By Far The Greatest Team

The football blog for fans of all clubs

Was This The Last Ever Title For Everton?

A whole generation of Blues may never see days like this again.

The Future is Bright… The future is Blue! 04 May 1987

Everton clinched The League title for the second time in three years with a one-nil win at Carrow Road, home of Norwich City. Everton had overcome the massive disappointment of the previous season and were Champions again, for the second time in three seasons, nine points clear of their nearest rivals with two games remaining. In Howard Kendall they had one of the youngest and brightest managers in football and a squad that was packed with international players, most under the age of thirty. The future looked bright.

Except that future never arrived. Everton, more than any other club, suffered from the ramifications of the Heysel disaster as they were denied the opportunity to showcase their skills on the European stage. Howard Kendall, looking for a new challenge, moved to Athletic Bilbao and Everton were never the same. By the start of the 1990/91 season only five players remained from the class of 1987 and their replacements failed to deliver. The decline took root in the club.

The 1984/85 campaign was Everton’s most successful ever, winning the Title and the European Cup Winners Cup and only prevented from achieving an historic treble by defeat to Manchester United in the F.A. Cup final. Somehow, Everton’s achievement in winning the Title again in 1987 has never quite received the credit it deserved and has been unforgivably overlooked by football commentators. Even Kevin Sheedy in his book “So Good I did it Twice” doesn’t even mention it!

There is a compelling case for arguing that the Title win in 1987 was Kendall’s greatest achievement as a manager, utilising all his skills to overcome a devastating injury list and the loss of his star striker to inspire the team to yet another Title.
A golden moment lost. The 1985/86 League and Cup campaign.

By any measure, the 1985/ 86 season would be considered by supporters of most clubs to have been a very successful one. Everton had come incredibly close to winning the Double for the first time in their illustrious history, finishing in second place in the League, just two points behind the eventual winners and losing the F.A Cup final three – one after leading one – nil with just thirty- three minutes remaining.

Yet most Blues have confined the recollection of that season into their collective unconsciousness as the memories are too painful and traumatic to revisit. Liverpool won both the League and The F.A. Cup and what should have been a Blue Double winning season turned into a nightmare. Incredibly the club had unfortunately agreed to be part of a joint homecoming parade to celebrate the first ever Mersey Final. It was the ultimate humiliation.

Pre-season 1986/87 – should I stay or should I go?

Howard Kendall had replaced fans favourite Andy Gray by paying a club record transfer fee of £800,000 for Leicester City striker Gary Lineker the previous summer. Lineker had repaid the manager’s faith in him by scoring forty goals that season, including thirty in the League. Regrettably, after his scoring exploits in the 1986 World Cup, Lineker was now on his way to Barcelona and for the second summer running, Everton had lost a star striker. Strangely, however, whereas the sale of Andy Gray had infuriated the majority of the fan base, the sale of Lineker did not generate a similar response.

Everton supporters have always remained unquestionably loyal to their heroes and Lineker was never going to be accepted as a replacement in their eyes. Andy Gray celebrated every goal for Everton like a fan in Gwladys Street, Lineker never quite seemed to share the same sense of euphoria. Andy Gray was distraught when Kendall told him he was no longer part of his plans yet Lineker riled fans when as a member of the 1986 World Cup final panel he responded with a cheeky “No comprende” when asked where he would be playing next season. All this whilst still officially under contract to Everton. It was the first public example of Lineker’s unique sense of humour that has continued to appeal primarily to himself. Another factor was that Everton appeared to play a more direct style of football to utilise Lineker’s strengths and arguably became a more one- dimensional team as a result. Some fans felt the lack of a Plan B had cost the team the Double. The feeling that Lineker continually underplays his time at Everton , the club that turned him into a star striker, unlike Andy Gray, still rankles with most fans. As Colin Harvey succinctly summarised, playing for Everton was a passion for Gray, to Lineker it was just another job.

The bigger concern for Evert0nians was the future of their manager Howard Kendall. With English clubs now banned from Europe the rumours that Kendall was being lined up to replace Terry Venables at Barcelona continued to gather momentum. In April 1986, Barcelona had made an approach to Howard to discuss the manager’s position at Barca. He travelled to meet up with the Catalan club’s officials at the Connaught Hotel in London and according to Kendall himself, he verbally agreed a deal to replace Terry Venables and was offered a provisional contract. Everton Chairman, Philip Carter had agreed to release him and had offered Colin Harvey the chance to succeed as manager. Yet the formalities were never completed and a few weeks later Barca announced that Venables would be having his contract extended. Everyone connected with the club breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Everton had made a profit of ÂŁ1.6 million pounds on Gary Lineker and at a time when the club was suffering financially from the lack of European competition, this certainly provided Kendall with funds to add to his squad.

