(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
With the 10th anniversary of David Moyes’ arrival at Everton coming up I thought it opportune to cast my mind back a decade in order to look at the state he found us in when he moved from Preston North End.
In short, we were a mess. And his achievements since should be put in that perspective.
Ten years ago, March 6th 2002 to be precise, Everton travelled to West Ham chasing their first league win since the first week of January.
Manager Walter Smith was coming under pressure from increasingly agitated supporters, who were eying the relegation zone with urgency.
There did appear to be some talent within the squad – the likes of Thomas Gravesen, Tomasz Radzinski. Kevin Campbell and Duncan Ferguson were Premiership class.
But they were surrounded either by tired journeymen well past their best (David Ginola, Gazza, Jesper Blomqvist) or solid pros with all too glaring limitations (Alessandro Pistone,David Unsworth, Scott Gemmill).
Everton lost 1-0 that night in a display lacking in any imagination, or – more worryingly – fight. It stretched Everton’s winless away run to 13 games and left the club a point above the dropzone.
This slide towards danger had been masked by a decent run in the FA Cup, though a top flight team would have been expected to beat Stoke (then two divisions below), Leyton Orient and Crewe – the latter only via a replay.
But just as we are all getting giddy today about a potential semi-final Evertonians were doing the same a decade ago when they travelled up north on March 10 to the Riverside Stadium to face Middlesbrough.
Well, if the West Ham display was bad this was even worse. A calamitous seven minute spell in the first half saw a very average Middlesbrough side score three goals thanks to amateur and downright embarrassing defending.
I have witnessed some poor displays in my time but I remember on the day being embarrassed at being an Everton fan – and I don’t feel that very often, no matter how bad things get.
I left the game genuinely fearful of where the team as heading. I remember having a conversation with a friend on the phone, going through the fixtures and wondering where the next win was coming from – it was that bad.
I had to admit at that point I had not been actively calling for Smith to go. As tedious his football was, I felt the financial restrictions placed upon him would hamper any boss and that changing the manager would cause unnecessary disruption.
But I guess that’s why I’m not a football chairman.
Smith vowed to stay and battle on but by the Tuesday – 14th March 2002 – his four year tenure at Goodison Park was brought to a close.
David Moyes’ name was immediately linked with the job, in fact it seems Everton were confident of making the appointment before officially sacking Smith (something Wolves criminally failed to do with Mick McCarthy a few weeks ago).
The departing boss was said to have recommended his fellow Scot to Bill Kenwright upon leaving, so despite the years of dour football, we can at least thank him for that.
In fact, the swift and decisive way Everton moved for Moyes was a breath of fresh air given the chaos and tedium the previous few years had been to endure.
I remember as a student, sitting in my dorm room, nervously listening to the radio (that makes it sound like it was the 1940s not ten years ago!) waiting for news from Goodison, where Moyes had been spotted arriving.
Late that evening it had been confirmed; 38-year-old David Moyes would take over as Everton boss, with his first game being the match at home to Fulham on the Saturday.
And as if to make the decision feel even more of an inspired one, he muttered those famous words at his opening press conference.
"I am from a city (Glasgow) that is not unlike Liverpool. I am joining the people's football club. The majority of people you meet on the street are Everton fans.
"It is a fantastic opportunity, something you dream about. I said 'yes' right away as it is such a big club."
A huge weight appeared to have been lifted from the club’s shoulders and although there was plenty to be done, you felt as if they believed again.
As Moyes has often said since, some things are meant to be, so when David Unsworth slammed home a volley from 12 yards 30 seconds into Moyes’ first match (I backed Rhino for first goal too!) then we all felt Kenwright had made the right decision.
Moyesie-side (Part 4) Soccer Stories - David Moyes (via onamish)
Duncan Ferguson, who would go on and enjoy a new lease of life under Moyes but at this stage was still a creaking relic of his former self, had declared himself fit again and charged down a Edwin van Der Sar clearance to put Everton 2-0 up. But Thomas Gravesen’s silly sending off before half-time made it a nervy second period.
In fact I have rarely experienced such a tense 45 minutes, especially after Fulham scored soon after the re-start. Everton showed little intent to attack but instead tried to cling on for the points.
Perhaps that famous Moyes steeliness in defence had already been taken on board by the Toffees backline? Either way they clung on for a vital victory.
Released from the shackles, Everton suddenly played with more freedom in the following weeks, the ‘new manager effect reaping dividends.
A six-pointer at Derby County was won 4-3 in an incredible match at Pride Park, while another relegation clash against Bolton also went in Everton’s favour, 3-1.
A 6-2 hammering at the hands of Newcastle and a 3-0 loss at Chelsea brought us all down to earth and reminded us of the teams’ limitations, but four points gained from clashes with Leicester and Southampton secured the Blues’ safety, even rising them as high as 11th.
Defeats to Blackburn and Arsenal pushed the Blues back down to 15th but in all honestly the finishing position didn’t matter, as long as it was out of the bottom three.
Moyes had succeeded in his first remit and had done so more comfortably than we had thought possible.
In fact, Premier League football heading into the 2002-03 season looked a distant dream as we trudged out of the Riverside stadium six weeks previously. And with the Everton youth side reaching the Youth Cup final, with a certain master Rooney in the team, we suddenly looked forward to the future with optimism.