As every proud Evertonian knows, theirs was the first Liverpudlian club to be formed and were it not for a dispute over finances, their red city rivals may never have come into existence. It was Everton who were the initial tenants at Anfield and Everton who were founder members of the Football League in 1888, with Liverpool being formed four years later.
Following Liverpool’s election to the Football League in 1893 the two clubs existed in close proximity and fierce rivalry for the better part of the next ninety years without ever meeting in a cup final or Wembley clash of any kind. All of that was to change in the mid to late nineteen-eighties, however, as the reds and the blues finally came together in three cup finals and five Wembley encounters in the space of six seasons.
At various points in their shared history Liverpool and Everton had both successfully negotiated their way to the FA Cup semi-finals, and yet had never met in the final. Either they had been drawn against each other, as in 1950, 1971 and 1977, or else one or the other (or both) had come a cropper at the ultimate stage – in 1980, for example. By 1984, therefore, Merseysiders were beginning to wonder if the ultimate match-up would ever take place.
The 1983-84 season started slowly for Everton, and after two years in charge, the pressure was on manager Howard Kendall to deliver the goods. An abject 0-0 draw at home against Coventry at the turn of the year was watched by less than 14,000 hardy souls and the writing was, quite literally, on the wall for Kendall. Graffiti sprayed on his family garage suggesting it was time to go left no room for ambiguity.
Everton were still hanging on in the League Cup, though, and had battled through to a quarter-final match-up with third-tier Oxford United. When Jim Smith’s team were overcome following a replay, and Liverpool battled through their respective replay with Sheffield Wednesday, the two sides found themselves in the semi’s and kept apart.
In the last four, Everton overcame Aston Villa 2-1 on aggregate and Liverpool survived a first-leg scare against Walsall to ultimately triumph 4-2 on aggregate. Thus the scene was set for the first-ever All Merseyside Cup Final and the first meeting of the sides at Wembley.
Match One: 1984 Milk Cup Final
The 1984 League Cup Final was sponsored by the Milk Board and was the first final to be played on a Sunday as well as the first League Cup Final to be televised live. It was a miserable cold and wet day that say 100,000 Scouse souls descend on the old stadium with perhaps as many as 20,000 locked outside.
Liverpool were the clear favourites to win despite the upturn in Everton’s form since the start of the year, but it was Everton that made the early chances and could have either scored or had a penalty as early as the eighth minute, when Alan Hansen clearly handled Adrian Heath’s goal-bound shot.
As Everton continued to make the first half running, Graeme Sharp and Kevin Sheedy both spurned good chances to open the scoring. Liverpool’s manager, Joe Fagan, contended later that his side was somewhat fortunate to be level at the break and could, in fact, have found themselves three down by that stage.
Liverpool improved in the second half and perhaps looked the more likely winners in the last half hour of the regular ninety. Everton’s ‘keeper, Neville Southall, was in inspired form, though, and the whistle for the end of the ninety went with the scoreline still blank. When the extra thirty minutes could provide no breakthrough, the sides had to settle for a share of the spoils and a trip to Manchester City’s Maine Road ground for a replay three days later.
Another tight affair ensued, with the only goal of the three-and-a-half hours played coming in the twenty-first minute courtesy of Liverpool captain, Graeme Souness.
Perhaps somewhat relieved to have overcome the stubborn opposition of their noisy neighbours, Liverpool would go onto complete a treble that season as they added the First Division title and European Cup to the Anfield trophy room that May. As for Everton, their wait for a major trophy was only prolonged by two months as they would be back at Wembley to defeat Watford in the FA Cup Final a matter of weeks later.
All of this meant, of course, that Liverpool and Everton were due back at Wembley to face each other once more the following August in the FA Charity Shield.
By now Souness had moved on to Sampdoria, and with Everton expecting to continue their resurgence under Kendall, the two teams were more evenly matched than they had been at any time in the past decade or more.
Match Two: 1984 FA Charity Shield
Another sell-out 100,000 attendance, the first in the history of the Charity Shield, saw the two teams take to the lush Wembley turf. Unlike their earlier encounter five months previously, the weather was perfect with clear blue skies abound.
Paul Bracewell was making his debut in the centre of the park where he was up against a Liverpool midfield devoid of Souness and instead comprising Sammy Lee and John Wark, Liverpool’s recent £450,000 signing from Ipswich.
