On the final day of the 1993/94 season, only one relegation place had been confirmed; that of Swindon Town. Everton was one of five teams fighting to avoid the remaining two places, and, in a complicated mathematical problem that has seen the advent of the “table as it currently stands graphic”, a win over sixth-placed Wimbledon would keep Everton up barring away wins for Southampton, Ipswich and Sheffield United, but a draw would send them down unless Ipswich lost at Blackburn. Two-nil down after twenty minutes, long, rusty nails were in Everton’s coffin after a disastrous penalty and a comical own-goal – relegation stared Everton in the face after 64 years in the top flight. What would have happened if, on the final day of the season, Everton didn’t do enough against Wimbledon, and only managed a 2-2 draw?
After Hans Segers’ routine save from Graham Stuart’s lethargic effort that could have saw them avoid the drop, Everton are unable to find a third goal and are relegated with 42 points. Riddled with debt, a half-complete, almost dilapidated stadium and a squad full of mainly mediocre players, Everton inevitably suffer. An immediate return to the Premiership is not possible as many of the team are sold, Dave Watson and Neville Southall tarnish their legendary Everton status by signing for Southampton, Anders Limpar goes back to Sweden, Gary Ablett plays out his days for Coventry City and a young David Unsworth signs for Arsenal, forgetting how far away London is to Liverpool. The youth academy is forced to fold now Everton are sitting in the second-tier of English football, and several hot prospects, including Tony Hibbert, Richard Dunne, Leon Osman, Michael Ball, Danny Cadamaterri, Francis Jeffers and a certain Wayne Rooney move to city rivals Liverpool to learn their trade.
Unable to be a force in cup competitions, due to the reluctantly threadbare squad, Everton are forced to concentrate their efforts on the league and do not make it past the fourth round of the FA Cup in 1995. In accordance with the neutral’s wishes, Jurgen Klinsmann wins the cup with Tottenham Hotspur, scoring a delicious header at the back post to defeat Manchester United by a single goal in the final. Duncan Ferguson joins Newcastle United to play with Alan Shearer and between them they combine to score 50 goals as Newcastle race to the 1995/96 Premier League title – Keegan loved it. Ferguson’s place amongst other Magpie striking greats like Jackie Milburn and Super Mac is cemented on Tyneside with a hat-trick against Manchester United and a red card for knocking out Peter Reid in the tunnel following a 3-0 victory over Sunderland in 1996/97.
In 2004, Liverpool, cock-a-hoop without their city rivals to worry about and blessed with what would have been most of Everton’s FA Youth Cup team (Winners in 1998, Runner-up in 2002) edge out Manchester United and Arsenal to win the league for the third consecutive year with Wayne Rooney finishing top scorer.
The ITV digital crisis hits lower league Everton hard and in a desperate bid to get back into the Premiership, the Toffees are swallowed by outrageous debts following the singing of, the then nearly-fit, Kieron Dyer, docked points for entering administration and are relegated to the third-tier of English football for the first time in their once great history.
Thankfully, there are moments that are able to defy belief in this game we love; how Bayern Munich failed to defend another corner in the 1999 Champions League final, how Jerzy Dudek saved Andriy Shevchenko’s header and volley in the 2005 Champions League final, how Jimmy Glass found himself in the right place at the right time to keep Carlisle United in the Football League and how on earth Everton can go two seasons without spending any money on new players.
Everton’s comeback against Wimbledon is one of these moments, but maybe one that was written in the stars given the way the day played out. The events that happened on 7th May, 1994 would not have been predicted, not simply because 2-0 down after twenty minutes breeds pessimistic despair, but because of the manner in which it was done, with the personnel involved.
Four weeks before the final match of the season, Everton’s ‘Diamond’ Graham Stuart accepted the team’s penalty-taking responsibility because none other of his team mates would. At the time he said:
“I can just see it now. We’ll get one in the last match against Wimbledon and I’ll have to score to keep us up – and I’ll be terrified.”
