Memories of the New Millennium – March 2002.

John P McFarlane 02/03/2020 2comments  |  Jump to last

Despite Walter Smith guiding Everton to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, speculation was rife as to who would replace him in the Goodison Park hot-seat. Smith laughed off the speculation, " I've heard the rumours," he said "once when Dave [Jones] was sat next to me at a match! "A fan came over to speak to him, didn't recognise me, then proceeded to say he was a Wolves fan and was concerned that he was only managing Wolves to pave his way to take over at Everton. "When the fan left, we both had a laugh about it."

Unfortunately for Everton and Walter Smith, the first two league fixtures of March, would help to increase that speculation as Everton could only draw at home to a Leeds United side that had been in free-fall since the turn of the year and who were down to ten-men for the majority of the game at Goodison.

Following the goalless draw, Match official Andy D’urso, was the focus of many an Evertonians ire and particularly that of Everton manager Walter Smith who said “If you look at it overall, and I have had time to look at the incidents on video, it's difficult to argue against us not having been awarded three penalties," "The referee just refused to make a decision in the second half of the game. "After sending Dominic Matteo off he didn't want to get involved in anything controversial. He was quite happy to give innocuous decisions, but anything remotely controversial he didn't want to know about. "If he had refereed properly, he would have made different decisions.

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In the second game of the month at Upton Park, Walter Smith’s charges put in a desperately poor display and quite deservedly came away with nothing as Glen Roeder’s Hammers scored the only goal of the game via Trevor Sinclair. Having had the better of recent encounters with the East Londoner’s this was a bitter pill to swallow for Evertonians as they put off their dreams of seeing their favourites appear in a cup final and instead worried about the nightmare of dropping out of the Premier League. David Unsworth speaking after the game at Upton Park said "It was a poor performance and a bad result. We need to put that right straight away. "We have got some massive, massive games coming up in the league and we have a fight on our hands - a relegation fight - and if people and players think we don't have such a fight they are going to need a slap in the face because we are in it now and we have to do something about it. "And the only way is that you must roll your sleeves up and get stuck in and give it everything until the end of the season. A good cup win now would help."

Despite the precarious nature of Everton’s Premier League position, over 5,000 hardy Blues travelled up to Middlesbrough to help roar their team into the semi-finals of the FA Cup. Those magnificent supporters were let down yet again as Walter Smith couldn’t inspire his ‘troops’ to progress past the sixth-round stage for the third time in four years. Len Capeling in the Daily Post wrote: Another day, another humiliating performance from a team that likes to say shambles.

A disastrous seven-minute spell - which saw Middlesbrough score three simple goals - effectively sent Everton spiralling towards another psychologically shattering defeat. Sadly, for the other 83 minutes of the match, they hardly looked threatening and the terrible damage done to their already shaky confidence could further undermine their chances of avoiding banishment to the first division.

Andy Hunter also of the Daily Post reported that Walter Smith would not resign in the wake of the Boro defeat, despite the Scotsman overseeing just one win in 13 league games. "The fans' reaction was understandable," said the Everton manager, "It was a disappointing result and we are in a bad run at the moment, but I will soldier on. "I have done so before and I will do it again. I will not walk away. " When you are going through a spell like we are going through people will criticise. It comes with the territory, especially at a club like Everton where expectations are higher than perhaps other clubs in a similar situation. "But there are no complaints about that. We just have to handle that as best we can."

Many people including the likes of George Graham were warning the club’s hierarchy to hold their fire on dismissing Walter Smith, they cited the lack of investment in the team and the injuries to forwards Kevin Campbell and Duncan Ferguson as legitimate reasons as to why Everton were struggling to put points on the board. Everton title winners Neville Southall and Gary Stevens also joined in the chorus of backing for the beleaguered boss. "Walter Smith should get a knighthood, not the sack," said Southall "It's laughable that they're criticising Walter when he's spent £700,000 net over four years and got the club out of the mire. "To me it's a miracle Everton are still a Premier League side given what Walter's been able to spend." Southall's title winning teammate, Gary Stevens, agreed. "From what I understand Walter is still very popular with the players.

Len Capeling of the Daily Post, reminded his readers that he saw Everton’s current plight as inevitable: “WHEN I suggested last summer that Walter Smith was viewed by the Everton board as the perfect fall-guy I expected a spluttering rebuttal. But no. For once, there was utter silence. As if the idea of having a ready-made scapegoat warmed them like tropical heat on a winter's day. Nine months on we can see why they need Walter to stand between them and an army of furious fans. Better that the manager takes the abuse. Better that the manager acts as a human shield.” No, on this one, Walter is cast in the role of Bill Kenwright's favourite screen hero, Marshal Gary Cooper. Facing the mob on his lonesome, with the townsfolk - or directors - disappearing as fast as their little legs will carry them. The injustice of this has been highlighted before, here and elsewhere. Everton - and Walter - are imperilled because of failure by the hierarchy to think big enough on anything other than the new Kings Dock Theatre.

