Everton Football Club: More Top-Flight Games Than Anyone Else

As Everton trailed Bayern Munich by a goal to nil in a European Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final, Howard Kendall famously told his players, “get the ball into the box and the Gwladys Street will suck the ball into the net”. The boss spoke the truth.


Second-half goals from Graeme Sharp. Andy Gray and Trevor Steven crowned a 3-1 win and Goodison’s greatest night, setting up a final against Rapid Vienna in Rotterdam which the Blues also won 3-1 – because in every land and continent (wherever football goes), they’ll play the game that’s Everton, and bring the honours home.


Just nine years later, however, the Gwladys Street magnet was needed again, but for all the wrong reasons. It was the final game of the 1993/94 season, and Everton needed to beat Wimbledon to secure Premier League football just seven years after lifting the title.


It had all changed at Goodison since that night against Bayern Munich, but Neville Southall was still in between the sticks. However, instead of making gravity-defying saves or lifting trophies, he was beaten by a Dean Holdsworth penalty before an unfortunate Gary Ablett own goal put the Toffees 2-0 down inside 20 minutes.


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Graham Stuart scored a penalty to give Everton hope, before Barry Horne wrote his own redemption story after a turgid season, firing home an absolute slobberknocker of a goal in the second half to level the scores.


Then, with just ten minutes to go, the ball bobbled to Stuart on the edge of the box. He struck a tame effort towards goal which somehow snuck under Hans Segers’ arm – some suggest it was foul play, I just call it gravitational pull.


“They can see salvation”, Martin Tyler claimed – but it wouldn’t last long. Just four years later and they were there again, needing to better Bolton’s result at home to Coventry on the final day of the 1997/98 season.


Nerves were jangling and Goodison was rocking, before Duncan Ferguson nodded the ball down to Gareth Farrelly to score his own humdinger on the half-volley – mirroring Horne from four years earlier, as he too was coming off the back of a personally wretched campaign.


Although Dion Dublin headed home a late equaliser (because Everton never have or will do things the easy way), Chelsea defeated Bolton – even with their own fans whistling to let the Trotters bag – ensuring a point was enough.


Everton wouldn’t come that close again. The 98/99 campaign wasn’t easy, but Kevin Campbell arrived to save the day in March and carry the Blues to safety.


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Seventeenth place represented a poor end to the 2003/04 season but they were never in any danger, while a sketchy point in March 2015 under Roberto Martínez had the Toffees only a couple of points above the bottom three before they clambered to mid-table. 


This was all until 21/22; Everton had been left wounded by their own decision making which saw them in a plight of which they might never have returned from – but they created their own antidote. 


Frank Lampard galvanised and empowered the fans to make a difference, putting his own stamp on an Everton side that had won just once in 14 league games prior to his arrival. He’s made mistakes and has been far from perfect, but he presided over six massive wins to turn the tide.


While their own errors made Everton fragile, the blows which left the Toffees on the canvas were largely dealt by the officials both before and after the Englishman’s arrival.


Clear penalties and red cards had been denied all season; Everton were just one of four teams not to benefit from a red card this term, and have seen 610 days pass since their last – the longest current run in the Premier League. They were, however, on the receiving end of six dismissals this season – the most by any team since 2015.


But perhaps the worst of all the appalling decisions was the choice not to award Everton a spot-kick against Brentford on May 8th as it was compounded just six seconds later with a red card for Jarrod Branthwaite after he tripped Ivan Toney, leading to a 3-2 defeat and a day of destiny against Crystal Palace.


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Not quite ‘last chance saloon’ as Everton still had one game left, but there wasn’t enough nails, hair follicles or Birra Moretti in the world to last for three further davs of anguish – they needed the job done on that Thursday night (as the subsequent result at The Emirates showed).


The fans greeting the Everton coach had become a fixture of the Blues’ recent turnaround – with Palace the earliest and most boisterous of the lot. Goodison Road was a sea of blue, County Road was a wave of tinted smurfs who were heading home after getting amongst it before kick-off. It was different to anything I’d seen at a stadium before, and that feeling didn’t end there.


A cacophony of noise, 40,000 people were in attendance to watch perhaps the final Premier League game ever at Goodison Park. Everton weren’t going to go quietly, but then the parallels to 94′ began.


Jean-Philippe Mateta, a striker who Tony Bellew later described on the radio as a ’14 foot freak who had been made in a laboratory’ headed home in the 22nd minute – the result Everton’s lacklustre start deserved. The bear pit atmosphere had devolved into groans and a stadium feeling sorry for itself, as the sinking feeling that Everton had brought all season began to set in.


The Premier League then stuck the knife in again, as Jordan Ayew’s horror scissor tackle on Anthony Gordon brought only a yellow card, with Mike Dean going out with one final howler on VAR to allow play to continue without further punishment.


