Ironically, I was raised with a yellow and green scarf around my neck on the terraces of Carrow Road. My father did not understand my defection to Everton.
It was 1986, I was 8 years old and living in a sleepy village in mid-Suffolk.
“Why do you want to support them? Norwich are your team, boy.”
I didn’t know what to tell him. I could have been accused of being a “glory-hunter”. (We were after all a pretty tasty outfit at the time and Norwich were going nowhere fast.) However, the truth was I had just watched my first Merseyside derby on TV one Saturday afternoon. I don’t even remember the score, I just know that I was in love; “chosen”, and that was all that mattered.
A Scouse family friend later heard of my brave defection (my father is a stern footballing man) and brought me round a signed copy of Peter Reid’s autobiography, ‘Everton winter, Mexican summer’ and I genuinely must have read it 20 times. From this point on, I would scour the newspapers and Teletext, hungry for information on my team. The only Panini stickers I wanted were those in blue.
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While I largely missed the boat, there were some moments of bliss and excitement along the way. Stuart McCall’s excellent second in the 1989 FA Cup Final caused me to burst into tears of joy and I remember my mum looking at me oddly, as confused as I was by how much this club mattered to this then 12-year-old boy. The 1995 Cup win, the 1998 great escape, my first trip to Goodison, Rooney’s emergence and every single goal associated with my hero, Duncan Ferguson. Moyes’s team that came 4th, Martinez’s first season in charge… that’s really about it, bar one or two stirring performances (one in particular stands out vs Chelsea under the stewardship of the Big Man). Slim pickings indeed.
Cut to the present day, aged 44, living in Dorset with children of my own and I find myself increasingly exasperated with my club and Premier League football in general. As a Psychotherapist, I find myself eternally interested in not only my own relationship with this club (which could be described at times as an addiction) and the impact it has on my mood, but also with the psychology of the long-suffering fanbase.
I have a growing clinical interest in treating addictions and this led me to a fantastic book written by the eminent Physician, Gabor Maté, of the same title as this article. As a trauma therapist, I am always interested in the past of my clients, the traumas of their lived experience, and the impact they have on their present-day suffering.
Maté posits that underpinning almost all addictive behaviour is unresolved trauma of some description, the hungry ghosts of the past that come up to feed. It's a view I subscribe to clinically, and I always seek to help heal the trauma before tackling the addictive behaviours. Otherwise, you are just telling someone to stop, which of course makes no sense at all. In order to stop, one needs to know why they do it, surely?
Now to the crux of my first ever article on here. It almost feels like Everton is the opposite of those traumatised, addicted clients that Gabor Maté refers to. Since the beginning, we have largely been there or thereabouts. A rich history of success, vast hoards of adoring fans, Kendall, Ball & Harvey, Dixie, Latchford et al are immortalised in our history books as a part of what makes us a great, traditional club. Nil Satis Nisi Optimum ran through our veins and the crowds remained understandably expectant.
Looking back, most of our footballing traumas have largely been over the past 30 years or so — relegation battles, false dawns, little to no success, fluctuating financial states, tumultuous optimism followed by despair. I had actually wanted to write these words some time ago (way before our current predicament) but there never seemed to be the right moment. Now, there are structurally and systemically a multitude of reasons why we are in this mess – some we are aware of (which is well documented on these pages everyday) and some we are not, nor will ever be.
I do not want to go into Moshiri’s mistakes too deeply (I don’t have the time or patience for that) but would rather focus on another underpinning aspect of our misfortune: the expectations of the fans. In my eyes, we are weighed down by the expectations of the past.
Does Nil Satis Nisi Optimum hang so heavily from our necks that we can no longer see the goal in front of us? We are a basket-case of a club. We love a homegrown youngster and, the second they don’t start living up to our expectations, we hound them out of the club. We turn on the managers within weeks. We boo our own players coming onto the field (a minority, yes, but how many other club fans do this?). We are never satisfied. Players are frightened to express themselves in front of us, afraid to make a mistake and I don’t blame them. Yes, we paid over the odds way too many times, but I refuse to believe we just kept buying bad players.
Yes, on its day, Goodison is up there with some of the greatest stadium atmospheres; the fans are deeply passionate. Please do not read this as an anti-Everton fan article; I am one of you, I believe we have some of the best supporters in the world. If that is what you have read, then you have misunderstood my words. I am suggesting that we have been conditioned by our success.
