I awoke at about 4am with Everton on my mind, of course, though I actually felt pretty optimistic that we would get the job done. I then went for a long run, got back an did a few jobs around the house before taking the kids for a walk up Thurstaston Common, then to West Kirby for an ice cream and during all that time I didn’t think about the match an awful lot. I was out a fair bit longer than anticipated and when I got home it was 11.45am, and I was due to leave in about 20 minutes. Nerves began to take over and it suddenly occurred to me – I hadn’t been serenely going about my day at all. I’d actually been doing anything and everything I could to occupy my day so that I didn’t think about Everton. And now, in the there and then, I was very nervous as I said goodbye to the family and left the house.

I thought I was smart in planning to get the 12:20pm bus over to Liverpool, figuring I could rock up while it was quiet everywhere and grab some lunch and a few beers before slipping off to Goodison Park. Though the bus I planned to get never arrived, and so the 12.20pm became the 12.35pm, and was very busy. It felt like an eternity for the bus to arrive in Liverpool. At every stop it felt like about a dozen more people got on. The bus was packed and we finally crawled through the tunnel as there was a lot of traffic at the tip due to the Dock Road closure. “Nearly there Stewart” I said to my mate who also happened to be on the bus. “I can see light at the end of the tunnel”. I couldn’t help myself. “I guess that’s a metaphor for today”.

Finally we arrived at The Excelsior on Dale Street where Chris had cunningly pre-booked a table. It was very busy in the pub. I don’t know why I expected it to be quiet really given the enormity of the game. And there was no chef in so no food available. Michael, Ste and a few others joined us while we enjoyed a few beers. Conscious of getting some food into my belly and with time edging towards kick off, Ste and I headed down Dale Street, where Ste got crapped on by a seagull. “I’ve just been shat on by a bird” he said instantly, showing me some splashes on his arm and shirt. I thought that was the extent of the damage though then he showed me the top of his head. It had landed square in the centre of his head. I literally couldn’t have done a better job with a brush.

From my earlier trip to a West Kirby ice cream shop I was able to inherit some napkins which I still had in my pocket and I was able to clean up most of the damage. We then stumbled upon a delightful Columbian street food place called The Twins where Ste was able to finish up his clean up job. We got a beer each, I ordered some food. “I can’t eat” said Ste. “I’m too nervous”. Funnily enough I go the other way when stressed or nervous and tend to comfort eat. Anyway, with that in my belly we got an Uber on to Goodison Park. But if you were looking for omens, we certainly found a few. The chink of light at the end of the tunnel, the bird crapping on Ste, and then finding of all places a random Columbian street food bar (think Yerry Mina) and things were looking reasonably good.

The Uber pulled up on County Road and we walked on to Goodison Road and joined the tail of the organised walk up to the stadium. The atmosphere was rocking. We were inside in good time and the teams came out to I think the loudest wall of noise I’ve ever heard at Goodison Park. It was incredible. At the Park End a banner read “FIGHT FOR US”. The words “FIGHT” and “FOR US” were on separate banners, and while the “FOR US” got lifted backwards and out of sight up at the top of the Park End stand, the word “FIGHT” stood alone. It was very apt. We lost the toss and the players switched ends.

I was concerned about the three at the back system but Sean was very short on options. The players weren’t familiar with it and it showed in the first half, but the effort and application was there. The lads seemed to have a determination about them and carved out opportunities. Stand in goalkeeper Mark Travers brilliantly thwarted Idrissa Gueye, and also James Garner much later in the half. We were doing all the right things, with the only real heart in mouth moment being when James Tarkowski lost possession and suddenly Bournemouth looked in business, but Yerry Mina did well to smother Dominic Solanke and prevent the goal. Before half time word had filtered around that Leicester City had scored. At that stage, I wasn’t so worried about it. I felt West Ham United still had plenty of time and ability to get back into the game, and the bottom line was that if we won we were fine. At half time I was saying to Chris and Michael that if we carry on the way we have done so far we’ll probably win the game.

