I was coming up to my 18th birthday and had been watching Everton since 1981, my first game being against Aston Villa on 7 February 1981 when we lost 3-1 in what was Martin Hodge’s last appearance for the Blues and when Paul Hodge made his debut. I remember sitting in the Main Stand with my Mum and Dad just watching in awe of the fabulous stadium, with the floodlights on and the masses of Evertonians singing their hearts out.
Little did I know, 13 years on, I would be sitting on the famous Gwladys Street praying for our Top Flight survival. This was having had the fabulous opportunity of being alive to witness first hand Everton’s greatest ever team and fruitful period of success.
Saturday 7 May 1994: I had hardly slept the night before, I had recently passed my driving test so I got up early about 6am and drove to Goodison Park. I sat outside the ground, the Gwladys Street End just wondering what would unfold just a few hours later, hoping and praying that we survived.
I drove home and called my mate who I went the match with in those days (Colin). It was about 8am and I said to him we need to get to the match early today to make sure we get in. In those days, I was a Young Everton Fan Card holder, the one where you showed your card and paid £3 in on the gate.
Colin and I agreed we would get to the ground and start queuing at 9am. The added pressure of ensuring we made it into the ground was that there were only 3 sides of the Goodison Park, as the Park End had been demolished and was mid-construction. Not surprisingly, we were first at Goodison outside the Gwladys Street End and just stood there for what appeared like a lifetime.
Other fans started to arrive and queue around 11am and we all started to talk about the afternoon ahead. I had ran and bought a programme to read to pass some time whilst Colin kept my place. At around 12:30pm, the queues were immense, they were not formed, just a large crowd outside all the turnstiles. I recall a police officer or steward came around that time and we asked what time the turnstiles would be opening as the volume of Everton fans outside the ground was growing, it was getting pretty busy, so much so that I dropped my programme and could not bend down to pick it up.
We heard movement inside the turnstiles at around 12:45pm and they opened and myself and Colin scrambled through, about the 10th people to get in. We both ran up the concourse and made our way to centre spot around Row M or N, right in line with the crossbar. We daren’t move in case we lost our seats in what was then ‘unreserved seating’. Again, we just sat there quiet really as the players came out to warm up.
The atmosphere as kick-off time approached was not something I had ever experienced before; it was of nervous anticipation of what was going to unfold. Personally I was flicking between "We will be okay" to "What if this goes wrong?" I am a pretty positive person but the thought of Everton, the club I love, followed everywhere, argued for, might possibly be relegated, surely not!
As the teams came out I just hoped for a good positive start. Unfortunately this did not happen as, within minutes of the kick-off, Everton were 1-0 down. I remember watching in what felt like slow motion as Andres Limpar needlessly handled the ball on the corner of the penalty area. I could not believe what or why he did it as there appeared to be no threat whatsoever.
Dean Holdsworth took the penalty and although Neville Southall (the greatest goalkeeper I have ever seen) got a hand to it, the ball went in. I just sat in silence and started to feel sick.
The game continued and the realisation of what might now be happening became very real, none more so than when Wimbledon went 2-0 up from a freak Gary Ablett own goal around 25 minutes in. The ball was flying well wide and it just looped, again in very, very slow motion, up over a scrambling Southall into the corner of the net.
Now I did feel sick, the silence of disbelief just fell around Goodison Park. Colin said to me "That is it, we are done." One or two people got up to leave their seats. As time appeared to stand still, there was an older guy sitting behind us who just said, "It is okay, have faith, we will turn this around and win."
As I said, I am a positive person... but I certainly could not contemplate coming back from 2-0 down, on the final day of the season, from a penalty and bizarre own goal, to stay in the league... or could we!?!
From experience, Everton have a great knack of taking you to the brink of happiness to kick you in the teeth (too many times to mention); could it be possible that on this occasion it would work in reverse — from the brink of despair to complete elation? The next 60 minutes was going to provide the answer.
With 10 minutes to go before half-time, Andres Limpar went some way to making up for his ridiculous handball by winning a penalty. It was an innocuous challenge by the appropriately named Peter Fear just inside the penalty area. As Graham Stuart (The Diamond) put the ball down on the spot against the backdrop of an empty Park End, I simply could not watch.
I am never good at watching penalties at the best of times and this was unbearable. Stuart duely slotted the ball past Hans Segers and it was game on. I don’t recall it being a sense of relief that Everton had scored as I have already mentioned, Everton do have a distinct knack of picking you up to kick you right back down.
As the team trudged off for half-time, I just sat in silence: 45 minutes of the long season left and who knows how the second half would unfold? Would it be a disastrous ending or one of ecstatic elation?
The teams came out for the second half and there was a mighty roar of ‘Come On’. I recall we had quite a bit of possession but we didn’t seem to be creating many chances. The clock was ticking and we urgently needed to score, not once but twice. Wimbledon created one or two chances but Neville Southall kept them at bay.
Around the 65-minute mark, Barry Horne picked the ball up in the centre of midfield and, not known for his shooting or goals, I did not expect to happen what happened next. The ball bounced up which was perfect to hit for a volley and that is what Horne did, he smashed it and it just flew into the top corner. I remember going absolutely crazy that we had scored, but knew it was still not enough as we needed another.
Everton continued to press and Barry Horne seemed to have the appetite as he had another similar shot just after which flew over the bar. On the 81st minute, the comeback was complete as Graham Stuart ‘scuffed’ and I mean literally scuffed a shot towards the goal and Hans Segers feet didn’t move and he just seemed to lay down. The ball rolled into the net and Goodison erupted. An eruption of relief that we had turned it around.
In typical Everton fashion, though, we still had 9 minutes to not concede another goal. Looking back, I would like to say I knew in my heart of hearts we would not concede but this was Everton and I know how things can go wrong. Earlier this week Robert Lewandowski scored 5 goals in 9 minutes and there was survey running on the hashtag my best 9 minutes in football, well on the 7th May 1994 at around 16:40 my longest 9 minutes in football were endured.
Thankfully there were no further goals and we had survived. As the final whistle went, the relief was clear to see: fans ran onto the pitch, others just sat there and needless to say there were one or two fans who had tears in their eyes.
I remember walking out of the famous Goodison Park shaking my head as to what had just happened over the previous 2 hours of football. I was physically and mentally exhausted, the roller-coaster of emotions was self-evident: we had survived and Sheffield United had gone down. I remember saying to Colin that I hope we never ever, ever have to endure or experience that again... Little did I know that, merely 4 years on from that day, I would have to endure it all again against Coventry on the final day. That story is for another day.
That is my recollection Saturday, 7 May 1994 and whilst I never want to experience that again, it would be great to read other Evertonian’s experiences of the day, those in attendance, to those who couldn’t get in, to those sitting on tree tops or simply from those who couldn’t bear to watch or listen.
Let’s hope we never really do have to experience that again!