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Everton vs Brentford live: Score and latest updates from the Premier League

When the coach carrying the Brentford team drives down Goodison Road ahead of Sunday’s game against Everton, the players on board are in for a surprise. All along the street that abuts Everton’s stadium, thousands of local fans will be waving flags, lighting pyrotechnics, chanting and shouting. Right round the ground it will be like that: the entire neighbourhood awash with fans long before kick off, already in place, cheering on their team. While such a build-up is commonplace just 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,” says Tony Scott, who hosts All Together Now, an Everton fan podcast. “All that bus greeting stuff is what the tourists do over the park. We call it typical Koppite behaviour. For Evertonians match day was about having a pint with your mates in the pub, taking up your seats at the last minute and booing the board when we lost. What’s happened here these last few games is extraordinary. It has been a complete culture change.”

It started when Everton faced Newcastle in March. Goodison Road had a welcome committee for the team buses. By the time Chelsea turned up at the beginning of May, 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 when they make their way onto the Goodison pitch] for fifteen years until the Newcastle game,” says Hana Roks, one of the organisers of the new approach, who tweets fan information under the name @Hanstours. “The fashion amongst our supporters was to be in the pub right up until the whistle blew. On Sunday it’s going to be very different: everyone is going to be inside well before kick off, singing.”

What changed things was simple enough: the threat of relegation. 

“It was desperation really,” says Roks, who has been going to Everton matches since she was two years old. That was 32 years ago. “We knew we had to do something. Whatever your feelings might be about the reasons why we haven’t won anything for 27 years, however much you might blame the board, there was a general realisation it was time to get behind the team.”

As the possibility of demotion started to become ever more pressing, a full fan mobilisation programme was begun. 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,” says Roks. “But even people who were initially sceptical have got behind it, because they have seen it works.”

She is right there: Everton’s results have hugely improved since the sea change in fans’ attitude. It is a revolution that has developed real momentum, to the point that Wednesday’s away draw at Watford was soundtracked by Evertonians chanting throughout the 90 minutes. And a huge part of the new sense of unity, the fans reckon, is owing to the man in charge.

“You can’t overstate how big Frank Lampard has been in this,” says Scott. “He has really grabbed hold of the love and attention. 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 [Rafa] Benitez. We’ve been waiting for someone who gets us and is ready to lift us. We’ve seen what [Jurgen] Klopp does across the park, the way he’s unified everything there. About time we had a bit of that.”

The interesting thing is that, at Leeds United, too, the support has been unwavering, the fans cheering the players to the echo even when they have been thrashed. Yet it has had no effect on results. But at Everton, the upsurge has clearly fed through to the team. 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’ve 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.”

According to Roks, the difference has been best illustrated in the form of Alex Iwobi. A player routinely dismissed by Everton fans as not good enough has blossomed in the past few weeks into an integral part of the team.

“Most of us wondered why he was here for the last couple of seasons,” she says. “Now you see him filming the welcome from the team bus and sharing it on Snapchat, loving it. And his playing ability’s gone through the roof.”

The key question is, though: will this new atmosphere last? Should Everton avoid relegation, can the all-pulling-together spirit be maintained at a club where distrust of the board remains potent?

“You’d love to think the board’s learned from this,” says Roks. “But the very fact Benitez was ever allowed as manager shows they just don’t understand the club. My feeling is, whatever happens, the whole hierarchy needs a shake-up. Most of all, the non-football people need to step away and stop interfering in the football. Leave that to Frank.”

By Jim White

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