Everton Stare into the Abyss


My friend Danny is a proper Scouser and a die-hard Evertonian, a season-ticket holder who goes home and away to cheer on the blue half of Merseyside.

Everton Stare into the Abyss.
Everton face demotion to the Championship

After losing 3-1 at home to Fulham two weeks ago he told me he thought they were going down for sure.

He attributed his side's demise to a fatal flaw, lamenting,

"We don't have anyone who can score goals."

He was right. Everton are the top flight's lowest scorers with 25 goals in 33 games. Like Chelsea, their lack of a goalscorer has been obvious all season. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who forced his way into the England set-up in 2020 and looked like a prolific talent for a while, has only netted one this season in 13 appearances, struggling with injury.

This week the blue malaise only got worse as Everton collapsed 4-1 at Goodison Park to Newcastle. With five games to play, the EPL trap door is opening and a big name is teetering on the edge of it.

Second to bottom of the Premier League, Everton are facing relegation.

If the Blues exit the Premier League, it will be a thunderous moment in English football. They might not have been a top side in recent seasons, but history matters and in historical terms, the Toffees are a very big fish:

* The Merseysiders have been in the top division more than any other English club - this is their 120th season in the premier division; Aston Villa are second on 109 seasons and Liverpool third on 108.

* On 68 seasons, Everton sit second to Arsenal (97) on consecutive seasons spent in the top flight and ahead of city rivals Liverpool (60).

* Along with Villa and Wolves, they are one of three teams in the top flight who were there in the Football League's inaugural season of 1888-'89. The club was founded by a local Methodist chapel in 1878 as St Domingo's F.C.

* Everton have won nine titles - fourth on the leaderboard after Manchester United (20), Liverpool (19) and Arsenal (13).

With next season their final one at Goodison Park, their home since the 19th century, there seems something resonant about their fall from grace this season.

Goodison, nestled in the tightly-packed terraces of Liverpool's Walton district, breathes football. Irregular stands, poles obscuring views and spectators sat very close to the pitch evoke the traditional and intense atmosphere English football once had as its hallmark.

The historic ground has also hosted the F.A. Cup Final in 1894 and in 1966, the World Cup Semi-Final, as well as the memorable 5-3 quarter-final clash between Eusebio's Portugal and the fabulous North Koreans.

* In 1949 it was the scene of England's first home loss to an overseas nation (Eire) and its record attendance was a year earlier when 78,000 packed in for the Merseyside derby. On a prosaic note, Everton were also the first club to use goal nets and Goodison the first ground to install a scoreboard and undersoil heating.

The future Everton stadium, at Bramley Moore Dock on Liverpool's waterfront, will have 52,888 seats (expandable to 62,000) compared to Goodison's 39,414 and will offer better sightlines, corporate hospitality and parking no doubt, though will surely fail to recapture the atmosphere of the old home, as all new arenas do.

Everton's new stadium.
American architect Dan Meis has designed the new Everton stadium

Still, a new home was necessary, as the old stadium needed serious reconstruction in order to pass building safety tests and Goodison could not expand on its existing site, the club's home since 1892 after the club moved from Anfield, now the home of city rivals Liverpool. One reason is the prominence of St Luke's Church, visible in one corner of the ground. The increased capacity will bring increased revenue, so whatever happens this season, since the Toffees' fan base remains large, there is the insurance policy of the new arena.

Many fans are wondering however if the Blues will take the field at Bramley Dock in the second flight, which Everton have not played in since 1954. In the 1980s, under Howard Kendall and with Gary Lineker leading the line, the Toffees were one of England's 'Big Five' along with Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham. The past three seasons have seen finishes of 12th, 10th and 16th by comparison before this season's flirting with relegation.

What has gone wrong? Most fingers point at the owner Farhad Moshiri, who has presided over the decline since buying into the club in 2016. Looking at the list of managers Everton have employed during his tenure - Ronald Koeman, Marco Silva, Carlo Ancelotti, Rafael Benitez and Frank Lampard, it may seem odd they have ended up in a drop zone dogfight.

Even with Ancelotti, an elite manager who was poached by Real Madrid, and players of the calibre of Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison and James Rodriguez, the team was frustratingly inconsistent, afraid of pressing and ended up 10th having led the Premier League after winning their first four games.

But the league does not lie. There has not been a lack of funds but ineffective or bizarre recruitment has produced a mediocre and disjointed squad, England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford apart, which has failed to deliver. The Everton defence is porous but six other EPL sides have conceded more - it is more the lack of goals at the other end that means they are in the drop zone.

Nil Satis Nisi Optimum - Nothing is enough except the best, is the club's famous motto, but supporter expectations can be unrealistic. Everton are not a 'big club' like they were in living memory, and having their city rivals winning trophies and wowing the crowds on the other side of Stanley Park at Anfield cannot help.

To the credit of the fans, they have largely spared the players and managers this season from blame to focus their ire on the directors, but some have taken it too far and made threats to their safety, which is beyond the pale.

If relegation happens, everyone connected with one of England's most storied clubs must accept it, understand it and learn from it, even if it has not happened to their club for a generation.

No club is too big or historic to go down.

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(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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