Despite the protestations of former Everton stars and title-winning managers from elsewhere, Bill Kenwright and Philip Carter decided to remove Walter Smith from his post. Walter Smith reportedly received a £1m pay-out in compensation for losing his job. Within hours of his dismissal, David Moyes was rumoured to be the hot favourite to replace Smith in the Goodison Park hot-seat. Bill Kenwright paid tribute to the outgoing manager "Walter Smith was and is one of the most honest and honourable men in football. He brought a stability and dignity to Everton Football Club when it desperately needed it most. "Obviously today's decision was not taken lightly, but it was felt it was in the best interests of the club as it battles to preserve its Premiership status."

David Unsworth was outspoken in his reaction to Smith’s dismissal, "I'm speaking on behalf of the vast majority of the lads and we are absolutely devastated. We can't believe that with the most important nine games of the season looming we have sacked our manager. "At a time like this we needed to pull together from top to bottom of the club, but instead we wake up this morning to read in our newspapers that we don't have a manager. "Everyone is gutted and we don't know what is going to happen at the weekend." Kevin Campbell the Everton Club captain apparently shared Unsworth’s sentiments but due to the forwards recent public criticisms of the Everton board, he had been allegedly gagged from talking to the press.

As had been expected David Moyes became the manager of Everton Football Club on Thursday 14th March. Many of David Moyes’ admirers in the media and beyond saw the Scotsman as a young Alex Ferguson but Moyes rebuffed such a suggestion: "Sir Alex is a one-off. But I hope people will talk about us both in the same breath one day."

Bill Kenwright, clearly showing his delight at appointing David Moyes as the new Everton boss "I know we've got a winner and it's up to me and the board to support the manager and hopefully enable him and the players to give the fans what they deserve." Preston North End would reportedly receive between £500k and £1m dependent on which Journalist was to be believed.

Preston’s chief executive Tony Scholes was warm with his praise for David Moyes "He did everything for the club, 24 hours a day. "We parted on good terms and if he ever comes back to the club, he'd be very welcome. "David's the brightest young manager in the game today. He's thorough, hardworking, honest and deals with the players well - all the credentials a manager needs today. "I'm sure he'll go on to become a very fine manager of Everton Football Club."

David Moyes explained why he had no hesitation in becoming Everton’s latest manager: "I noticed it as soon as I walked into the building and met the people. I am from a city not unlike Liverpool. "I was brought up amidst Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers and now I am in a city where football means as much as it does up there. "This is the people's club in Liverpool. The people on the street support Everton and I hope to give them something they can be proud of over the next few years. "I would be lying if I said it would be easy but you don't get these jobs when they are easy. "I am under no illusions about what a difficult task it will be but I am very positive and have great belief in what can be achieved here. "I would rather have the pressure at the top end of the table and hopefully before long that's where we will be."

With only nine games remaining in this most testing of season’s and with Everton’s fate still uncertain, the new manager and his new charges faced Fulham at Goodison. Amid a crackling atmosphere the tannoy blared out, "Welcome to a new Blue revolution". It would need to be a revolution too, as so few Everton league goals had been witnessed on home soil since Christmas, in fact only two. The last being a consolation from the penalty spot converted by David Unsworth in a reverse to Ipswich Town and the other a winning goal against Sunderland scored by Jesper Blomqvist in mid-January.

Therefore, it was with great surprise that thirty-two seconds into the Fulham game, Evertonians were celebrating wildly as David Unsworth thumped his shot into the Park End goal to give his team a precious lead. Just 12 minutes later Duncan Ferguson had doubled Everton’s advantage to the delight of all those connected to the club. Thomas Graveson was sent off after 28 minutes so when Malbranque pulled one goal back on 52 minutes it was the signal for a Fulham siege on the Everton goal as Moyes' new charges held on with ten men. Everton had barely left the edge of their own penalty area in the second half, and incredibly they escaped again with six minutes left when Louis Saha headed against the bar with Steve Simonsen beaten. But the Blues held on to their lead and won three valuable points on a memorable occasion at Goodison Park.

David Prentice on the 22nd March, reported that a £30m refinancing package had been completed by Everton FC. The long-term loan with Bear Stearns International, secured on future season ticket sales, will pay off Everton's overdraft and provide funds for a new training facility. Chairman Sir Philip Carter said: "We are delighted to complete a deal of this nature, as it gives us longer term security of funding and means that we can continue the development of the business and give support to our new team manager."

