Fan's Eye View: Praying for our survival: No. 78 Everton

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The Independent Online
BEING an Evertonian often means reflecting on missed chances and opportunities. It has meant feeling bitter, self-pitying and righteously angry about so much cruelly snatched away while Liverpool prospered.

Currently, it means looking up the table at a revitalised Liverpool. Last May it meant looking forward to lower division football until the 82nd minute of the 42nd match. Talk about ironies. Wimbledon collapse? Everton fightback? From despair to elation and, this season, to reality.

Everton may no longer be one of the Big Five, but they certainly do not belong in the bottom three. Two horrible sequences of results, one after Howard Kendall's departure, left us perilously close to losing our Premiership status and, it appeared, unable to stop the rot. Nobody was immune from criticism, but the board, for their indecision, and the players, for their carelessness and lack of total commitment, came in for most. In reality though, not even the fans acquired a sense of urgency until the week of the Wimbledon game.

Defeat at Leeds the previous week summed up our season - nice start, plenty of missed chances and a second-half decline leading to the opposition's victory. Evertonians are fatalistic, and many of us believed our name was already written in for relegation. At the same time we were cursing our luck in conceding so many last-minute goals and missing crucial penalties. It was ever thus, and fans like myself have a long list of grievances and hard-luck stories.

And yet there is latent passion, which overflowed at the Wimbledon game. It was an incredible week on Merseyside, with attention shifted from the Kop, exhortations to stand up and sing, shout and help the team battle to safety, to believe in ourselves, to rub Wimbledon's nose in it, to work as a team.

Suddenly, there was boardroom harmony, thousands were locked out and 30,000 lunatics were screaming inside the ground. The game is history - no classic, but incredible to those who watched the side all season.

Why didn't we all get our fingers out earlier? There is a feeling that the board had accepted something less than the best as good enough, as if our motto had become: 'It'll do'. It won't. Fans really care beneath their world- weariness and, like the mother who finds her missing son, may well weep tears of relief before screaming: 'Never, ever, do that to me again]'

New money and leadership is one thing, universal credibility is another, and the close season hardly gave us that. The object of satire from Fantasy Football pundits, to really serious articles in tabloids and broadsheets, we were rejected by all manner of football luvvies and Dahlins.

The first four matches, including the utterly predictable Klinsmann routing, have hardly inspired confidence and point to a fight for survival, perhaps even harder than last season. Foolishly or otherwise though, I still have more confidence in the present set-up than I did in the Seventies. Maybe it's the new stand or the fresh certainty that the crowd can act as that vital 12th man.

Time was, my Dad once told me, when players would turn to Everton's huge clergy following in the Main Stand for their pre-match blessing. I said a few prayers at his grave before the Wimbledon match, hoping against hope that our diabolical season would turn. Nothing will convince me that he and other kindred spirits didn't play their part.

This season will, I believe, require every ounce of everyone's faith, and Evertonians past and present look to Mike Walker to put us back at the top again.