The 1983/84 season had been a mixed bag for Everton. They had won the FA Cup by beating Watford 2-0 to secure their first major trophy in 14 years, Andy Gray scoring the winner in controversial circumstances. However their league form had been poor as they could only finish in 16th position. They had also reached the League Cup final only to lose against rivals Liverpool.
For manager Howard Kendall it had been a turbulent year. Everton supporters had been calling for his sacking midway through the season and were it not for a poor back pass which Adrian Heath latched onto and scored against third division Oxford to force a replay in the League Cup, then Kendall would have probably of been sacked after the match. But Kendall survived and after two cup runs, he was still in charge for the start of the new season. One thing Kendall knew however, was how good his Everton team were. What the team lacked was the belief that they could push on from the FA Cup win and challenge to top teams.
Howard Kendall knew he didn’t need to strengthen the team that much, but brought in Paul Bracewell from Sunderland for £425,000 and Pat Van Den Hauwe from Birmingham for £100,000.
The team was a strong one. Big Neville Southall in goal, Gary Stevens at right back, Van Den Hauwe on the left, and in the centre of defence stood Derek Mountfield and captain Kevin Ratcliffe. The midfield had Peter Reid and Paul Bracewell, flanked either side by Trevor Steven and Kevin Sheedy. Up front was Graeme Sharp and Andy Gray. Gray had replaced the injured Adrian Heath who suffered a knee injury half way through the season. They also had Alan Harper and Kevin Richardson able to come off the bench.
The season started well for Everton as they beat Liverpool 1-0 in the Charity Shield. Suddenly the team started to believe in themselves that they could mix it with the best. But the first two league games brought the team back down to earth as they lost to Tottenham at home 4-1 and away to West Bromwich Albion 2-1.
The team bounced back and after beating Chelsea 1-0 with a goal from Kevin Richardson and they remained unbeaten in their next five games. The 5-4 away win at Watford was a classic for the fans with Steven, Mountfield, Sharp and two from Heath securing the win.
They lost to Arsenal in early October 1-0 at Highbury but their next six games were fantastic. Liverpool were beaten at Anfield 1-0 with a wonderful volleyed strike from Graeme Sharp which flew into the back of the net past Bruce Grobbelaar. The Everton fans celebrated on the pitch having seen one of the best goals scored by an Evertonian. The confidence was growing within the team having beaten not only their neighbours but also their title rivals.
They followed the Liverpool win by hammering another title rival, Manchester United, 5-0 at Goodison Park with two goals by Sheedy, and one a piece for Heath, Stephens and Sharp. The goals were flying in with 3 against Leicester and 4 against bottom club Stoke.
Everton’s European adventure had begun too. After struggling to beat University College Dublin in Round 1, they comfortably beat Inter Bratislava 4-0 over two legs.
At the end of November and through the majority of December the club started to wobble in the league games, only winning once against Nottingham Forest with a comprehensive 5-0 victory, but losing to Norwich 4-2 away and Chelsea 4-3 at home. Everton also lost Adrian Heath with a knee injury that put him out for the season after a tackle by Brian Marwood in the match against Sheffield Wednesday. Heath had scored 11 goals already during the season and the fans worried how much of a loss he would be. But they needn’t have worried, as Andy Gray would step in alongside Sharp upfront. The Scottish striker had arrived in 1983, signing for £250,000 from Wolverhampton.
One thing the Everton team continued to do was bounce back after a loss. The team looked more confident and suddenly you could tell they believed they could potentially win the league. The fans started believing it too, they had seen the signs in the second half of the season before. It was now up to the Everton team to prove it.
And prove it they did. Their next six matches were all won, with both Newcastle and Watford dispatched 4-0. They drew their next two with Mountfield scoring against Manchester United in a 1-1 draw and Richardson grabbing the goal versus Aston Villa.
In Europe they had made it through to the semifinals after another comfortable victory against Fortuna Sittard, 5-0 on aggregate. The FA Cup was starting to warm up nicely for Everton too with wins against Leeds 2-0, Doncaster Rovers 2-0, Telford 3-0 and 1-0 after a replay versus Ipswich Town. Everton had another semifinal to look forward too.
Everton then produced a title winning run as they won their next 9 league games. These were not games where they were just sneaking results, they were playing with a swagger and style deserved as potential league winners.
Challengers Tottenham were beaten 2-1 away at White Hart Lane with goals from Gray and Steven. This was followed by a demolition of Sunderland and West Bromwich both 4-0 to the delight of the Goodison faithful.
With the team flying in the league they had two semifinals to contend with. The first was away to a Bayern Munich side featuring Lothar Matthaus. Everton were excellent and showed patience and control to gain a resolute scoreless draw, giving the team a great chance at Goodison Park.
The FA Cup semi against Luton Town was next, just three days after the first leg draw against Munich. It was a tricky tie on a poor pitch but Everton progressed after extra time, Derek Mountfield scoring the winner to send Everton into the final.
Then came the second leg in the Cup Winners Cup final. The game was almost billed as the final, between two great teams. Gray and Sheedy both started having missed the first leg. Everton looked the more likely to score with chances to take the lead before Bayern broke the deadlock 8 minutes before half time. Ludwig Kogl burst through only for Southall to save well. However, the ball fell into the path of Dieter Hoeness who slotted the ball home.
At half time Howard Kendall told the players to keep going and their fans would suck in a goal. It didn’t take long for Everton to get back into the tie. With 48 minutes on the clock a trademark Gary Stephens long throw was flicked on by Gray to Sharp who headed home. Everton were back in the match.
