Two cup ties, separated by ten days, sum up Everton’s season and, perhaps, the whole of David Moyes’ time in charge. After defeating the holders Chelsea on penalties at Stamford Bridge in their FA Cup fourth round replay, Everton then lost the following home tie against Reading by a single goal. If eliminating Chelsea caused a dizzying high, falling to the Championship side was an equally disorientating low. The disparity between the two results represented the early years of Moyes’ reign in microcosm, when Everton alternated between the top ten and the bottom half of the Premier League.
Everton began the season hoping they could push Manchester City and Spurs for a Champions League spot, or at least finish above Liverpool for the first time since 2005, but most of the time they have found themselves in closer proximity to the relegation zone than the European places. Wednesday’s home draw against Birmingham lifted Everton to ninth in the table but, even so, they are only one point closer to Liverpool in sixth than West Ham in eighteenth. Again, the situation has connotations with the Moyes era in general. He saved the club from relegation after succeeding Walter Smith in March 2002 and almost took Everton into the Champions League group stage three years later, then reached the FA Cup final in 2009 during a run of three consecutive top six finishes in the league, but nine years on from Moyes’ arrival the suspicion remains that Everton are only ever as close to success as they are to disappointment.
As his Everton side slid to defeat at the Reebok Stadium in February, the tired look on David Moyes’ face appeared to betray a man struggling both to explain the disjointed path of the Toffees’ season and to justify to himself how the future might be any different. Moyes suggested afterwards that the performance was the worst of his nine years in charge but, judging by the way the result weighed upon his features, the manager seemed to know only too well that the 2-0 loss at Bolton could have stood for all the disappointment and frustration Everton have endured for most of the past two-and-a-half decades. This is a club that carries a heavy historical burden.
It’s 24 years since Everton won the last of their nine league titles and you have to go back to 1995 for their last trophy, when Joe Royle engineered a surprise win over Manchester United in the FA Cup final. Since leaving Preston to take over at Goodison Park, Moyes has always given the appearance of a manager carrying Everton forward but one with an eye fixed cautiously on what’s happening behind the club as well. The 2009 FA Cup final defeat to Chelsea notwithstanding, Everton’s failure to reach the Champions League group stage in 2005 – after finishing fourth in the Premier League ahead of Liverpool – was the greatest missed opportunity of his tenure. Breaking into the top four was a huge achievement but, had the Toffees made like their chewy sweet nickname and stuck around in the Champions League a little longer, the years since could have been so different. Maybe Moyes had that on his mind too last month at the Reebok.
Losing to Villarreal six years ago in that qualifying tie for the Champions League proper cost Everton the millions of pounds they would have earned from at least six further fixtures in the competition and the associated prize money handed out by UEFA after each game. That money could have been reinvested in the squad and helped them to stay in the top four – even ahead of Liverpool – for more than one year. Without the investment Everton dropped to eleventh the following season and, while they rose to fifth in 2008 and 2009, that only showed the potential that went untapped following that final-hurdle fall in 2005.
Finance tempers the ambition of just about every football club in the world but in Everton’s case the relationship seems particularly poignant. Their Goodison Park ground, for example, is a magnificent old structure, built in 1892, and seems to have a soul of its own when 40,000 people fill the stadium, but its size and location also hold the club back. Goodison Park’s capacity puts a limit on the club’s gate receipts and the difficulties associated with redevelopment have arguably put off potential investors in the club. Everton did recently submit plans for a £9m retail and business park that – aside from the revenue generated once it opens – will also provide the added benefit of freeing up space in the ground for more corporate hospitality, but it’s hardly Chelsea Village.
Like Sunderland in the fifties, Everton were once characterised by the money they had. To use another confectionery analogy, they used to be minted. While Sir John Moores was chairman between 1960 and 1973, sourcing lucrative funding for the club during that time, the “Mersey Millionaires” won the FA Cup as well as two First Division titles with Harry Catterick as manager. Unless a suitable investor comes in, it seems impossible that David Moyes and Everton will revisit the heights of 2005 – let alone the 1960s and ’80s – any time soon.
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