LIVERPOOL, England — Graeme Sharp tells a story about the night Everton stood on the shoulders of giants, when Goodison Park witnessed what many believe to be its greatest occasion as Bayern Munich were dismantled in a 3-1 victory in the 1985 European Cup Winners’ Cup semifinal second-leg.
Sharp scored Everton’s equaliser that night, making the score 1-1 three minutes into the second-half, and the outcome of the game — Everton went on to win their only European trophy by defeating Rapid Vienna 3-1 in the final — encapsulates what the club is all about.
“That was the most memorable night of my career,” Sharp tells ESPN FC. “Bayern Munich at Goodison and the Gwladys Street End sucked the goals in that night. Howard Kendall, the manager, told us that would happen and atmosphere was just incredible.”
David Moyes described Everton as the “People’s Club” when he took charge as manager in March 2002. A club with a glorious history — Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal remain the only teams to have won more than Everton’s nine league titles — they were still defined by the Gwladys Street End, which backs onto a residential street of terraced houses, some painted in Everton royal blue, that sees fans walk 20 yards from their front door to the turnstiles.
Everton are big, but until now, they have not been able to translate their past into the future.
In an era of newly-built super-stadia or ground reconstruction, Goodison has remained untouched since the Park End was built in the mid-1990s.
Football in England has moved on, but Everton have remained Everton — The People’s Club, proud of its local roots, traditions and authenticity. However, under the management of Ronald Koeman, backed by the finances of part-owner Farhad Moshiri, they are ready to make up for lost time by stepping back into the future.
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A new stadium is set to be built at Bramley-Moore Dock in the city, £140 million has been spent on new players this summer and Prodigal Son Wayne Rooney is back, having returned to the club he left at 18 for Manchester United.
Everton are now making strides to challenge the elite, but they remain Everton — the club where long-serving kit man Jimmy Martin once drove the team bus and where Sharp meets and greets supporters in his role as ambassador.
Or where Bob Lennon, the head groundsman, recalls challenging a teenage Rooney to hit the crossbar from the halfway line, and seeing the youngster doing it at the first time of asking to win a £5 bet.
When ESPN FC was given access behind the scenes at Goodison Park last week, Everton highlighted their “People’s Club” roots by staging a community event in which first-team players worked alongside supporters from all walks of life.
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Michael Keane worked with a class of 12 school children in a multi-sport session aimed at encouraging participation and fitness; Leighton Baines met 12 armed forces veterans about health and wellbeing; Everton captain Phil Jagielka helped 12 young people learn and develop new skills aimed at improving their prospects of finding work.
“It’s pretty easy for us,” Jagielka told ESPN FC. “It’s four or five of us coming down here, but the easiest thing to tell how it works is the reaction, not only from them to us, but us to them.
“We are not coming here under any pressure. I’ve been sat in a classroom with 12-14 teenagers, having a laugh and just trying to help them with employment. They just ask me a couple of questions. They value your opinion and it’s nice. The group dynamic every time I have been here is fantastic.” Everton are not just old school, though. The club’s Finch Farm training base is one of the most modern in the Premier League, with Koeman’s fitness coach, Jan Kluitenberg, devising individual programmes for each player and the video analysis team working in tandem with the Dutchman.
Rooney, whose return to Everton from United, was as much a symbolic signing as one for team strengthening due to his emergence as a prodigious 16-year-old under Moyes, has already impressed Kluitenberg with his fitness and readiness to embrace the challenge of helping to re-establish Everton as a top club.
The former England captain embodies Everton’s determination to become winners again, but after Sunday’s defeat at Old Trafford marked the 1,000th consecutive game that the matchday squad had included a graduate from the club’s Academy, his return also helps highlight the desire to nurture local talent and provide a pathway for Liverpudlian youngsters to make it all the way to the first-team at Goodison.
Balancing that aspiration with the determination to become a serious contender for silverware — Everton have not won a major trophy since the FA Cup in 1995 — is the challenge facing Koeman and the club’s hierarchy, though.
The £140m summer spending spree, including £45m club-record signing Gylfi Sigurdsson, has yet to bear fruit on the pitch following a tough start to the season that has seen Everton draw on the road to Manchester City and lose to United and Chelsea, as well as host Spurs in a 3-0 defeat.
With only one win this season (on the opening day), those top four ambitions have taken a jolt, but Jagielka insists that the summer strengthening is proof of the club raising its sights to greater things.
“The manager maybe wanted one or two more [signings], but it didn’t quite happen,” Jagielka said. “The club is making a statement of how ambitious it wants to be, though, on all four fronts. We want to finish as high up the table as we can and potentially win a cup. We can’t choose to be picky about what kind of tournaments or trophies we want to try to win.”
Back when Bayern Munich were beaten at Goodison Park, Everton picked up trophies on a regular basis and were as big as any club in England.
Reclaiming that status and remaining the “People’s Club” is now the objective for Everton.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_