There’s a reason why Alan Partridge found his home in Norwich – A Fine City. Because for all its history, its local significance and its Premier (Best League In The World, lest we forget) League football club, it’s just a bit, well, dull. A Cultural History of Norwich may go over big in Norfolk, but, in the bestsellers list, it’s unlikely to challenge Fifty Shades of Grey (though that might have worked as a title).
But Norwich, our opponents in the season-opener, hold a special place in the hearts of many Evertonians, because it was with a 0-1 win over Norwich that the Howard Kendall’s great Everton of the mid-Eighties backed up their runaway title of 1985 with another, hard fought, First Division Championship crown in 1987. The goal came in the first minute of the match, at close range by the unlikely figure of Pat Van Den Hauwe, and I recall 89 minutes of anxiety listening to the radio as we held on.
It was a strange culmination to a strange campaign. The close season had seen us sell the 1986 World Cup Golden Boot, established international and 40 goals in the previous superstar striker, Gary Lineker, to global icons Barcelona for the risible sum of £2.8M. Though we didn’t know it at the time, it was to herald fifteen years of often bizarre transfers in and out of the club.
The season was a squad success. In an era when there was no such thing as rotation, only five men played more than 31 League games (of 42): Kevin Ratcliffe; Trevor Steven; Adrian Heath; and, journeyman pro enjoying a glorious Indian Summer, Paul Power – nobody saw that coming! With the legends’ availability limited: Kevin Sheedy missed 14 matches; Graeme Sharp 15; Gary Stevens 17; Peter Reid 27; Derek Mountfield 30 – even Neville Southall missed 11 – unfamiliar faces stepped into the breach. They are almost as unfamiliar today.
Solid pro, Alan Harper started 29 times wherever he was asked in the defence and was the go-to substitute when we were closing out a match – he never let us down. Kevin Langley, short of pace, but disciplined in central midfield, did a job in 16 matches; Fellaini hairdo-alike Paul Wilkinson and Wayne Clarke scored eight vital goals between them, Clarke’s fueling a late season charge; Bobby Mimms was a fine replacement for Big Nev.
With English clubs banned from Europe and football being used as a political punchbag by Mrs Thatcher’s government, these were strange days indeed. If we didn’t quite love the ’87 boys as much as we loved the ’85 boys, we still did, wondering every week if the bubble would burst. After a horrible 3-1 defeat to a horrible Wimbledon at the horrible Plough Lane ground (I was there – three horribles is about 100 under par), we won ten, drew two and lost two to run out Champions by nine points. It seemed that Howard Kendall could do no wrong…