'Liverpool broke my heart… revenge would be sweet', says Everton keeper Howard after Wembley pain
08:39 GMT, 27 October 2012
It only takes a couple of minutes in Tim Howard’s company to appreciate he is one of life’s happier souls.
An infectious and bubbly character, the universal popularity he enjoys within Everton’s dressing room is matched by the respect the goalkeeper is afforded by the Goodison Park crowd.
Take Howard back to the events of April 14, 2012, however, and there is a sudden change in that sunny demeanour. The build-up to a Merseyside derby is invariably dominated by talk of past skirmishes but Howard, like all Evertonians, finds it a struggle to pore over the most recent battle.
All smiles: Tim Howard is happy with Everton's start to the season
That was the day Everton allowed an FA Cup final place to squirm from their grasp, when mistakes turned a 1-0 lead into a 2-1 defeat. They went on to finish above Liverpool in the Barclays Premier League but, after Wembley, the achievement felt hollow.
‘Look, it was a big occasion,’ Howard sighs, shaking his head wearily. ‘It was one we felt we were right for. We felt it was our moment. Not because of destiny or anything like that. We felt we were playing better, which we were. Our form was excellent.
‘For us to lose like we did having played better in large parts of the game — that is my view, they will have theirs — was just so … look, they just shone when it was time and we didn’t. We were on the cusp of a final and then we weren’t. It was just heartbreaking.
‘Finishing above them last season was the least we could do, to be honest. We lost twice to them in the league, then lost the heartbreaker. It really felt dreary, as far as we were concerned. The only glimmer of hope we had was to finish above them to say, “You know what We got one over them”.’ He pauses after that answer.
Day to forget: Howard is beaten by Luis Suarez (centre) as Liverpool defeat Everton in the FA Cup semi-final
Top five strikers I have played against
1. Didier Drogba
2. Thierry Henry
3. Wayne Rooney
4. Fernando Torres (when he was at Liverpool)
5. Cristiano Ronaldo.
Drogba was the hardest one. He was so powerful. He could strike a ball left foot, right foot, it didn’t matter.
The five best goalkeepers I’ve seen
1. Iker Casillas
2. Gianluigi Buffon
3. Edwin van der Sar
4. Petr Cech
5. Pepe Reina
I think Reina is brilliant, I have such admiration for him. I also have to add Joe Hart. Joe Hart is going to be the best in the world in two years.
My pre-match routine
Lots of sleep, lots of rest. I eat at the same time, all the time. I drive the same way to the ground every week. I leave my house at the same time.
Howard, who would have pursued a career as an executive in an American sporting franchise had he not become a footballer, gives a lot of thought to what he says and the fact he calls the semi-final defeat a ‘heartbreaker’ is not aimed at securing an easy headline.
Losing to their oldest and bitterest rivals on such a stage was so big a blow it could easily have been fatal for their ambitions, and many were left wondering whether it would mark the beginning of the end for Everton, after several years punching above their weight.
If anything, the opposite has been true. A week after the demoralisation at Wembley, they salvaged an improbable 4-4 draw against Manchester United and, from there, a new Everton has emerged.
The encouraging start they have enjoyed has provided one of the more intriguing plotlines to the new campaign and David Moyes’ team head into the 219th Merseyside derby as favourites in many quarters. The mood around the club has been transformed. So what has changed
‘When you are winning, everyone feels amazing,’ says Howard, who provides Everton’s pre-match soundtrack with the music of New York’s DJ Chachi. ‘You lose, it’s doom and gloom. That, unfortunately, is how football is.
‘The football we are playing has been so expansive and progressive that it has been different from years past. We had success before from getting up behind the ball, rolling our sleeves up, digging in and grinding out results, which is much different to what we have found this year.
Top save: Howard makes a save during Everton's draw with QPR
‘We are bossing games now. We are having the lion’s share of possession and we are creating chances. In one game against Southampton, we created 30 chances or something stupid like that. That has been our transformation, in a way.
‘The chairman (Bill Kenwright) has given the manager everything he possibly can to be successful. And the manager in turn has taken this club forward. He has built methodically. No snap judgements, always with a plan and a vision to go forward.’
Moyes is now in his 11th year at Goodison but for a period in the summer there were fears he would end up at Tottenham when they dispensed with Harry Redknapp. Howard, 33, watched events unfold from across the Atlantic with a mixture of apprehension and acceptance.
Doing it Stateside: Howard and forward Clint Dempsey celebrate USA's 3-1 win over Guatemala earlier this month
‘I think I know the way football works,’ says Howard, who holds the Premier League’s longest ongoing sequence of consecutive appearances — Sunday will be his 193rd. ‘I didn’t want him to leave, for the sake of our football club and everyone involved.
‘I thought it would be very difficult to replace him if it came to that. It is important that we have him in place. He is the figurehead of this club. He makes everyone fall into line and be successful.
‘He is cut from the mould of what I like. He will tell you how it is; some days you will like, other days you won’t but you always know exactly where you stand with him.’
If there has been an alteration to Everton’s style, thanks to the nimble, fleet-footed movement of creative sparks Kevin Mirallas, Steven Pienaar and Nikica Jelavic, there has also been a change in Moyes. Ask the Scot what it is and he will say that he has mellowed.
Playing for pride and points: Howard knows the importance of the derby game
‘He’s a liar!’ says Howard, laughing. ‘And you can tell him I said so! He might have mellowed in front of you but there are two lots of 15 minutes — once in the middle of a game, the other at the end of the game — when he just ain’t calm!
‘Seriously, though, he has been brilliant. He has realised if you stand still, you move backwards. He is always trying to get better and that is very hard for a stubborn Scotsman. But he continues to listen to the good people around him. It isn’t easy but he is always willing to try new things.’
Such as giving his squad an unexpected five-day break in the middle of their pre-season schedule.
‘That would have been so hard for him, for sure,’ Howard agreed. ‘But you realise he is trying to be progressive. The timing was impeccable. We are very simplistic us human beings, especially us footballers. You give us that little bit of incentive, we work hard and come back stronger.’
Which is precisely what Everton have done since that wretched day in April. It may be two years since they last won a derby but they head into this tussle brimming with confidence and harbouring dreams they will be playing European football in 12 months.
‘I won my first derby 3-0 and thought, “This is what it is always going to be like”. Obviously it hasn’t,’ said Howard, who joined Everton from Manchester United in the summer of 2006.
‘But the more I become part of the fabric of this club, the more it means to me.
‘It is going to be an exciting game, an emotional game. To get where we want to, one of us is going to have to pip the other. A bunch of other teams will be there too. But, yes, I would be lying if I didn’t say it would be sweeter doing it to them than anyone else.’
With that, he is smiling again.
Tim Howard attended a celebration event to mark five years of Kickz, a social inclusion football programme delivered by Everton in the Community, Liverpool FC and Merseyside Police