Football is a game that is defined by moments; key points where a match, a career or a season can take a different turn due to a piece of luck, a dodgy refereeing decision or an instance of individual brilliance. For Everton, two moments that would greatly impact upon the club’s future fortunes occurred in the space of mere minutes in that almost fateful game against Wimbledon in May 1994. The first was that goal-line clearance, the second, Barry Horne’s howitzer of a goal.
Industrious, dependable and dogged, Horne was not the kind of figure you would expect to come to the rescue on a day like that; and certainly not one to produce a shot of such power and technique.
As the midfielder himself admits, the goal came at an important time: ‘We were about 25 minutes in and there was a growing sense of frustration. Despite plenty of hustle and bustle, we’d only created one clear cut chance and that had to change. Something needed to happen or there was a danger that the game would slip away from us.’
According to Horne, so much of what happens in football occurs subconsciously, instinctive reactions to the game’s numerous permutations and variables. And this was true of his wonder-goal.
‘I never really thought about it until later. The ball was there in front of me, sitting invitingly and it just seemed instinctive to have a go.’
I was behind the goal where Horne’s 30 yard, half-volley screamed into the top right-hand corner and even as the net rippled, I couldn’t quite believe what was happening. Elation and celebration seemed to occur independently of comprehension. I was up, hugging those around me, screaming with the intensity of a toddler, recklessly joining in with the explosion of emotion that had consumed Goodison. And yet all the time still processing what had occurred. It wasn’t just the source of the strike; it was also how unlikely it had seemed. Out of nowhere we’d levelled, erasing the horror of the first 20 minutes in one moment of sheer, unexpected brilliance.
‘For me, that was the moment my mindset changed. The pessimism that had haunted me since we had gone 2-0 down dissipated utterly from that point on. When Horne’s shot went in (and that has a case for being one of the best goals ever scored at Goodison) I just felt the win would be ours’ remembers Neil Roberts.
At the time of Horne’s goal, around the 70 minute mark, the scores and standings were:
Blackburn Rovers 0-0 Ipswich
Chelsea 1-2 Sheffield United
Norwich 0-1 Oldham
West Ham 2-3 Southampton
‘Despite the celebrations, we couldn’t let our levels of concentration drop. Anything could happen elsewhere. What we had to do was try and win. That aim hadn’t changed since three o’clock’ says Barry Horne.
Although drawing level had only really restored the parity that had existed at kick-off, proceedings felt different from the moment play resumed. Everton clicked in a way that had been totally absent an hour earlier and began to build a head-of-steam that pushed the visitors back.
Alongside this, the atmosphere changed in the stadium too. Had it been a goalless draw at this point or if the teams were level after Everton had squandered a lead, then a nervy quality would have been evident. But the way in which Everton clawed back into the game, displaying the kind of resistance and fight that had long been absent from Goodison, gave the fans an enormous boost, accentuating the atmosphere to the point of near-frenzy.
‘The crowd were amazing and they really spurred us on’ remembers Paul Rideout. ‘They’d actually been a huge help all afternoon. I’ve played at lots of clubs and I don’t know where else you get that? Even at 2-0 down when it looked like the team was dead and buried you had tens-of-thousands of Evertonians still cheering you on, still believing that something could happen. It’s pretty unique. After the second goal though, the noise was just incredible.’
Everton continued to press, carving out a succession of near chances without ever really getting close to manufacturing anything clear-cut.
‘In the closing quarter of the game we were playing with the kind of passion that should have been the case from the beginning. Had we played like that from the start then it’s likely that Wimbledon would never have got a two goal lead. But although there was only one team in the game, we were unable to find that killer ball. It was getting very frustrating’ admits Tony Cottee.
They say that good things often come in threes. For Graham Stuart that particular idiom was about to come true. First he had converted that all important penalty. Secondly, Stuart had cleared Holdsworth’s goal-bound header off the line. And then, to complete the trinity he would secure his name in Everton folklore by scoring the team’s third, final and most important goal. Not that he knew much about it, as he later confided to the Liverpool Echo.
‘Anders played it across and I played a one-two with Tony Cottee. I sort of half-tackled the bloke, then I just heard the crowd roar. I didn’t know how it went in.’
There was a surreal feel to the goal, the moment that the shot crept its way into the bottom corner. Football often produces such moments; almost implausible outcomes that at one point seemed so unlikely.
Hours earlier, when we’d been waiting outside the gates talking about the game ahead, no one could have predicted a result like this. Nor would such an outcome have seemed remotely plausible at two goals down. Stuart’s strike made the implausible real. For the fans watching, the goal was greeted with an explosion of emotion.
"Highs, Lows and Bakayokos — Everton in the 90s" is available from Pitch Publishing from 26 August
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