For those readers who haven’t been to London, it’s certainly an intriguing place. It’s unfathomably vast, hugely diverse and there’s something for absolutely everybody to do. The unwavering intensity of the place means I’d personally find it difficult to settle there, but I love a long weekend or a few days in the “Big Smoke.”
As luck would have it, the fixture calendar has seen me travel to the capital to watch Everton for three of the last five weekends. And whilst each time I’ve enjoyed my jaunt “down South,” wrenching results for my beloved Toffees have punctured the weekend on three consecutive occasions.
After overcoming Swansea in the fifth round and drawing Arsenal in the quarterfinal of the FA Cup, I couldn’t wait to get to the Emirates. All those Evertonians—5,000 in the end—making their way down to North London to take over the ground and get behind the lads. Just one game away from Wembley. Two away from glory.
So as you can imagine, the week leading up to the game dragged and dragged, as it often does before a big game. Even more so when the day before we’d scheduled to go down to London, my office had a power cut and I had literally nothing to do but sit around. All day.
I think the doodle on my notepad from that day probably says a lot about where my mind was…
But I got through the day (eventually) and the matchday was nearly upon us. We stayed at a friends house on the Friday night and talked of the game, a potential day out at Wembley and the prospect of Phil Jagielka lifting the FA Cup.
We even brought our flag with us from our cup run in 2009; it’s outing’s are increasingly rare these days it must be said as stewards can be a little fussy about what you take into the ground, even more so when you try and hang it over a sponsors advertising board.
For those wondering, “The Black Watch” was Everton’s nickname back when they wore a black kit with a salmon sash, the same colors as a Scottish army regiment with that name.
The Emirates stadium itself is pretty spectacular. It’s elevated above street level and looks a bit like an enormous spaceship on approach. As you walk up one of the many staircases towards the ground, you’re constantly reminded of Arsenal’s illustrious history, with statues of icons aplenty and the exterior of the ground is emblazoned with legends from times gone by.
The Evertonians had the whole lower section behind the goal, which equated to around 5,000 fans. As I mentioned in the last column, the allocation had been cut down by almost half following fears regarding security, with the use of pyrotechnics a primary concern. But it looked as though there were a few blues who had adopted a “screw you” attitude.
When Romelu Lukaku equalized Mesut Ozil’s opening goal to make it 1-1, the away end was awash with blue smoke. I do think the pyro can look a bit tacky sometimes and whilst I certainly wouldn’t go letting any off myself, it did look brilliant on this occasion…
It would have perhaps looked even better if Everton had gone 2-1 up, but Lukaku and Ross Barkley both spurned great chances to put the Blues in front.
Arsenal took control from then on, with former blue Mikel Arteta putting the Gunners 2-1 up from the penalty spot. As Everton chased an equalizer, they were caught on the break a couple of times late in the game, and whilst 4-1 was a perhaps a harsh scoreline, Arsenal were definitely the better team and worthy winners.
The Gunners’ supporters will no doubt enjoy their day at Wembley. But on the way out of the ground, all the songs were about hating Tottenham, which was peculiar after they’d just progressed to their first FA Cup semifinal in years. Why not sing about your own team? That’s something that’s always riled me, even with some of our own supporters.
As for Everton? There was one moment that summed the game up for me. After a fair tackle on Arteta by Seamus Coleman, Leighton Baines broke down the left-hand-side. Arteta was flailing around on the floor, complaining about his boot coming off and the referee had waved play on. Everton had a chance to work the ball down the flank and get a cross in with their opponents temporarily a man down.
But instead of making the most of that opportunity, Baines kicked the ball out of play to the fury of the Evertonians. Naturally, a few of minutes later Arteta stepped up and slammed home a penalty to send his team to Wembley.
It was a period that to me just spoke volumes about the mentality of the players; they simply aren’t ruthless enough and that’s so evident in so many different facets of the play.
In the past few weeks I’ve seen Everton at Anfield, White Hart Lane, Stamford Bridge and the Emirates. The former aside, the Toffees have competed and been better than the opposition for long spells in each of those games. But when it comes to the clinch, when it really matters, these opportunities seem to pass them by.
It’s a mentality and an inferiority complex that has seemingly gripped the club for the best part of a decade and whilst Roberto Martinez has done plenty to try to eradicate, but it’s not something that can be shaken off overnight.
For the supporters though, it can be difficult to shake off these sorts of results, especially the defeat to Arsenal. That loss effectively brings the curtain down on challenging for anything of note this campaign. Of course, we’ll get interviews with the players this week about “bouncing back” and “being positive” for the remainder of the season. But the majority of supporters know it’s a load of spin.
In years gone by, Everton have responded well to these sorts of blows because in reality, the pressure is off. So with a favourable run-in and an in-form Lukaku, expect a strong finish.
As for our away jaunts? I’m unsure I’ll be making many more trips this season! I’ve shelled out plenty of money over the past few weeks and with long trips to Southampton (early kickoff on a Saturday), Fulham (early kickoff on a Sunday) and Newcastle (on a Tuesday night) to come, I should probably try and save some money . But I’m sure temptation will probably get the better of me at some point between now and the final weekend of the season.
Next up for Everton are two consecutive home games against Cardiff City and Swansea City. Check out my reports into those games as the Toffees look to get back on track. We’ll also check in with Tranmere Rovers, another local team who I wrote about earlier this season.
If there’s anything you’d like to know about the English football match day experience please let me know in the comments section or on Twitter @MattJFootball and I’ll do my very best to provide a thorough insight.