Of course, I would not wish to change it, but our success legacy is our burden. We are genetically, inter-generationally, anecdotally, unknowingly, expectant of the best and we struggle to cope when we do not see those expectations transpire on the pitch. We then vocalise that disappointment in the only way we know how — with passion. Entitled passion and disappointment breeds a collective anger and toxicity. It’s not our fault but it is our problem.
I feel that, in order for our fortunes as a club to change, as well as structural stability, a deeper culture within the club fanbase has to shift. We have to stop seeing the club as what it was and start seeing it for what it is. Our expectations need to change, and we need to build up from that; otherwise, we will eternally remain in the realm of the hungry ghosts.
Reader Comments (28)
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1 Posted 17/01/2022 at 02:24:40
I'm a similar age to you and I couldn't help biting as my first ever home game was Norwich. It was in 1988 I reckon, and it was very dull as a draw.
You make some excellent points, especially about how we treat our homegrown lads. There are some who will be fair but others who hammer them. Tom Davies has been labelled a "retard" on these pages by Mike Gaynes. I've met Tom on a train to Euston, and he's merely a young lad who football-wise needs guidance, having played for a dozen coaches during his senior career, in my opinion.
My mates (non-Blues) like Gordon a lot and there is that thing that Osman was considered to be the best of his age group when he was 15 but then our lot claimed he was "Championship at best" for the whole time with us while being a decent creator or goalscorer for someone played in various midfield positions.
Hibbert was an excellent right-back – just old school.
Nil Satis Nisi Optimum means nothing anymore. But what should mean a lot is that the likes of Rob Halligan go across the country to watch us. I've done it while my family are season ticket holders. It's a lot of effort and cash for abject performances like at Norwich or the ones I watched under Allardyce at Watford or Stoke...
Kenwright is the problem. If he goes, we are better off.
2 Posted 17/01/2022 at 07:43:59
Guilty as charged.
I am 56 and had wonderful years in my late teens and early twenties watching fabulous football. Think of any player from those mid-eighties and it fills your heart with pride.
I grew up cheek by jowl with Liverpool supporters, my dad! And my youngest brother! My best friend, close friends, one diamond of a lad who died at Hillsborough. The pubs we grew up in were split reds and blues, friendships and burning animosity coexisting.
When you are brought up in the city and live within these close relationships from a kid, there's no way on earth, (however practical that is) that for one second you can accept a lower status or a lower expectation of the team or players.
The hurt of losing or being inferior in any season goes beyond what is shown externally. It eats away at your innards. It cannot be accepted. It will never be accepted.
Hence the pain seen from the fans, the expectation, the pride.
Practically, it's a situation with the finances of today's game that is not an easy fix. The extra revenues from the new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock will address this to some extent.
Also, the maligned Benitez was certainly onto something when he said he only wants players who “want to be here and want to play for Everton.” I respected that sentiment entirely as being a priority. I hope that sentiment stays when the new manager arrives and is prerequisite.
It's a long and winding road back to the top table; with increased revenues, committed quality players, and the right manager, we can get back on the right path.
3 Posted 17/01/2022 at 08:16:10
Tony, you too, thanks for responding. You seem like a good egg and I am pleased for you that you were the right age to fully enjoy some sublime footie from the Blues.
You raise a factor I had actually planned to put into the article but then omitted in my haste to send it. I wish to state that there is obviously a territorial factor I am aware of but not a part of. I have always disliked the Reds but have always been aware that I grew up removed from the vitriol.
There are some who may disregard my words because I am not a "True Blue" or a scouser. I would like to hold my hands up and say I really do not know the first thing about what it's like to grow up surrounded by smug Liverpool fans. I do not know what it's like for this subject to divide my family or for the weekend game to determine what sort of week I'm going to have at work because of the abuse.
I agree though, Tony, that within this extremely complex soup (of which I have only attempted to dissect one ingredient) that is Everton Football Club, our neighbours' success only heightens our disappointment and frustration.
4 Posted 17/01/2022 at 12:46:23
The premise for the fanbase requiring treatment or therapy is that a malady exists. Something that is wrong; something that must be fixed. That being a fan is addictive behaviour and therefore is bad. The more expectations you have, the worse is your addiction and the more imperative it is that you need therapy in order to combat the problem.
