Whether or not Frank Lampard’s decision-making on the pitch is right for Everton time will tell, but he certainly understands the fans’ passion for their club and has gone a long way towards channeling that love in a positive manner.
Just a few weeks ago the club seemed stuck in a death spiral that would only lead to one inglorious end, relegation from the top table of British football. However, the manager decided he had to do his utmost to engage the supporters, and they in turn replicated that faith by making every home game (and away trips in some instances too) a carnival the likes that have not been seen before in the Premier League. From sending off the Blues coach from the training facility at Finch Farm with pomp and fanfare to welcoming the players and coaching staff to a smoke-filled melee the kinds of which are reserved for World Cup triumphs, the fans did everything in their power to drag this mismatched bunch of players to safety.
Speaking to the BBC soon after the Blues mounted an epic comeback from two-nil down at the break against Crystal Palace tonight to win 3-2 and guarantee Premier League safety, Lampard insisted this kind of outpouring was brewing, both on and off the pitch.
“You could feel it change in the stadium. My constant fear was security. Don’t let them get at us as they have amazing players in Zaha and Eze. They bring on Conor Gallagher and have been a threat all first half. It would have finished the game. But to a man, the defensive effort... and the quality. Dominic Calvert-Lewin and the ball from Demarai [Gray]. It was a real mixture. The togetherness of the whole stadium gave you the feeling that something was coming. Credit to everybody who is an Evertonian tonight.
“For the owner, who I have good contact with, I am so pleased. Anyone who thinks of it from the outside, he has invested a lot of money in the club and there is a real desire for it to stay in the league. We want to do things right going forward and find a better way. The chairman, the CEO, Graeme Sharp, Peter Reid, legends of this club who have been so supportive of me. And the fans. I am a Londoner, seen as a Chelsea boy, a Cockney. People look and go ‘can you Everton like that?’ and I go: ‘yeah, I can and you know what I will give it everything.’ I am not perfect, no manager is, but I want to get better and better. Hopefully this gives me the breathing space to go away, see my family more - I miss my family working up here a lot.
“I am a constant optimist and a pessimist. My glass is half full and half empty. It is a dangerous game when you feel like that. My thoughts before the game were all the bad stuff. OK, we go to Arsenal, what can Leeds do, what can Burnley do. On the good side it was whether we could do something incredible tonight. I expected the pitch invasion and the outpouring. This is a people’s club and they care deeply about it. There is nowhere else in the Premier League where what happens pre-game happens. It is a huge thing we need to tap into. On a footballing level we need to get better and recruit well. We need to make the culture even better. I will be more forceful about what I want next season. But I don’t want to underplay what these players have done. It has not been perfect but what they have done in the run in is special.”
It was certainly an emotion-laden finish to the game.
“It is one of the greatest moments of my footballing life and career. I have been very fortunate to have amazing times, especially at Chelsea as a player and a coach. But when you feel the feelings and desperation of what relegation brings to the table, it is different. You need to dig in. You lose games, you fight to do something and then you lose another game. People think you should fly up the table and it is never that way. Coming in here three and a half months ago with my amazing staff, positive people who work so hard, and trying to affect things and getting a reaction from the players, from the fans and feeling unity when it looked split. This club is special and I am proud to be manager of Everton on this night.
“I thought I might cry [at full-time], I thought I might jump out of my body. Nobody can question the celebrations at the end. It is easy to say ‘but you haven’t won anything’. You know what, come and work at this club for a few months and see the difficulties and what it means to people to stay in this league. See us 2-0 down at half-time, playing poorly, ridiculous second goal and then see the character they showed. See the fans on the pitch in good heart and spirit. They have pulled us over the line, they have been more than a 12th man. But the players also deserve huge credit. An amazing night.
“Dele was brilliant when he came on. He changed the game individually. We had already changed the system but it was to give a little bit of information. It was nothing to do with a system change to change the game, it was always going to be the players, their character and desire to engage the crowd and make something happen. I can’t take too much credit. I didn’t come up with some new magical tactics. We went direct, but no problem in this position. But we relied on the players.”
Lampard also had additional comments on a variety of players and topics.
On his side’s performance on the night:
“You worry because Palace are a good team, they had no pressure and we had big pressure. The club came together again, the fans were immense. The players, to go out and gave what they gave is something incredible. So much credit for that. It’s not easy when you go 2-0 down. It’s not easy to keep fighting, to keep playing and keep up pressure and go direct.”
On Jordan Ayew’s challenge:
“It doesn’t matter. We’ve been on the bad end of a few of them and my thoughts at half time was ‘I’m not going to complain about what should have been a red card’ because when you play like we played you cant really complain about anything that’s not the football being played.”
On Dele Alli:
“He had a massive role. We brought him to the club after a tough time. I’ll be honest sometimes it’s like we have to wait for you, can you train better? Can you fight to make me play you? Absolute credit to him today to suck it up sometimes. He has so much talent there. What he did was come on with quality, with belief, with legs and energy. He changed the game.”
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Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Michael Keane react to an unforgettable night for Everton pic.twitter.com/N0X12XlQSz
On Michael Keane’s goal:
“It was crucial because we needed it at that time, we needed belief. Michael is one of the best finishers at the club – people won’t believe me.”
On Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s winning goal:
“Dominic was immense, he was the other day against Brentford. He hasn’t been fully fit, he has been fighting back from injuries – people want to comment on that and ask questions because he is a top player. He played like a top player. It’s right for him to score that goal because you get what you deserve in football and his work ethic and staying in the game, what he means to this club and I am delighted. Everything you want in a number nine.”