The 11th game brought another defeat, leaving the Merseyside blues on three points out of a possible 33. The season ahead looked dire, with manager Mike Walker fearing for his job. Everton’s current season is reminiscent of this crisis point at Goodison Park, and fans will not be much more hopeful than they were then.
Ronald Koeman lasted even less time in the job than Walker, despite a better start in terms of points. This is significant in showing the patience with which managers were treated 20 years ago, in comparison with the modern hire-fire-repeat culture instigated by Roman Abramovich. But only a few weeks later, on November 8, it was farewell Mike Walker. In came 45-year-old Joe Royle, in only his second job after managing Oldham Athletic for 12 years. An Everton legend, Royle had scored 102 goals in 232 appearances for the club between 1966 and 1974. He was top-scorer in 1969/70, when Everton were champions. However, 25 years later, those glory days seemed long gone.
Royle’s first game in charge was the biggest fixture of the season; the Merseyside derby. No other Premier League Merseyside derby has featured the two sides so far separated in league positions, with Liverpool in fourth (29 points from 14 games) and Everton in last place, or 22nd (8 points from 14 games).
Goodison Park was filled with 39,866 people, the biggest attendance of the season. Expectation and excitement was tangible. The teams went into the break level at 0-0, and emerged from the tunnel for the second half, most people expecting a simple Liverpool win as Everton tired. But the 56th minute produced a blue corner. A clever header from Duncan Ferguson, which soared past David James in the Liverpool goal provided Ferguson with a first goal for Everton, and a 1-0 lead.
Liverpool continued to press, searching for an equaliser that would reduce the humiliation of a defeat. The clock ran down quickly for the reds; the 89th minute approaching far too soon. An optimistic lob into the box by Andy Hinchcliffe was badly dealt with by James, and half-time substitute Paul Rideout was there to slide the ball into an exposed net.
Home fans were in delirium, away fans were stunned. All previous failures were worth it for this victory over their bitter rivals. This felt like a turning point in Everton’s season, and it was. Royle’s rejuvenated side went on to win against Chelsea and Leeds in the next two games, and lose only another seven games all season. They rescued a potentially disastrous campaign at Goodison Park on that famous day on November 21, 1994. The season ended with Everton in 15th, and Liverpool in fourth. Although not astounding, it was much more than fans had feared after 10 games.
So now, back to 2017. Everton fans are understandably pessimistic. But now, with another Everton legend in charge, perhaps he will mimic Royle’s impressive feat. His start was not as perfect, but patience is key. December 10 is the Merseyside derby; make sure you are watching, because history has a tendency to repeat itself.