A fairly entertaining first half saw Kenny Dalglish miss a glaring opportunity to put Liverpool ahead when he sprung the Everton offside trap, only to blaze wide when it looked easier to score. This was followed a minute or so later by Everton’s Adrian Heath forcing a magnificent save from Bruce Grobbelaar. The scoreline remained blank as the sides went in for their half-time cuppa.
In the second half, Everton got into their stride, particularly in midfield, and started to gain a stranglehold on the match. The breakthrough when it came was delivered in bizarre circumstances. Graeme Sharp found himself clean through on goal and although Grobbelaar dived at Sharp’s feet and managed to deflect the ball away Sharp still got a shot away. The ball zipped past the prostate Liverpool ‘keeper only to be kicked off the line by Liverpool skipper Alan Hansen, who had managed to get back and cover.
Unfortunately for Liverpool, Hansen’s clearance was straight at Grobbelaar and the ball rebounded from his shins for one of the weirdest own goals seen at Wembley for some time.
The remainder of the match saw Everton largely in control and Liverpool mainly chasing the long shadows being produced on the lush Wembley turf. The final 1-0 scoreline was a lot more comfortable than it appears on paper.
Everton quite reasonably saw this performance and result as a marker for the upcoming season, and there then followed a sizable shift in the dynamics of the two clubs’ relationship and rivalry. Everton went onto have a golden season, romping to the league title and also winning the European Cup Winners’ Cup. Liverpool struggled to replace Souness and by the time they clicked into any sort of form in the New Year were too far off the pace to challenge. A distant runners-up spot was scant consolation at the season’s end.
The following season saw a change in management at Anfield as Kenny Dalglish stepped up to replace Joe Fagan and become the club’s first, and to date only, player-manager. The two Merseyside giants were more evenly matched in this 1985-86 season and battled away on two fronts for the major honours of league and FA Cup.
In April 1986, both sides were challenging for the league title while safely through to the semi-finals of the FA Cup. Kept apart in the draw, Liverpool took on Southampton at White Hart Lane while Everton clashed with Sheffield Wednesday at Villa Park.
Extra time winners from Ian Rush in London and Graeme Sharp in Birmingham secured the first-ever all-Merseyside FA Cup Cup Final.
By the time May 10 and Cup Final Day rolled around, Liverpool had secured the league title by two points from Everton and so came to Wembley looking to complete the double.
Match Three: 1986 FA Cup Final
The build-up to the game was even more intensive than it had been two years earlier, with seemingly the whole of the city locked in a determined battle to secure tickets which were going at anything up to fifty times face value. Your trusted scribe, then a fresh-faced 17-year-old working his first job in London, paid £65 for a £6 standing ticket, for example.
Come the day and with about 110,000 inside and another 25-30,000 outside, the two sides clashed in a cup final for the ages. As with the two previous Wembley occasions, it was Everton that settled the quicker and looked more comfortable while the red men seemed ill-at-ease and played for an hour as if they were virtual strangers to one another.
A long ball over the top from Peter Reid was the perfect invitation for Gary Lineker to run on to and outpace Alan Hansen. Although Grobbelaar managed to get both hands to the ball, he could do nothing other than push it back out to Lineker who scrambled it home at the second attempt.
Everton continued to control the tempo of the game and should have had a penalty when Steve Nicol appeared to foul Graeme Sharp, but referee Alan Robinson, who was the man in charge of the League Cup Final two years earlier and failed to give Everton a nailed-on penalty then, did so again and once more infuriated the blue half of Merseyside.
As the game approached the hour mark, Everton saw good chances come and go to more or less put the game to bed, but then out-of-the-blue Liverpool equalised. A poor pass from Everton’s right-back, Gary Stevens, was intercepted by Ronnie Whelan who fed Jan Molby. Molby played a short ball through to Ian Rush who had sprung the Everton offside trap, and Rush took it around the advancing Bobby Mimms in goal before slipping it home for 1-1.
From then on in Liverpool got into their stride and a Craig Johnston goal put them ahead six minutes later with Rush completing the scoring eight minutes from time. It was harsh justice on Everton to not only lose the match but to end the season potless.
Liverpool’s winning of the double put the FA in a quandary as to how to arrange the following season’s Charity Shield. After some consideration, it was decided to invite Everton back to Wembley in opposition to Liverpool once more.
