You can keep your Fernando Torres ‘goalgasm’, Gary Neville. You can add as many superfluous Os to Sergio Aguero’s surname as you like, Martin Tyler. You can carry on soundtracking Roma’s resurrection, Peter Drury. For on April 19, 2009, Clive Tyldesley outdid you all for poignancy and authenticity with merely the simplest one-liner you could possibly conjure up. In my eyes, anyway.
“Everton are in the final!” he yelled, as Phil Jagielka beat Ben Foster from 12 yards to see David Moyes’ side past Manchester United and into a date with destiny (and Chelsea) back at Wembley six weeks later. Perhaps Tyldesley was just delighted to see the season go off-script, taking a left turn to halt United’s procession to the quadruple. Maybe he revelled in the chance to narrate the victory for the little guy (littler, anyway). Either way, it struck a chord.
Yet perhaps Tyldesley’s words also resonated for another, more pertinent reason; one that serves rather as an indictment of the progress made, or lack thereof by Everton, in my lifetime. This was the only semi-final I have seen Everton win in my lifetime. In July, I will be 22 years old. Essentially, Tyldesley is a lone voice to me; a man whose poetry that day still stands in solitude 11 years on, still an untarnished, if underappreciated masterpiece.
The galling truth of the matter is that that one kick from Jagielka, and the ensuing rapturous celebrations across half of Wembley, Liverpool pubs and living rooms and beyond, is really the pinnacle of entire an generation of Evertonians’ lives as far as football is concerned. With no silverware to speak of since 1995, only the 2005 Champions League qualification can hold a candle to it, sealed with Moyes’ fingerprints all over it with a negative goal difference, nine 1-0 wins and the second-lowest points haul for a team finishing fourth in the Premier League. And even that transpired as a fleeting fever dream.
Of course, even the FA Cup that year was not to be for Everton. Louis Saha’s 25-second opener in the 2-1 final defeat against Chelsea brought about a frantic, delirious beginning, but in truth it was a skittish, jittery showing from Moyes’ side, succumbing to an ill-timed bout of stage fright in the pressure cooker of a 100-Fahrenheit Wembley soaked in searing sunlight. Alas, once more, it was not to be, as only their fourth defeat of 2009 so far arrived at the worst possible time.
But while the David Moyes book on tales of what have been for him at Everton could probably rival Tolstoy in length and Shakespeare in tragicomedy, it was impossible not to feel a tinge of sympathy for the Scot at this juncture. For the last three years he had been fashioning the next great Everton team meticulously, mostly on a relative pittance. And boy, could they play. Think that memorable act of telepathy culminating in Leon Osman’s rocket against Larissa, or that 7-1 evisceration of Sunderland, or how Joleon Lescott proved as prolific up front as he was imperious at the back, with an impressive 17 goals across three campaigns from central defence. Here, though, was the end-game.
Hampered enough by the long-term injuries to Mikel Arteta, by some distance Everton’s most technically gifted player, and the talismanic Yakubu, Moyes and his side never really did themselves justice in the final; that difficult second Wembley trip never quite looking like topping the apogee of the United penalty triumph. From then on, Everton didn’t ever really scale the same heights in his final four seasons at Goodison Park.
From the boiling point of Wembley to the perfect storm that followed that summer, mid-2009 is when hopes and dreams began to feel a little less tangible for Moyes. Tottenham, rejuvenated under Harry Redknapp, would begin to coax the best out of Gareth Bale who, along with shrewd additions like Peter Crouch and Niko Kranjčar, would catalyse their meteoric rise to fourth. Meanwhile, across the North-West, the advent of Manchester City with money was only just beginning, with Lescott and his cold feet rather undermining Everton’s pre-season as a result of City’s unrelenting interest. His protracted move would not materialise until August 25, by which time the Blues had lost their opening two league games 6-1 at home to Arsenal and 1-0 at top-flight novices Burnley. Having seemed so ahead of the curve just a few months ago, Everton suddenly were left behind in the dust.
There have been faint glimpses of revival about Everton since then, of course, though bemoaning the comparative dearth of options to that of Man City as like ‘going into a gunfight with a knife’ in 2011 rather characterised late-era Everton under Moyes. They at least flirted with the Champions League in his final season, 2012-13, and came even closer the following year under Roberto Martínez, with a record points total and the re-opening of the School of Science to shout about, too. Even the embryonic stages of Ronald Koeman’s tenure looked promising. Now they have a billionaire owner in Farhad Moshiri serial winner for a manager in Carlo Ancelotti. But then again, perhaps hope springs eternal when ravenous.
Older relatives have recounted tales of Everton cup finals past so vividly and so repeatedly that I can almost picture myself there by now despite them all pre-dating my birth. Like the time my uncle spent the last 20 minutes smoking in the concourse, so enveloped with tension as the seconds ticked down at agonisingly sluggish pace. Or my grandfather unwittingly departing Lime Street Station for London without his match tickets. Or when another uncle was saddled with my grandfather’s friend, who incessantly counted down every single minute of an excruciating second half. Timeless stories regurgitated because, well, what else would Evertonians want to relive since the heady days of the 80s and 1995?
To that end, it’s hard not to revisit that penalty victory over United in an FA Cup semi-final and feel at least a scintilla of sorrow that this was as good as it’s got in the lives of thousands upon thousands of supporters of the seventh-most successful club in English football history.
In times of poverty, we can only take what we can get, and hope that somehow, sooner or later, someone somewhere will plagiarise Tyldesley’s immortal words.