Spending the Lineker windfall

Kendall was not in a massive hurry to spend the Barcelona bequest. He analysed the 1985/86 season from a cool, detached perspective and came to the not unreasonable conclusion that a side who had just missed out on the Double had the strength to mount another Title challenge. In most other years a total of eighty- six points would have guaranteed a trophy.

Nevertheless, Everton were reeling from an avalanche of injuries which would require some attention. The list included Neville Southall, Derek Mountfield, Gary Stevens, Pat Van Den Hauwe, Paul Bracewell and Peter Reid and worryingly most of these were of the long- term variety. He considered that the partnership of Graeme Sharp and Adrian Heath would deliver the goals that would be lost through the departure of Lineker. Kendall identified his defence as a priority area given that Derek Mountfield’s injury record showed little evidence of improving and had no hesitation in smashing the club transfer record again by paying Norwich City £900,00 to sign the ex- Liverpool centre back Dave Watson. So desperate was Kendall to have him registered for the first game of the season that although the club had missed the deadline by an hour, they took a photograph of Watson signing with the clock having been moved back an hour to convince League officials that he had signed on time. Incredibly it worked!

Kendall also liked to have cover in key areas so during the summer he brought in two youngsters with potential, Neil Adams from Stoke City and Kevin Langley from Wigan Athletic. Langley was rated highly by the manager and played in the first sixteen League games of the season whilst Adams also played ten times during the first half of the season. Neil Adams was given a swift reminder of the standards expected at Everton when after coming on as a substitute in the Charity Shield he was later withdrawn after failing to follow Kendall’s instructions.With key utility player Kevin Richardson having departed to Watford for regular first team football, Langley and Adams offered valuable cover. Ironically, if Richardson had stayed he would have been given a regular run in the side due to the number of injuries.

Everton’s next signing did cause some initial incredulity amongst fans. Kendall appreciated the value of experienced, skilful players who could slot seamlessly into a variety of positions. The manager had watched Manchester City play Watford the previous season and had observed the performance of Paul Power, who despite being in his early thirties was the fittest and most skilful player on the pitch. Unusually for a footballer he also had graduated with a degree in Law. At the start of the campaign, Everton paid City £65,000 for his services and he immediately slotted into the left back position to cover for Pat Van Den Hauwe. Power later switched to midfield and played forty times scoring four goals. There can be no more fitting tribute to the impact he made than the fact the other Everton players voted him as their player of the year although Nevile Southall always thought he was a “bit like a schoolteacher”.

If you beat Liverpool – you win the League!

Everton’s last game of the previous season had been at Wembley against Liverpool. The first game of the new season was against the same team at the same venue and the two teams battled it out for the Charity Shield. Everton were deservedly leading Liverpool one – nil through an Adrian Heath goal before Ian Rush, Everton’s arch nemesis equalised with just two minutes remaining. However, the result maintained Everton’s proud record of never having lost a Charity Shield final at Wembley. Nonetheless, Kendall was unconvinced by the performance of rookie centre back Ian Marshall, prompting the urgent purchase of Dave Watson.

Incredibly, Everton faced Liverpool six times in four different competitions that season and did not register one single victory. After the Charity Shield draw, the two teams met in a two- legged final of the long- forgotten Screen Sport Super Cup which had been held over from the previous season. This mongrel competition which was designed as an ill thought out substitute to replace the lack of European opposition singularly failed to garner the interests of fans and team alike. The final drew a mere 20,660 to Anfield and then 26,068 to Goodison with Liverpool winning three – one and four one respectively. It was only time in my life that I can recall not being upset with the loss of a Derby match.

The teams met in another competition, in the quarter finals of the League Cup at Goodison Park in January. This certainly did attract the interest of supporters as 53,323 packed the terraces to see Liverpool edge victory by one goal to nil, scored again by the scourge of Everton, Ian Rush. Unfortunately, this victory was somewhat overshadowed by the broken leg suffered by Liverpool’s Jim Beglin who was never the same player again.

The two League encounters also failed to produce an Everton victory but Kendall’s statement that you have to beat Liverpool to win the League was about to be turned on its head.

Make do and Mend

Everton made an inconsistent start to the 1986/87 season and by the middle of October a defeat away to Charlton Athletic had left them in seventh place after ten games. Adrian Heath had struggled to equal the prolific Gary Lineker and had only scored once in the League. Fortunately, Kevin Sheedy had scored six goals and even Kevin Langley had contributed with two. In the rear guard, Dave Watson seemed to be bearing the weight of his record transfer on his shoulders and struggled to find the form that had made him an England International. Certain elements of the crowd were demanding the return of Derek Mountfield and Kendall wisely decided to recall the fit again Mountfield to the side. Fortunately, no side appeared to be running away with the League at this time as demonstrated by the fact that Wimbledon actually led the table at one stage.