Everton’s next fixture was to face Derby County at Pride Park. John Gregory the recently appointed manager of the Rams had overseen a minor resurgence in their fortunes but they like Everton were not assured of keeping their place in the top division. The task that faced Everton should not be underestimated as this crop of players hadn’t tasted a league victory on the road since the opening day at Charlton Athletic.

BBC sport reported from Pride Park:

Everton's revival under new manager David Moyes continued in dramatic style in a thriller against relegation rivals Derby County at Pride Park. The opening 45 minutes was a predictable scrap, and a triumph of perspiration over inspiration, between two sides under new management.

Everton tried their luck with long range efforts, but they suffered a blow after 23 minutes when former Derby star Lee Carsley limped off with a knee injury after a challenge by Luciano Zavagno.

But Everton broke the deadlock seven minutes before half-time when Unsworth was on target for the second week in succession. Thomas Gravesen supplied the pass and Unsworth fired a left-foot drive past Patrick Foletti from 20 yards.

And Everton, with a wretched away record and struggling to score goals all season, were in dreamland with two quick strikes just after the interval. Stubbs struck home a stunning long-range free-kick after 52 minutes - and they extended their lead even further two minutes later. Unsworth's clearance was picked up by Tomasz Radzinski whose cross was sliced by Ferguson, but substitute Alexandersson was on hand to score.

Derby boss Gregory had thrown on Strupar in desperation, and reaped instant rewards when he quickly volleyed the Rams back into contention. Everton appeared to have finally pocketed the points with 19 minutes left when another sweeping attack ended with Alexandersson setting up Ferguson for a precision strike into the top corner from 20 yards.

Derby looked down and out - but launched a magnificent fightback to snatch at the unlikeliest of lifelines. Morris prodded home a close-range finish to put Everton on edge - and their nerves were jangling with nine minutes remaining when Strupar was on target again. But Everton survived to leave Moyes with a 100% record.

Derby: Foletti, Barton, Higginbotham, Riggott, Zavagno (Strupar 55), O'Neil, Lee, Boertien, Kinkladze, Ravanelli, Christie (Morris 45).

Subs Not Used: Elliott, Grant, Grenet. Booked: Zavagno, O'Neil.

Everton: Simonsen, Hibbert, Stubbs (Clarke 83), Weir, Unsworth, Gemmill, Carsley (Alexandersson 29), Gravesen, Blomqvist, Ferguson, Radzinski (Campbell 58).

Subs Not Used: Gerrard, Linderoth. Booked: Campbell, Ferguson, Hibbert.

Att: 33,297 Ref: N Barry (Scunthorpe).

A more daunting trip awaited the Toffees in their Good Friday fixture, as Champions League place hopefuls Newcastle United would test Everton’s resolve to the limit. David Moyes said: "To win at Derby was a big lift for everyone. Now we have to make sure in other away games we are very hard to beat. "To go and pit your wits against a manager like Bobby Robson, and people like him, is excellent. It is something I always hoped I would do. "Let's be realistic about it; going to Newcastle is as tough as it comes. "Games like this are what the players should enjoy. They are on a good run but go there as underdogs with no pressure on them. "While I am here, we are not going to talk about losing; we are always going to talk about winning and being winners."

Unfortunately for David Moyes and Everton, Newcastle United over-ran Everton in the final half-hour at St. James’ Park and ran out winners by six goals to two. Andy Hunter for the Daily Post wrote ‘SO MUCH for a Good Friday. Everton may have a new manager but their unerring knack of spectacularly puncturing the positives remains in full working order. Two successive wins under David Moyes had eased the relegation gloom around Goodison Park but amidst the exhilaration the Blues' boss continued to preach caution and realism. Now we know why. The precarious nature of Everton's hold on Premiership survival was graphically exposed at St James' Park yesterday as Moyes' unbeaten start at the helm came to a shattering end. The Blues were not the world apart from Newcastle that the scoreline suggests, but the six goals they conceded illustrated precisely why they languish in the lower reaches and how much of a task Moyes has ahead of him. At present the Scots' mission is all about fighting the relegation flames. But his nine-game learning curve faced a rude awakening in the North East and now, with Bolton to be entertained and beaten on Monday, he must ensure brittle belief is not broken as a result.

For more details of any of the games mentioned above or indeed any Everton match during the last 25 years, ToffeeWeb has a huge array of information and match reports plus line-ups etc just click on ‘Seasons’ then select ‘Past Seasons’

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Reader Comments (2)

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Stephen Brown
1 Posted 04/03/2020 at 20:11:46
I enjoyed that John. A good read and seems like yesterday!

That Middlesbrough game really was dire!

Paul Hughes
2 Posted 05/03/2020 at 13:49:00
Stephen, I agree. I was not at the game but watching in my local. Probably one of the most dispiriting games I have ever witnessed.

Doesn't seem like 18 years ago though!

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