As I was leaving Goodison Park looking glum after Everton’s loss to last place Norwich City two weeks ago, a female steward said to me, “it will be better next time.” I responded, in my Yank accent, “I don’t know when the next time will be for me, but it was a pleasure just to be here.”
The woman, who had just heard 70 minutes of the foulest language sports fans can hurl at their team, smiled and wished me safe travels.
Unfortunately, things didn’t get better for Everton in the next two matches, both away from home. The following weekend, we lost to second place Leicester City on a controversial last minute goal. Then, in mid-week, first place Liverpool thrashed us at their place in the Merseyside Derby, 5-2.
The Derby defeat finally induced ownership to fire our clueless manager, Marco Silva. It replaced him, on a temporary basis, with Duncan Ferguson.
There have been better Everton players than “Big Dunc” in the past 25 years, but there has been none as iconic. Ferguson isn’t just an Everton legend, he was, as one of his managers put it, an Everton legend before he was an Everton player.
After being transferred to Everton by a Scottish club, but before he could suit up for us, Ferguson corresponded with Everton fans from a prison in Glasgow where he was serving time for violent conduct on the field. That’s our kind of guy.
Once unleashed, Big Dunc played with a ferocity that endeared him to Everton supporters. Many a center back him found him unplayable.
Ferguson’s status as a legend was cemented when a burglar made the mistake of entering his house. Dunc beat him senseless.
In recent years, Ferguson has served Everton as a coach. He’s more mellow now, but still seemed like the right choice to inject passion into the team’s play while the owners searched for a permanent manager.
So it was that Ferguson, to rapturous applause, led Everton out to play fourth place Chelsea in the first match at Goodison Park since the Norwich City debacle.
This Everton team looked nothing like the one I saw. Ferguson employed a 4-4-2 formation, common in the 1990s, but not often seen today. Defenders obviously had been instructed to clear the ball, rather than to try and advance it out of the danger zone with slick passes, as is the modern practice. But the clearances weren’t to be mindless. Rather, when possible, they were to be aimed at speedy Theo Walcott, so he could run at the left side of Chelsea’s defense.
Most importantly, the players were to contest everything, to scrap for every ball in the “Dogs of War” style Everton deployed when Ferguson first joined us.
Doing much of the scrapping were a pair of 30 year-old midfielders — Morgan Schneiderlin and Gylfi Sigurdsson. Both had looked slow and listless against Norwich City. Against Chelsea, they (and the rest of the team) seemed to have been shot out of a cannon.
Everton was all over Chelsea from the opening whistle. Within five minutes, we had the lead — Richarlison scoring a Big Dunc style header on a cross from our right flank.
Ferguson celebrated the goal as if he had scored it himself.
Everton continued to dominate play until tiring at around the half hour mark. Chelsea dominated for the rest of the half, but good last ditch defending and a little bit of luck allowed us to take a 1-0 lead into the locker room.
Everton came out battling in the second half and Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored a scrappy goal within four minutes to give us a 2-0 lead. Dunc celebrated this one by embracing and picking up a ball boy. However, Chelsea hit back just three minutes later to cut the lead in half.
Anyone who has seen Everton play this year would have feared a Chelsea equalizer, if not a winner, but it never came. Instead, Calvert-Lewin scored another scrappy goal less than ten minutes from the final whistle, and we held on fairly comfortably to win 3-1.
You can read more about the match in this article aptly called “Ferguson inspires barnstorming display to slay Chelsea.”
After the final whistle, Big Dunc calmly walked onto the field, embraced some of his players, and shook hands with the officials. It was smiles all around with referee Craig Pawson, who seemed genuinely moved by what he had seen.
Then, with the crowd roaring, Big Dunc threw his arms in the arm and bellowed. That brought the house down. The love fest continued for several minutes.
I’m not going to say I regret picking the Norwich match for my pilgrimage to Goodison Park, but I think if I had picked the Chelsea match instead, I could have died a happy man.
Everton’s win over Chelsea propelled us out of the relegation zone, from 18th place all the way to 14th. However, we are only two points (plus lots of goal difference) ahead of 18th place Southampton.
In short, we aren’t out of the woods yet. However, my view has been that Everton is too good to down, assuming a competent manager.
But who will the manager be? I don’t think it will be Big Dunc. Asked if he would seek the job, he told reporters:
Honestly, I won’t be doing that. I’m here for Everton and I’m here for as long as they want me here. I’m sure they’re out there looking for their candidates and rightly so — we want the best guys in the world managing our football club.
He also joked, “I don’t think I could go through it again, to be honest with you.”
The team’s display for Ferguson might strengthen the case for bringing back David Moyes, one of Big Dunc’s former managers. Moyes was quite successful before he left us in 2013 for an unsuccessful turn at Manchester United.
Some hold Moyes’s departure against him, but it’s unrealistic to blame him for taking the Man U job.
The more serious case against Moyes is that the game may have passed him by — that his tactics, though fine ten years ago, are outdated now.
But after Everton’s “back to the future” performance on Saturday, Moyes’s tactics look pretty good to me.
Below you can see what this victory meant to Duncan Ferguson and to Everton Football Club.