“Once a blue now a red in our hearts you are dead,” said one of the many hostile banners that greeted 19-year-old Wayne Rooney when he came to Goodison Park with Manchester United for an FA Cup game back in 2005. Just about three years earlier, Rooney had celebrated by revealing a shirt that said, “Once a blue always a blue.” It isn’t hard to see from where the Everton fans would have drawn such hatred for a teenager. This is one of the many reasons why a return to Everton seemed unlikely for Rooney in 2017.
That was, of course, until confirmed reports came of Goodison Park’s prodigal son returning to the club after 13 record breaking years with Manchester United.
Rooney was never one to lie down holding his stomach. United won that FA Cup match in 2005 and, while he didn’t score, Rooney could be seen mouthing insults back at Everton fans whenever he got the chance. He finally did score against Everton and that was in the League Cup just a few months later at the start of the new season. While players are known not to celebrate after scoring against their boyhood clubs, Rooney did quite the opposite of that. Later, in 2007, Rooney led a remarkable Manchester United fightback at Goodison Park when they came back from 2-0 down in the second half to win 4-2. It was Rooney who scored the goal that gave United the lead and his first act after scoring was skip in front of the Everton fans before kissing the United badge. A return for Rooney to Everton in any transfer window seemed as likely as the Moon crashing into the Earth at that point.
Rooney did this a few times in later years but it lacked the animosity and ferocity of that first time. With his stature at Manchester United increasing, Everton fans seemed to be concentrating less on him when United visited Goodison Park. When they did, it felt lesser for Rooney’s history with the club and more because of the need for their team to stop him so as to stop United.
Rooney also toned down the aggressive stance he had taken against the fans of his former club. He started sounding a little more respectful in his interviews and tweets about Everton. In 2015, Rooney didn’t celebrate after scoring at Goodison Park despite it being his first strike away from home in eight months. It was also his first visit since legendary Everton boss Howard Kendall passed away and Rooney was in a sombre mood throughout the game. The Everton fans showed their appreciation with a short applause after he scored the goal.
The litmus test came later in the year, when Rooney was asked to play in Evertonian blue once again for former player Duncan Ferguson’s testimonial. There may have been an entire generation of Everton fans by then who knew Rooney only as a United player while those who had seen him terrorise opposition defences while playing for them as a teenager, had mellowed their stance. This was reflected by the ovation that he got when his name was announced in the stadium.
Rooney was once one of the hottest talents in the world while playing for Everton. More than a decade later, his powers on the wane and his presence more of a liability than a necessity at Manchester United, the doors at Goodison Park have opened fully once again for the England captain. He may kiss the badge on his shirt once again in front of the Everton fans, and this time, they won’t be complaining about it.