Another in the series of monthly updates tracking the rise of Everton’s double Title winning side of the mid-80s, thirty years on.
December started well with Kevin Sheedy showing his growing penchant for scoring goals in big games with the winner at Old Trafford. He was at it again just three days later with the extra-time strike that dispatched West Ham 2-0 and sent the Blues through to the fifth round of the League Cup – the competition that saved Howard Kendall.
While cup progress was pleasing (and a portent of what was to come in 1984), league form was as elusive as ever. Five more Division One games brought just one goal (Andy Gray at, inevitably, his old club, Aston Villa) and three more points, the year rounded off by a horrible 0-0 vs Coventry in front of just 13,659 at Goodison. The “Kendall Out” brigade were in fine voice and, had there been a transfer window about to open, it’s hard to believe that he would have survived.
And yet the 12 players who took the field on the last day of 1983 included nine of the greats who were to deliver the 1984-85 title with five matches to spare. Neville Southall was already showing his class in goal, an unlikely footballer who excelled in what was then a more limited role – he stopped shots and collected crosses, commanding his box. His fellow defenders were a young but athletic Gary Stevens, a man who suddenly added astute positioning and a cool head to his always electrifying pace – Kevin Ratcliffe, fellow centre-back and wholehearted defender with an eye for goal, Derek Mountfield and the bonkers John Bailey, a decent left-back, but no Pat Van Den Hauwe, who would replace him in the Autumn of 1984.
With Graeme Sharp missing the match, Adrian Heath was up front with a not yet resurgent Andy Gray. They were prompted by a midfield that included the incomparable Kevin Sheedy and pugnacious Peter Reid, with Kevin Richardson coming on as a late substitute. Paul Bracewell had yet to arrive and form his rock solid partnership with Peter Reid in the middle of the park, two box-to-box midfielders who could tackle, beat a man and play a killer ball. Trevor Steven was already at Goodison, but not yet a regular – his direct play and energy would transform Everton’s right-side.
Could we have known that 80% of Everton’s greatest team was there in front of us throughout that dismal end to 1983? Perhaps if each player could reach their potential – Reid to stay fit, Stevens and Steven to develop, Andy Gray to blossom in an Indian summer, Graeme Sharp to play at his top level week-in, week-out. But for the alchemy to work for all those players, simultaneously, in the teeth of a disgruntled Goodison crowd for a manager under pressure? That is the stuff of dreams. But dreams do come true and, in January, we got a glimpse of the future.