Match Four: 1986 Charity Shield
When the two teams once again met back at Wembley there was for once a less than capacity attendance with a still-more-than-healthy 88,000 turning up on the day.
Of the four matches thus far this was perhaps the most mundane effort of all. Not much happened for 80 minutes or so as the sides battled in the Wembley heat. Everton had a weakened side out and fielded many changes from their cup final defeat, and yet more than held their own once again. Highlights, if they can be labelled such, included action from each side’s benches as Liverpool were forced to substitute goalkeeper Grobbelaar for Mike Hooper, and Everton gave Neil Adams his debut from the bench in the 57th minute only to substitute him less than 30 minutes later.
With ten minutes to go, Everton finally made the breakthrough as Heath slipped the ball past Hooper when put through one-on-one. Minutes later Kevin Langley missed a glorious opportunity to make the game safe for Everton, and within two further minutes, Liverpool were level when Dalglish and Rush combined to once more break Everton’s hearts.
With no extra-time or penalties to be played, the sides shared the trophy for six months each.
The season that followed was a mirror of the previous one only this time Everton prevailed in the race for the championship and it was Liverpool that finished the season in the runners-up spot and empty-handed.
Match Five: 1989 FA Cup Final
The fifth and final Wembley gathering of all things Merseyside took place on 20 May 1989 and was the second FA Cup Final between the clubs in the space of four seasons. Coming as it did just five weeks after the unspeakable horrors of Hillsborough, it now seems incredible that the season continued at all and particularly so that Liverpool elected to continue playing. This should not be seen as a criticism of the club or the decision to restart football, merely an acknowledgement that society is different now and under similar tragic conditions it is hard to envision football continuing.
Anyway, continue it did, and after Liverpool defeated Nottingham Forest in the rescheduled semi-final, the search for tickets was once again on. This time I managed to procure a ticket in Row One level with the half-way line opposite the Royal Box and the atmosphere at the game was weird, to say the least.
Before the match, there was a degree of togetherness and community as both sets of fans observed a minute’s silence and then sang YNWA together, but after that, the match was devoid of any spark either on the pitch or in the stands. It felt like watching a pre-season friendly at times as both sets of supporters almost felt too inhibited to do much more than politely applaud at a good move or roll one’s eyes and gently tut at mistakes.
John Aldridge opened the scoring in the fourth minute and Liverpool held their advantage for the next 85 and a half minutes before Everton substitute, Stuart McCall, equalised. It was at this point that about 200 Everton fans decided, for reasons known only to themselves, to invade the pitch.
Into extra-time, the match limped and now, at last, it woke up considerably. Liverpool substitute, Ian Rush, restored Liverpool’s lead only for McCall to once again achieve parity. The scoring was concluded when Rush put Liverpool ahead for the third and final time in the last minute of the first period of extra time.
Following Everton’s first goal each subsequent strike was accompanied by a totally superfluous pitch invasion, as was the referee’s final whistle and so it was that neither side was able to complete the traditional lap of honour.
Walking back to the tube station after the game, there was none of the elation one would normally correlate with watching one’s side win the FA Cup. Instead, it felt as if one was returning from a drawn Charity Shield match, and to this day I feel a smidge guilty that I attended this match at all.
Six days later, of course, Liverpool would fail to complete the double in dramatic circumstances as Arsenal pulled off a famous 2-0 victory at Anfield in the final title-deciding match of what had been a harrowing season. Just as the FA Cup Final victory had left me personally almost cold with indifference, so did this defeat. Although not entirely disaffected by the result, I could probably compare it with losing an FA Cup quarter-final in any other season.
So, there we have it. Six seasons, five meetings in three different competitions, two Liverpool wins, one Everton victory, and two draws. A total of twelve goals scored with Ian Rush leading the scoring with five and Everton’s top scorer being Stuart McCall with his cup final brace.
In 2012, the two sides would meet again at Wembley, this time in an FA Cup Semi-Final. Due to the FA’s inability to budget the rebuilding of Wembley, all semi-finals are now held at the stadium and so it came to pass that rather than transport 80,000 supporters the 35 or so miles to Old Trafford or the Etihad, another red and blue invasion of North London occurred some twenty-three years after the last one.
But that’s a story for another day.