And that we did, and what a way to do it. Demarai Gray should have put us ahead shortly before Abdoulaye Doucoure’s wonder strike, and I thought that could have been a penalty then also for the push on Conor Coady. Though anyway, at the time from the Gwladys Street view it was difficult to fathom how it happened. The ball just seemed to drop and out of nowhere Abdoulaye smashed a rocket into the net. It was bedlam as we all hugged and celebrated wildly. I looked at the clock finally and panicked a little as it dawned on me that there was still a heck of a long way to go.

Bournemouth rolled the changes though Everton were up to the task and for all their possession, Bournemouth didn’t create an awful lot. I was worried when Jordan Pickford went down injured. I felt he would be OK to carry on, but the consequence of additional time did worry me, and with justification when a whole 10 minutes were indicated. It was unbearable. Completely unbearable. And there were two key moments which could have changed everything. One when Jordan Pickford smartly beat away Matias Vina’s volley; the other when a perfect ball in to substitute Kieffer Moore should have been buried though with huge relief, Kieffer mistimed his run and didn’t take what was a huge opportunity. I don’t think people realise quite how big a let off that was.

Countless tackles and clearances were made as whistles drowned out any other sound around the stadium as we implored Stuart Attwell to blow for full time. And finally, not long after Idrissa Gueye had chased down a Bournemouth player and tackled the ball out for a throw in, there it was – full time. Everton had done it. We celebrated, though my thoughts soon turned to dismay at the pitch invasion. We’ve already been warned against this by the FA and hopefully they don’t punish us too severely. The vast majority that stayed in their seats shouted continuously at the supporters to leave the field. “Sack the board” was shouted around the stadium by supporters. It was a weird mix of euphoria and anger. Everton have to sort this mess out this Summer.

After a little while Ste and I made our way into town and congregated at The Denbigh Castle, where I was joined by some good friends who travelled over to celebrate with us. It’s worth pointing out that some of these were Liverpool fans and some Manchester United fans, but they wanted to be there with me whatever happened. I can’t speak for all their supporters of course but they, and most Liverpool fans I speak to want Everton in the league. City rivalry is important, and something teams like Leeds United and Newcastle United don’t have. It’s a special thing to have in a city.

The pub was amazing. Evertonians flocked all the way down the street and sung the evening away. We eventually moved on and called it a night at about midnight.

On our podcasts we’ve spoken a lot this season of managers, be that Frank Lampard or Sean Dyche, having to find a way. And credit to Sean for doing that, not just in the last game, but throughout his spell as Everton manager to date. He’s faced a lot of adversity with injuries but continued to find a way to get points, and he did it again yesterday. No full backs and no real striker. But he found a way. He’s going to need more help of course, and that’s for another day, but I’m grateful for the fact that he and the players, again found a way yesterday.

Up the Toffees!

Player ratings:

Jordan Pickford: He shanked quite a few kicks but was there when needed. Our player of the season for me. 7

Dwight McNeil: Did very well in a relatively inexperienced position of left wing back. He never stopped working. 7

James Tarkowski: He made one big mistake in the first half which could have been catastrophic but otherwise he was exemplary. 7

Conor Coady: I was made up for Conor to get the final say on the season. He’s had to wait patiently for an opportunity and hasn’t kicked up a fuss. He’s a specialist at three at the back and good on Sean for giving him the nod. Good luck to him in his next chapter, assuming it isn’t at Everton. 7

Yerry Mina: It’s a shame that Yerry wasn’t able to get back out there after the game to say farewell to the supporters. He was colossus yesterday, a real rock. It’s a shame he hasn’t been able to stay fit during his time at Everton. He seems a great guy but we absolutely have to move him on. Best of luck Yerry. 8

James Garner: Given he played out of position, I thought he did ever so well. He was committed, dogged, did the right things throughout and battled through cramp to drag us over the line. Outstanding spirit from James and due to him doing it out of position, he gets my man of the match. 8

Idrissa Gueye: He had his best game for us since his return and was unlucky not to score in the first half. A great effort from Idrissa. 8

Amadou Onana: I found him a bit frustrating in the second half as we tried to close the game out, not bad though. b

