It was hard not to get carried away by the rise of Everton in early 1984. Supporters were swept along as a team that had struggled under Howard Kendall turned the corner and hit the road to Wembley twice. They were beaten by Liverpool in the Milk Cup final after a replay, but their 2-0 win against Watford in the FA Cup final pointed to a brighter future. Beating Liverpool in the Charity Shield gave fans more reasons to believe that they were now real contenders for the big prize.
“Everton have a formidably settled look about their line-up,” wrote Ronald Atkin in the Guardian before the start of the new season. “They possess, in Neville Southall, perhaps the best goalkeeper in the Football League, an excellent back line and an energetic and skilful midfield. If Everton can only start to score goals, Liverpool, and everyone else, will be in trouble.”
Everton fans were understandably optimistic as the 1984-85 league campaign started. The visit of Spurs produced the highest attendance for an opening league fixture at Goodison Park since 1978. The feelgood factor was back, but the match would be a sobering experience. Being thrashed 4-1 in front of their own fans by another title contender was not part of the script.
Gavin Buckland, Everton’s official statistician and author of Boys from the Blue Stuff, recalls the pre-match atmosphere. “The FA Cup, Charity Shield and FA Youth Cup were paraded before the start and there was an element of triumphalism. What could possibly go wrong?”
With new signing Paul Bracewell taking his place in midfield alongside Peter Reid, the home team started on the front foot. They dominated the early stages and Adrian Heath gave them the lead in the 16th minute, slotting home a penalty after Paul Miller had been penalised for handling. Evertonians basking in the summer sun must have thought their team was justifying their pre-season hopes. But then the wheels fell off in dramatic style.
If losing to Tottenham was not a shock, the nature of the defeat certainly was. Spurs had won the Uefa Cup earlier in the year and added John Chiedozie and Clive Allen to an already impressive squad but manager Keith Burkinshaw had left in the summer after falling out with the board, with Peter Shreeves now in charge.
Tottenham did well to get through the Everton storm just one goal down. Yet, in a remarkable 17-minute period either side of half-time, they turned the match on its head. An unusually hesitant Southall allowed Mark Falco to prod home an equaliser in the 38th minute and Tottenham took the lead just three minutes later. Kevin Ratcliffe failed to clear and Tottenham’s new £700,000 signing Allen took advantage, chipping over an outrushing Southall to stun Goodison. This was escalating quickly. Chiedozie headed past Southall in the 52nd minutes, extending Spurs’ lead to 3-1 and opening his account for his new club. Three minutes later, the match was over as Southall parried Falco’s shot and Allen pounced on the rebound.
The 4-1 scoreline was not a true reflection of the match, but losing at home to a Tottenham team who were missing Glenn Hoddle and Ossie Ardiles was a bitter blow for Everton. “Everything was wrong at the back and our goalkeeper Neville Southall didn’t have the best of games,” said Kendall after the match.
Meanwhile, his opposite number was fielding questions about a Tottenham tilt at the title. “It’s a bit premature to start talking in those terms,” Shreeves said. “I’ve got to keep my feet on the ground and make sure the players do too.” The bookies were not so cautious, however, slashing their odds from 12-1 to 7-1.
In Cheer Up Peter Reid, the Everton midfielder explains the confusion felt after the Tottenham defeat. “It was one of those games in which you walk off wondering what’s just gone on because you know you haven’t played that badly – and they haven’t played that well – but the result suggests otherwise. It affected us, though, giving the confidence that we’d built up a little knock.”
Things went from bad to worse for Everton two days later when they lost 2-1 away at West Brom. “There was still no panic, but I must admit I was taken aback by this calamitous opening,” Graeme Sharp wrote in Sharpy. Their trip to Chelsea on the Friday night – their third game in the first week of the season – took on extra significance. The season was young but they could not afford to fall too far behind.
A 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge steadied the ship and Everton picked up their form, losing just once in 13 league matches in a run that included a win at Anfield and a 5-0 destruction of Manchester United. Things were still not quite right defensively, though, as the team conceded four goals in a 5-4 win at Watford and a 4-3 defeat at Norwich. Everton’s credentials were questioned again when they conceded four at Goodison to another London team just before Christmas.
Unlike their defeat to Spurs earlier in the season, though, the 4-3 loss to Chelsea proved to be a turning point. Everton went on a sensational run after Christmas, going unbeaten for 18 games and picking up 50 points from the next 54 available. With new signing Pat Van Den Hauwe bedded in at left-back and Southall in inspired form, Everton conceded just nine goals in those 18 games. Having finished seventh the previous season, Everton were bearing down on the title.
Fittingly, they enjoyed a crucial victory against Spurs amid that run. Southall produced a stunning save as Everton won 2-1 at White Hart Lane against their fellow title contenders. The season had gone full circle for the goalkeeper and his teammates. For Shreeves and Tottenham, that early promise had evaporated. Spurs finished level with Liverpool on 77 points, 13 behind champions Everton, who won the title with five games to spare.
Everton had gone from a humiliating defeat on the opening day to winning their first title in 15 years. Throw in another FA Cup final and a European adventure that ended with the club clinching the Cup Winners’ Cup, and these were heady times for Evertonians. The exciting journey had started with an almighty tumble but, every time they tripped, Kendall’s team managed to dust themselves down and get back on track.