But the visceral reaction that I have and that I see in many fans is not wrong; it doesn't need to be fixed. I unequivocally reject such a notion. It is a genuine and deeply-felt reaction to a mounting shit-show that shows no signs of improving.
To cut to the chase, your remedy for this is that we as fans should stop striving for our club to be any better than we are, that we should accept mediocrity – or worse. We hear that from some as a steady drumbeat on these pages.
That seems to me to be an accommodation that accepts the smell of defeat inherent in our current situation. It claims we will be happier if we rein in our expectations and tone down our rhetoric, such that it better matches the indifference and incompetence we have before us.
To me, that is a complete abrogation of what it means to be a fan of a team that should be in competitions to win them, and to bring us glory. Yes, a largely unachievable goal. But, once you abandon that as part of your course of therapy, there really is very little point anymore.
5 Posted 17/01/2022 at 13:29:53
You write in response to my notion that we should tone down the toxicity: "to me, that is a complete abrogation of what it means to be a fan of a team". I am not entirely sure what I am asking but I suppose what I feel we need is a movement, someone with some influence online to unite the fans and back the manager. We need to find a way to root out the toxicity, as a proud bunch I am sure we would not want to be labelled toxic fans but we already have been at times. We continue down the route we are going we will be the English Valencia, fans will be waving handkerchiefs in the new managers 2nd game!
6 Posted 17/01/2022 at 14:13:40
Personally, my trauma began in 1970 when we lost that FA Cup semi-final. I refused to eat my tea that night.
I think the successful history (pre-1970) and the superiority complex have infected everyone who comes into the club, even those with no Everton past. They, and we, constantly believe we will get back to those glory days in one leap – be that an expensive signing or two, a celebrity manager.
We heap scorn on the clubs we see as inferior when we need to start learning from them. Crystal Palace, Brighton, Leicester, West Ham, Wolves are all better than us. Brentford are the latest to overtake us.
We need to take the steps to be as good as them, and then steps to be better than them. Forget dining at the top table, that is further away than it has ever been.
7 Posted 17/01/2022 at 14:22:30
Nil Satis Nisi Mediocritatem.
8 Posted 17/01/2022 at 14:29:10
I really enjoyed reading your article and the fact that you employed your professional expertise to attempt to analyse the psyche of Evertonians. I totally reject your thesis regarding our supposed supporters toxicity; in fact, I would go so far to say modern Evertonians have been more passively accepting of matters both on and off the pitch than in the past.
Some examples: Harry Catterick was jostled for simply dropping Alex Young in the '60s; cushions from the Main Stand would adorn the pitch in the '70s when the crowd weren't satisfied with the performance (and some of those games we didn't even lose).
The booing of late is a form of protest that states we aren't prepared to accept these inept performances, characterised by a lack of fight and passion. These brickbats have largely been aimed at Benitez and perhaps Moshiri. It's a form of protest; without our so-called supporters' toxicity and engagement, we would now be playing in a soulless retail park in Kirkby.
As someone 2 months shy of 60 and a season ticket holder for over 46 years, I've experienced some of the most successful periods of Everton's history and seen us denied further success through no fault of our own due to events in 1985. You seem to be advocating that Evertonians accept the present for ‘what it is' and calmly accept their place in the football pecking order. I don't think any committed football fan of any club will subscribe to that viewpoint.
Imagine Shankly advocating that stance when he took over at Liverpool, or Ferguson at Man Utd, or more saliently Man City fans when they were playing Gillingham in League Two playoffs just over 20 years ago.
Rather than dwell on the thoughts of eminent thinkers from the world of therapy, such as Carl Rogers, to unravel the inner mind of Blues fans, I'm minded to consider the dying words of George Malone (Episode 5: Boys from the Blackstuff) when he utters ‘I can't believe there is no hope' as he sits looking at the derelict Albert Dock. Today, there is much more hope than there was yesterday for Evertonians.
9 Posted 17/01/2022 at 14:39:10
We can never relax, even in the times we had good teams, we were always waiting for the inevitable crash-and-burn moment, or the loss of form or injury to a key player, or the bad refereeing decision to derail our season.