Alex Iwobi: He worked hard without spectacular end product though did quite well in flashes. 6

Abdoulaye Doucoure: I remember saying to Ste not long before Abdoulaye scored that I didn’t think he was having an especially good game, and then he turned up with that rocket. It wouldn’t be a last day of the season Everton survival without an outside the box screamer from an unlikely source. We’ve had Barry Horne, Gareth Farrelly and now Abdoulaye Doucoure. What a hit. What a goal. What an unlikely hero. 7

Demarai Gray: He tried very hard and had some good moments but lost his way in the second half I thought after he missed that great headed opportunity. He probably should have been substituted a bit earlier than he was. 5


Ellis Simms (for Demarai Gray): Put himself about and was a bit of nuisance value, which was pretty much all he was brought on for. 6

Reader Comments (6)

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David Bromwell
1 Posted 30/05/2023 at 08:07:40
I love your match day stories Paul, and maybe this season you have saved your best one for our last game. Aside from your individual days routine I think your ratings and summing up of performances are spot on. I am old enough to remember that when the season ended with the cup final on the first weekend in May, we could all forget about football until the new season. Not so now, and what a busy summer we need. Let's hope we get the root and branch review that the Club clearly needs. Enjoy the summer, and come back refreshed and ready to go again.

Jon Harding
2 Posted 30/05/2023 at 10:40:03
The best thing about staying up, Paul, is the joy it brings to you and all our match-going supporters - home and away, from within the city or much further afield, often at great financial cost. You deserve it!
As do all our contributors on here from the wider Blues diaspora who get up in the middle of the night to follow games or watch matches over their cornflakes.
Everton has been a top flight team for all our lives for many fans and we can all enjoy another well-deserved season up there (and on Match of the Day).
Looking forward to your next match report in August already.
Allen Rodgers
3 Posted 30/05/2023 at 11:10:20
Good write up as usual and for me the most telling words were Dyche found a way.
Danny O’Neill
4 Posted 30/05/2023 at 15:53:45
Thanks for the report as always Paul.

I couldn't attend unfortunately due to travelling, but I'm glad I got to throughout the season. I'll do a summary at some point if I can remember half of it!! Very emotional times.

I too, was trying to distract myself as I sat at Dusseldorf Airport. Only the wife kept telling me we'd be okay. That made me suspicious as she has no love of Everton and I didn't want to think about it until I had to.

About to stick the podcast on as I finish off some work.

I have to mention Dyche. Not everyone's choice, but as an outsider looking in, I admire how he has ignored the bedlam going on upstairs stayed focused on what he can control. And presumably protecting the players from that too.

All the best. Now for next season.

Jim Lloyd
5 Posted 30/05/2023 at 20:41:29
Great report, Paul, and you put down the kind of day many Evertonians had leading up to the match (except your mate and his seagull attack). Nerves, dread at one possible end result and just waiting to get into the match. At least we were active once the match started.

You've done a great job at putting into words what many felt before, during and after the match. Thanks, Paul.

Howard Don
6 Posted 31/05/2023 at 20:39:34
Like you, Paul, I found the build-up on the day strange. If it had been an ordinary matchday, it would have been on my mind, but somehow, on Sunday my brain veered away from it, almost as if it didn't want to contemplate what was at stake.

Following an early Sunday lunch, I parked at my mate's house in Aughton by the station. Three of us on the train, me the least excitable, walking up to the ground from Kirkdale, it started to build and Joe said “Where's that loud singing coming from this early?”

Then we hit a closed County Road choc a bloc with fans and the bedlam started as did the churning in my stomach.

I had my first season ticket as a kid in 1962-63 and so seen Goodison in action on lots of big occasions but, like you, never heard The Old Lady so loud as when the teams came out on Sunday.

Last night in the gym, I listened to the podcast with you and Lyndon et al and was struck by the irony of someone saying Doucouré's goal was straight out of the Lampard textbook, arriving late just outside the area and hitting a sublime distance shot. Also not far off being a re-run of Gareth Farrelly's effort against Coventry.

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