Publicity Event – Goodison Park -11 November 2019

Goodison Park -The 85 Suite

It seems like only yesterday, but it was 34 years ago. On the afternoon of 05 May  1985, a Bank Holiday,  I was standing on the Gwladys Street terraces, hugging, possibly even kissing, everybody around me as the ecstatic cacophony of delirious cheering and chanting reverberated around the venerable old stadium which was bedecked in a resplendent tide of Blue and White. For the first time in 15 years, I had just seen Everton clinch the League Championship with 5 games to spare by beating Queens Park Rangers 2-0. The players are in front of me parading the trophy to the supporters. Andy Gray, the fan’s favourite, is leading the celebrations. Peter Reid, whose career was almost finished by injuries, is overwhelmed by the adulation from the terraces, Derek Mountfield, who scored the first goal, is savouring every moment. It was a day I never wanted to end, the culmination of a season that is forever etched in my memory. Thirty-four years later I am about to relive those events with the men who made it happen. I am still pinching myself.

Nevertheless, here I am here at Goodison Park in the appropriately named 85 Suite and I am about to meet Andy Gray, Peter Reid and Derek Mountfield to talk about the momentous accomplishments of that side. This publicity event precedes the official premiere of the much-anticipated Howard’s Way the film that is being shown at St Georges Hall in the City Centre this evening to commemorate the success of that wondrous side. Even better, Rob Sloman, the film director and the man who conceived the original concept and brought the 84/85 team back together for the first time in years is present. If God ever allowed me to choose my own personal Groundhog Day to relive time and time again, this would be it.

From Cornwall with Love

I am privileged to be able to interview the man who has made this happen. The director Rob Sloman outlines to me that he is a life -long Everton fan who has longed for the opportunity to deliver justice for this side. He is not your typical Blue, he was actually born and spent his formative years in Bude, North Cornwall. To paraphrase Dafyd from Little Britain, he was possibly the only Blue in Bude.

He reveals to me how he started following Everton at the age of 7 during the 1975/76 season. It was a brave choice in a town full of Liverpool and Manchester United fans, where most boys in his school followed the teams that were winning trophies at the time. His personal favourite was the striker Bob Latchford. Nevertheless, throughout the dismal decade of the Seventies, his love for Everton never wavered and was richly rewarded during the 84/85 campaign.

It has been Rob Sloman’s ambition to pay tribute to this team. He gambled his own money on filming the Bayern Munich Cup Winners Cup Semi-Final sequence before he was even assured of the necessary finances to support the project. When he viewed them and gauged the reaction from those present, he was convinced that he had a film. He spoke to Andy Gray who he knew from their time together at Sky Sports. Andy introduced him to Peter Reid who was the key for connecting with the other players from that 84/85 campaign. They more they listened to Rob’s ideas for the film, the more they wanted to be a part of recreating that history and the opportunity to remind the football world that they were some team.

Kendall finds the right formula – Autumn 1983

As far as the team members here are concerned, the story of the success of 1984/85 has its foundations in the previous campaign. Centre back Derek Mountfield explains how a certain combination of events, some planned some not, helped to create that all-conquering side. Notwithstanding, it would take a few months for everything to gel. An injury to centre half and club captain Mark Higgins allowed Mountfield to reclaim his place in the side by the end of November 83. At the same time Andy Gray was signed from Wolverhampton Wanderers and slowly but surely Peter Reid, started to re-establish himself in the side.  Colin Harvey was then promoted from reserve team manager to first-team coach, but matters did not improve immediately.

On 31 December 1983, I was faced with a massive dilemma. The legendary U2 “Live at Red Rocks” Concert was being played on TV, but it clashed with the Everton v Coventry City fixture. As kick-off approached I was more and more reluctant to give up Bono for the Blues. But at 2.40, I caved, jumped in the car and headed for Goodison – I, alongside the others in that meagre crowd of 13,659 shouldn’t have bothered – we drew 0-0. Yet little did we realise that was the absolute nadir and the New Year was about to unleash a period of unprecedented success for the club.