Even when we did get success, the media and the neighbours would constantly convince us that we weren't all that, and we would soon be put back in our rightful place.
It seems nowadays that we can't even ask for a team that will perform the basics often enough to provide us with a few positive performances and results every so often, without some sage arguing that it's the fans to blame for all our ills.
Superiority complex at Everton? I think that exists but about a half-a-mile away from Goodison – and probably down the East Lancs at two locations too.
10 Posted 17/01/2022 at 14:58:23
As long as we all know what we are trying to achieve and don't panic at an inevitable defeat or two, it is the most sensible way forward. In Pickford, Patterson, Godfrey, Mykolenko, Gray, Gordon, Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin, we have 8 players who we can start to build a squad around. It's not going to be a quick fix.
11 Posted 17/01/2022 at 15:01:25
There was a comment somewhere on here about not taking a manager from Brighton! Why not? We ignore the fact that they are and have been for some time, better run and better managed than us.
I agree about the crash-and-burn thing. The failures of the last 30 years have brought about a fatalistic belief that, when things are going well, it is the sign that things are about to go tits up. This belief is fostered by the many robberies and injustices we have suffered over this time: Thomas, Poll, Collina, Heysel etc.
12 Posted 17/01/2022 at 15:05:18
But the problem is that the present regime would find it difficult in the Championship and would probably need relegation to League One to have a chance of getting rid of the hangers-on. Unfortunately the Club could sink without trace. . .
I do think Evertonians would be happier supporting a club of honest effort and endeavour and still attend matches no matter what division.
By the way, I don't expect Everton to get relegated. They will rally now that they have got rid of Benitez.
13 Posted 17/01/2022 at 15:19:24
I agree with you that some supporters do think we should just be able to overturn certain clubs, regardless of the actual abilities of the opposition and the talent that Everton has at its disposal. I think this is dependent on which Everton you grew up with.
Those of a certain age will always have less respect for the likes of Brighton, Norwich et al and will always have more respect for those other more well-supported clubs.
Similarly when we beat a top club who may be fielding an average or even poor team, it tends to lead to crazy talk of dark-horses for Champions League etc.
I've always advocated that every opponent is beatable but every opponent also carries a serious threat too, but it's not the size of the club that matters, it's the quality of its team.
We haven't had a quality side for quite some time, so we shouldn't think that any game will be an easy win, however, we should be able to go into any game believing that we can at least compete and perhaps win and not be resigned to thinking that we are so poor that winning a game is merely a hope and not a realistic expectation.
14 Posted 17/01/2022 at 15:21:42
It's an interesting scenario because we can't carry on the way we are or we risk imploding completely.
15 Posted 17/01/2022 at 15:38:56
"Who would take a year in the championship if it meant clearing out the current board?"
But no guarantee, Dave - how do we know it would be only a year? How many bounce back into the Premier League after relegation within a year? Within 5 years? 10 years? Look at the slippery slope for Oldham – now bottom of League 2? Carlisle relegated 74-75 now League 2. Swindon - relegated 1993-94.
League 1 - Sunderland, Wigan, Ipswich, Sheff Wed, Portsmouth.
And would it lead to a clear out of the board? To be replaced by – the devil you don't know??
Your heart is in the right place, Dave. But relegation would be a disaster.
16 Posted 17/01/2022 at 15:52:23
If Moshiri and Usmanov decide enough is enough, where does that leave us? I know they have invested heavily in the new stadium but, without a team to play in it, it's a folly.
These are dark days indeed. I have just watched Big Vic on Sky Sports News and even he said bringing Martinez back was a joke and would be just as divisive as the Benitez appointment.
17 Posted 17/01/2022 at 15:57:27
18 Posted 17/01/2022 at 16:07:40
I don't think Evertonians are weighed down by the past, or by any sense of entitlement. We are simply frustrated.
The club pays its staff handsomely, I believe around the 7th highest in the Premier League. Therefore, we understandably have expectations to be watching at least the 7th best team in the league, and to be treated to entertaining football.
We do not boo players as they come onto the pitch. We do groan and make our feelings known at a stubborn, ridiculous manager who is bringing on a player who has shown himself to be below the required standard.
We don't turn on managers quickly, unless those managers are named Allardyce or Benitez – characters who should never be on the Goodison touch line unless they are in charge of opposing teams. Moyes, Martinez and Ancelotti received tremendous support.
