show tangible improvement by the end of the season, Silva will start to lose defenders like me and will have no one to blame but himself if the decision is taken to move on from him.
And it is with these three basic agreements, I choose to go forward on this particular journey with Everton. In life, we are encouraged to walk away from toxic and/or abusive relationships. In sport however, we are derided as fair-weather if we give up on the team we support—regardless of the evidence on hand. I’ve always thought that a bit unfair, but I also can’t see any other way. When we love something that doesn’t necessarily love us back the way that people do, the reward comes in the form of the shared experience of enduring the journey as well as being there at the finish line with those who chose to keep enduring. So for now, I’ll do my best to stay warm and occupied. I’ll stare out the window into the deep, dark recesses of space, count the stars, and hope that one of them belongs to us.