Soccer

Survival of Everton and Lampard may hinge on creaking Goodison Park | Jonathan Liew


The average English adult in the 1890s was about four inches shorter than today, and perhaps nowhere is this more evident that when trying to navigate one’s way around Goodison Park.

The ceilings are low, the doorways and gangways narrow, the seating evidently designed with the more compact late-Victorian posterior in mind.

But intimacy also breeds intensity. When the place is full and firing the noise builds and never stops building; nothing is lost and nothing is wasted, and if you are an opposition player caught in the din it can sometimes feel like the touchlines are closing in on you.

Of course, and in more ways than one, Everton arguably outgrew Goodison some years ago. Two miles away at Bramley-Moore, a new 52,000-seat cathedral is rising from the docklands, an imposing monument to a club finally ready to shed its past.

Not so long ago it felt like a logical next step; now it feels more like a gleaming anomaly. With six games to play, Everton are 18th in the Premier League and facing the very real possibility that they may be constructing the most spectacular stadium in the Championship.

Six games to decide this and probably a lot more besides. As Everton’s plight has gradually sharpened, there has been an impulse from many fans, pundits and media outlets to reduce this story to a single personal soap opera: one largely contingent on whether you like Frank Lampard or not.

But relegation from the top flight for the first time in more than seven decades would have far wider implications for Everton, its staff, its people and its city. Everton fan and former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher is only slightly exaggerating when he describes the effect as akin to a bereavement.

Part of the reason there is such a sensation of ultimacy to all this is that if Everton fall into the abyss, there can be no guarantees beyond that. The pandemic cost Everton around £170m and over the past three years the club has posted losses of approximately£255m: well over the limit allowed under the Premier League’s sustainability rules.

Wages are at almost 90% of turnover, while the cost of financing and materials for the new stadium has rocketed due to inflationary pressures and the war in Ukraine. The financial backing of Alisher Usmanov, which amounted to around £10m a year in sponsorships and exclusive naming rights for the new stadium, no longer exists as a result of his sanctioning by the UK government.

An artist’s impression of how Everton’s Bramley-Moore Dock Stadium will look when it is completed
An artist’s impression of how Everton’s Bramley-Moore Dock Stadium will look when it is completed in 2024-25. Photograph: Everton FC/PA

The point is that Everton were already teetering on the precipice of catastrophe before their Premier League status came under threat. Nobody really knows what the repercussions of relegation might be. The best-case scenario is that a streamlined, refocused Everton bounce straight back to the Premier League and move seamlessly to their new stadium with a spring in their step and a sense of rebirth.

The worst-case scenario: take your pick from administration, decimation, perhaps even Sunderland-style back-to-back relegations. Rival fans will surely note the irony in a club that was instrumental in the 1992 Premier League breakaway and whose owner, Philip Carter, once moaned about being “required to subsidise clubs in the lower divisions” becoming reliant on parachute payments.

Meanwhile current owner Farhad Moshiri has spent in excess of £600m on the club since his arrival six years ago and for all his missteps and misjudgements remains the only real buffer between Everton and oblivion. What if he decides to stop bankrolling a listing ship, throwing money at this giant white elephant?

The club insists that financing for the stadium is secure, although debt repayments will continue to eat into the club’s finances for decades. But very little else is. In the event of relegation it is hard to imagine a single player for whom Everton would not entertain a decent offer, in the hope of trimming a wage bill that is still the seventh highest in the country.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Anthony Gordon, Jordan Pickford, Richarlison, Yerry Mina, Dele Alli, Abdoulaye Doucouré, Allan, Fabian Delph: naturally some will be more likely to find a buyer than others, and some will be mourned by Everton fans more than others. Some may need to go even if Everton survive. But one way or another, for better and worse, this squad is about to undergo some pretty major surgery.

And what of Lampard? The temptation will be to stick with him even in the Championship given his experience with Derby, the club he took from sixth place to sixth place after signing Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori on loan. But for all the systemic ruin Lampard inherited – a shattered and enfeebled team who had somehow forgotten to pass the ball – Everton were still 16th when he took over.

Will Frank Lampard be tasked with getting Everton back to the Premier League if they do go down?
Will Frank Lampard be tasked with getting Everton back to the Premier League if they do go down? Photograph: Tony McArdle/Everton FC/Getty Images

They have 10 points from their last 12 matches. The only one of Everton’s last 13 opponents not to have more possession than them was Boreham Wood in the FA Cup. Only the most dogged of optimists – and Lampard is nothing if not one of those – can spin this as any sort of progress.

In other words, everyone here is drinking in the last chance saloon: Lampard, the players, Moshiri, chairman Bill Kenwright who remains responsible for … something, presumably. All of which, paradoxically, might generate a certain clarity of purpose. Everton have those six games left. Three of them, crucially, will be at home.

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Enter Goodison. Some of Everton’s older fans will fondly recall the final day of the 1993-94 season, the club’s last real flirtation with relegation, when the Goodison roar helped to overturn a seemingly irretrievable 2-0 deficit against Wimbledon.

Everton have been hopeless away from home all season. It is upon these three remaining home games – Crystal Palace, Brentford and first Chelsea on Sunday afternoon – that their future will rest. It would be both bitterly ironic and entirely appropriate if the biggest symbol of Everton’s past ended up securing their immediate future.



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