I had a lengthy chat with an old pal after the match on Saturday. Like me, he is in his mid-60s, he has travelled all over the continent following Everton, and he said,
“Pete, I just want to enjoy the game again. I want to see us play some good football, maybe get into Europe, have some more trips over there”.
I could only agree, with the extra hope of maybe doing a Leicester, or when we do manage to get to a semi-final we don't bottle it just because we are playing one of the “bigger clubs”.
I don't think those aspirations are too lofty.
19 Posted 17/01/2022 at 17:41:24
I would like to say at no point was I advocating that we get relegated, I believe this would sink us, we would become another Sunderland. Total disaster. We don't have the personnel and fight to get back out again.
I merely think that we need to find a way to unite as fans and get behind the team regardless. Too much toxicity, too many disappointments are underpinning our expressed frustration.
Anyway, onwards, it will be an interesting week I suspect.
20 Posted 17/01/2022 at 19:58:49
21 Posted 18/01/2022 at 00:59:20
It is not just the fans who promote this idea of us being a "big club" but it's the club itself. Look at every new player who signs and trots out the same old lines obviously fed by the club PR. This mentality of entitlement or unrealistic expectation has become the culture of the club.
I don't think people realise what a difference the culture of an organisation makes to its performance. Especially in sport, attitude and mentality is everything.
You can have a great individual or group of individuals but, if they are not in the right head space or don't buy into the narrative, then they will underperform. Our best performances recently have been when we were up against good teams (eg, Chelsea away) and backs against the wall. Different mentality, different performance.
It's not easy to change the culture of the club. I'm sure there would be a huge backlash if a new manager came in and told it like it is. Whoever it is would have to have a huge personality, complete confidence in their ability and able to impose their vision on the team/club.
Examples of these types of people are Pep, Bielsa and Ange Postecogolou. I'm sure some people may laugh at the last one but so do did Celtic fans at the start of the season. They've changed their tune now.
22 Posted 18/01/2022 at 13:20:48
But Michael K, it is not about accepting mediocrity. I do agree we should be in competitions to win them. Consequently, I'm in need of a psychotherapist every time we field a weakened team in the cups.
However, I'd argue that the motto Nil Satis Nisi Optimum comes from the days when we were one of the very richest clubs in Britain. I ask: To maintain that aspiration, and acquire the best players, doesn't a club need to be one of the wealthiest? And if it isn't one of the richest, then what?
Perhaps the answer lies in nothing but the best from what we have got. But how you achieve that is another discussion.
Finally, at several games this season, I have witnessed "supporter rage" that I don't think I have ever witnessed before. I'm not sure it has done the shouters any good and I don't think it'll have done the targets any good. Each time, I have left wondering about the impact on team and squad morale. As you say, Frank, 21, "if they are not in the right head-space..."
Finally, I have long looked upon ToffeeWeb as something of a psychotherapy service for Evertonians. So, thanks to Michael and Lyndon.
23 Posted 18/01/2022 at 13:47:45
24 Posted 19/01/2022 at 20:23:00
I've said for years on TW that I'm no longer a prisoner of the past in lieu of past Everton success on the park.
It's in the long past and the club has to win a trophy, that will start a slow healing process but the malaise within the club, via the board room, has made the club spiral to seemingly worse levels year on year.
The events of the last 6 years, with record investment in the squad but with arguably the worst football seen by Evertonians in the history of modern football, and I believe perhaps the worst of all time, but I can't proove that.
But it's not achieved anything nor improved Everton's stature in terms of being a team who are genuine challengers for trophies. But what a better opportunity than Saturday to take Villa apart and put Slippy in his place.
No, it will be a very tough match, Villa are playing some good football, but the Goodison crowd will be the difference come Saturday lunchtime.
Well, I'm sure they will play for the shirt, which sadly most of the squad had forgotten, but the heart and belief had been lost due the last manager's scatterbrain approach to playing football and to try and win the game.
I think from memory, and I'm sure some TW statisticians will know that under Benitez, Everton were down at half-time in 12 out of 22 games. That tells a story.
So hopefully the bottom of the barrel has been reached.
Onwards and slowly upwards for Everton FC.
