The autumn of 1994 was not a happy time to be an Evertonian. The fans had only just recovered from THAT Wimbledon game the previous May and already the optimism of a new season and fresh start had been eroded away.
It was hoped that with a full pre-season and funds available to strengthen the squad, manager Mike Walker would be able to fashion a side that would compete at the top end of the Premiership.
Sadly things began to unravel very quickly.
Heading into October Walker’s side had yet to win a game, drawing three and losing six of their opening nine league matches. The Toffees had also lost 3-2 at home to First Division Portsmouth in the first leg of their Coca-Cola Cup second round tie.
The former Norwich boss had attempted to alter Everton’s style and employ a high-tempo passing game. But the team were far too open at the back and couldn’t stop leaking goals - conceding an average of 2.3 a game.
New chairman Peter Johnson backed Walker in the transfer market, with Daniel Amokachi, Vinny Samways and David Burrows signing on for a combined cost of nearly £8m. But it was clear further reinforcements were needed.
What wasn’t clear however was who was deciding which players to bring in. Johnson was enjoying his new toy and personally handled transfer negotiations, even if it sometimes ended in farce.
Late that August, Brazilian international Muller was infamously close to joining the club before the deal collapsed at the last minute when it emerged the striker expected Everton to pay his income tax.
But Johnson ploughed on regardless, lining up a double loan deal from Glasgow Rangers.
Midfielder Ian Durrant joined on a month’s loan as he looked to prove his fitness after recovering from a serious knee injury. Meanwhile his teammate Duncan Ferguson joined on a three month loan. Ferguson had struggled to hit the heights at Ibrox since joining from Dundee Utd for £4m the previous year. His cause has not been helped by a 12- match ban and impending court case hanging over him for head-butting Raith defender John McStay. A third deal for former Toffee Trevor Steven was rejected by Johnson over fitness concerns.
Like the Muller deal there was also a touch of farce over these transfers. When meeting Durrant for the first time Walker had to ask him what position he played in, despite the 28-year-old being a regular Scotland international (further evidence of the disconnect between manager and boardroom). Then on one of his early appearances Durrant’s name was spelt wrong on the back of his shirt (Durant without the second ‘n’). Meanwhile Ferguson turned up to his first press conference wearing a bright red jacket.
But like a broken clock that’s right twice a day, Johnson did get that transfer right - eventually.
48 hours after joining the club Ferguson made his debut against Portsmouth in the Coca-Cola Cup second round second leg at Fratton Park. But the Scot couldn’t make an impact as the Toffees drew 1-1 and were knocked out 4-3 on aggregate.
A fortnight later Ferguson made his Premier League debut at home to Coventry but was anonymous on another dreadful afternoon that saw the Sky Blues ease to a 2-0 win.
Ferguson failed to score in any of his next four matches as the pressure began to be ratcheted up on Walker. Though, ironically, the club were on a three-game unbeaten run when Walker was eventually sacked in the November.
By that stage Durrant had already returned to Glasgow. He was reportedly told he wasn’t being kept on by Walker at a disco at a city centre hotel where they were both staying, another signal perhaps of the dysfunctional nature of the club during that era.
Ferguson, however, was about to take a very different path, thanks to the arrival of Walker’s replacement, Joe Royle.
Not that the then 22-yer-old was helping himself. Ferguson was also staying at a city centre hotel and spent much of his time out on the town getting drunk, including 48 hours before the Merseyside derby when he was arrested for drink driving. With his court case in Scotland still hanging over him it seemed the big Scot was a further headache Everton didn’t need to take on. But Royle thought differently and seemed to understand what made Ferguson tick.
Just 38 hours after being released from St Anne Street police station Ferguson started against Liverpool at Goodison Park.
The rest, they say, is history.