Although probably better known today for his medieval view of women and for being one-half of the world’s most dismal radio partnership, Andy Gray was also once a pretty decent footballer, albeit mainly with his head.
Back in the mid-eighties he spent a few glorious years with Everton; a period that coincided with a ‘Golden Age’ for the club, a time when we collected trophies with ease.
And the first of these to make its way to the Goodison trophy cabinet was the FA Cup, which the club won in 1984. The game was against Watford and ended 2-0 for Everton, bringing us our first piece of silverware for fourteen years and our first FA Cup for nearly twenty.
Although Graeme Sharpe got the first of Everton’s goals, it’s our second, delivered courtesy of Andy Gray’s head that really sticks in the memory. It was the goal that cemented our victory, putting the game beyond Watford. As the ball hit the back of the net you just knew that the cup was ours.
The FA Cup might not mean as much to some today, but back then winning it still really mattered. It provided entry into the Cup Winners Cup (itself still a well-regarded tournament) and could redeem the most mediocre of seasons in the eyes of the fans. Everton had also suffered a recent defeat against our evil neighbours in the League Cup, so a taste of Wembley success was sorely needed.
I was only eight at the time and deemed too young to accompany my mum and dad on the coach down to London. Although it rankled at the time, in hindsight this was probably an example of good parenting. No child really wants to see their parents half-cut at ten in the morning, surrounded by a cabal of equally p*ssed blues, all disproportionately pleased by the various ways they had smuggled booze past the disinterested eyes of the driver (my dad’s ingenious solution; whiskey in ‘Panda Pops’ bottles).
My absence from the trip meant that I got to enjoy the pre-match build-up on tele instead, which in those days used to last for hours. It would start at something like ten in the morning, beginning at the team’s hotels, shadowing their morning routine and following them until they arrived at Wembley. Both sides were allocated a ‘comedy’ chaperone for the day, a humour-conduit between viewer and team. Everton got Freddie Starr and Watford Michael Barrymore. I suppose Jimmy Savile must have been unavailable.
As an eight-year-old I still found a lot of things funny; people blowing raspberries, men falling over, puppets. But even with this open goal, Starr and Barrymore managed to miss. Excruciating comedy ‘bits’, weird singing episodes, awkward moments with the players, all these conspired to make the build-up the worst televisual experience in the history of broadcasting; at least until the coming of Top Gear. To get a measure of how bad it was I advise anyone to go onto YouTube right now to see Barrymore ‘blacking-up’ to do a John Barnes impression; the only example of car crash television, which when viewed feels worse than suffering an actual car crash.
When the team coaches finally arrived at Wembley I breathed a sigh of relief, safe in the knowledge that there was no way that Starr or Barrymore would be allowed in the dressing room or anywhere near the commentary box.
The game itself went by in a bit of a blur, my excitement levels too high for my senses to really register the ebb and flow of the match. I vaguely remember Watford having some good chances early on and the first half-hour being a finely judged affair. But my first definite memory was Sharpe’s goal just before half-time, something that sent my brother and I into a frenzy, leading us to abandon our custard slices and bottles of non-alcoholic ‘Panda Pops’ to dance around the room for about ten minutes.
And yet, as exciting as that was, it was dwarfed by both my feelings of joy and the extent of our celebrations in response to Everton’s second goal, which came not long after the break. Crossing to the ‘big-man’ was more popular in the eighties than it is today. Aside from Sam Allardyce and Kenny Dalglish, few other notable exponents of this style of football have graced the top-flight in recent years.
But back in 1984 it still held sway and, more importantly, worked. In the fifty-first minute, Everton’s young midfielder, Trevor Steven put in a looping cross from the right to the Watford back-post. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred it was the kind of cross that a keeper would claim. And on this occasion he did. But what the Watford keeper failed to accommodate was the rapidly approaching mass that was Andy Gray’s head, hurtling towards his hands like a sexist Halley's Comet. Gray effectively headed the ball out of the keeper’s grasp and into the back of the net. Despite protestations from some of the Watford players and the sense that other referees might have seen an infringement, the goal stood.
I don’t remember anything of the rest of the game. In my mind the cup was ours and nothing else could penetrate my overwhelming sense of elation. I might have been too young to have the kind of footballing hinterland that my parents and other long- suffering Blues possessed, but I had been around enough of them long enough to appreciate what this win, and Gray’s goal meant.
In the years that have followed our win, the FA Cup has lost some of its allure for some football fans (although largely amongst supporters of big clubs who can’t see past the cash-orgy of the Champions League). But for most of us, and for those who still have a sense of football tradition, the magic of the trophy still lingers on.
I’ve been lucky enough to experience the joy of victory on more than one occasion and unlucky enough to taste defeat a few times too. As Everton take to the field on Monday night I’ll be hoping that this could be the season when a moment like the one provided by Andy Gray all those years ago could happen again.