This Week - 26 Years Ago

David Hardman 15/12/2022 6comments  |  Jump to last

After winning the FA Cup and losing only 6 league matches in the remainder of 1994/5, and then finishing 6th in 1995-96, their joint highest finish since 1988, hopes were high going in to 1996-97, and they got even higher after their opening 2 matches against the previous seasons top 2. After beating Newcastle, they went 2-0 up at Old Trafford and United needed an own goal to equalise.

Then, typically, Everton wouldn’t win again until the end of September, by which time they’d also suffered their now annual League Cup humbling, this time courtesy of York City, leading to chants of “what the bleep is going on” from the supporters.

After this, they got their act together again. The usual “Everton October” didn’t happen, instead they embarked on a run that saw them back up to 6th by late November, including a memorable 7-1 win against Southampton. A dismal 1-3 reversal at home to Sunderland was a disappointing end to the month, but they reacted with a respectable point away to Ruud Gullit’s emerging cosmopolitan Chelsea side, and travelled to Derby with a reputation as one of the best away sides in the division.

The Game

There had actually been a number of World Cup qualifying matches played just two days earlier, with Neville Southall and Gary Speed featuring for Wales on the Saturday, and then playing again in this Monday night game in front of the Sky cameras.

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The week was something of a free-for-all – teams not involved in League Cup replays could play the re-scheduled game midweek. Most notably, Liverpool’s match against Middlesbrough, a game best known for Robbie Fowler scoring his 100th goal for them in a 4-goal haul, was actually scheduled to be played mid-week in January, but both teams were free on that international Saturday and so agreed to play the match that afternoon instead.

That level of common sense and making life easier for match going fans has long gone from today’s game. In fact, they wouldn’t have the option nowadays, as FIFA or UEFA or whoever would insist that all top leagues take a 2 week break during this time.

Something else to note is that, the following weekend, Middlesbrough, with only 9 available outfield players due to injuries and illness, were unable to fulfil their fixture at Blackburn. They were subsequently deducted 3 points, a punishment which ended up costing them their Premier League status. What must they have thought last winter when so many matches were postponed – while positive C19 tests were a factor, injuries and, best of all, players being away at the ACN, were also taken into consideration when calling off games, often at much shorter notice than Middlesbrough’s.

Anyway, I’m going off on these tangents because I’ve not much to say about the game itself!

With only a few minutes remaining, Joe Parkinson’s long range effort deflected onto the underside of the crossbar. Nick Barmby tracked the ball and timed his jump well enough to make contact with the high bouncing ball, even if it did go in off his nose, and the deadlock was finally broken. 1-0 it finished – another away win for Everton.

In the Sky studio, they were talking about Everton as potential title darkhorses. Their next four matches, over the Christmas period, saw 3 home games, two of which were against struggling sides, and the only away game was at Middlesbrough who hadn’t won since their victory at Goodison in September, during that bad run I talked about earlier. Now, though, that bad September only served to fuel the feeling that the team had got their “bad patch” out of the way already.


Derby County stayed in the Premiership that season, moved to their new stadium, Pride Park (I’m sure it’s got a different name now though), and, with the flair of Paulo Wanchope, Francesco Biano and Stefano Eranio among others, became a top 10 Premier League side. Sadly for them, this only lasted a couple of years, and after 3 seasons of struggle, they were relegated in 2002. They returned to the Premier League in 2007 but suffered the humiliation of only winning one league game all season. They’ve fallen on much harder times since then.

As for Everton - After a disappointing 0-0 draw at home to Leeds (which ties in nicely with my recent comparison between Walter Smith’s Everton and George Graham’s Leeds – I’d like to say I planned it that way!), Everton lost at Middlesbrough on Boxing Day, giving the Teesiders their first league win since beating Everton over 3 months earlier. That's as typical Everton as typical Everton gets. Worst of all, it started a run of 6 consequtive league defeats, and during this unwanted streak, they were knocked out of the FA Cup at home to a Bradford side fighting to stay in the second tier. Just 3 more league wins would follow before the end of the season, by which time Joe Royle was gone. The next away win in the league wouldn’t come for over a year after this game.

I did have an essay typed up about why it all seemed to suddenly go so wrong under Joe Royle. But it’s Christmas. Let’s not go there. In fact, let’s pretend it didn’t, and dream as we did in December 1996 of better times ahead.

Merry Christmas, ToffeeWeb

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Reader Comments (6)

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Phil (Kelsall) Roberts
1 Posted 18/12/2022 at 16:36:24
Sunderland home.

One of the children had done well in the their half term exams.
Treat - we will take you to Goodison.
Sunderland 16th - Everton 7th.
What could go wrong?

Martin Reppion
2 Posted 19/12/2022 at 15:30:40
I was still a season ticket holder back then and only missed one home game all season. You've guessed it, the 7-1 win over Southampton.

Can't remember what I was doing, possibly moving to Lincoln that week with the then girlfriend. That went down the pan almost as quickly! Such is life.

Ste Traverse
3 Posted 19/12/2022 at 23:21:17
Andy Hinchcliffe had been a vital cog of Joe Royle's sides and had been playing the best football of his career under him when he did his cruciate just before Christmas that year in that 0-0 draw with Leeds at Goodison. He'd been playing that well he'd broke into the England team earlier in the season to replace Stuart Pearce who'd recently retired from international football.

For me that was the moment things really started to unravel under Royle when Hinchcliffe got injured. We had a horrible Christmas just around the corner and things obviously got no better in the new year.

Lee Courtliff
4 Posted 20/12/2022 at 11:10:13
Hinchcliffe, Ebbrell and Parkinson all suffered major injuries that season with the latter 2 being forced into retirement and never playing again after that season.

Along with early injuries to Duncan and the complete loss of form of Andrei Kanchelskis, its safe to say that we were cursed that season. And it started so well, as mentioned.

I often wonder if we'd got the last Uefa Cup place in '96, would we have kept the likes of Horne, Ablett, Amokachi, etc? They would have been invaluable when the injuries kicked in later in the season.

Tony Abrahams
5 Posted 20/12/2022 at 11:47:32
I never realised Hinchcliffe had not long been injured, but it was another injury which happened in the Boro game, (Dave Watson, if my memory is correct?) that definitely had a major impact on the team’s season imo.

I remember we drove past the Everton coach near the Rocket, and I can remember seeing Joe Royle playing cards with a smile on his face. I don’t know why, but I instinctively thought back to my Forest days, and imagined what Brian Clough, would have been like sitting on the coach, after just watching his team capsize against a very poor team, whilst knowing he had just lost his best and most domineering centre-half?

‘Bad sign that, I thought’, - I really was a proper football geek, in my younger days - and although I was never truly convinced that Joe Royle, was anything more than a decent cup manager anyway, my thoughts right away were, that this fella just isn’t going to be good enough.

John Raftery
6 Posted 23/12/2022 at 15:40:33
Injuries to several key players wrecked us that season. Joe tried to plug the gaps by signing journeymen players such as Claus Thomsen and Terry Phelan, undermining his credibility in the eyes of Peter Johnson and Clifford Finch. When Joe proposed signing a striker who might have improved the squad, Tore André Flo, they refused and that was the end for Joe.

Not for the last time in the club's history, incoherent recruitment decisions led to continuing decline, a spiral interrupted only during the tenure of David Moyes.

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