Whether winning a title or securing safety, the moment the historic goal hits the back of the net provides the same feeling. Abdoulaye Doucouré thrashed the ball in here to test the foundations of the antiquated Goodison Park. Every second of the past two seasons of Everton struggle was forgotten, replaced with the glorious ecstasy of being a football fan without worries or concerns.
These days of toil are painful for supporters, who endure every emotion, from despair to unparalleled jubilation. For those decked in blue at Goodison, survival means everything; football is their joy, their time away from what life throws at you and they will be thankful to Doucouré for ensuring their summer is not spent mourning a first relegation since 1951. The players did not let down the fans; every single one put everything into the game for Everton, buoyed by unrelenting support.
Football fans are the backbone of the sport, whether certain club hierarchies think so or not. The TV coverage would have been nothing without the vociferous Goodison Park atmosphere or the panning to those biting nails or looking on with fear. Sometimes football can seem sterilised when witnessed through a shiny flatscreen, missing the nuance of what happens in the stands. But there was no chance the support could be glossed over here.
Hours before kick-off, the streets around Goodison Park were a sea of fans and the air was thick with blue smoke from pyrotechnics. The smell of flares masked the apprehension felt by those who entered to celebrate the warmup, cheer Sean Dyche after a TV interview and roar the entire back catalogue of chants in the hope it would inspire a team without a recognised striker.
Few left their seats before half-time for a pint out of fear of missing a moment that could become a chapter in the Everton history books. Their team, despite planning a defensive style with a back five, had the better of the opening 45 minutes without scoring, which was not much use when Leicester went ahead at home to West Ham to momentarily silence those in blue here.
Supporters are a perceptive bunch. “Everton! Everton! Everton!” reverberated around Goodison Park when 10 minutes of potential agony was added in second-half stoppage time. It galvanised a team that had suffered for the previous 90. In the immediate aftermath of the board going up, Conor Coady made a stunning block on Dominic Solanke, with the meaning lessened by an offside flag, and it was soon followed by a fine Jordan Pickford save from Matías Viña. It felt as if fans and players were working in harmony. Their emotions reflected each other when the final whistle blew: a mixture of glory and relief.
Last season Everton survived by the skin of their teeth, although that four-point gap looks impressive compared with their latest escape. The then manager, Frank Lampard, lauded the fans for “dragging” the team to safety and Dyche called on them to do likewise in the final weeks of this season and they delivered. Tactics and physical wellbeing are paramount to a football manager but they know the impact a fanbase can make.
There have been some thankless jobs at Everton this season but the public address announcer knew his task was up there with being a Dominic Calvert-Lewin replacement. “Supporters are reminded to not enter the pitch – please do not enter the pitch,” came the plea, but it was inevitable what would happen when Stuart Attwell, after a glance to the touchline to plot his escape route, blew his prayer-answering whistle.
Once the celebrations died down and the blue air dissipated, then fans once more showed their desire for more long-term improvement. “Sack the board!” came the protest song, a reminder of the soured relationship between those supposedly steering the ship and the ones operating the lighthouse.
Everton are big on history: Dixie Dean is celebrated in statue form outside the ground, the legendary manager Howard Kendall has a stand named after him and trophies adorn banners that are displayed by fans. Joe Royle, Peter Reid and Graham Stuart watched on, representing the many legends this club has created.
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It was not Dwight McNeil’s fault that his crosses had no striker to aim for; it was not James Garner’s fault he was playing right-wing back, although he was excellent; nor was it Dyche’s fault he had to name two goalkeepers and two potential debutants on a bench still a player short of its full allocation. This was a long time in the making through a small amount of bad luck with injuries but mainly because of poor planning from those above the unfortunate ones toiling on the pitch and in the dugout. There were no signings in January when everyone knew the trouble they were in, making the final months harder for everyone.
“It’s a grand old team to play for, and it’s a grand old team to support, and if you know your history, it’s enough to make your heart go worrrrrrrrr,” goes the chant. The players know the glories and the pressure of playing for Everton, and the supporters will never need reminding of the joy of walking through Stanley Park in anticipation of what could happen on any given afternoon. Everton have great history but it is time they need to learn from the more recent chapters or risk repeating it for a third season.