They pride themselves on being Everton’s first club.
Founding member of the Football League in 1888, same as the Premier League 104 years later. The first club to win the league championship trophy.
There were two unwelcome additions to the roster on Saturday as cold winter winds blew through Goodison Park, English football’s first purpose-built stadium. For the first time Everton’s board were told not to go to the stadium for their own safety, and it was the first time since 1958 that the team lost four consecutive home games.
If Wolves’ final blow on Boxing Day was shocking and then the fury of Brighton rampaging there on January 3, it was the mixture of disgust, frustration and fear that hit rock bottom on Saturday Landed on the famous old course. Southampton have become the latest team to twist their knives.
Everton slipped one place to 19th and are now level on points with the South Coast club and West Ham. However, even with half of the season remaining, there are fears that this could be the start of their farewell to the Premier League.
Opposition manager Nathan Jones afterwards likened the game to the physical nature of a Championship match. What will lead to sleepless nights in the blue half of Merseyside is the prospect of playing in the second tier next season.
The harsh statistics quickly piled up. Everton have lost 10 of their last 13 games in all competitions. Just three wins after 19 league games this season – their joint-fewest tie in history.
Their off-and-on 15-point run, when adjusted for the modern three-point win, was their joint-low all-time. Only matched when they were last relegated in 1951.
Add to that an omen that the fan base is increasingly beset by anger and poison that threatens to kill the defiance and spirit that helped the club overcome decline last season, and there is little sign that Frank Lampard has the money to bring in New players come to help. Boss Farhad Moshiri offered the manager some job security in a rare interview last week, but even that couldn’t stop question marks over Lampard’s suitability; the magic of the tactical approach that worked last season and Clarity oozes in the mire.
How he wished for a burst of drive and confidence. Even solid performances against Manchester City and United failed to provide anything, so a side with five days less rest than Everton before the big game overcame tired legs and won the Carabao Cup on Wednesday ( a disastrous Everton exit when Lampard fielded an over-rotated team against Bournemouth) to win on Merseyside.
Alex Iwobi is unlikely to return to the starting line-up, although that should have been heartening despite the serious ankle injury he suffered at Old Trafford. So should the brilliant Amadou Onana header that put Everton ahead.
But Goodison’s mood began to shift when James Ward-Prowse leveled so easily after half-time. The belief that this game would represent a much-needed turning point began to fade, and it faded faster when Anthony Gordon presented an offensive threat, conceding in the kind of zone that pundits like Ward-Prowse craved. A mindless free kick. The Southampton midfielder made no mistake for the second time, following a slight error in his angle earlier.
Lampard showed up later than usual, apologetic and stoic in the face of the media, which underscored his quality as a person. However, that did little to allay doubts among supporters who wondered whether his appointment would prove to be another dead end rather than the new dawn they had hoped for last season.
Lampard said it himself. He’s neither a “miracle man” nor “the best coach in the world”, but the reason why thousands of fans chanted and unfurled banners calling for change after the game as temperatures plummeted was more about Egypt. The circumstances in which manager Furton found himself forced to work. His roster is weak due to past excesses, and there are few ways to improve it.
The signings of Lampard and director of football Kevin Selwell were arguably the brightest signings against Southampton. Onana was a rare positive in an otherwise tepid performance. It is too early to tell whether signing Neil Maupay from the fringes of Brighton’s first team and Dwight McNeill from relegated Burnley were wise as part of an improvement plan last season, but they Neither came off the bench against Southampton.
Some anger at the Everton board, particularly chairman Billen Wright and chief executive Dennis Barrett-Baxendale, has risen rather than crossed the line of acceptable criticism. The fact that they had to stay away from the game for their own safety led to an unpleasant feeling around the game.
Emails wishing Ken Wright dead are appalling after the club says Barrett-Baxendale was physically attacked after a recent game. Everton later confirmed they were liaising with Merseyside Police over the general security threat, but have yet to make a formal complaint to police about the specific incident.
It all added to the ongoing toxicity that seemed to be hanging over Everton, as did supporters surrounding unused substitute Jerimina’s car when he drove off the ground later. The Colombian came out to speak to them, insisting he would “give his life for the club”. Others, like Gordon, were instructed not to stop, while young striker Ellis Sims, recalled from loan at Sunderland, was desperate to up the fire, and as he sailed through the same vortex, he watched Woke up shocked.
Supporters of the campaign to change what they see as a moribund board stress that they condemn abuse of any kind and that part of their campaign aims to restore those inspirational greetings to the team bus before games that proved so powerful for morale last April. and May.
But this time the crowd cheering on Goodison Road was noticeably smaller, with most fans’ ability to provide blind support withered after Ward-Prowse’s free-kick. Maybe it’s because it’s January and there are still enough games to be played.
Or, more worryingly, maybe the discomfort is building up such a negative critical mass that the synergy between fans and players won’t be repeated this time around.
If this is the case, then relegation will only be more certain.
The frightening thing is that Everton is so fragmented that putting the pieces back together now is beyond anyone’s reach.
(Above: Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images)