PAUL McPARLAN discusses a vital goal in Everton’s history, one that saved them from relegation in dramatic fashion on the final day of the 1993/94 season.
Twenty-three minutes of the game remain. The tension and despair are palpable, etched on the visages of the tortured fans as Everton, who have played more top- flight fixtures than any other club, are inexorably being drawn into the dreaded dystopia of the division below. Seven years ago the crowd roared as Everton held the title aloft in front of the packed terraces of Goodison Park. How had it come to this?
The basic mathematics are simple. A defeat condemns Everton to relegation. Every time supporters frantically check their watches the minutes are elapsing at a supersonic rate. Everton, who start the match languishing in the bottom three, are 2-1 down at home to Wimbledon, whose chairman Sam Hamman has promised his team a free holiday in Las Vegas if they win the game.
The match is a sell-out with the gates closed well before kick-off, 31,297 spectators crammed into the three sided ground. The Everton faithful have become disenchanted with their team this season, attendances slumping to as low as 13,000, but today their affiliation and loyalty to the club tugs at the heartstrings; they started queuing at midday to urge the team on.
Nevertheless, in true Everton fashion they make the worst possible start, Wimbledon surging to a two-nil lead leaving the blues fans in a state of shock. Graham Stuart reduces the deficit just before half-time, but Everton face the prospect of their next Merseyside derby being against Tranmere Rovers.
Midway through the second half, Everton pressurise the Wimbledon defence but the elusive equaliser appears no nearer to materialising. Supporters look around bewildered, staring at the bench and realising that the only option appears to be Stuart Barlow, scathingly nicknamed “Jigsaw” for his unerringly ability to fall apart in the box. Goals were a problem for Everton at this stage of the season, with only three in the last nine games, all coming courtesy of Tony Cottee.
Then, the ball arrives at the feet of Everton midfielder Barry Horne. The Welshman scored in his first ever game for Everton at the start of the previous season but had not found the net since. In fact, Horne had become a regular target for the boo-boys brought up on the likes of Gary Stevens and Kevin Sheedy.
Unlike most of his teammates, Barry Horne has been an Evertonian since birth. He chose to study at the University of Liverpool – where he received first class honours in chemistry – so he could watch Everton. When Howard Kendall signed him, it was a boyhood dream come true. He loves the club, he has blue blood pumping through his veins and the well-informed amongst the fan base noticed his devotion to the cause.
With 67 minutes on the clock goalkeeper Neville Southall launched a hopeful punt into the Wimbledon half. Just beyond the centre-circle, Paul Rideout is challenged by Vinny Jones, who wins the header. Jones waits for the ball to land but before he can react, Barry Horne nips in and takes it away. Jones looks surprised but unconcerned, sensing no real danger.
However, Horne knocks the bouncing ball forward and, although it is not totally under his control, he suddenly finds space in a congested midfield. Although never the fastest of players he appears to be moving quicker than the covering Dons players. Somehow, he manages to knock the ball forward again with the top of his knee, running ahead to wait for the ball to bounce again. He never looks up, his eyes are fixed on the ball. It bounces forward again and then drops and then bounces up again.
As the ball starts to ascend, Horne manoeuvres his foot into the optimum position and from thirty yards out he unleashes the shot of a lifetime, one that Roy of the Rovers could only dream of. It is a venomous, powerful howitzer that loops into the air before dropping to deadly effect beyond the despairing grasp of Hans Segers. Martin Tyler stammers in a shocked tone: “I think it might have been Barry Horne.”
It takes a second or two for the crowd to realise what has happened and then utter bedlam and unrestrained joy ensues. Horne is mobbed by his team-mates, but he doesn’t want to celebrate, doesn’t want to milk the moment or kiss his badge in front of the cameras. He knows the game is not won, his team still need another goal, he remains focused. The ultimate professional, the ultimate Blue.
There is no stopping Everton at this point, and they go on to win the game 3-2 and maintain their top-flight status. There is no underestimating the significance of that goal for Everton. Relegation would have dealt a mortal blow to the club from which they may never have recovered. Barry Horne’s goal not only saved a season, it saved a club.