Everton have been a fixture in the top flight since 1954 but their Premier League status is on the line.
Their game against Bournemouth on Sunday was billed as the greatest of Goodison Park’s modern era and dominated every supporter’s mind.
Mail Sport spent the week canvassing the opinions of fans on the brink.
The worst part of weeks like this is the mental torture, the helplessness. You can see it written all over people’s faces and here, at The Brick on County Road in Walton, the 11 souls who gathered to watch Newcastle play Leicester embodied the anguish.
Located a good goal-kick from Goodison, The Brick is not so much a pub as a Blue shrine. There are slogans on the wall, about how these fans are born not made, while a beautiful image of Alan Ball catches your eye. Mark Leary, the evil landlord, is rightly proud of this establishment.
Everton are fighting for their Premier League status with a decisive match this weekend
Despite the building tension and nerves, Dyche looked to create a sense of calm
This group know their football and as the action unfolds, with Newcastle missing chances, they say ‘it’s Grimsby again’. For those who don’t know, in 1984 Everton beat Grimsby in a League Cup tie at Goodison but lost 1-0 to a last-minute sucker punch.
A local, a nice guy named John, spent the second half chatting about issues plaguing his club. He winces when he remembers how, in 1994, then Everton manager Mike Walker marched into the nearby Winslow Pub peacock proudly after the first great escape against Wimbledon.
‘How do you celebrate salvation?’ he asked. ‘If we go down this time, we’ll only have ourselves to blame. I just want us to have a break here.’
Moments later the Grimsby reference was almost confirmed and there were howls as Nick Pope collected incredibly to deny Timothy Castagne. To think there will be another six days of this feeling.
‘We’ve been through too much,’ said John, who has been watching Everton since the heady days of Harry Catterick. ‘Can’t we just have peace?’
The biggest travesty of this season is how Everton fans, through some very poor PR decisions, have been painted as one of the reasons for the club’s failures. Their unwavering support is a constant but the situation takes a toll on everyone.
Father Philip Inch, parish priest of Holy Rosary in Old Roan, is devoted to his congregation but also to his team. A wise man, whose first hero is Alan Ball, a story he tells from his daily work gives another perspective of the mood in the city. ‘It’s a constant topic of conversation,’ he said. ‘It is there, all the time, in the front of people’s minds.
‘Even now, there is an annual May procession at the school. On the way out, the kids were saying to me, ‘Say a prayer for Everton on Sunday, Father’.
‘Why do we feel so emotionally connected? I would like to answer but that’s the way it is. I went to Mass at 6pm on Saturday – if we lose, it’s really hard to get up. That’s what it does to you. That’s how it is in this city. People (on the outside) think they understand – but they don’t.’
The biggest travesty is how the club’s fans are painted as one of the reasons for the failure
Nerves are fraying around the city but at Finch Farm, Everton’s training enclave, the mood is different. The players had two days off, on Sunday and Monday, but returned to work to find manager Sean Dyche not letting the magnitude of the situation pass them by.
He will not do anything different in the sessions, not calling additional meetings. Staff around have noted that, compared to 12 months ago when Everton needed to beat Crystal Palace to stay awake, things are calmer. ‘When you see the manager walking he’s singing!’ says James Tarkowski. Alex Iwobi offered another perspective, adding: ‘When we’re on the bus to Goodison, and you see the fans chanting, banging the bus… you definitely feel it, almost like you’re going to war.
‘The manager’s approach is the same in every game. Very professional. He doesn’t let anyone get mad at him. We know the size of the game but he will tell us, “Remain focused, treat it the same way you would do any other match”. If we win, we stay in the Premier League – it’s that simple.’
The players were given two days off at the start of the week and told to stay focused
It sounds simple, but away from the training-ground bubble it becomes unbearable – even for sportsmen who operate at the sharpest end of the competition. Take Tony Bellew, the former cruiserweight world champion, whose love for Everton is second only to that of his family.
‘I’m scared about it all,’ admits Bellew, with disarming honesty. ‘I have the same kind of nerves I had when I was younger.
‘I’ve heard some people say it’s not the worst thing to come down but that’s nonsense. I can’t imagine that.
‘I’m just sick of everything. This situation we are in cannot continue, where we do not know where to turn.’
In Fort Worth, Texas, another Blue finds his thoughts drifting back home. Tommy Fleetwood walked off the course following his opening round at the Charles Schwab Challenge to voice his concerns. ‘I just want the best for everyone at the club and the fans,’ said Fleetwood. ‘As a lifelong fan I want us to get through the weekend but it’s more for everyone involved at the club and those who may lose their jobs.’
For former boxer Tony Bellew (above), his love for Everton comes second only to his family
That puts things into perspective. The boardroom in-fighting, the countless bad decisions and their consequences are deeply felt on the ground, by the fans and those who work for the club.
The idea that Everton could go out this weekend as a Championship club is outrageous but Dyche will not dwell on it. His last statement to the media was not Churchillian but the sentiment of his words struck a chord. ‘I really trust this team to perform,’ said Dyche. ‘We have built a loyalty within the group and staff, which is pulling in the right direction. Trusting each other is a big part of any team game — and there’s trust in that. The glue that holds it together is the work ethic.
‘I have no right to talk about how Evertonians feel and I don’t want to patronize anyone. All they can do, from afar or in the stadium, is come back to us.’
They will do that: from publicans to priests, from students to sports heroes, the bond will be shared. Time for Everton to get off the tightrope. These fans have put up with enough.
The bond around the club will be shared when Everton head into battle against Bournemouth
News/Image Sources: Daily Mail