York, my home in 1985, is a special city where I had recently married and seen the arrival of our first baby. There was much debate about his name. I had hoped to call him Alex, after the Golden Vision. But the woman I had married, a non-Liverpool woman of questionable Southern heritage, baulked at the idea. She finally acceded to my choice of ‘Luke’.
‘At least it’s nothing to do with Everton,’ she said.
Of course, it was all about Everton. There I was, a Blue out of his Bootle comfort zone – not a sentence you read often – and presenting a breakfast show for a BBC radio station. It meant permanent sleep deprivation which was not helped by the new arrival of the boy named after the church over-looking the Gwladys Street corner flag.
She, the woman I married, and the BBC were trying to gentrify me; posh me up – but I was not about to let the leaving of Liverpool grieve me. In my heart I hadn’t left. I had taken three things with me in 1981 when departing the Bootle Times and, briefly, Mercury Press Agency: an accent, an attitude and a passion for Everton. The first was going, the second was mellowing, the third was in full flow. As it is for all of us, Everton is a way of life and in 1985 it had slowly become clear that a side which was woeful only a year earlier was heading towards the Title. So, on a wet May Saturday those three Scouse mates of mine, accent, attitude and Blue-ness, were my soul companions as I drove from York to Sheffield Wednesday.
As a 10-year old, I had been forbidden see us watch win the league in a 1970 night match – I had no intention of missing that milestone if it happened again and there was a series of results involving Liverpool and Tottenham which could have seen us clinch the prize against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough.
Unlikely, but possible.
Weary from 5 a.m. starts, the drive was a chore. Even on a grey day, the journey through York is cloggy – the crawl up Gillygate, skirting past the Minster and along Bootham is an energy-sapper. The A64 past Leeds gets busy, the M1 was always being dug up and the descent into the Don Valley is via narrow roads with traffic bottle-necks and beer-swilling men of the Steel city clogging up the route.
In those days you could buy a seat on the day and I headed for a neutral seat. Wanting a quick getaway at the end, I didn’t stand with my fellow Blues.
Alone I sat, empty seats all around me in a home stand, as Everton emerged to a volley of passion from our fans. Running, with his workers gate, Neville Southall headed towards the goal I was nearest.
There followed a procession. Wednesday rained waves of attacks upon us. We could barely get the ball and when we did, we gave it away. Looking back, for an iconic game, we were kind of awful. The best thing about us at the start of the game was our kit, one of my favourites of Yellow shirts and black shorts
And so to the moment that this gets a bit spiritual.
I couldn’t talk to anyone – just enough of the Bootle sound was detectable. I couldn’t scream encouragement – I would have been thrown out. I couldn’t gesticulate … mine was a heart and soul bound to secrecy. Instead, I drew on reserves of discipline to urge on the lads – silently. I thought the words I wanted to speak and I debated with ‘The Chief’ upstairs that it was his (or her) turn to send us some good fortune.
Can’t say it was because of that sneaky to-and-from with the big Man (or Woman) in the sky, but Andy Gray got lucky from three yards and mis-hit a cross past former Everton ‘keeper Martin Hodge. Cue delirium amongst Everton fans and a silent ‘Yesss.’ from me.
I bottled all emotion. I kept in the roar of triumph. This was a solo High.
But that was not the moment I knew we were going to win the league. As I reflect on that day, I know that all Everton fans in the stadium may struggle to remember our goal…but they will recall in slow-motion, high-definition-wonder; ‘The Save.’ You will find it around 1 minute 28 seconds on this link:
Older readers will bore you with the Gordon Banks save for England against Brazil. Banks pivoting super-humanly after the Pele header had flown past him like a bullet apparently heading for the net but scooped beyond the post by an inspired goal-keeper.
It was good.
Trust me, it was nothing compared to Nev’s save against another former Blue, Imre Varadi. The TV cameras don’t fully do it justice. The shot was going in. Varadi had met the cross sweetly.
My heart sank, thoughts had already turned to another barney with him, or her, upstairs and the locals were on their feet celebrating. The angle I was watching confirmed it – the volley had gone past Nev and was travelling tidily into the net.
And then ‘The Save’.
Nev swatted the shot like a cat sucker-punching a trapped mouse. He battered the ball away like a 1970s Catholic priest clipping you behind the lug-hole for not knowing Mary Magdalane was a different women than the Holy Mary. This was a ‘thou shalt not pass’ moment. God had sent down a thunderbolt in the guise of Nev’s right hand.
Nev had just become the best goalkeeper in the world.
We continued to get battered – but it did not matter. Tense moments, yes, but Neville Southall had single handedly, literally, broken the opposition. That was their best attack, they could no better, they could not beat him.
Toot all you like you Owls, no one will hear you.
Southall went on to win the title, the European Cup Winners Cup and Player of the Year and you can read more here:
But for me personally, he won something else. He won back that feeling that we , Everton, were truly special at football. Yes we were a community of similar-minded people, yes we were much-maligned at a time of Thatcher and Media scorn. But, be honest, the cup win the previous year had masked a time during which we were losers more often than winners whilst the reds conquered all before them.
On that day in Sheffield, we stepped away from that perception.
We were the best. The heirs to Holy Trinity and Dixie Dean had been born and the world was about to find out.
Us, Liverpool people, Everton Football Club – our players, our hopes and dreams.
Chelsea scored three times at Anfield, by the way, and the Kings Road wannabes still lost. So I still had not seen us win the league in person.
On the following Monday, I called the Box Office and ordered four tickets for the Lower Bullens for our next game – against QPR. Another long drive lay ahead as the season continued.
Over to @prenno Dave Prentice and @gavinbuckland1 to take up the story.