Football: Horne's best and worst of days

Simon Turnbull explains why a former Evertonian fears deeply for his old club
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AS chairman of the Professional Footballers' Association, Barry Horne has reason to be concerned about the demotion prospects of his union members at Goodison Park and Stamford Bridge this afternoon. As a lifelong Evertonian, he could be excused for confessing that his greatest fear lies closest to home. A regular on the Goodison terraces in the 1970s, and a regular on professional duty, from 1992 to 1996, he suspects the old place might no longer be a first- class stronghold tonight. "I do fear for them, I must admit," he said of the Everton players who will be fighting for the club's Premiership status against Coventry.

Horne, of course, has been in their uncomfortable boots. A Huddersfield midfielder now at 35, he was a member of the playing committee which effected Everton's great escape four years ago. So the Welsh international can appreciate the burden onthe 11 boys in blue that Howard Kendall sends out to the Z Cars tune at 3.55pm. "No, I don't envy them," he said. "They have to win just to give themselves a chance. A win might not be enough."

It was the same on the final day of the 1993-94 season, the closest shave Everton have endured since their first-class graduation back in 1954. Then, as now, they occupied the final relegation place at kick-off time, a point behind their rivals. On that occasion, however, they had a treble chance of opponents tripping up and all three dropped points - Southampton in a 3-3 draw at West Ham, Ipswich in a goalless draw at Blackburn and Sheffield United, who were relegated by two Mark Stein goals in the last 15 minutes of a 3-2 defeat at Chelsea.

Everton would have taken the drop themselves, on goal difference, had they failed to beat Wimbledon at Goodison. But Horne and his colleagues won a famous victory, after trailing 2-0 to a Dean Holdsworth penalty and a Gary Ablett own goal. "The fans must have been mortified," Horne reflected. "They must have been thinking, "That's it. We're relegated." But even then I honestly never thought we were going down. We got a penalty ourselves just before half-time and I knew we were going to win then."

Such conviction pulled Everton back from the brink. The less than secure handling of Hans Segers, Wimbledon's goalkeeper that day, has been mentioned as an influential factor. But the record book states that Graham Stuart's penalty, Horne's long-range equaliser and Stuart's second goal, with nine minutes left on the Park Stand clock, earned Everton their victory.

"At the end it was like your best day and your worst day all rolled into one," Horne mused. "It was a very, very strange feeling. Playing for Everton was such a high point for me. I had one thought going into that game. I didn't want to be in the team that took Everton down."

That dubious distinction will befall Howard Kendall's players unless they better Bolton's result at Chelsea this afternoon. Defeat would seal their fate. So would a draw, unless Bolton lost. If they won, they would only survive if Bolton lost or drew.

"Each combination of results is equally likely," Horne said. "You've got a real mixture of teams: Everton, who have been sliding and playing with no confidence, but at home; Coventry, who have had a fantastic season, looking to finish on a high; Bolton, who have had a massive boost in their last two games, knowing if they win they're safe; and Chelsea, who have been the ultimate up and down team all season, maybe with one eye on the Cup-winners' Cup final but playing at home in the final game of the season.

"In both games a home win, an away win or a draw is possible. So I really wouldn't like to guess how it will turn out. I'd like to say it's up to Everton but it's not. It's up to Bolton. That's why I fear for Everton."

If that fear becomes a reality, Horne could at least look forward to a Goodison date next season. We shall know by tonight whether Everton are in the same league as Huddersfield.