It had been a long wait for a reprieve from uproar and dissension within the Everton fanbase, as the years and years of stagnation and failure truly took their toll on even the most optimistic of Evertonians.
The supporters and the club had never felt so disconnected as they did the night of the Toffees’ defeat at Carrow Road in January against the Premier League’s bottom side Norwich City who were already nailed-on for relegation. Chants of “Sack the Board” and “You’re not fit to wear the shirt” bellowed out from a truly enraged away end, who had just watched their team fail to win for the 12th time in 13 games.
Fortunately, Rafa Benitez was imminently sacked in a sheepish acknowledgment that he was the wrong choice all around. The club almost faltered again with coming close to installing Vitor Pereira as the new manager, but more fan uprising led to the appointment of Frank Lampard, and it proved to be a unifying decision both on and off the pitch. The former Chelsea man showed more understanding of and a connection with the fanbase in his first interview than Benitez did during his six months in charge, despite having lived a couple of decades on Merseyside.
That really helped rally a level of support at Goodison Park that we had not seen in a very long time. From greeting the team coach on Goodison Road to sending the team off to away fixtures at Finch Farm, this season Evertonians showed what they are truly capable of and managed to drag their team over the line and away from almost certain doom. Pundits across a variety of networks praised Toffees for the world-class support that they showed for months and months even as the struggling team sunk to lower lows and gave the fans little to cheer about. Despite the mediocrity on the pitch, I’ve rarely been prouder to call myself an Evertonian.
A Wake-Up Call
It remains to be seen whether the Everton hierarchy will actually learn from their mistakes, but if this season wasn’t a reality check for those in charge, I don’t know what would be. The club initiated an internal review which they claim has helped them assess the ways in which they’ve gone wrong in recent years, and although I’m suspicious about the methodology and subsequent impartiality of their investigation, I found the recent open letter to fans written by majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri to be somewhat reassuring that the Iranian billionaire has indeed recognized the faults of his regime thus far.
Although news broke a few days ago about a potential takeover this summer, I feel that the current leadership (and the squad) has certainly seen and experienced enough from this season to at least steer the club away from danger before the ownership of the club may or may not change hands.
The pressure now is on new Director of Football Kevin Thelwell to deliver the calibre of players required to make Lampard’s vision for the team come to fruition while balancing the club on the fine line it’s been tottering on with Premier League Profit & Sustainability regulations.
Strength from Survival
At the end of the day, despite all of the utterly disgraceful performances and catastrophic refereeing decisions throughout the year, the club did manage to achieve the most crucial objective of them all: stay afloat.
Relegation would have meant unfathomable trouble both on and off the pitch for Everton due to the current financial situation, squad, and of course the stadium-in-progress. It wasn’t pretty, but we got the job done, and live to fight another day.
For an Everton team that has often been criticized for not having a spine and wilting at the first sign of pressure, we can only hope that coming through the proverbial wars as the squad did this last season will have served as a team-building exercise that will have brought them closer, bonding as brothers and forging a new identity for this team going forward.
As someone who will be making a 5,000+ mile trek to England next season, I am so grateful that none of the Championship matches I attend will be at Goodison Park. Let’s pray next season is a lot more enjoyable to watch than the last.