Villarreal Revisited

Eighteen years ago today (24 August 2005), we boarded a flight to Valencia from Stanstead, in the hope that Everton could overcome a 2-1 first-leg deficit in the third qualifying round of the Champions League against Spanish side Villarreal.

The meagre allocation of 1,100 tickets for an August game on one of the Costas meant that the demand for tickets by the faithful way outstripped supply and we had been unable to acquire tickets for the away section. As luck would have it friends who lived in Valencia had managed to secure two seats in the uncovered stand running the length of the pitch.

Our friends collected us at the airport and took us to the train station where we paid less than €10 return for the 1-hour journey up the coast to the small town of Villarreal, which I have to say is one of the least inspiring places I have visited in pursuit of the Boys in Blue. We enjoyed a few beers in the main square and wandered off to find a local eatery, which we did on the banks of the river.

The start was late and the heat of the day had barely dissipated by kick-off time as we took our seats amongst the Yellow Submarine followers who we found to be friendly and to a certain extent welcoming. We were surprised to see Marcus Bent on the team sheet having seen him carried off at Bolton the previous weekend after scoring the winner.

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A Riquelme-inspired Villarreal were much the better side for the majority of the first 45 minutes, but Everton had a glorious opportunity to make the Spanish side nervous before Sorin put them ahead. Big Dunc headed a long throw on to Tim Cahill who wasted the chance. Nigel Martyn kept us in the tie for the rest of the half.

The second half continued in much the same vein, until with about 20 minutes left Mikel Arteta brought the Blues level with a sumptuous freekick. We celebrated and looking down the length of the stand we weren’t the only Blues with friends in Valencia! This inspired Everton and we started to pepper the home side's goal, Cahill hit the bar and Dunc had a bullet header brilliantly saved.

With time running out Duncan ‘scored’ from a corner. It was probably 2 minutes before we realised that Collina had disallowed it. He said in a much later interview that he had given it ‘for a foul by Bent that the TV cameras hadn’t seen’.

I have to say that immediately prior to Duncan’s header, I had been on my feet demanding a penalty as Bent’s shirt had nearly been ripped off him. Everton continued to press but were caught on the break in the last minute by Diego Forlan and we were condemned to a trip to Bucharest in the Uefa Cup.

I’m not generally a conspiracy theorist but to bring the bug-eyed one out of retirement to replace the guy who adequately reffed the first leg and then re retiring him immediately after and to have a perfectly good goal, that would have taken the tie to extra time, disallowed was just wrong on so many levels and still rankles to this day.

As always seems to happen with Everton, we never recovered from this injustice and have not come close to Champions League qualification since. In fact, apart from an FA Cup Final in 2009 and a decent run in the Uefa Cup in 2015, things have gone steadily downhill.

As always with EFC it was ‘what if’. What if we had qualified for the league stages of the Champions League in 2005-06, would the attendant riches have enabled us to kick on? Who knows?




Reader Comments (6)

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Steve Johnston
1 Posted 24/08/2023 at 15:51:46
Got to be dodgy. How else could UEFA (let alone anyone else) explain bringing a ref out of retirement for one match, then he retires again straight away!? (Did UEFA ever explain it?). Makes no sense at all. Simply cannot see any other viable explanation.
Danny O’Neill
2 Posted 24/08/2023 at 17:30:53
I was fuming that night, Steve. Fuming. We were robbed, there is no other way of describing it.

Okay, some decisions go for you, others go against you. I get that. I wonder how it would have gone if the VAR who many dislike would have been in place?

I totally hate shirt pulling. It should be a red. It's cheating. Whenever a player done it to me, they got my opinion.

Steve Shave
3 Posted 24/08/2023 at 20:52:14
Yes this still rankles with me when I think about the "what if" moments of the last few decades. Nowt wrong with the goal, the bug eyed prick shafted us.

What if Bill had fucked off a decade ago and sold us to a competent owner? Now there's a what if for you.

John Maxwell
4 Posted 25/08/2023 at 02:27:59
I was there ! We travelled to Valencia without tickets and were surprised to find they were on general sale to anyone.. not sure if that would happen these days... A fellow Evertonian got us two tickets presumably making a few euros or two profit.

There were thousands of blues there, probably 10-12k maybe more, it was certainly a sight.

We had a few drinks in the square by the ground when the heavy handed cops threatened to move us all on, so it was time to get into the ground.

I found my seat ok, but a local seemed to have the same ticket as me so I had to move to a spare seat.

It was a great trip and good to experience my first Everton European game, seems a long way from where the club is at the moment.

Dave Abrahams
5 Posted 25/08/2023 at 14:00:21
Yes we were definitely hard done to in that return game v Villarreal especially with the return of the celebrity referee.

But I think the game was initially lost at Goodison Park when Moyes had the team going all out for the winner when a draw wasn't the end of the world. We left ourselves wide open and Villarreal, a very good team, took advantage and won the game.

Moyes, whether he was good, bad or indifferent as a manager, was very shrewd when it came to looking after himself, like his chairman, and became a millionaire while he was manager at Everton and he hasn't done too badly, financially, since he left us.

John Raftery
6 Posted 25/08/2023 at 15:56:15
Thanks for the article Stephen. I remember the date well, partly because it was also my late mother’s 90th birthday. I rang her from JLA shortly before our delayed flight to Valencia.

Being drawn against a strong up and coming Spanish team was in itself a blow. We had not been in Europe for ten seasons and as Dave says we lacked the experience to know a draw, preferably a goalless one, in the first leg would have given us a better chance of going through.

Moyes was often accused of being too cautious. This was one of several occasions in Europe when he revealed his inexperience or naïveté in adopting an attacking approach. Others included the away legs versus Fiorentina and Sporting.

Over the two legs Villarreal were the more accomplished team but we had them more than a little worried after Arteta’s free kick.

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