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FA Cup 3rd Round, 6/1/01
Possible worlds
By Matt Rowson

Possible World Theory, as championed by philosopher David Lewis, explains the concept of possibility by suggesting that there are an infinite number of universes in addition to our own. If something is "impossible", it does not occur in any of these universes. If something is "real", it occurs in at least one or some universes, though maybe not this one. "Actuality" is regarded as an index of where we are now with respect to these universes, just like "here" locates us in space and "now" locates us in time.

Hence Gifton actually scored a gorgeous goal against Wimbledon on Tuesday night. But it's not inconceivable that Wimbledon, or their counterparts, really held on to win one-nil. Somewhere.

Clear? Me neither. Ask my brother.

Anyhow, it's possible that you're reading this from one of the universes in which I didn't resist the temptation to take out my - our - frustration on a passing Scouser on the way up Occupation Road after last December's encounter. Rest assured that prison really is nothing like "Cell Block H", but please keep the letters coming.

As it is I didn't actually punch anybody, despite the build-up of venom inspired by Alan Wilkie's decision to award Everton's late penalty. But few of the home lot can be blaming me in the plurality of universes where it actually happened. What bloody nonsense, Nicky Barmby collides with Mark Williams, nobody looking where they're going, splat, bang. In another universe Wilkie's counterpart ignores his myopic linesman, Watford charge back upfield and Michel Ngonge blunders through to level the game, reverse Watford's fortunes and change everything that follows. Possibly. Not in this universe. For goodness' sake, we had a dozen players out injured, confidence lower than Brian the Snail. It made no difference anyway; we'd still have lost. But no, let's just rub it in, shall we? Bastards.

Lots has changed since then, not only for ourselves but also for Saturday's visitors. Summer rebuilding and an injury onslaught to rival our tribulations last season conspire to mean that only two of those who started last December's fixture for the Toffees are likely to start at the weekend.

This time it's Everton that are spiralling into oblivion, their desperate recent run having seen them score twice and gain a single point from the last six games against the likes of Manchester City, Derby and Coventry. Whilst we're only just coming out of a bad run ourselves, there's far less inevitability about this fixture than there was the last time we met at the Vic. And whilst the Cup cannot be a priority for either side - we would like promotion, Everton to still be around to play us if we make it - the fallout from Saturday's tie will in all probability impact considerably on both sides' subsequent league form.

Everton's first choice keeper Paul Gerrard is absent as a result of the injury which preceded Paolo Di Canio's much publicised piece of selflessness. In his absence, Norwegian Thomas Myhre has stepped back into the breach, finally incurring the appearance-related payment to Viking Stavanger that appeared to have curtailed his involvement for so long. Former Tranmere keeper Steve Simonsen remains on the bench, one of a number of victims of Walter Smith's apparent valuing of experience over youth.

At the back, Richard Gough's leadership and organisation has been badly missed. The Scotsman is on the verge of a return to the first team, but not expected to feature at the weekend. Fellow Scot David Weir sports the captain's armband in his absence, with Michael Ball his partner having made a successful and popular transition from left-back. The lumbering David Unsworth appears to be increasingly a last resort.

The solid but paceless Steve Watson is a fixture on the right with young Scotsman Gary Naysmith appearing on the left since his arrival from Hearts. Alessandro Pistone, another contender for the left-back slot, is out until March, and the mutant Portuguese Abel Xavier is another injury casualty.

Much of the blame for the recent poor form is levelled at the midfield, where Everton, as so often in the past, appear to have a surfeit of fairly average players. Exempt from this criticism are the rejuvenated Paul Gascoigne, likely to miss out at the weekend as he recovers from a knock, and Niclas Alexandersson, the right-sided Swede whose spasmodically impressive showings to date have also been limited by injury. Not so exempt are summer arrivals Thomas Gravesen and Alex Nyarko... Gravesen briefly threatened to become a cult hero at Goodison but has recently been condemned to pub football by one correspondent. In another universe the strong, quick Ghanaian Nyarko is dominating the midfield. Not in this universe, where both he and his Danish counterpart have been linked to rapid departures from Goodison.

Other midfield options include the hardworking duo of Scott Gemmill, now thirty, and ex-Luton (and Benfica - ha!) Welshman Mark Pembridge. Israeli left-winger Idan Tal looks tricky but light-weight so far, whilst the ever-promising but rarely effective Stephen Hughes is expected to recover from a viral infection in time to feature on Saturday.

Up front, Smith's options have been seriously curtailed by injuries, meaning that he has barely had a chance to field two of his three first-choice strikers in tandem. Duncan Ferguson has overcome an injury, but his immobile, plodding performances have suggested that the scary one is still short of match fitness. So too Kevin Campbell, although he could recover from a serious viral infection to feature at the weekend. Franny Jeffers is still some weeks off a return from an ankle problem, whilst the frustrating Danny Cadamarteri appeared in court on Wednesday facing an assault charge. American Joe-Max Moore, scorer of two goals against the Hornets at Goodison last season, has had his involvement limited by international commitments but played a positive role on his introduction on Saturday.

In some of Lewis' many universes, Watford win on Saturday to complete our recovery and propel ourselves towards automatic promotion, leaving Everton to eddy into crisis. In others, Everton defend their honour and proceed to haul themselves back into mid-table oblivion whilst our confidence falters once again. There may be still other universes governed by fantasy - this is a family website, use your imagination - although Carlton Palmer, not to be freed by Coventry, is sadly unlikely to feature in any of them.

But whatever the actual outcome, when you've read the contrasting newspaper, web and personal reports at the end of the weekend, reflect that David Lewis maybe has a point after all.

They can't all have seen the same game, surely...?