So now to the moment of truth….
Finishing an excellent league season with wins against West Ham and Fulham (both London clubs playing for European football next year), seems like the perfect preparation for next Saturday’s finale in the FA Cup Final.
To the neutrals, the press and especially the casual fans who believe football started in 1992, Chelsea, third in the Premier League and last years champions League runners up, will start as heavy favourites. An Everton team shorn of our best defender, our best midfielder and our best striker seem to many to have a mountain to climb- the final appears to the cognoscenti and the casuals alike to be a bridge to far for any number of sound reasons.
But Everton have been climbing that mountain all through this cup run and were tipped by many to fall at the tricky hurdles of Liverpool, Aston Villa and Manchester United. Everton prevailed and have continued to climb. All that remains is that last assault on the summit.
Again, to those who are casual fans or who believe that football’s year zero started with Sky sports and the Premier league, Chelsea represent the fashionable and the glamourous, befitting their West London neighbourhood. They typify footballs recent convergence of money and hipness, and the heightened profile of the game in ways inconceivable even fifteen years ago. Everton, on the other hand, represent the unglamourous and the unfashionable, a grand old club fallen on hard times, a mirror of their hardscrabble port city, it’s players professional and hardworking and strangers to the pages of the glossy gossipy weeklies.
But real football fans will know the true history. Chelsea’s good fortune, coming in 2003 by way of suspect Russian oil money, has allowed them to compete and add to their solitary championship of 1955. Their tally now stands at three. They have won four Cup finals, one of those since the advent of the almighty rouble.
Everton on the other hand are one of the giants of English football, nine-time champions and five-time cup winners, founder members of the football league and denizens of the top tier of English football for all but 3 years of that league’s 110 seasons. The history of the club is littered with great teams and legendary players and a history of achievement that a nouveau riche club like Chelsea can only envy. True fans will know it would take many years of shoveling roubles at rich mercenaries for Chelsea to construct anything like the storied past of Everton football club.
So what has any of that to do with Saturday you ask? My answer is…..everything.
In my mind at least.
This has felt like a Team of Destiny ever since the draw at Anfield with our loveable neighbours, Liverpool. We were always going to win the replay. We brushed aside Middlesboro and an arrogant Aston Villa and had our day in the sun against the champions of Europe, beating them in a tense penalty contest that will live long in the memories of Blues everywhere. It is impossible for me to imagine Everton failing now at this juncture. I haven’t felt so sure of an Everton victory since we steamrolled Rapid Vienna to win the old Cup-winners cup in 1985.
So I hear you say, you are basing this on a feeling? Sure, what else is confidence if not a feeling that what needs to be done can be achieved. Yes, a feeling and the certain knowledge that this is a defining moment in the history of a great club that had fallen on hard times, a club which has been slowly climbing out of the footballing depths back to the rarified air and high lush pastures of our dreams. An Everton win will I believe represent the end of a long slow seven year climb from the edge of an abyss and the announcement that Everton are back, a force to be reckoned with in the game and will provide the platform for an assault on more honours and eventually, I hope, an assault on the title itself. We have too much at stake to fail now. A win on Saturday will be the only fitting end to a superb cup run, elevating it to the stuff of legend. Like these legends….
The “Dixie Dean” Final of 1933 when numbers were introduced for the first time on team shirts and Dean became Everton’s and everyone’s first “No. 9”.
The Legendary 1966 Comeback
The ’84 Final ends a fourteen year drought
The “Dogs of War” Team in the Famous 1995 Victory