STEVE ROUND already knew Everton supporters were special – but it wasn’t until 2.50pm on April 19, 2009 that he realised how much.
He had only arrived at Goodison Park the previous summer, but a trip to Wembley to face Manchester United in an FA Cup semi-final left him with some enduring memories.
Round was attempting to lead the team through their pre-game warm-up, when things came to an unexpected pause.
“It’s my over-riding memory of the semi actually,” says the man carving a reputation as one of the brightest young coaches in the top flight.
“I had to actually stop the warm-up, because the fans were signing Z cars that loud the players couldn’t hear me.
“We just paused for two minutes and the hairs went up on the back of our necks. We just stood and looked at each other. Incredible noise.
“I’ve never heard noise like it. They got behind the team and carried them on a wave of emotion right through the game.
“Then obviously the penalty shoot-out and going through. There were not too many celebrations after because we had the final to focus on.
“You only have to think what they were like at Sunderland last month too.”
Round is hoping for a repeat of such spine-tingling moments on Saturday, even if he insists their opponents, as in 2009, are favourites.
He added: “I would say Liverpool remain slight favourites just because of the quality of their squad. But I would also suggest we’re as close as we’ve ever been and that’s testament to the manager, the team he’s put together, and the way they are playing. We go down to Wembley on the most even keel since I’ve been here.
“But it gives us confidence to know we can go down there, play them on the day, and hopefully get the right result.
“There’s a famous saying within the football fraternity that it’s not always the best team that wins, but it’s usually the best team on the day. We have to make sure we’re the best team on the day, simple as that.
“It’s tough because they’re a good team, but we are too and we’re playing with confidence.
“We look like we can score goals now, and were going down there with the mentality that we’ll give it a right go.”
A measure of Everton’s optimism will be based on their newfound strength in depth. But while that will boost their prospects of success, Round admits it will mean delivering difficult news to some of their players.
“It’s a great problem for the manager to have,” says the 41-year-old. “The unfortunate thing is you can only ever pick 11 and when you’ve got 20 players all vying, all good lads, all working hard, someone is going to be disappointed. That’s just the way it works.
“The pleasing aspect of it is that the way the team are playing, and lads are taking their chances when they get their opportunities, shows we’ve built a squad that can compete in the upper echelons of the Premier League.
“We had another slow start after selling a few in the summer, we got through to January and managed to recruit a few which re-focused and re-strengthened us. It gave us all a lift and now we’re better for it.
“There’ll be difficult decisions but that’s what the managers paid for, and why he’s one of the best.
“We’ll have a lot of discussion, planning. David won’t leave a stone unturned, then he’ll make his decision and once he’s made it he’ll stand by it and go with it.
“Of course we’ll have a bench and I don’t think any football match now is won by the 11 who start. You usually make two or three changes and we’ve had players come off the bench and score goals which have got us results.”
One player who seems certain to be in the starting line-up is January signing Darron Gibson. And Round is full of praise for the attributes which the 24-year-old has brought to the club.
“We knew he had great pedigree. Here’s a guy who has played in Champions League semi-finals and has won medals with Manchester United,” he says.
“So we knew we were getting a player who had maybe lost his way a bit at United, because he wasn’t getting the regular football he wants and needs at his age.
“We could give him regular Premier League football and once we were interested he wasn’t interested in any other clubs. There were other clubs who wanted him but he said ‘Everton is the club for me. I like what they do, the unity of the squad, the way they play, the manager and the crowd’.
“He was desperate to come which is a fantastic thing. To get him for such a low fee was arguably one of the bargains of the season. He’s been terrific. He’s a good lad, a good trainer and he’s got that winning mentality.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him either. He’s going to get better and better. He seems to be forming a nice partnership with Marouane and long may it continue.”
And with Liverpool fielding their third choice goalkeeper in the game, Round hopes Gibson can give Brad Jones an uncomfortable Wembley outing. “He has a good range of passing from the middle of the park which maybe we’ve been lacking a bit,” he says.
“He’s got a tremendous shot on him and we expect him to get a lot of goals. They’re there to be tested. If Darron gets the opportunity to shoot he’ll test any goalkeeper.
Both feet – left and right and plenty of power. He’s be a match for any keeper.”
Round admits Everton have unfinished business with the national stadium, after they went so close to silverware in 2009 only to have their hopes crushed by Chelsea.
“The final was terrific,” he says. “To drive into Wembley and see that sea of blue shirts and scarves. All that tradition and history, then seeing your fans.
“Once we got into the arena our fans took over and raised the roof. That’s the memory that stays with you.
“Then Louis scoring the fastest goal in a cup final, and you think how could we not win?
“But football moves fast, and soon we were dwelling on the next season.
“We were exceptionally disappointed after the game. We felt it was our time to win, and we had a good record against Chelsea.
“A losing dressing room isn’t a nice place to be. It was a case of picking the lads up, thanking them for their efforts and saying we just weren’t quite good enough. There was a meal afterwards, and a resolve that we wanted to do it again.
“That ran through all of the players. We finished fifth in the league and we’d beaten some big teams on the way to the final. It was just unfortunate we couldn’t get that result.”
He adds: “A taste of it leaves you wanting more. A trophy has been a long time coming for a club as big as this, and we want to join the folklore. The players want to be part of that legendary status in years to come, and the only way to do that is to win something.
“If you asked any of the players that would be their dream here.”