Mountfield stresses the importance for Everton of reaching the League Cup Final in 1984. Everton have been the unfortunate victim of some diabolical officiating over the years and the final was no exception as Alan Hansen used his hand to prevent a certain Everton goal. The officials were apparently the only people in the stadium not to witness it. The game ended 0-0 and Everton lost the replay at Maine Road to a wonder strike from Graeme Sounness but leaving the stadium even the most pessimistic Blues sensed a change in the balance of power was coming.

As Mountfield explained, self -belief and confidence surged through the team after their performance against Liverpool. After the defeat, some harsh words were exchanged in the dressing room between the players whilst Howard Kendall stood back and let the squad iron out their differences, quietly thinking to himself “I’ve got it right here”. For Derek, the League Cup final was a turning point. Lessons had been learnt, two months later at Wembley, Everton lifted the FA Cup, their first trophy for 14 years. Mountfield acknowledges the “First Trophy is the hardest!”. Rob Sloman is at pains to remind us what a big event it was to win the FA Cup in those days compared to the sideshow it has become in the Premier League era. The director walked into school on the Monday morning, beaming with pride and wearing his official Everton club jacket. His faith was starting to be rewarded.

The Best of Times 1984/85

Peter Reid and Andy Gray reflect that the best managers are never afraid of making the big decisions. Kendall knew that the team still needed reinforcing if they were to mount a title challenge the following season. During the summer, he brought in Paul Bracewell, the midfielder, from Sunderland and Reid feared that he was going to take his place, but Howard had other plans. Bracewell was to be the new partner for Reid at the heart of the midfield. It was a marriage made in heaven As Reid recalls “We were always looking out for each other …we had good footballing brains …we instinctively knew where the ball would bounce …. Even before I made the pass I knew where Paul would be.”

After beating Liverpool at Wembley in the Charity Shield, I was for the first time in years, beginning to believe that the League title was a possibility. Tottenham Hotspur arrived at Goodison for the first game of the 1984/85 season. Reid remembers that day – “Inchy (Adrian Heath) gave us the lead but Tottenham played five in midfield and hit us on the break”. Everton could not find an answer to Glenn Hoddle’s sublime range of passes and Spurs destroyed Everton 4-1. The Toffees lost the next game 2-0 at West Bromwich Albion and after two matches the supposed Champions elect were bottom of the table.

Everton won their next game at Chelsea and results started to improve but Kendall was still not happy. Andy Gray  is full of admiration for his former boss stating that “he was ruthless when he needed to be as he showed by buying Pat van Den Hauwe from Birmingham City to take the place of the regular first-choice left-back and dressing room favourite , John Bailey” It didn’t take long for “Psycho Pat” to win over the fans with his mean, cold icy stare that intimidated opponents.

As the senior pro in the side, Andy Gray played a key role in ensuring that Graeme Sharp stayed at the club. Before a game at Newcastle at the end of September, Kendall dropped Sharp to the bench and selected Gray and Heath to be the strikers. Gray and Sharp shared a room and the young forward showed Andy a transfer request he had written, so upset was he at losing his place. Gray, who was renowned for his impetuosity, fortunately advised him not to do anything rash and made him promise to reflect on his position over the weekend. Everton won the match 3-2, Gray injured his foot and Sharp was back in the side.

October 1984

Gray, Mountfield and Reid all agree that this was the key month for Everton. On Saturday 20 October 1984 the Toffees went to Anfield and a blistering volley from Graham Sharp sealed a 1-0 victory. Fans and players started to believe. Like many others, for the first time in years, I went into work on that Monday beaming with pride knowing that Liverpool fans were desperate to avoid me. The Kopites in the classes I taught weren’t so lucky.

On Saturday 27 October, Manchester United who were title challengers themselves, arrived at Goodison to state their credentials. They left on the receiving end of a crushing 5-0 massacre in what was arguably the most resounding display of any side during Howard Kendall’s reign. Peter Reid acknowledges that fact. When I ask him,” what was the best game you ever played in?”, he simply smiles and responds “Beating Manchester United 5-0. That was the best performance I have ever been involved in as a footballer “

Tuesday 30 October, Everton returned to Old Trafford for a League Cup Tie with Ron Atkinson’s side determined to avenge their defeat the previous Saturday. Reid remembers it as being “a tough, brutal game”. Alan Brazil gave United the lead but if anything, this appeared to strengthen the Blues resolve. Just before the interval, Graeme Sharp levelled from the spot.