Southall Returns!

Everton fans are resolute in their conviction that the injury that Big Nev received playing for Wales against the Republic of Ireland in the first week of April cost the side the Double. The Republic shared their pitch at Lansdowne Road with the Rugby team and on a quagmire of a surface, totally unfit for International football, Southall came for a simple catch and ended up falling into a pothole. He was carried off with a suspected broken leg, although it turned out to be a dislocated ankle and damaged ligament. Nevertheless, he was out for the season and possibly most of the following one. Bobby Mimms was a capable deputy but he simply wasn’t Neville.

On Saturday 25 October 1986, Southall returned to the Everton side to face Watford. He had worked tirelessly to return to full fitness and was weeks ahead of schedule. But there was still a nagging doubt in his mind, was his ankle ready for competitive football? Within a few minutes, the burly Watford forward, Mark Falco chasing a fifty- fifty ball smashed into the keeper’s ankle. It withstood the impact; the World’s number one stopper was back! Everton held out for a three- two victory.

The Slow Ascent

Gradually, Everton started to put together a run of form, losing only one of their next nine League fixtures, moving up to third place. Encouragingly, Kendall’s faith in Adrian Heath was starting to pay dividends as he delivered six goals in eight games. As the Christmas and New Year schedule approached, Gary Stevens returned to the team and Dave Watson was recalled and appeared to have regained his form. Between the 20th of December and the 1st of January, Everton played four fixtures, winning them all and scoring an impressive fifteen goals in the process, conceding a miserly one. Normal service was being resumed and goals were coming from a variety of sources as six different players contributed during this period. The fans started to ask, Gary who?

At the end of December, Everton were back in contention, but still had to play away fixtures at Arsenal, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
Played – Points:

1. Arsenal 22 – 45
2. Everton 22 – 41
3. Liverpool 22 – 38
4. Nottingham Forest 22 – 37
5. Norwich City 22 – 37

The Plastic Fantastic

Both Everton and their manager detested playing on the plastic surfaces which the Football League in their wisdom had decided to experiment with allowing both Luton Town and QPR, each in the top division to install them. Everton had played on these surfaces a total of six times and had yet to win a game. They had even failed to score a single goal in their previous three visits to QPR. It was proving to be a massive psychological barrier which needed to be overcome.

Everton’s first away game of the New Year was at QPR. Visiting teams were often psyched out before the game had even started by one of the QPR trainers popping into their changing rooms to leave a massive jar of Vaseline saying that it would help their burnt, scraped skin to heal faster! The message being, you’ll get hurt if you tackle us. For once, Everton were ready and after a one – nil victory with a Graeme Sharp goal, fans were starting to believe that this just might be their season after all. The value of that win could not be underestimated.

Psycho Pat is back

As the end of January approached, Blues fans were boosted by two significant boosts to the playing squad. Kendall had paid Leeds United ÂŁ825,000 to sign the midfielder Ian Snodin but more significantly he was also being pursued by Kenny Dalglish but chose Everton over Liverpool to instantly become a fans hero. He added a fresh impetus and an additional option for the side as the business end of the season approached.

Then, despite rumours that had been circulating the City saying that his career was over, Pat Van Den Hauwe or Psycho Pat, the nomenclature that he was given by fans who approved of his mean glacial stare and his clinical approach to taking opponents out of the game, returned to the side for a Cup Tie at Bradford City on the 31st of January. Unlike the other long- term injury causalities, Van Den Hauwe’s was not football related. Whilst visiting a local boite de nuit called Toad Hall, a popular venue for footballers near to Southport, he had become embroiled in a brawl and ended up losing large amounts of blood as a result of having apparently been stabbed in his leg by a broken bottle. Complications in his treatment compounded the initial injury and he was out for several months. Still, his return now meant that Kendal had his first choice back four in place. Peter Reid was now also ready to return to first team action for the first time that season, although strangely he struggled for form on his return to the extent that Kendall considered dropping him from the side after his first seven games and recalling utility player Alan Harper.

February Stumble

Everton defeated Coventry City on the 7th of February to top the table for the first time, but the victory came at a price, Graeme Sharp picked up an injury and was out for twelve weeks. That was to be Everton’s solitary victory in February as they were held to draws at Oxford and Manchester United and were knocked out of the F.A. Cup at Wimbledon, which incredibly led to some irate fans berating both the manger and the players as they left the ground. Kendall was nonplussed by their reaction but what had upset fans the most was that Everton had been overpowered by Wimbledon. Kendall was also concerned by the performance and immediately organised one of his famous Chinese meal team bonding exercises at the Cathay Gardens in Southport for the following day. This blip in form coincided with a resurgence in Liverpool’s results as they won eight out of nine games to regain the lead at the start of March. By mid- March, Liverpool were nine points clear at the top and looking unstoppable.

