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Part Nine - Big Fat Head

The original idea of 'Britain's Bitterest’ was for just a small column type piece per issue running down one side of the page. But where Joe Royle’s involved that’s just not possible. Big Fat Head, as he’s commonly known, is probably the most bitter ex Blue you could ever come across. Therefore for this issue only, Britain’s Bitterest has actually turned into a full blown article.


Considering Royle was never beaten by Liverpool whilst he was manager of Everton and won an FA Cup to our League Cup while he was in charge, you’d wonder what all the fuss was about.


To find the truth you need to go back to his earlier days as a teenage fan and then a player, when his experiences with Liverpool seem to have scarred him for life. But first let’s take a look at the catalogue of incidents that he has been involved in that have earmarked him for special treatment as one of Britain’s Bitterest.


Just about all of his rants about Liverpool have took place in the last few years. But his bitterness actually started off in 1984-5 when he was relatively new to management at Oldham.


They had a 17 year old on their books called Wayne Harrison who was said to be something special. He had only played a handful of reserve games and already Manchester United were sniffing around, which Royle let slip to Liverpool, talking his talents up in the process.


With our chairman John Smith worrying that United could get him before us, he waded in with a £250,000 bid, a huge amount at the time. It left Royle laughing at us on both sides of his face, especially when Harrison’s career was ended prematurely without him ever making a 1st team appearance. 


The first time he crossed swords with us as a manager was the following season, in a two legged League Cup tie. He was actually very complimentary about us then in his programme notes, but by the time his small time club had made it to the top flight, his views changed completely.


When we scored two late goals to come from a goal down to win in 1993-4, he went on and on about the amount of injury time that was played.


He even brought it back up again the following season as Everton manager, after a 0-0 draw at Anfield. This was in response to Roy Evans saying that Royle’s dogs of war were an insult to the school of science, leading Royle to go on about referees laying down at Anfield and using that Oldham defeat as an example.


The following season we went to Goodison in April with an outside chance of the title, but could only come away with a 1-1 draw. We struggled to get our passing game going that night, largely due to Royle having the pitch watered beforehand, although he did deny this. A late equaliser saved our skins, leading to Royle claiming that we would have lost if they didn’t have so many injuries.


Despite moving to Manchester City after being sacked by Everton, his bitterness only got worse and he has even spread his dragnet to include the Liverpool Echo. When Liverpool went to Maine Road for a friendly in 1999, Royle asked at the post match press conference if there was an Echo reporter in the room. Chris Bascombe put his hand up and was told that the press conference wouldn’t start till he left. When Chris protested he was swiftly removed from the room by two bouncers (despite the fact that Bascombe was not even working for the Echo when Royle was Everton boss). 


In 2000-01 he was back at Anfield after winning promotion and refused to attend any press conferences after the league and FA Cup games. He did speak to the television however, having a ridiculous tirade about penalties that were awarded to us.


After we beat them 3-2 in the league he said ‘the cock had to crow three times before we got the penalty’ before going on to rant ‘the PFA have got to get involved in naming and shaming the players who dive in the game. It is quite galling. I am very annoyed about what I have seen here today. I am not going to name names’.


We then beat them 4-2 in the FA Cup, taking an early lead from the spot after Smicer was brought down. After that game, he said he wouldn’t blame the defeat on the early penalty, before going on to do just that, saying ‘That was not a penalty. It was fiction and it changed the game. It was a ridiculous decision that we could have done without’.


After he was sacked by Man City Joe got a lucky break with Channel 5, when all other available summarisers were too scared to go to Israel for a UEFA Cup game. He also did summarising for Granada regional games and in December 2001 invited himself to stay behind and watch Chelsea v Liverpool after commentating on a Nationwide League game.


Beforehand he allegedly told anyone whose attention he could grab how much he hated Liverpool then proceeded to cheer all four goals we conceded. 


In the summer of 2002, he somehow landed a job with the BBC in the World Cup, where he was based in Korea and commentated on games involving Poland and Senegal, both of whom contained Reds players. He sounded like he was standing up and cheering every goal Jerzy let in and when Salif Diao was shown the red card, Royle was almost leaping from the commentary box to haul him off the pitch.


When he took the job at Ipswich I thought we’d seen and heard the last of him, then we got them in the Worthington Cup. During the match he was very animated and I was able to observe his every move from where I was sat in the Paddock. At one point he said under his breath ‘sit down Pinnochio’ as he returned to the dugout.


So just why is Royle so bitter? The reasons stem from his schooldays and playing career, when he was upset by the Reds on many occasions. These experiences have left him many memories that fill his ample sized head today. 


Despite coming from Norris Green, Royle actually grew up as a Man United fan and as a teenager regularly used to travel to their home games by train. He joined Everton in the summer of 1965, so it’s safe to assume that he could well have saw United play against Liverpool in 1962-3 and 1963-4.


Liverpool drew the first of these games 3-3 and won the second 1-0, when Ron Yeats scored his first goal for the Reds. So you can imagine how Joe must have felt on the ride back to Lime Street surrounded by jovial Kopites singing ‘eey aye addio Ron Yeats scored a goal’


Later on as a player he missed an open goal early on in a derby in 1970-1 and then had to endure the wrath of the Kop who sang ‘He shot, he missed, he must be fucking pissed Joey Royle’. Although he made amends by scoring just after half time Everton went on to lose the game 3-2.


Royle also has cause to be bitter to Liverpool for ruining his Christmas in 1974. Surplus to requirements at Everton, he thought he could spend time with his family but instead was transferred to Man City on Christmas Eve.


He was thrust straight into the team for a Boxing Day visit to Anfield without even having the chance to train with his new teammates. After ten minutes he blasted a great chance wide and ended up on the wrong end of a 4-1 scoreline.


Later in the decade, he was in the Bristol City side that was well beaten 4-0 and a year later he was on the wrong end of a 4-1 hiding again, this time with Norwich.


So all in all he didn’t enjoy too many of his Anfield visits. As a Man United supporter who played for Everton in the 1970s, is it any wonder he’s so bitter today?


Steve Horton

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