I mention to Peter Reid that at half time during that game, I said to my Dad – “We’re going to lose here”. My Dad was never the most optimistic or demonstrative of Blues, but he looked at me calmly and said: “Don’t worry – we’ve won this “. He had never said anything like that to me before. Peter looks across and agrees “Your old fella was right” and remembers that after the game, his own father said to him “You’ve got some team there” they were both correct – Everton emerged as 2-1 winners

In the space of 10 days, Everton had defeated the European Champions and League Champions at Anfield and beaten title favourites Manchester United home and away. Even if the press were yet to be convinced by Everton, the players and the fans knew – Everton were the real deal.

Andy Gray had cut a  forlorn and frustrated figure on the bench after returning from injury but as he reminds us “ Sharp and Inchy were playing so well that I knew I couldn’t go banging on Howard’s door because there was no way he could drop either of them” Nevertheless, when a horrendous tackle from Sheffield Wednesday’s Brian Marwood ended  Heath’s season – Gray was ready to grasp his opportunity.

Derek Mountfield stresses how the influence of the senior pros Gray and Reid was immense on this young team. Together, they instilled a winning mentality into their young charges and instilled an almost maniacal dislike of losing matches. This message was emphasised by Gray later in the season before a key match against Tottenham Hotspur. When asked if Everton would be happy with a draw, he glared at his interviewer and snapped “Only wins satisfy this team”

The Final Sprint

Everton went to the top of the table again on 12 January 1985 after a 4-0 destruction of Newcastle United. Mountfield recalls meeting some Newcastle fans in a bar in Dubai a few years ago who told him that Everton side was the best they had ever seen.  As a fan watching the team, week in week out, you never felt as if they were ever going to lose a match again – they were that good. Peter Reid and Derek Mountfield both reflected on the team ethos of that season. For Reid, the regular midweek evening meals in Chinese Restaurants in Aigburth and Southport played a vital role in team bonding. The players and the coaching staff liked a few drinks and Kendall wanted them to socialise together. Reid loved the atmosphere on the team coach to away matches with “Born in the USA” blaring out across the coach and the intensity of the card schools.

I asked Derek Mountfield if the manager had a “no d***heads policy” like the All Blacks which played a part in their success. Laughing he replied “no – we were a squad of d***heads” but then explained that Kendall knew the players as individuals but more importantly, what they could bring to the team. Peter Reid held a similar view “Howard knew how to bring the squad together” but stresses that you must remember that “we had ability, we were a good side…we had a drive to win matches”

Watching from the terraces, you knew that this team was never beaten. If sides wanted to play football, Everton would overrun them, if they wanted to scrap, Everton would slug it out with them. As Reid recounts “It was a good dressing room”. Mountfield stresses that “we believed that we were better than every team we played against”

From the start of 1985, Everton played 11 matches winning 10 of them. Derek Mounfield is often remembered for scoring the winning goal for Everton in extra time in the FA Cup semi-final against Luton Town. However, the man himself prefers to talk about his goal in the previous round against a struggling Ipswich Town. With just 4 minutes remaining and Everton losing 2-1, Pat Van Den Hauwe, the left-back received a pass from Peter Reid in the penalty area. He flicked it over his head and volleyed it across for Mountfield to knock in the equaliser. He is honest enough to admit that he had only stayed in the box because he was too knackered to run back to defend. If any goal summed up the spirit of Kendall’s side that was it.

Mountfield scored 14 goals that season, an impressive return from a centre back. When I ask him why he scored so many – he replies “Two reasons – Trevor Steven and Kevin Sheedy. It was the quality of their delivery.” He then continues “people remember the goals – but don’ t forget I was a pretty good defender as well.” Despite his impressive scoring record, he was only Everton’s fifth-highest marksman that season!