25 Posted 19/01/2022 at 21:40:08
Make no mistake up to 1970 there was an argument for Everton being the uncrowned kings of English football. The positives were comparable with any as trophies, genuine football legends and of course Goodison provided an entity that was almost unique. But complacency will kill you and as Shankly reinvented football at the other place we turned our noses up at hard graft and "busy football" pompously hiding behind distant memories of the school of science. We got left behind and bar 3 years have dissolved into this Everton-lite club.
The roots of this tree go deeper into the ground than any other defiant beligerance as per any self respecting scouser inspired this club. We told John Houlding and his cronies to shove it over rent increases at Anfield. The same fellas didn't sit there twiddling their thumbs they picked up spades and picks and from a scrubby bit of land at Mere Green created the best football ground in England.
Little of that spirit guides the club now but the blood of descendants who marvelled at fighting glory from Fred Geary, Dixie Dean and countless others still flows in these environs. Nothing will stem it we will come again no one knows when but when it does the eternal flame of english football will be incandescent. It is difficult, no question, but we shall not be moved.
26 Posted 19/01/2022 at 22:10:33
Not sure about the Geordies but Palace fans don't and tend to sing or chant almost non stop, whereas Goodison can be like the "library" away support often accuse it of being.
Why do Palace fans behave like they do?
I reckon it's because their expectations are totally different from Evertonians.
We've had success in the lifetimes of a majority of our supporters and find it very difficult to stomach that it's far in the past, find it difficult to be also rans.
Palace fans are happy to be in the premier league, to play good football when they can and beat some of the big boys occasionally.
Our expectations and theirs are worlds apart.
Now whether ours are justified or not is a different question. You'd have to say that going on the last 27 years, they're not!
27 Posted 19/01/2022 at 22:49:35
A club that has won as much as Everton and has fans who watched the club win a couple of league titles within living memory, are bound to have a different perspective than a Fulham, Bournemouth, Palace et al.
Tottenham Hotspur haven't got too many fans in their new stadium who can remember watching their league triumphs of over sixty-years ago, but I bet a few Spurs fans have aimed their displeasure at their team on more than a few occasions, even in recent years.
The other element missing from the likes of Newcastle and Palace is that they don't have a successful club in their backyard who they are traditionally expected to compete with, and they won't have to suffer the stick that Evertonians suffer every time they visit the family, local shop, pub or at work on a daily basis.
The library accusation is probably true on many occasions, but that's down to having had nearly a decade of pretty average footballers and mostly dissapointing results - for example the last league derby victory at Goodison was how long ago?
Some fans will refrain from being negative during the 90 minutes and will therefore sit on their hands rather than vent their spleen, the crowd has to have something to react to, and when it does it usually responds to it in a positive way. I don't think that Goodison has ever had a flag-waving, hymn-singing crowd, unless it's had a team worthy of it.
28 Posted 19/01/2022 at 23:49:59
I was indoctrinated into the Evertonian way by my great grandfather (stone mason, stevedore) and my two grandfathers (bus driver and engineer) and finally dad (docker, bricklayer). Both sides of my family are Royal Blue and totally immersed in being an Evertonian. And I like to think we are all hard-working blue-collar right through to the lads and girls finishing school.
What got me thinking is when I look at my family is that we have done an honest days work for an honest days pay over the years and in my era we expected the same from the lads who threw on the Royal Blue. Problem is the game has changed beyond comprehension in the last 20 years.
So imagine how my dads generation feel when they watched last week's abject performance (as bad as I can remember). These fella's who pull on that shirt don't realise that I would give a week's wages to wear that shirt.
My point being my expectations are not that we should be – winning the league – but that we should be giving it our best shot. Unfortunately, we have a chairman that is not interested in giving it a go. We have a chairman that wants the status of being a blue legend.
Well, where I come from you get in life what you put into it and right now as a club from top to bottom no one seems to give a fuck about nil satis nisi optimum and what being an Evertonian is all about, more about ego's and salaries.
Initially I reflected on the trauma piece and I know that Heysel plays a big part in my life. Moreso because them fuckers over the park never showed an ounce of remorse. Not for depriving a magnificent Everton from playing in the European cup but because innocent people who went to watch a football match.
Anyway, rant over... but I am falling out of love with the game; it is not the one I loved playing and spectating in. Probably cause you can't kick anyone anymore.
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