Just two minutes later, the same man scored the second to twist the knife even further, with a comedy of errors – not too dissimilar to Ablett’s own goal in 94′ – allowing the ball to trickle into the goal


The halftime whistle blew and Everton were staring down the barrel. Once again hurt by the officials, but the self-destructive nature of Lampard’s side meant they barely laid a glove on a team with nothing to play for. It was the reason they were in yet another mess and desperate for someone to drag them out of it. Arise Dele Alli.


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Much-maligned at Spurs, Dele was coming to L4 for a fresh start – but the ridicule continued. Despite not costing an initial transfer fee, the news conglomerates circled like vultures – baying for one of their own to fail by stating he cost the club £40m to add further burden to already heavy shoulders. But there he was on the sideline – ready to be the hero. Welcome to a moment in history.


They started well enough, but there was still little impetus. Dele got his foot on the ball, though, winning a free-kick just inside the Palace half. Vitalii Mykolenko whipped it to the back post where Mason Holgate headed down for Michael Keane. The big defender took a touch before deftly firing in on his left foot to give Everton hope.


He was the Barry Home, the Gareth Farrelly. Everton’s unfancied, half-volleying hero who latched on to a knockdown to give the Toffees hope when they needed it most. Goodison was alive and kicking, with Jordan Pickford making a vital save against Mateta to maintain the momentum of Everton’s push to salvation.


A different Gray from 1985 then emerged from the bench to try and make a difference, with Demarai proving to be a rare bright spark to develop from the Rafael Benítez era, but one who hadn’t managed to score a goal yet in 2022. He skipped past two Palace players and laid the ball into Seamus Coleman whose floated cross found Dele at the back post. 


He brought it down and cannoned the ball into the danger zone, with the ricochet finding Richarlison who forced the ball into the back of the net. If Goodson was alive after the first, it was now a ravenous beast – ready and waiting to go ballistic for a third all over again. 


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Seamus Coleman was on a mission in the second half; he’d pocketed Wilfried Zaha and pushed up to squeeze Palace into submission during multiple forays down his side. He was on Zaha’s case like a flash as the Ivorian tried to break away from just outside his own area, but he fouled the Everton skipper to give Everton another free-kick.


Gray stood over it, as Goodison broke out into song once more. ‘Everton, Everton, Everton’, before hushing into blissful silence as the former Leicester man delivered.


It was a wicked, whipped delivery which avoided the first man, the second, the third and the fourth. The seats of the Gwladys Street thudded up in anticipation, as the ball crashed down onto the head of Dominic Calvert-Lewin.


It flew past Jack Butland in the Crystal Palace goal, sparking jubilant scenes as Goodison Park went berserk. In the 85th minute, the Toffees had encapsulated the souls of the 85’ side – with their three comeback goals this year falling just six, two and one minute either side of Kendall’s boys against Bayern Munich.


For years, people have been sold the tale that the Gwladys Street sucks the ball into the back of the net, and Thursday was its greatest case study.


A centre-back assisting his partner, who controlled and fired home on his weak side. Then Richarlison hit an effort into the ground which had to traverse around about ten Palace players, the Winslow Pub, the ASDA in Walton, Dougie Freedman and Patrick Vieria himself before nestling in the corner.


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All before a man who had scored just once in 270 days won it – the most iconic Everton combination of a number nine and crashing header.


Everton had to survive seven minutes of added time, but following nine months of flying so close to the sun and a staggering 37 minutes of stoppage time in the previous five home games, what’s seven minutes when you’ve spent the entire season looking through your fingers?


As Palace tried to inch the ball forward from their corner flag, Anthony Taylor began to sprint towards the centre circle before blowing the full-time whistle – Everton had survived, with Goodison once again proving to be the ballroom for their own Last Dance.


Many called the ensuing pitch invasion a celebration, but it was more a joyous show of relief; the Evertonians stood by the side of their club and rallied when the players needed them most.


Richarlison did his bit, Jordan Pickford saved points on his own and Lampard’s new-found ability to set up a low block earned Everton points against better sides – but without question, the fans kept them afloat – they had earned this.


It sparked great scenes; Jonjoe Kenny and Abdoulaye Doucouré sung Everton songs amongst the fans, Tom Davies signed shirts long after the game had finished on top of the player lounges, and Frank Lampard stood – arms aloft – soaking in the adulation of the adoring Everton faithful.


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They haven’t always been sure of him, but he’s proved to be an honest, caring and passionate man, who has displayed plenty of potential to become a very good manager.


Evertonians sang and hummed along to Spirit of The Blues long into the night, spending the days after decked out in the Everton gear they had been too ashamed to wear for the previous year. Supposedly, the lights eventually went out at Goodison that night, and as the Old Lady fittingly hosted the club’s 1,878th win in top-flight football, it proved there is still life in the old dog yet.


By: James Pendleton / @jpends_

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Tony McArdle – Everton FC