At the end of a reflective week at Goodison, Everton approach next Sunday’s Anfield derby three points off a European spot after a controlled if toothless 1-0 home victory over Fulham. Steven Pienaar’s calm finish capped a direct, cohesive move which typified the Toffees’ superb approach play, though the failure to add further goals made the second half unnecessarily tense. David Moyes reached a significant personal landmark this week and with his professional crossroads looming next month, I felt it a good time to put the Scot’s stature at Everton in context.
The nostalgia factor at Goodison has been cranked up to eleven this week with Fulham, opponents during Moyes’ first game in charge of Everton, arriving just two days after the manager’s 50th birthday. As the clock has ticked on Moyes’ expiring contract, fans have been caught between wistful reflection and anxious speculation; appreciation at Moyes’ influence but desperately seeking clarity over his future. Saturday’s game offered plenty of perspective.
David Unsworth’s 27-second opener during Moyes’ first game back in 2002 pricked the consciousness of misery that enveloped Everton under Walter Smith. Duncan Ferguson’s 13th minute strike reacquainted us with hope. Thomas Gravesen’s 28th-minute dismissal, Steed Malbrangue’s second-half, Barry Hayles-inspired effort and an age of unbearable defending later, Everton hung on for three precious points, and looking back, I can’t tell you how glad I am those days are over.
Compare that to Saturday when Everton attacked throughout, creating space through high-calibre understanding and manipulation of the ball, recycling possession with ease. The win, whilst gratefully received, was celebrated with little more than a hopeful shrug such is the unlikelihood of making the Champions League. Contrast that with the joyful relief at moving four points above the relegation zone after Moyes’ first game encapsulates his impact in a nutshell. Delighted to stay in the league when he walked in, gutted to finish sixth 11 years later. Whilst his future remains uncertain, Moyes’ has created real pride to replace apoplectic dejection at Everton, and for that, I am more than grateful.
Fulham have a dismal record at Goodison Park. Not even a point since 1959 perhaps explains why only a half-Megabus-sized Cottagers crowd could be arsed making the journey. In fact, there were less Fulham fans on Merseyside than there were Evertonians in the San Siro for the Toffees’ first European Cup away day in 1963. A hefty £26 flight, hotel and match ticket deal enabled 130 pioneering Blues to witness a 1-0 Everton defeat to eventual winners Inter Milan, with all 130 considerably compensated by the promising debut of 18-year-old Colin Harvey.
That European adventure was reward for Everton’s 1962/63 First Division championship, an achievement honoured at Goodison this week with, amongst other things, a tributary programme cover. That campaign ended with a 4-1 home victory over, you’ve guessed it, Fulham, and reading through the match reports and stat sites this week put Moyes’ achievements in context.
Harry Catterick, Roy Vernon, Alex Young, Brian Labone: Everton are a club of champions. Fans will always remember the greats. Harry Catterick died before I was born and the only Howard Kendall spell I remember started in ’97, but I can talk about them for hours because the trophies they won are the jewels in the crown of Everton’s history. And when you put it like that, as far as we have come under Moyes, we haven’t gone far enough.
Don’t read that as criticism though, read it as a challenge. My conviction is that Moyes can achieve success with Everton and erase that underminingly truthful word trophyless from discussion. My generation, along with my dad’s, will always have a profound respect for Moyes, but once emotions are lost over time and nothing is left but mere facts and figures in an ever-increasing statistical stratosphere, how long will a trophyless manager survive?
Great as Moyes is, he is not an Everton great yet. Leaving would deny him the chance to reverberate with Catterick and Kendall through the ages, and my gut feeling is that Moyes couldn’t accept that. If you know your history Davey, surely it can’t be too hard to sort out your future.
By Chris Smith
Follow Chris on Twitter @cdsmith789 and click here to visit his blog The Russian Linesman.