– Graham Stuart, April 1994
During the game, the Tooting native’s premonition came true and he stuck to his word, converting a generously awarded penalty. Lively winger, Anders Limpar, hoping to make amends for conceding a penalty at the other end, ran at Peter Fear and went down inside the penalty box, despite the absence of any discernible challenge. Referee Robbie Hart was convinced however, and awarded the penalty. Stuart put all apprehension aside (he had missed his other previous penalty for Everton) and saw his aforementioned terror nullified as he nestled the ball in the bottom corner. More astonishingly, Barry Horne, the most dogged of the Everton midfield subsequently labelled the “Dogs of War” – known best for kicking people rather than kicking the ball – stepped up to score his first goal of the season. A tap in you might think? Not exactly. A 30-yard howitzer into the top corner, with added curl, away from the despairing dive of the Wimbledon goalkeeper via the angle of post and bar in uncharacteristically spectacular fashion.
Even at 2-2, Everton were going down, a win was needed with several other results not going our way, step up Everton’s hero – Hans Segers. A weak, pathetic effort from Stuart, trickled harmlessly towards the Dons’ goal, Segers could have thrown his cap on it, but instead, to the delight of every Evertonian, he jumped over the ball and let it creep under his body into the net to give Everton the three most valuable points ever earned in their Premier League history.
In the early days of the Premiership, you had to be in the league to get the money, there were no parachute payments, no relegation wage reduction clauses; if you went down, you were screwed and stayed down for a long time. Of the relegated teams in 1994, only Sheffield United has ever made it back, and that took twelve years. Swindon Town sank like a stone and were relegated to Division Two the next season. Oldham Town lasted a little longer but were relegated to Division Two after the 1996/97 season.
I don’t believe these clubs are of a comparable size to Everton, but recent history shows that the perceived size of the club has little bearing on avoiding a long period of frustration and shite football, as Leeds Untied and pre-Sheikh Mansour Manchester City fans can testify to. Who knows what would have happened if Hans Segers had, as he should have done, saved Stuart’s back pass? The FA Cup Final in 1995, Duncan Ferguson’s legendary status at Goodison Park, the youth academy and training given to a certain Wayne Rooney to make him the player he is today (I still like to credit Everton for some of his grounding) all have some small thanks to impart onto Barry Horne and Graham Stuart.
Everton’s boss, Mike Walker, speaking in the post-match press conference at Goodison Park, singled out both players for deservedly high praise:
“People questioned whether we had the guts to stay up and when it came down to it we proved we had it. Graham Stuart in particular epitomised that, by taking that penalty at 2-0. That was a high pressure situation and it was fitting that as a result he scored the winner. Barry Horne, too, has had his critics this season, but when it came down to it, in the games that mattered at the back end of the season he produced the goods.”
– Mike Walker, May 1994
There is no questioning the contribution that Stuart and Horne made on the day, Anders Limpar too, who despite the stupid handball was the one constant signal that Everton might continue their recovery to Premier League safety. A special mention must also go to John Ebbrell, who, when Everton were 2-1 down, headed a goal-bound Marcus Gayle header from under his own bar to keep the Toffees in the game and Evertonians’ hearts out of their mouths.
One other player, perhaps most importantly, had a part to play in providing those goods. He wasn’t in an Everton shirt though, he was in opposition colours, the multi-coloured long-sleeved goalkeeping top of Wimbledon.
If the game had finished a 2-2 draw, Everton would have finished with 42 points with 41 goals scored and 63 goals against. Sheffield United, in losing to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge finished in the last relegation place, with 42 points and 42 goals for and 60 goals against. Oldham, who played Norwich City at Carrow Road finished in 21st place, with 42 goals for and 68 goals against, amassing 40 points. Already relegated Swindon were rock bottom on 30 points, with 47 goals for and a Premier League record 100 goals against.
The Toffees may have featured in FA Cup Finals, League Cup Finals and had memorable nights playing in the European Cup and Uefa Cup in their proud history. But none matched the significance of this Premier League match on 7 May, 1994.
If Segers, either by fault or design, had not let Stuart’s tame effort in, or Stuart had not scored when he did, Everton would have finished on the same points (42) as Sheffield United, but with a slightly worse goal differential. As it happened, the South Yorkshire club were relegated just below the survival line, not to be seen in the Premier League again until their season-long reprise in 2006/07.
All Everton fans owe a debt of gratitude, whether financially motivated or not, to Hans Segers, arguably the hero and saviour of Everton’s 1993/94 Premier League campaign.
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For other insights into what might have been, see other articles in The Butterfly Effect series: