Football / Fan's Eye View: Toffees' sticky patch: No. 26 - Everton

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The Independent Online
THROUGHOUT their illustrious 114-year history Everton have spent a mere four seasons outside the First Division. And next year, we could be back there.

There is a marked reluctance among Evertonians to discuss our problems, except with fellow sufferers that is, but now as the season has ended in January for the second year running I feel it is time the tale were told.

Admittedly, we have played well, at times - the 3-2 win at Blackburn was described by Alan Hansen as the finest display he has seen by a Premier League team this season, but overall there has been an inconsistency in performance and team selection that has led the dwindling Goodison faithful to start thinking the unthinkable. What started as a whisper is growing louder with every passing game . . . we're going down.

So what has gone wrong? A team who won two championships, nearly three, in the mid-1980s are now languishing just above the relegation zone. Historically the situation is nothing new. Everton do have a knack of self-destructing. Several championship teams have imploded within a couple of years. The 1927-28 championship team in which William 'Dixie' Dean scored his record 60 goals were relegated two years later. Similarly Harry Catterick's wonderteam of 1969-70 spent the next two years avoiding the drop.

The club has never been able to maintain success, they achieve it and lose it. Part of the reason for this maybe that great players have been allowed to leave while still at their best; Gary Lineker in 1986, Alan Ball in 1971, Bobby Collins in 1962, Tommy Lawton in 1945. Everton appear, first and foremost, to prefer to keep the bank manager happy; the supporters are way down the list.

However, let me concentrate on the recent decline. Much of the blame can be dumped on Colin Harvey's doorstep. For much of the 1980s Harvey was considered to be the real architect of Everton's rise, the power behind the throne. His promotion to first-team coach, coupled with the signing of Andy Gray and the resurrection of Peter Reid, saw Everton rise from 16th place at the end of 1983, to FA Cup-winners and champions-elect by the end of 1984.

When Howard Kendall left in 1987, Harvey was the board's 'natural choice' as successor. To be fair he was the people's choice, too. Harvey was one of us. Liverpool- born and Everton through and through; he heard about his appointment while holidaying with his family in a caravan in North Wales. But his three years in charge were an unmitigated disaster. He spent pounds 13m on players such as Neil McDonald and Mike Milligan while the likes of Gary Stevens, Peter Reid and Trevor Steven were allowed to leave. Kendall's gold became Harvey's lead.

Still, when he was dismissed in November 1990, the majority of Blues felt genuine sorrow for him. He wasn't up to the job, and as it turned out, never really wanted it.

Evertonians can tell you where they were and what they were doing the day they heard of Kendall's return. Few expected an instant miracle, but at least there was hope. Two years on and there are those who are wondering if Kendall's Midas touch has disappeared. True, he has been shackled by the club's financial plight but despite the fact that he has managed to dispose of many of Harvey's ill-judged blunders and bring in his own players, the team is still far from the finished article.

Hang on, the eternal optimist says, he has proved us all wrong once before. Kendall was on the verge of being sacked in 1983 when Kevin Brock gave that backpass at the Manor Ground. But this is not 1983. Then we had a team whose average age was 22.

Sharp, Southall, Ratcliffe, Steven and Sheedy were just coming to the nation's attention while Gray and Reid motivated and cajoled the team to glory. This year's model pales by comparison. We have no midfield, an impotent attack and a good but over-stretched defence, which has been weakened by the sale of Martin Keown.

So, is relegation a reality? Of course it is: no team is too good to go down, but we will probably stay up as the quality of the Premier League is so poor.

The quintessential Everton player is one who is all heart. The Jimmy Gabriels, the Alan Balls, the Andy Grays of this world. Players for whom Nil Satis Nisi Optimum is an inspiration not a millstone. Pride in the name, the idea of Everton. The lack of it should keep the present-day custodians awake at night.

Graham Ennis, editor of 'When Skies are Grey', the Everton fanzine