So it is down to this.
For the third time in the Premier League era, Everton go into the final day of the season needing a result to preserve their top-flight status.
For those of a certain vintage, Sunday’s ‘Survival Sunday’ match against Bournemouth will bring back memories of that Wimbledon game in 1994 and the meeting with Coventry in 1998.
They were tortuous nerve-shredding encounters where Everton stared into the abyss, but just about managed to haul themselves back.
I was a young Evertonian nervously checking the score from home in ’94. I turned down the opportunity of a ticket because I believed I was a jinx having watched the team lose on several occasions in preceding months (given our struggles in the following 30 years, maybe I was right?). Four years later I was sat under those grey, leaden skies in the Gwladys Street end as history repeated itself.
They were two afternoons I – and I’m sure most Evertonians above a certain age – will never forget.
‘Limpar chased by fear - the player, and the feeling in the crowd’
The Toffees were actually in a worse position going into the Wimbledon game than they are now as their fate was not in their own hands. Mike Walker’s side went into the match in 20th place (out the Premier League’s then-22 teams), meaning even a win might not have been enough to save them.
Wimbledon meanwhile had won seven and drawn two of their previous nine games and were chasing their highest ever Premier League finish. Their team coach was burnt out the night before the game in what the police described as “suspicious circumstances”. Had some pesky Evertonians been at it again?
Their away kit was on board at the time but was rescued, albeit, as commentator Barry Davies described, ‘a little smokey’.
To symbolise the changing face of football Goodison only had three sides as the old Park End had been demolished a few weeks earlier to make way for the new all-seater stand. It meant a few brave Evertonians who did not manage to get tickets could catch a glimpse of the match by climbing the trees in nearby Stanley Park.
You will probably know the story by now, but if you don’t, Everton made an absolute horror start (some things will never change), going 2-0 down thanks to a needless handball for a penalty and a comedy own goal.
Anders Limpar, who gave away the spot-kick, immediately won one back thanks to a dubious dive that would attract the attention of VAR had it taken place today.
Up stepped Graham Stuart. ‘He has to score’ said commentator Barry Davies....and he did.
Looking back at the highlights for this piece it is easy to forget just how lucky Everton were in key moments. Wimbledon striker Dean Holdsworth, scorer of the early penalty, missed an open goal shortly before the break and then saw a header blocked on the line by the shoulder of Stuart in the second half.
Confirmation it was going to be Everton’s day arrived moments later when Barry Horne, a battling central midfielder not known for his shooting, buried a howitzer of a shot from 25 yards that flew off the post and into the net.
Goodison erupted – yet it was still not enough. Everton were still going down as it stood, before Graham Stuart buried his second goal of the game with just nine minutes left.
The win was enough to lift Everton out of the drop zone and into 17th place. Southampton and Ipswich picked up draws on the road to secure their safety, but Sheffield United tumbled into the bottom three right at the death after conceding a stoppage-time goal at Chelsea.
Extended highlights from the win against Wimbledon here.
‘It falls for Gareth Farrelly again’
‘Never again’ was the cry after the game. But four years later Everton were in the same position.
This time is was a straight shootout between Everton and Bolton for the final relegation place. Like in ’94 Everton’s fate was out of their hands, starting the day in 18th, one point behind Bolton, who travelled to a Chelsea side preparing for a Cup Winners’ Cup final three days later.
As a fan inside the stadium that day my memories of it are a lot more visceral. The tension was almost unbearable before kick-off as the reality of the situation hit home.
The roof was almost blown off Goodison a few minutes in when much-maligned midfielder Gareth Farrelly smacked a half-volley with his weaker right foot in off the post. It was the first and only league goal he scored for the club.
What followed is what can only be described as peak Everton. They missed a host of chances in the first half but faded as the match wore on, inviting Coventry on to them.
Then, midway through the second half, a roar went up. Was this good news from Stamford Bridge? There were no smartphones in those days so were were reliant on the fans who had brought radios. A similar roar in the first half proved to be a false alarm - but not this time, Chelsea had scored against Bolton.
It was all falling into place.
Out of nothing Everton then had the chance to win the game when they won a fortuitous penalty. Nick Barmby stepped up, but his effort was saved by goalkeeper Magnus Headman.
As the rain began to fall it felt like a prophecy of doom. And so it proved when Dion Dublin headed home the equaliser in the 89th minute.
The silence was deafening. People around me burst into the tears. The crushing prospect of relegation was becoming a reality.
Then...another roar. Chelsea has finished the game off at Stamford Bridge, 2-0. (but not before their fans had begun chanting ‘come on Bolton’ as they wanted to see Everton down).
But if Everton conceded another goal they were down anyway. It was horrendous. The nerves were clearly getting to the players as they struggled to keep possession in the closing stages.
Thankfully, the final whistle went and Everton found themselves on the right side of the line on goal difference.
The fans invaded the pitch in sheer relief. Everton had survived by the skin of their teeth -again.
Extended highlights from the draw against Coventry here.
The fact 25 trophy-less years have elapsed, and Everton find themselves in the same position, is a damning indictment of how the club has been run.
After the Wimbledon game there was a sense of renewal, with new owners, a new stand and still a relatively new Premier League offering hope of brighter days ahead. Remember it was only seven years since Everton were league champions.
After the Coventry game the mood was different. The fans quickly turned their ire towards chairman Peter Johnson, with chants of ‘we want Johnson’ from the crowd that had sprinted onto the Goodison turf.
Whatever happens on Sunday the feeling is that change has to take place.
Wimbledon and Coventry are famous days in Everton’s history, but they are also days of shame, as the club should never have been in such a perilous position the first place. The same applies here.
First though, the focus needs to be on Bournemouth. Relegation is tough for any club but for a team in Everton’s position, with their shaky finances and a half-built stadium, it could be catastrophic.
Unlike those days in the 90s they at least have their fate in their hands. But even if they get the job done the overriding emotional will be relief, not celebration.
Just one more push and we can put one of the most bruising campaigns in Everton’s long history behind us.