The team and supporters were buzzing and the second goal finally came. Another long throw by Stephens caused mayhem in the Bayern box. With the keeper unable to get near the ball, it fell to Gray to slot home on 72 minutes. The fans were bouncing and they knew this was Everton’s time. The final goal came in the 86th minute. Sheedy and Gray combined well to put Steven through to finish well and send Goodison Park into ecstasy and a deafening roar.
Kendall admitted after the match that he wanted the team to ‘bomb them’. The idea had been to put the Germans under pressure and challenge for everything. It was tactically spot on by Kendall as Everton progressed to the final.
With the league reaching its climax and after winning at Sheffield Wednesday 1-0, Gray getting the only goal, it would mean a win in their next match at home to Queens Park Rangers on the 6th of May, would secure the title.
Supporters had flocked to Goodison Park to potentially watch the League champions. With the gates locked in the home end stands, some Evertonians took to getting in the away end to add their support. 50,514 fans packed into Goodison Park to watch the memorable match. It didn’t take long for the stadium to erupt. On 24 minutes a corner was half cleared by QPR, only to come back into the area to Van Den Hauwe to head back across goal for Mountfield to volley the ball into the net off the crossbar and keeper. Everton went in 1-0 at half time to a rousing noise from the fans.
The second half was not all plain sailing as QPR hit the post but with eight minutes remaining a ball floated into the area was met by the head of Sharp, who looped the ball past the keeper. The Toffees had taken a 2-0 lead.
The full time whistle blew and the players were surrounded by photographers, Everton had done it, winning the League for the first-time since 1970. The fans were ecstatic in the stands as the team went on their lap of honour around the ground.
It was a fantastic achievement for the team and well deserved. They had secured the title with 5 games to go and eventually won the title 13 points clear of rivals Liverpool
Their next match was won 3-0 against West Ham before losing to Nottingham Forest. Four days later Everton faced Rapid Vienna in the Cup Winners Cup final in Rotterdam.
The first half was all Everton, as they peppered the Vienna goal, Gray having a goal ruled out for offside. The second half continued like the first, with Everton dominating possession.
Finally in the 58th minute, Everton broke the deadlock. Sharp pounced on a poor back pass and beat the keeper to the ball. With the keeper left floundering, Sharp cut the ball back to Gray who volleyed home to send Everton 1-0 up. Soon after, Trevor Steven had a great chance to score with the Michael Konsel saving well in the rapid Vienna goal.
But it was Steven who grabbed Everton’s second. Sheedy whipped in a corner which was not dealt with by the Rapid defence. The ball came through to Steven who scored at the far post on 73 minutes.
Rapid suddenly found some life and produced some attacking prowess of their own. Finally they found a way past Neville Southall in goal as Hans Krankl went round the Welshman to score and bring the Austrians back into the match at 2-1 on 85 minutes.
But it was short lived as Sheedy hit back immediately. Gray flicked on a Southall punt to Sharp who squared it to Sheedy who finished superbly with his left foot with four minutes remaining. On full time the Everton fans rose to cheer on their team. Everton were favourites for the game and had lived up to the tag comfortably.
The celebrations were short lived as three days later Everton faced Manchester United in the FA Cup final in front of 100,000 fans at Wembley.
The game kicked off to a crescendo of noise and it was Everton who came closest first, as Peter Reid volleyed against the post after Gary Bailey failed to punch clear. The first half came to a close with neither team really dominating. The second half started more brightly as chances fell to both teams. Southall saving well at the feet of Norman Whiteside.
Then with 78 minutes gone Kevin Moran was sent off for a lunging tackle on Peter Reid much to the disgust of the United team, Moran becoming the first player sent off in a FA Cup Final. With the score still goalless at full time the teams went into extra time.
Bracewell stung the hands of Bailey in the United goal from long range as Everton tried to make their numeric numbers count. It was not until the 110 minute that the deadlock was broken, but it was a sickening blow for Everton. Norman Whiteside gathered the ball on the right side of the pitch before cutting inside and curling his shot round Southall into the net. It was to be the winning goal and deny Everton the treble.
In the end, tiredness caught up with the team, having played just three days earlier against Rapid Vienna.
It didn’t matter they only won once in the last four league games with the title already secured. The win was against rivals Liverpool at Goodison Park in front of 51045. Paul Wilkinson scored the only goal to spark wild celebrations.
Nothing should be taken away from this great team. They played excellent football all season. It was exciting, stylish, competitive and hugely entertaining. In the League alone they had scored 88 goals.
The team was riddled with class players. Southall was world class in goal, Ratcliffe and Mountfield had pace and power at the back with the two full backs pushing on. The midfield four were fantastic all season but Sheedy and his wand of a left foot stood out. Finally upfront, starting with Sharp and Heath before Gray replaced Heath after injury – all three strikers players their part so well.
The team was built on a shoe string budget, Southall had been signed from Bury for £150,000, Peter Reid from Bolton £65,000, and Trevor Steven from Burnley for £300,000.
Howard Kendall recognised the talent and fitted them into a system he wanted to play and it worked a treat. Kendall and his Everton team deserve so much more credit for what they achieved. They were so close to winning the treble but doing so playing in an attacking and entertaining way. Watching this Everton team play was great, it was incredible football and they would always score goals.
The Everton team of this season are a team hugely under rated, who even now do not get the credit they so richly deserve. They really were one of the greatest sides the country has seen.