The fourth bridge

Was Everton’s success was all down to David Moyes’s singing skills? Mark O'Brien explains how a warble in an American bar last summer became a song for Europe

Everton fans can be forgive a wry smile when the supporters of teams obsessed with playing in Europe use participation in the UEFA Cup or the Champions League as an explanation for their club’s poor performance in the Premiership. Or, to be more precise, why their club finished below Everton at the end of the 2004-05 season.

All season, fans of Middlesbrough, Newcastle and Liverpool, big spenders last summer, predicted the bursting of bubbles at Goodison Park, but to no avail. Their progress, and also that of Bolton Wanderers, has made fools of the likes of David O’Leary and Graeme Souness, who continually claim that without huge wads of cash to blow on players then it’s almost pointless even trying to compete in England’s top flight.

In fairness to the Blues’ detractors, and there have been plenty, not even the staunchest Evertonian envisaged the season panning out the way it did. Back in the summer of 2004 the club were in turmoil following a 17th-place finish and there were widely reported divisions in both the dressing room and among the major shareholders.

There are several incidents that have been cited as turning points, such as the purchase of Tim Cahill or even the dithering by Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni that led to an equalising penalty at Selhurst Park in the second game of the season. But the one that has gone down in folklore, alongside the Kevin Brock backpass in a League Cup tie at Oxford that launched the golden era of the mid-1980s, was a karaoke session on the club’s pre-season tour of the United States where everyone had to do a turn, including David Moyes. Team-building exercises in foreign climes can backfire, as Leicester once found to their cost, but this shindig apparently helped to thaw relations between the somewhat authoritarian manager and senior players, such as Alan Stubbs, David Weir and Duncan Ferguson, who had voiced their displeasure with his hard-line approach whenever things went wrong during the previous season.

Moyes’s summer will be far more enjoyable than the last one, with European competition likely to attract players who previously wrinkled their noses at an inquiry from Goodison; the club even failed with a bid for Paul Dickov this time last year. However, he will also have to confront raised expectations while making improvements to a close-knit group of players. Joe Royle encountered something similar after he led his “Dogs of War” to FA Cup victory in 1995.

The one area where Evertonians may entertain some doubts about their manager is over his judgement when he has a few bob to spend. Relative bargains such as Cahill, Nigel Martyn and Marcus Bent have done wonders for the club, but record signing James Beattie has thus far contributed one league goal, one butt on an opponent and two tabloid incidents, while Richard Wright is another big buy who has failed to impress (and did little to help his cause in conceding ten goals in the last two matches of the season). Moyes will be hoping for much better from Simon Davies, Scott Parker or any of the sundry Scandinavians with whom the club are now being linked.

So, while Evertonians are looking forward to a long overdue European tour, they understand that what happened last season only represents the first step on the road to recovery. But if last season does prove to be just a one-off, we can always blame it on the rigours of playing all those extra midweek games.

From WSC 221 July 2005. What was happening this month