Everton Classics: The Nervous 90s Part 2!

"Part 2 coming soon!"

I said optimistically – six months ago.

For one reason or another Everton: Classics has been on ice for a while. But with a new season comes new motivation to revisit Everton’s history.

So, without further ado we will concentrate on the second half on the 1990s. Picking up where we left off at the start of the 1994/95 season…

With Peter Johnson now chairman, a new stand behind the Park End goal and a World Cup striker – Daniel Amokachi - on the field, spirits were high going into the 1994/95 season.

However, things would not go according to plan for manager Mike Walker, who was en route to becoming the club’s most unsuccessful manager ever.

After two defeats from their opening three games the club hit the foot of the table in late August and would stay there for three months. Any optimism generated over the summer had dissipated and there were genuine fears that the club would be cut adrift at the bottom of the table. With the league reducing from 22 to 20 teams the following year, four teams were to go down, making Everton’s situation even more perilous. Walker was sacked at the start of November, ironically just a week after the club picked up their first three points of the season.

Enter Joe Royle, an Everton legend as a player and soon to be legend as a manager. His first game, fittingly, was against Liverpool on a cold Monday night in November, where a certain Duncan Ferguson netted his first goal for the club in a 2-0 win.

Three wins in his opening three games would set the tone for a remarkable turnaround that culminated not only in Premier League safety but a remarkable run in the FA Cup.

Solid defence was at the heart of their run in football’s oldest knock-out competition. Derby County were beaten 1-0 at Goodison in round three before the Toffees nudged past Bristol City at a muddy Ashton Gate to reach round five. It was there that the run gained momentum. Norwich were smashed 5-0 at Goodison before Newcastle were narrowly beaten in a nervy quarter-final.

Spurs awaited in the semi-final, to be played at Leeds’ Elland Road. The pundits were already talking of a ‘dream final’ involving Tottenham and Manchester United, who were playing Crystal palace in the other semi.

Well, that only served as a red rag to a bull (or is that blue rag?) as Everton turned in their finest performance of the season, and arguably Royle’s reign, to blitz the Londoners 4-1.

Daniel Amokachi became an unlikely hero with two goals but it was more about how he entered the pitch that made it unusual. With Paul Rideout receiving treatment on the other side of the pitch, manager Royle wanted to wait a few minutes to see whether he would recover. Amokachi though wasn’t having any of that and wandered onto the pitch regardless!

The rest, they say, is history.

Then, on a cloudy day at Wembley, Paul Rideout nodded home the only goal midway through the first half to upset the odds, surprise the pundits and secure Everton their fifth FA Cup.

Once again, it was meant to start a whole new era and to be fair the 1995/96 showed significant progress. New signing Andrei Kanchelskis became an instant hero with two goals at Anfield and a total haul of 16 from midfield contributed to a dynamic and exciting team that finished sixth – good enough for Europe most seasons but not, unfortunately, on this occasion.

Everton were tipped as Premier League dark horses at the start of the 1996/97 season, and a win over Newcastle – complete with record signing Alan Shearer – and a draw Old Trafford raised expectation levels.

However, in true Everton style things went badly wrong very quickly, and I’m still not sure how or why to this day.

From being sixth in December a mid-season injury crisis saw Everton plunge down the table and by March Royle was gone, amid rumours of a disagreement with Peter Johnson over transfers. Defender and captain Dave Watson took over the reigns to see us to safety, achieved with barely a game to spare.

The decline was even more rapid in the summer. Johnson dallied over who to appoint as manager, and with no new players coming in the club stagnated. Former player and manager Howard Kendall eventually took the job but it was only because there was no-one else left who would take it.

The optimism from the year before had gone and Kendall set about spending what little money he had on distinctly average players. The result was a tortuously bad season that saw the club drop into the relegation zone on the penultimate weekend of the season.

With Bolton Wanderers travelling to Chelsea on the final day and sat one point above Everton, the Toffees knew they had to better Bolton’s result to stay up. Things started well on a soggy, frantic day at Goodison Park, with Gareth Farrelly (one of the most average players to ever wear a blue shirt but ultimately one of the most memorable) half-volleyed us into the lead.

As these were the days before iphones and blackberrys we were reliant on good old transistor radios for updates on the Chelsea/Bolton game, with a huge cheer reverberating around the ground when the news filtered through that Chelsea had scored midway through the second half. In the final minutes Dion Dublin nodded home the equaliser to leave us all on tenterhooks – a goal for either Coventry or Bolton would send us down.

Thankfully, the only other goal came for Chelsea, confirming a 2-0 win for the Londoners and keeping the Blues up on goal difference.

"Never again," was the sound from the board, again.

For the fans though they had had enough. The post-match pitch invasion following the Coventry game turned ugly with fans chanting ‘we want Johnson out’ towards the boardroom. He wouldn’t leave – yet, as he had a few more tricks up his sleeve.

The first was appointing Rangers manager Walter Smith as boss. It was something of a coup for Everton and immediately filled the fans with excitement. And when stars such as John Collins, Marco Materazzi and Olivier Dacourt signed on, once again expectations shot through the roof.

But things (again, I’m sounding like a broken record) didn’t go quite to plan. The clubs struggled to score, especially in front of their own fans, and another new signing Ibrahima Bakayoko failed to be as good as he was on Championship Manager (annoying).

Then, a turning point. On a Monday night on November, while Everton were beating Newcastle 1-0, Peter Johnson was negotiating the sale of cult hero Duncan Ferguson to the Magpies. It had become apparent that the spending spree Johnson had commissioned over the summer was on borrowed money, and the banks wanted some of it back.

A furious Walter Smith threatened to resign, with the fans initially pointing the finger of blame to towards him. It proved the final straw for Johnson and he would be gone within a year.

First of all though was another relegation battle, only rescued by the loan signing of ‘super’ Kevin Campbell. The former Arsenal striker signed on loan from Turkish side Trabzonspor and immediately became a Goodison hero.

He hit eight goals in nine games, forming a deadly partnership with young striker Francis Jeffers in the process, to drag Everton to safety with two games to spare.

Campbell completed a £3million permanent move to the club over the summer, but with finances tight, the likes of Bakayoko, Dacourt and Materazzi all left.

But, the new streamlined team initially appeared to prosper. The likes of Nicky Barmby and Don Hutchison found some of the best form of their careers in a side that finally competed at the right end of the table again.

On Boxing Day 1999 Everton smashed Sunderland 5-0 and after the game Bill Kenwright confirmed his take-over of the club. With Johnson gone and Everton in the top half of the table, Everton entered the new Millennium with that familiar feeling or hopeful optimism.

You know what happened next right?

Next up: Into the Millennium.

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