When the coach carrying the Brentford team drives down Goodison Road ahead of today’s game against Everton, the players on board are in for a surprise.
ll along the street that abuts Everton’s stadium, thousands of fans will be waving flags, chanting and shouting. Right round the ground it will be like that: the entire neighbourhood awash with fans long before kick-off, cheering on their team. While such a build-up is commonplace across Stanley Park at Anfield on big match days, at Goodison it has never happened before. Until this season.
“It’s definitely not what we normally do,” Tony Scott, who hosts All Together Now, an Everton fan podcast, says. “All that bus-greeting stuff is what the tourists do over the park. We call it typical Kopite behaviour. For Evertonians, match day was about having a pint with your mates, taking up your seats at the last minute and booing the board when we lost. What’s happened is extraordinary. It has been a complete culture change.”
It started when Everton faced Newcastle in March. By the time Chelsea turned up at the beginning of this month, the hundreds of fans arriving early had grown into thousands. Supporters took to their seats, chanting loud and long, even as the players conducted their warm-up. Not just one or two, either. The entire stadium was filled long before kick-off.
“I had regular match-going mates who told me they hadn’t heard the Z Cars theme [which serenades the players onto the Goodison pitch] for 15 years until the Newcastle game,” Hana Roks, one of the organisers of the new approach, says. What changed things was simple: the threat of relegation.
“It was desperation,” says Roks, who has been going to Everton matches since she was two years old. “Whatever your feelings about the reasons why we haven’t won anything for 27 years there was a general realisation it was time to get behind the team.”
As the possibility of demotion became ever more pressing, a full fan mobilisation programme began. Conducted by word of mouth, via social media, through the support of the club’s fan liaison office, the instruction got out: forget your issues with the hierarchy, back the team.
“There were some who doubted it would make any difference, course there were,” Roks says. “But even people who were initially sceptical have got behind it, because they have seen it works.”
Everton’s results have hugely improved since the sea change. It is a revolution that has developed real momentum, to the point that Wednesday’s draw at Watford was soundtracked by Evertonians chanting throughout the 90 minutes. A huge part of the new sense of unity, the fans reckon, is due to the man in charge.
“You can’t overstate how big Frank Lampard has been in this,” Scott says. “You can see how much he appreciates the support by the way he comes over to the fans after the whistle. We were sick and tired of managers who didn’t embrace our culture, especially [Rafael] Benitez. We’ve seen what [Jurgen] Klopp does, the way he has unified everything there. About time, we had a bit of that.”
The upsurge has clearly fed through to the team. And Scott reckons it is the change that has made the difference.
“For these players who worked under five or six managers in five years, they got used to the moaning about the board, the shoulder-shrugging, the cynicism,” he says. “All of a sudden, they have seen the pyros, the flags, heard the cheering. They must be thinking this is unbelievable. In a way, they’ve realised there’s nowhere to hide.”
© Telegraph Media Group Ltd (2022)