A good 20 minutes after the final whistle of Everton’s 2-1 win away at Leicester City on Sunday, Frank Lampard returned to the pitch to celebrate with the 3,339 fans that had made the two-and-a-half-hour journey south.
After chants of ‘super Frank’, Lampard stood conducting Evertonians in yet another rendition of the club’s 1984 FA Cup final track, ‘Spirit of the Blues’. The song had filled the King Power Stadium all afternoon as the Toffees once again put on a defiant show of support as they fight tooth and nail to help maintain their club’s Premier League status.
A day earlier, Lampard was fist-bumping fans through the window of the team coach as Everton left their Finch Farm training facility on the road to Leicester. A week previous, he performed his own victory lap of the pitch after Everton beat his former club, Chelsea, 1-0 on a raucous afternoon at Goodison Park.
Mark Richards, the host of The Unholy Trinity Everton Podcast, was in attendance on Sunday afternoon and says it was an away day like no other.
“Having travelled to many away grounds over the years, nothing compared to those scenes at the King Power,” he told 90min. “From the concourse when I walked in, to the stand for what felt like every minute I was there, we, as a crowd, made the players and manager well aware that we were ready for the fight.
“At various points, the stand shook, such was the unified singing. The swaying only increased our volume level. Even during setbacks in the game, we just didn’t back down. Usually, conceding an equaliser or losing your best centre half would nullify you. You’d be forgiven for thinking we were the home team and we occupied three sides of the stadium.”
Reflecting on Sunday’s incredible show of support, Lampard said: “They’re amazing and what they did for us yesterday [at the training ground] is not the norm… I have never experienced anything like it.
“The support from the warm-up, right until the end of the game was incredible. I went back out there because they are incredible and they need to know how we feel about them.”
When Lampard was appointed in January, pundits were lining up to take shots at the club for appointing the ‘wrong man’ for a relegation scrap. His early results looked to be justifying those shouts, too, with Everton winning just two of his opening nine games in charge, losing the other seven and even dropping into the bottom three.
But all the while, Lampard’s honesty in his post-match press interviews and a clear willingness to adjust tactically kept him in favour with most Evertonians. And that faith is now being repaid with a run of just one defeat in the team’s last five matches – against Liverpool at Anfield no less – since that gut-punching loss away at Burnley. During that time, they’ve beaten Manchester United and Chelsea at home and taken four points from Leicester City.
Following the defeat at Turf Moor, when the hope was sucked out of supporters, Everton have closed up shop and turned into a pragmatic beast. Since April 9 – their 1-0 defeat of Man Utd – the Toffees, now sitting in a compact 5-4-1 system, rank second and fourth, respectively, in the Premier League for clearances and interceptions per match. Everton are running on hard work and determination and while it’s not pretty, it’s effective and the fans appreciate every drop of sweat from every single player.
Lampard is riding the wave of that success to forge a connection between manager, team and supporters that is so rare at the Premier League level. One that is dragging the club out of the relegation mire by the scruff of its neck and revitalising it after the problematic reign of Rafa Benitez.
“After the appointment and removal of the previous manager, his predecessor was always going to be looked on more favourably, but that doesn’t tell the whole story with Frank Lampard and the affection from Evertonians,” Richards added. “He’s a likeable fella. He’s done it all as a player, so that instant respect is there.
“More importantly, he shows a passion that resonates with us in the stands. He seems to feel as we do. The scenes at Finch Farm on Saturday were clear evidence of how much he ‘gets us’. Riding at the front of the coach and fist-bumping fans out of the window, further highlights how strong that connection is becoming.
“All these reasons have helped us do what we’ve done over the last few weeks. It’s nice to have a manager who appears to be on our side. When he came back out yesterday, it not only showed how important we are to him and the team, but also how much he appreciates everything we are all doing, in an attempt to pull our club away from trouble.”
Of course, the job is not done for Everton. Games against Watford, Brentford, Crystal Palace, and Arsenal will each pose their own unique challenges, and the Toffees sit outside the relegation zone by just a single point. What’s more, when all this is said and done, there will be a long post-mortem examining how the club found itself in this position in the first place – one the likes of Farhad Moshiri and Bill Kenwright will not escape.
But in the present, as cliche as it sounds, they have the momentum and, most importantly, an entire entity pulling the same direction from Lampard at the top, right down to the last fan.
As Richards puts it: “It’s fair to say the Frank Lampard love affair is in full swing. Long may it continue.”