Thus, with Tottenham ready to embark on a Champions League venture, and Huddlestone’s words lingering, my mind wandered off to my club – yep, the last club to break the so called ‘big four monopoly’ – and our apparently precautionary example. So let me offer the chilling tale, the forlorn fable, the eerie parable (yeah, yeah, you get the idea) of our Champions League campaign.
Indeed, whilst Huddlestone’s ‘don’t do an Everton’ warning left me feeling a little defensive (‘oh aye, you cheeky little tyke, don’t go using my club as a base point for avoidance’, etcetera), the season following our fourth place finish was, admittedly, not a particularly successful one.
In 2004/05, and having finished 17th the previous year, messiah Moyes led us to an impressive fourth place finish and thus the pleasure of Champions League football. Just getting there is clearly a great achievement; the modern game being so markedly against anyone breaking the status quo, with everything seemingly supporting the increasing disjuncture and structural discrepancy of the Premier League. On such a scant budget, Moyes’ achievements were admirable, but without the opportunity for vast squad strengthening the next season was always going to be tough…
The 2005/06 season saw Everton knocked-out of Champions League at the qualifying stage (before the group stages and ‘tournament proper’), dumped of the UEFA Cup in September, and struggling at the wrong end of the table for the first half of the season. Luckily a strong second half to the season proved sufficient, and we eventually finished in mid-table.
The draw for both the European tournaments proved particularly difficult and unfortunate. Villarreal, the Champions League opponents, beat us 2-1 at Goodison, but the tie was still ‘on’ for the return leg in Spain. Now I don’t like to wield out the old ‘we were robbed’ excuse but…we were f**kin ROBBED! Having conceded in the first-half, Mikel Arteta thrust us back into contention on 70 minutes. The game was poised, the atmosphere tense. Cue big Duncan Ferguson heading in a dramatic late equaliser… cue the officials wrongly disallowing the goal. Diego Forlan then went and confounded the misery with a 90th minute goal.
Villarreal eventually made it to the Semi-finals.
So, having missed out on the chance of progression with Europe’s elite, and the much needed revenue, we accepted UEFA Cup with a sigh and a tricky tie against Romanian outfit Dinamo Bucharest. Less said about that the better; a reasonable start during the away leg was followed by a swift and crushing capitulation (1-1 at half-time, 5-1 at the final whistle, shhhhhhhh).
Thus the European tour was over by September, our league form was poor and we were left a desolate, hollow shell for much of the year. Fortunately Moyes turned things around that season and has subsequently taken us on a number of other European adventures.
Indeed, since then we’ve again been on the periphery of Champions League football; finishing fifth on two occasions (yup, as a certain other club has done). So, following last seasons exploits, it’s at last time for another club just outside the usual conglomeration to embark on a Champions League campaign.
Now, obviously I only really care how Everton get on, and I don’t want to pretend to be overly chummy towards Tottenham – like some sort of sniveling sycophant attempting to curry favour – but I do hope they do well. They deserve to be there, it will hopefully shake things up a bit and perhaps go someway in dismantling the ‘big four’ categorization.
My tale of Champions League misfortune is not supposed to dampen any spirits – it’s clearly a different case entirely – but was rather just a bit of Huddlestone engendered reminiscing. Nonetheless, it does throw up the old adage involving chickens, counting and hatching, blah, blah, blah.
A lot will, of course, depend on who pops up in qualifying (Martin Jol’s Ajax seems inevitable), but how confident are you ahead of the Champions League campaign (particularly in conjunction with emulating a strong league finish)? Will Spurs ‘do an Everton’??
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