The Final Push

Kendall knew from winning the Title in 1984/85, the importance of hitting form during the crucial period of Christmas and Easter fixtures. With Graeme Sharp still missing, Kendall made one more crucial intervention into the transfer market just before the March deadline and bought Wayne Clarke, younger brother of the legendary Allan Clarke, from Birmingham City for ÂŁ420,000, which included the ÂŁ120,000 rated twenty- year old Stuart Storer. Whereas Clarke was to prove to be an inspired signing, Storer never played a single game for the club and was sold to Bolton Wanderers for just ÂŁ25,000 ten months later.

That same week, Everton had been involved in a bizarre game against Charlton Athletic in another poorly designed competition, The Full Members Cup, a knock out contest involving clubs from the top two divisions. On Tuesday 03 March, a minuscule “crowd” of 7,914 spread themselves across the terraces at Goodison to watch this lack- lustre encounter. Kendall had no real interest in pursuing this trophy and wanted to give the Title challenge his full attention. The match dragged on into extra time and then penalties with the score tied at two each. After seven penalties each the scores were still level when allegedly Kendall told Neil Pointon to miss his penalty allowing Charlton to progress. The match is still remembered though for being the only time Neville Southall scored for Everton.

Everton hit form from mid-March onward, winning seven successive League games, scoring sixteen goals and conceding just two, with Wayne Clarke netting a hat trick against Newcastle. On the 28th of March, Everton went to title rivals Arsenal and Wayne Clarke’s delectable twenty five yard lob ensured a one – nil victory for Everton. Even better, Liverpool had lost at home to Wimbledon, their second defeat in a run of five games with just one win. Peter Reid was now dominating matters in the middle of the park, no doubt aided by his hair metamorphosing from stone grey to jet black after an overdose of Just for Men!


The fates had offered Everton a surprising opportunity for them to bury the memories of last season by winning the title at Anfield on 25 April. Liverpool were determined to avoid that ignominy and temporarily delayed the Title celebrations by winning three-one. Still, Blues fans had enjoyed immensely the sight of Kevin Sheedy scoring a free kick in front of the Kop and celebrating by delivering a V sign to the baying Rednoses. Liverpool fans still left to the sound of boisterous Everton fans shouting “Champions”.

Everton visited Norwich City on the May Day Bank Holiday on 04 May 1987 knowing a win would mean they would be League Champions again. Over seven thousand fans travelled en masse to East Anglia, many taking in an extended weekend break at nearby Great Yarmouth to fully enjoy proceedings. After just forty five seconds, Pat Van Den Hauwe smashed in a Trevor Steven corner to seal the Title. It was his first goal of the season, his first for eighteen months and at the end of the match , Everton fans carried him shoulder high off the pitch. He was the unlikeliest of heroes, he had barely played enough games to qualify for a winners medal but Everton were Champions with two games remaining! For the ninth time!

Everton captain Kevin Ratcliffe was presented with the Trophy before the home game with Luton Town on Saturday 09 May in front of a crowd of 44,092. In the final fixture against Tottenham, Kendall made the decision to play fringe players such as Neil Adams and Derek Mountfield to ensure they had made enough appearances to earn a medal. Everton won both games, finishing the season on eighty six points, the same number they had achieved the previous season , only this time they were top , nine points ahead of Liverpool.
Played – Points

1) Everton 42 – 86
2) Liverpool 42 – 77
3) Tottenham Hotspur 42 – 71
4) Arsenal 42 – 70

Everton had used twenty- three players during the campaign with Kevin Ratcliffe being the only ever present. Trevor Steven was the top scorer with fourteen goals, followed by Kevin Sheedy on thirteen, then Adrian Heath on eleven. Despite only playing ten games, Wayne Clarke was the fourth highest scorer with five goals! This season Everton’ s defence had been the decisive factor, conceding a miserly thirty- one goals, ten less than the previous campaign and twelve less than their title win in 85. Somehow, Kendall had managed to organise a team racked with injuries into a unified outfit that battled their way through the season, hitting form at exactly the right team to draw away from the pack. For most supporters this team had proved a point, they played better football without Gary Lineker.

Everton fans looked forward to successful years ahead and why shouldn’t they? Kendall conveyed the message the fans wanted to hear, stating that he wanted to match Liverpool’s record of sixteen titles.

Except, he didn’t. The following month Kendall left to take up the position of manager at Athletic Bilbao, giving his reason as a desire to participate in European competition again. The curse of Heysel had struck once more. The glory days were over, they have never returned.

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