Joe Royle returned to Goodison Park in November 1994, hailed as
a hero by the fans and the club he holds so dear to his
heart. Mike Walker had led Everton to the brink of
relegation in just 11 months and when Royle took over, the club
was stranded at the bottom of the Premiership with just eight
points from 14 games. Joe arrived on the back of 12 years of
success on a shoe-string budget at Oldham Athletic where he led
the Latics to the top flight, two FA Cup semi-finals and a League
Cup Final appearance.
The story of how Joe then transformed the Blues almost
instantaneously is legendary. In his very first match in charge
Everton beat arch rivals Liverpool 2-0 with Duncan Ferguson
scoring his first goal in the royal blue jersey and the recovery
was underway. Three wins on the trot put Everton on the road
to safety as Royle's men adopted the famous Dogs of War attitude.
Premiership survival was assured the following April alongside
a remarkable FA Cup run that saw the Blues unrivalled spirit,
determination and guile take them all the way to a Wembley
triumph, seeing off Newcastle, Tottenham and Manchester United to
lift the famous old trophy for the fifth time in their history. It
was a quite remarkable achievement for a manager's first season in
charge and he was lauded as the messiah who was going to lead the
Toffees to emulate the golden period of the mid-1980s.
The 1995-96 campaign was a time of instability and
rebuilding. The superb Andrei Kanchelskis was brought in
from Manchester United but he was to spend six crucial weeks on
the sidelines with a dislocated shoulder sustained, coincidentally,
against United. When Kanchelskis was fit, Ferguson
wasn't available, either through suspension or through
injury. Then, a Glasgow jury found him guilty of assault for
a head-butting incident while Duncan was at Rangers and the giant
striker was to spend three months in Barlinnie prison. In
his absence, the Royle revival continued and Kanchelskis went on
to score 16 goals in 33 appearances during an electric spell after
the New Year.
Unfortunately, the absence of these two stars meant that
Everton struggled in the European Cup Winners' Cup and were
eventually squeezed out by Dutch side Feyenoord – with future Everton boss Ronald Koeman in the lineup – by a goal to
nil. Nevertheless, the side put together a run of games in
the league that equalled the club's run of matches without
conceding a goal and it seemed as though the building blocks were
being put in place.
Some hiccups against the likes of Wimbledon
did enough to derail a challenge for a UEFA Cup place that
eventually went to the wire and Everton missed out on the prized
fifth position on goal difference. Dennis Bergkamp's 84th
minute winner for Arsenal against Bolton on the final day of the season sent the Gunners into
Europe at the Toffees' expense.
Nevertheless, optimism was as high as it had been for years
during the 1996 close-season. Euro '96 came and went but the
expected flurry of activity in the European transfer market never
happened. The names of players like Russian midfielder
Ilya Tsymbalar were bandied about in connection with Everton but
Royle's first foray into the big league of transfer negotiations
bore little fruit. Gary Speed was signed for £3.5m —
another Evertonian coming home to roost — and Paul Gerrard
arrived for £1.5m when a bid for Crystal Palace goalkeeper Nigel
Martyn fell through at the last minute. Martyn,
embarrassingly, was entertained at the headquarters of Park Foods
in Birkhenhead, was shown the way to Leeds United and the Everton
administration wound up with egg on its face.
And it was here that the cracks began to show. The
beginning of the season again demonstrated just how much Joe
Royle's Everton relied on spirit and confidence. The new season
brought three encouraging results against Newcastle,
United and Tottenham
as the team found inspiration in the opportunity to build on the
previous season that lay ahead. However, three consecutive
defeats helped ruin that dream and — a 7-1 humiliation of Southampton
aside — Everton failed to recapture the form with which
they started 1996-97.
Christmas 1996 brought forth only bad tidings. Andy
Hinchcliffe, Kanchelskis, Watson, Short, Parkinson, Grant and
Ebbrell were all on the treatment table and a run of 7 games
without a win between 23 December and 1 February, with an
embarrassing 3-2 defeat at home to Bradford
in the FA Cup thrown in for good measure, placed serious question
marks over Joe's ability to lead his side out of its crisis.
Failed bids for players like Carlton Palmer did little to inspire
confidence and the performances deviated all too rarely from the
route-one style of play that ultimately led to dissipation of the
The 2-0 defeat by Manchester
United in a match the Blues had dominated so overwhelmingly
was the last straw for many Evertonians who had previously
supported Royle to the hilt. Perhaps the writing was finally
on the wall and it took a disagreement with the chairman over
transfers to make up Joe's mind that perhaps his time had come.
History has it that Peter Johnson refused to sanction the signing of
Norwegian defender Claus Eftevaag — ostensibly a makeweight in a
larger deal to acquire his striking compatriot Tore Andre Flo —
after Flo himself turned down the move at the last minute.
His ultimatum to Royle had the obvious consequence of the
Johnson's view of this crucial episode was that, as the
season continued, it was clear that Joe was getting panicky.
While Joe had managed the club, Johnson had never questioned any
of his signings but, just before the March 1997 transfer deadline,
Royle informed Johnson that he wanted to sign Flo.
In order to do so, he had to sign Eftevaag who was somewhat
older and would cost £2m. Crucially, this all involved the
Norwegian Agent that led to George Graham's demise at Arsenal...
Flo was playing for Norway at the Confederation Cup in Dubai
and there would have been a real rush to get him signed before the
deadline for £4m. Eftevaag failed a medical, but Royle
still wanted to sign him as he really wanted Flo. So, faced
with the guaranteed signing of a potentially unfit player and the
non-guarantee of signing Flo, Johnson refused Royle for the first
Royle was shocked, walked out and came back 30 minutes later to
resign. Johnson reluctantly accepted, later admitting that
if he had persuaded him to stay, the club might have been
Royle's managerial legacy at Goodison will always be the
dramatic fashion in which he turned a team from relegation
certainties to top-6 challengers for Europe and, of course, the
single trophy that Everton won in the 1990s.
Had his squad not been decimated by injuries in late 1996, who
knows what might have happened, but fate intervened and Royle
seemingly lost the plot. Dave Watson assumed temporary control and
arrested the slide towards Division One and Joe went on to guide
Manchester City from the Second Division to the Premiership in two
seasons after a short spell away from football.
Royle would ultimately return home to Everton in a coaching and player-development capacity in 2014 where he worked alongside one of his former players, David Unsworth, and would co-manage the first team one final time, again at Unsworth's side, for the final match of the 2015-16 campaign following the dismissal of Roberto Martinez.
Second Division Championship – 1991
League Cup Final – 1990
FA Cup Semi-Finals – 1990, 1994
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* Everton deducted 10 points for PSR breachView full table