Forget that glorious fortnight in May of 1985 when Everton wrapped up the First Division title and European Cup Winners’ Cup double. Tonight is far more important.
While becoming one of the best teams on the continent and winning trophies is special (at least so I’m told), escaping relegation with a win over Crystal Palace this evening – or somehow managing it on Sunday – would be of far greater significance.
That might sound like a fairly miserable, modern way of viewing football. Why rank simply staying in the Premier League above the fine achievements of Howard Kendall’s brilliant team of the mid-eighties?
Leeds, Portsmouth and Sunderland help provide the answer. Three big clubs who overspent, went down and crashed through the divisions. It would not be a surprise to see Everton go the same way should the unthinkable happen this week.
Everton’s players look frustrated after conceding in Sunday’s 3-2 loss to Brentford at Goodison
The Toffees enjoyed huge success in the eighties – including winning the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1985 (pictured) – but staying up this season is more important
Everton can secure Premier League safety with a home win over Crystal Palace this evening
This situation felt a million miles away when Farhad Moshiri, the billionaire that fans and chairman Bill Kenwright had been crying out for, arrived back in 2016.
He came with a three-year dream of taking us into the Champions League, and yet after six years of lavish – but often mindless – spending, he stands on the brink of owning a Championship club.
The fact we are where we are really does biggar belief. The figures of Moshiri’s reign are well-documented – over £500million spent on new players (although it’s worth noting that around £300m has been recouped), seven permanent managers and a couple of caretakers, three directors of football, a hat-trick of top half finishes, one season in Europe and zero trophies.
Moshiri’s ownership has not gone the way he, or anyone associated with the club, envisioned, and his track record of spending big to make the team worse certainly suggests that a lengthy stay in the second tier – or perhaps even lower – is more likely than an immediate return to the top-flight.
His intentions for the club have always been positive and he has no problem putting his money where his mouth is (until FFP meant he couldn’t last summer), but terrible decision making – particularly when it comes to recruitment and recruiting the right football people around him – has cost us the bright future we all longed for.
Owner Farhad Moshiri (left) and chairman Bill Kenwright (right) have made terrible decisions
Everton missed the chance to stay up by stuttering to a 0-0 draw away at Watford last week
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I could write 10,000 words on the mistakes Moshiri has made. From naming Steve Walsh as his first director of football, to failing to properly replace Romelu Lukaku, allowing stop-gap Sam Allardyce to splash £50m, and letting agents dictate large parts of the club’s transfer business. The list is long and unflattering, and Kenwright and the board must shoulder some of the blame, too.
But all of that is for another time, once the dust has settled on this grim season. The club say they have started a strategic review of how it’s run and that simply must continue – ideally with outside help – regardless of whether we stay up or not.
It is almost inconceivable that a club of our size and stature – after investing so much money in the squad and having Carlo Ancelotti in charge less than a year ago – could drop out of the top division for the first time since 1951.
Sadly, though, it is a reality, and the huge financial losses (£372m over the least three years) suffered in recent seasons – partly due to Covid, but more because of reckless spending on transfer fees and wages for players who have failed to deliver – makes the thought of relegation an even more scary prospect.
If the club was on a more stable footing and being run by an owner the fanbase had some faith in, the idea of ticking off the likes of Bristol City, Preston and Luton away and storming to the Championship title wouldn’t feel quite so daunting .
Instead, it is the worst thought of what comes next after relegation – and the possible ramifications it would have on the building of our new £500m stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock – that has us fearing the going into tonight’s game.
Moshiri is pushing ahead with the construction of a £500m stadium at Bramley-Moore dock
The club appeared to be heading in the right direction under Carlo Ancelotti but he soon left
How feasible is it to continue building a state-of-the-art ground at a cost of roughly half a billion pounds with no guarantee of Premier League football and the riches that come with it? News on the development from the club is still positive, but it remains a valid question given the precarious position we find ourselves in.
We have been here before, of course. There was the Great Escape of 1994 when a 3-2 win on the final day against Wimbledon – after being 2-0 down – sealed safety, and then another last-gasp survival in the season finale of 1997-98.
But this feels different. The Premier League has moved on and the money involved is now so vast that dropping down a division – especially when we’d harbored dreams of European football and had the investment to get there – seems like the end of the world.
On the pitch we have at least seen some improvement from the team in recent weeks, with Frank Lampard finally finding a formation and style to get results after two months of tinkering without much luck.
Richarlison scored the only goal in a memorable victory over Chelsea earlier this month
Vitalii Mykolenko celebrates after scoring a stunning opening in an away win at Leicester City
While the process to appoint him was typically farcical, fans have come together to back a manager who should have been put in charge at least a couple of months earlier when it was obvious to everyone – apart from Moshiri – that Rafa Benitez’s reign was doomed.
The decision to give the job to Benitez in the first place – and then hand him so much power over the way the club is run – remains the worst of Moshiri’s muddled time at Goodison Park. How he thought he was the right fit I’ll never know.
Fortunately Lampard has rebuilt the connection between the management, players and the supporters over the last six weeks, and memorable wins over Newcastle, Manchester United, Chelsea and Leicester. Mean our fate is still in our own hands.
Despite not knowing the city like the former Liverpool boss Benitez, Lampard has a far greater understanding of what the fans want from their team – aggression, passion and desire. He has dealt with similar injury problems to his predecessor head on and speaking honestly regardless of the result.
Ex-Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez turned out to be a disastrous appointment by Moshiri last year
After a bitterly disappointing defeat at relegation rivals Burnley last month we looked dead and buried, but it’s to Lampard’s credit that he’s been able to lift the players and get improved performances out of the likes of Alex Iwobi and Fabian Delph.
Failure to hold on to victory at Turf Moor, dropping two points that would have kept us up at already-relegated Watford last week, and Sunday’s capitulation against Brentford – albeit with 10 men – are all blots on Lampard’s record, but had Benitez remained in charge we’d be down by now.
He has also had to contend with a series of baffling refereeing decisions, including obvious penalties being turned down against Manchester City, Liverpool and Brentford, and a dubious red card for Allan against Newcastle, to name but a few.
Perhaps the only positive to come out of those mistakes has been the siege mentality which has grown around the club, from the manager and his players, to the fans who have turned Goodison back into a bearpit and taken over the King Power Stadium and Vicarage Road in recent weeks.
Lampard has described the shows of support – from thousands welcoming the team bus for home games, hundreds waving the squad off at Finch Farm and fans staying behind to sing for 20 minutes after a win – as ‘extraordinary’. He’s not wrong, and those responsible – whether organizing initiatives or simply being part of the crowd – deserve credit.
Thousands of fans greet the Everton team bus outside Goodison before the Brentford game
Supporters have cranked up the atmosphere as the Toffees desperately try to avoid relegation
As much as we’ll be keeping an eye on Burnley’s result tonight, and while interest in Leeds’ fixtures has continued to rise over the last month, the overwhelming feeling is that the fans can help push the players on to one more decisive win.
That looked like coming last Sunday as Richarlison and Co started fast against Brentford, only for the momentum to completely turn when the Brazilian was deemed not to have been fouled inside the box – despite having his shirt almost ripped off – and Jarrad Branthwaite saw red seconds later.
The pressure is undoubtedly on more than ever before after that defeat, and while Leeds and Burnley fans might disagree, relegation feels like a far bigger problem for Everton than it does for them. The fallout would be seismic.
For now, though, everyone associated with the club must try to clear their minds of what going down might mean and focus on arguably the most important game in Everton’s history.
No silverware will be lifted if we win this evening, but safeguarding the future of this great club will beat any trophy.