In April, Everton, having learnt the lessons of their opening day defeat, delivered a mortal blow to Tottenham’s title hopes with a decisive 2- 1 win. They also reached the FA Cup Final and defeated Bayern Munich in the semi-finals of the European Cup Winners Cup. For Andy Gray that was “the best game I’ve ever played in”. When they faced Rapid Vienna in the final nobody was in any doubt that Everton would win. They strolled to a 3-1 victory which was far more emphatic than the scoreline suggests.

Andy Gray recalls with fondness the Title clinching game against Queens Park Rangers. He recounts how he sat in the bar after the match with a drink in his hand and tried to fully understand what this team had achieved. A cruel extra time Cup defeat to Manchester United prevented the team from achieving an unprecedented treble. They won the title with a record breaking 90 points, but it should have been more. Kendall wanted to give his squad time to recuperate and rested key players such as Reid, who was not happy, which meant that they lost 4 of their final 5 games. Nevertheless, the one they won was against Liverpool 1-0 at Goodison.  Everton fans celebrated their third victory of the season over Liverpool by singing” Trio, trio – Wembley, Anfield and Goodison too” to the tune of Harry Belafonte’s song “Day-o”.

Kendall – the Manager

Howard Kendall was only 38 when Everton clinched the title – he was younger than any manager who has claimed the Premier League to date. Unsurprisingly, all 3 players are full of praise for their former boss and lament the fact he is not alive today to watch the film. Reid waxes lyrical about a boss who was ahead of his time in terms of training routines and tactics and who understood the importance of recuperation programmes for key personnel.  Reid claims that “Howard revolutionised my idea of training” Andy Gray also holds Kendall in the highest regard stating that” Howard was infectious, he was always positive never down or flat. He loved to talk about football. The team reflected his personality” Derek Mounfield concurs adding “training under Howard and Colin was so much fun. We worked as a unit –everybody looked out for each other. We were the best team in the country”.

He is correct – they were!

Reid and Mountfield remind me of what a good coach Harvey was as well “Just ask anyone who worked under Colin like Wayne Rooney. They will tell you that Colin made them better footballers”.

Probably the most unsung of that coaching triumvirate was Mick Heaton who had been Kendall’s assistant at Blackburn Rovers, yet Reid insists that he was the one who consistently boosted a player’s confidence when they were down.  Derek agrees saying, “Mick was always there to pick you up”.

The Unsung Heroes

All three players were adamant that the likes of Alan Harper and Kevin Richardson be rightly credited for the vital roles they played that season. They stepped in whenever required, often playing out of position and accepting that they would lose their place once the injured player had recovered, Peter Reid states “I can’t speak highly enough of Alan and Kevin as people and as footballers.” They might not have received the recognition they deserved from the media, but they did from their teammates.”

The Aftermath

As Rob Sloman, the film director laments – “Heysel denied these players the legacy they merited. They were never allowed to compete in Europe and create their own legacy”. He raises another intriguing possibility. “What if Heysel had happened in Rome in 1977? Then there is no Liverpool dynasty, their players don’t become household names and their subsequent domination of the media simply doesn’t happen.” The director is adamant that Everton team suffered more than any other because of the events at Heysel. He stresses how the lack of European football eventually led to many of that side leaving the club. As he repeats “Playing in Europe for Everton would have given them a profile they don’t have today “He makes his case eloquently. He loves Everton and producing this film as a legacy to the all-conquering side of 84/85 has been over 30 years in the planning. You can sense the joy as he talks about getting all the players back together again and his delight with the fans’ reaction to the film.

At 4 pm the group leave to attend the film at St Georges Hall later. They grab their suit carriers, joking and shouting at each other as they leave. It is like they have never been apart yet some of them have not been together for years. But the rapport is still there, the camaraderie is obvious. Kendall’s team-building ethos shines through. It is evident that they are excited about meeting up with the rest of the squad tonight to relive that season again.

This was the best Everton team I have ever seen and the film “Howard’s Way “provides them with the legacy they deserve.

The following week, Howard’s Way topped the Amazon DVD charts, knocking the Liverpool 18/19 season review into second place.

Rob Sloman – all Everton fans are forever in your debt.

Howard’s Way is available on Amazon here.