IF EVER a generation of Evertonians deserve to see their club win a trophy, it is perhaps the current one – the nearly men.
It is those patient souls for whom the last 20 years has yielded but one trophy, while across the park a fairly consistent stream of success has delivered 11 additions to the Anfield silver room.
Disheartening, to say the least. And yet, of course, the intangible benefits of David Moyes’ reign have lifted a club from the doldrums of mediocrity and hoisted it back among the upper echelons, in the context of the most fiercely competitive Premier League era yet.
For the Blues though, and Moyes, the next month is the chance to avoid becoming the nearly-men of Goodison folklore.
They have come close on a number of occasions since Big Joe Royle’s day in the sun in 1995, and always had their hopes punctured.
Few clubs can claim to have fortune turn on them at a crucial moment quite like the way Lady Luck blanked Everton in 2005.
‘You don’t get any trophies for finishing fourth’ they say, but the achievement of breaking that glass ceiling felt like one.
One can only dream of the potentially era defining influence qualifying for the Champions League group stages might have had.
Yet along came a draw against one of Spain’s top clubs, a side that went on to reach the semi-final, and Pierluigi Collina’s disgraceful – some might say deliberately derailing – decisions.
It simply wouldn’t have suited Uefa to have five English teams in the Champions League in 2005/06, not after Liverpool had barged their way back into the competition by winning it and then petitioning all and sundry to be allowed to defend it.
Everton had to suck it up, and carry on. Moyes was determined to prove that his tenure hadn’t peaked, but he had achieved a minor miracle taking a team with Kevin Kilbane and Marcus Bent to name but a couple to fourth place.
Fast forward to 2008 and a Carling Cup semi-final. While other clubs not far from L4 canter to League Cup finals to be presented with opposition like Cardiff City this year, Everton drew a Chelsea side at the height of their powers. Another Wembley appearance denied. Another ‘nearly but not quite’.
Then 2009. There can be few more difficult FA Cup runs in recent times than disposing of Liverpool, Aston Villa, and Manchester United just to reach the final, but topple them each they did.
Again Chelsea sat in wait, this time under the galvanising but brief tenure of Guus Hiddink. Everton’s supporters descended on the national stadium and put their opponents to shame. It might well have been Everton v Everton reserves on that balmy day.
It meant so much more to the team and fans in royal blue that the feeling was palpable in the Wembley air. Yet shorn of Mikel Arteta’s creative influence, Phil Jagielka’s defensive mastery and Yakubu’s goals, it was a game too far in the heat. Nearly. Not quite. Chelsea fans departed with polite applause and a shrug just short of saying, ‘So, what?’. Their opponents – devastation.
Now, after a season of unrest, in-fighting among supporters, and doubt over the future, Everton have arrived at the crossroads again.
Victory today will see them 90 minutes from another shot at glory. Another chance to banish the spectre of underachievement.
Of course it is Liverpool, a club seemingly on the ropes but with all the hallmarks of a wounded animal, who stand in their way.
Make no mistake; Kenny Dalglish will be administering the siege mentality treatment to his players. For once circumstances have ganged up on the Reds. No first, or even second, choice goalkeeper. No director of football. Little faith in their £35m striker. By contrast, Everton’s preparations could hardly have gone better.
Forgive pessimistic Blues who fear the script is already being prepared for an against-the-odds Liverpool victory.
And yet, a season of relative adversity for Liverpool has little in common with an era of difficulties suffered by those in blue.
In reality there should be only one wounded animal ready to be uncaged at Wembley.
Only one team who should set about their opponents with a ferocity borne of sheer desperation to win.
Who knows what will happen this summer? Who knows whether bigger, richer clubs could yet tempt Moyes away.
But for now the history books are still open, and there are two pages yet blank.
It’s about time the nearly men crossed the finishing line.