In the 2004/05 season, Everton broke through the glass ceiling. David Moyes’ unfancied Toffees had finished fourth, ahead of Liverpool, and had defied the doubters – of which there were many. From being tipped for relegation by most bookies, punters and pundits in the summer of 2004, twelve months on Everton were ready for their first Champions League venture.
In the space of 180 minutes, it was over.
One half of Merseyside lost its appreciation for the Yellow Submarine 39 years after the Beatles penned the song, on a night where a certain Italian referee sealed his name in Everton infamy.
It was on May 15, 1985 that Kevin Sheedy scored the third goal in Everton’s 3-1 defeat of Rapid Vienna in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final. A decade later, Everton returned to the continent, with Anders Limpar scoring the first goal in a 6-3 aggregate win over KR Reykjavik in the same competition, and Paul Rideout claiming the last. It would take another ten years for the Toffees to register another European goal, this time in the premier continental contest – for the first time since 1970/71.
Everton signed six players in the 2005/06 season, and the most successful addition (by far) was that of Phil Neville – which should tell you everything you need to know. It was the former Manchester United man’s cross which looped high in the air off the head of James Beattie. Everton’s record signing reacted quickest to convert at the second time of asking to put the home side on the scoreboard in the first leg. Unfortunately, Beattie’s contribution only sandwiched superb strikes by Luciano Figueroa and Josico, meaning Villarreal left Goodison Park with a pair of vital away goals, and the lead in the tie.
“We’ve got to go there believing we can still get through” said a belligerent Moyes. Two weeks later, after a 1-0 defeat to United and a win by the same scoreline against Bolton, Everton arrived at El Madrigal with a steely determination to give it their best possible shot. Evertonians poured into the coastal Castilian city fuelled by beer and anticipation, ensuring the 20,000 capacity ground would be packed to the rafters, and sounding distinctly more Scouse than normal.
The first half was not blessed with a plethora of chances. When one came along for Everton, it was golden. Duncan Ferguson flicked on Neville’s long throw and there was Tim Cahill, unmarked and in front of goal. Yet the Australian, renowned for his heading ability, couldn’t produce more than a tame effort that Mariano Barbosa gratefully grabbed. It was a mistake that the Spaniards were keen to capitalise on, and so they did just minutes later. There was more than a hint of bad fortune – not for the last time that night – as Juan Pablo Sorin’s innocuous effort took a sharp deflection off David Weir and went in, despite Nigel Martyn’s best efforts.
In reality, it changed little. Everton had needed two goals to avoid going out, and that was still the case, though it would only give them the respite of extra time rather than progression. They needed 39-year-old Martyn to keep them in the tie first, however. The Everton stopper sprang into action multiple times to deny Juan Roman Riquelme and kept out Diego Forlan, before an incredible reflex save prevented Figueroa from putting the tie out of Everton’s reach. The Blues had been given a lifeline, yet still needed a moment of magic or madness to begin the turnaround.
Step forward, Mikel Arteta. Everton’s own Spanish import had barely made a mark on proceedings when Neville won a free-kick with 20 minutes remaining. Arteta lined up the set piece, and curled a delicious effort to Barbosa’s right.
And it very much was game on. Cahill sent in a cross which took a wicked deflection off Sorin and onto the bar, before a superb Barbosa save kept out Ferguson’s header from a Tony Hibbert centre. Then an Arteta corner was met by the leaping Ferguson, whose powerful header flew past Barbosa and in, sparking wild celebrations among the Evertonians crammed into the away end.
Yet the night was pierced by a shrill whistle, one which curtailed all celebrations and turned ecstasy into agony. Pierluigi Collina, widely regarded as one of the best referees ever to officiate, in his final game before retirement, had given Villarreal a free-kick. Collina had noticed…
…you know what? I don’t know. 12 years on, I still don’t know.
Ferguson was apoplectic. His team-mates were baffled. Even now, you may be reading these words and fighting back the urge to pummel small animals. Collina will be remembered by 99.9% of the footballing world as a brilliant, no-nonsense referee. Evertonians will repeatedly insist that he’s a bastard.
After Marcus Bent was penalised for having his shirt pulled, or Ferguson was punished for being able to jump, or something, Everton wilted. The luckless Blues were punished in added-on time when a Sorin centre was tucked away by Forlan. Villarreal would make the most of the close shave, going on to reach the semi-finals, where they were narrowly defeated by Arsenal. Everton would go on to suffer an ignominious thrashing at the hands of Dinamo Bucharest in the UEFA Cup and limp to 11th in the league.
The fans who made the long, arduous trip home from El Madrigal had plenty to talk about. Sometimes Everton games are truly memorable, but for all the wrong reasons.
Note: Everton Aren’t We does not condone harming animals – unless they’re annoying little twats.