It may surprise some younger readers to learn this out, but when Bill Shankly retired from Liverpool Football Club and football in 1974, Everton were historically as successful as his club had been to that point. Liverpool had, in 1974, eight championship wins and two FA Cup wins, while Everton had seven championship wins and three FA Cup wins. To that extent, the man that blasted a hole between the perception of the two clubs in Liverpool was Bob Paisley and, by 1990, Liverpool had eighteen championship wins to Everton’s nine, and the blue half of Merseyside have been firmly regarded from the outside as the junior partner in the city’s football landscape ever since.
Since the start of the Premier League, however, it has been that team in red, white and black from the other end of the East Lancashire Road that have been dominating proceedings, and the city of Liverpool is still awaiting its first Premier League championship. Whilst Liverpool managed – until last season, at least – to embed themselves into a Champions League hegemony that they may yet find themselves in again at the end of this season, Everton have stalled and, at times, threatened to come off the rails altogether. There have been occasional high spots – the winning of the 1995 FA Cup and qualifying for the Champions League in 2005, but these have proved to be false starts. In the first ten years of the Premier League, they only managed to finish in the top half of the table once.
In recent seasons, however, they have managed to shoehorn their way back into the top six of the Premier League before dropping to eighth place last season, missing out on a place in the Europa League by two points to… Liverpool. In recent years, they have given the impression of being in a club with something of an identity crisis. For as long as most people can remember they have been agititating to leave Goodison Park, but these plan seems to have been knocked on the head for the forseeable future by the announcement that they are to construct a “state of the art retail and administration development” adjacent to their traditional home. This may prove to be smart move, as it is likely to significantly increase commercial revenues and leaves the door open for refurbishment of Goodison Park itself. It certainly seems to make more sense than moving to a 60,000 stadium ten miles away that would cost hundreds of millions of pounds to build.
In their summer transfer dealings, Everton have had rather a frustrating time of it. Landon Donovan impressed during his brief loan spell at Goodison Park last season, but after his transfer fee rose to £10m the club confirmed that they wouldn’t be pursuing their interest in him, while promising youngster Dan Gosling left for Newcastle United on a free transfer after a technicality left him as a free agent (even though he is still carrying an injury that will mean that he misses much of net season), all of which led to a terse exchange of words between the club and Gosling’s agent, the (you guessed it) former Liverpool player, David Hodgson in the press. Of their four new signings so far, the arrival of Jermaine Beckford on a free transfer from Leeds United has probably been the most significant, if only because it will be interesting to see whether Beckford will live up to the praise that was lavished upon him last season. As at so many other clubs, however, the summer of 2010 has been characterised by for Everton quiet.
The good news for the club is that they are more than capable of improving on last season’s eight place finish. With distractions off the pitch at the start of season they started slowly, but they lost only one of their last fifteen league matches, including home wins against Chelsea and Manchester United. Perhaps Beckford up front won’t be the complete answer to the issue of Everton scoring more goals, but they have plenty of talent in midfield – holding onto Phil Jagielka in the face of overtures from Arsenal was no small achievement – and a solid defence. There are still three and a half weeks to go until the end of the transfer window, as well. David Moyes has spent his time in charge of the club building a squad rather than a team, and progress during his time in charge has been slow and steady. A place in the Champions League might be beyond them this season, but if they can continue to develop, they should at the very least challenge strongly for a European place.
So much of what may happen between the teams expected to finish between fourth and eighth place in the Premier League this season could end up being tight enough for Everton to conceivably challenge for a Champions League place or miss out on Europe altogether. One or other of the other cups wouldn’t be beyond a team of their ability, either. For once, there is something of an air of optimism hanging over Goodison Park as the new season approaches. David Moyes is well and truly embedded as their manager and their team has the splash of quality required to be able to compete for one of the higher places. His quiet revolution could yet come to bear significant fruit for Everton.