When The FA Cup Really Mattered: Remembering Dawn Of New Everton Era

Shades of Gray.
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Shades of Gray.

The latest extract from Matthew Eastley's fantastic FA Cup book 'FROM RICKY VILLA TO DAVE BEASANT When the FA Cup Really Mattered, Volume 3 - The 1980s' recalls how Everton ushered in a new era with victory over Watford.

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On the morning of 19 May 1984, an exodus of coaches full of Everton fans set off from Merseyside. On one, chartered by regulars of a delightfully named pub called The Boffin in Kirkby, was Joe Baker and a noisy band of devoted Toffees. Joe remembers how those on the coach had been given strict instructions they could only bring one bag of beer each.

“The thing is, nobody said anything about the size of the bag,” laughs Joe. “I managed to get a 36-pint polypack of bitter in mine which my brother-in-law sat on his knee for the whole journey down and happily dispensed to me and my mates.”

Both BBC and ITV started their coverage at 11am. David Coleman introduced Cup Final Grandstand and there were a number of ‘exciting new’ features including ‘Dial a Cup Final. There was a special edition of ‘A Question of Sport’ just after one, which was followed by one of the popular head-to-head duologues by Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones, which featured in their series Alas Smith and Jones. At that point, the comedy went dramatically downhill with Freddie Starr entertaining the Everton camp and an excruciating piece from the Watford camp where a blacked-up Michael Barrymore impersonated John Barnes in a faux interview with Bob Wilson.

As the tanked up coachload from The Boffin arrived at Wembley, a number of them without tickets went on the hunt and Joe recalls an astonishing slice of good fortune: “We were walking down Wembley Way asking for spares,” he says, “when we were approached by a man who said, in a worryingly Cockney accent: ‘I've got a couple lads.’ Fearing we had encountered one of the infamous touts we asked him how much. As he took an envelope out of his pocket and placed it in my hand, he uttered the words I’ll never forget: ‘I don't want any money for them lads, I just want them to go to real supporters.’ You can imagine the pandemonium and utter delirium that followed!

Elton John, wearing a checked suit, famously shed tears during the singing of Abide With Me. Watford fan Peter Morgan recalls: “He, like us, had never dreamed this would ever happen and emotion got the better of him and many of us too. We knew it was going to be tough but we believed anything was possible after what had happened over the past seven seasons.”

Belying their reputation as a kick-and-rush, long ball side, Watford impressed in the first-half, playing neat, passing football. Only the consistently brilliant Neville Southall prevented them from scoring.

Peter Morgan says: “We were on top and Les Taylor, Mo Johnston and John Barnes all had good chances, but these were not taken and, as so often happens, we were to rue them.” At the other end, Peter Reid went close after a trademark surging run and the ground sensed a goal was coming, which it soon did.

On 38 minutes, Graeme Sharp’s shot struck the inside base of the post and went in past a stranded Steve Sherwood who was beaten again in more controversial circumstances on 51 minutes. A high looping cross from Trevor Steven tempted the Yorkshire-born ‘keeper off his line but he had slightly misjudged the height of the ball. Arriving in the six-yard box was Andy Gray and, at the instant Sherwood momentarily caught the ball at full stretch, Gray got his head to it, forcing the ball into the net.

Up in the stands, the lads from The Boffin went wild with delight as were the lads who had benefited from the free tickets. Joe Baker recalls: “My brother-in-law, Chris, and another mate had used the tickets. In those days, you were allowed to drink in sight of the pitch. Chris had carried on drinking and had several more pints during the game. Anyway, most of the people around him were Watford supporters and when Graeme Sharp scored our opener, most of Chris’s beer had ended up down the front of the Watford fan in front of him.

“At half-time, Chris had gone to the bar and reloaded for the second half. When Gray’s goal went in, the bloke in front quickly spun round and said to Chris: ‘Here you are mate, let me hold your ale while you celebrate.’”

Jerry Ladell still thinks the goal should not have stood: “I maintain that Gray fouled Steve and that he headed the ball out of his hands. It was only because Sherwood had, unjustly in my view, a reputation for the odd fumble.”

The final minutes were played out with the famous old stadium resounding to the singing of thousands of Evertonians. To the tune of ‘No, Nay, Never,’ they sang. ‘It’s E-ver-ton. Ever-ton FC, We’re By Far the Greatest Team, The World Has Ever Seen.” Their team’s long, agonising wait for a trophy was over. After all those years of being in the shadows of their rivals in red, there was a sense that their time was coming.

And when referee John Hunting blew his whistle, it signalled the end of the match but also the start of a glorious period for the men from Goodison. In the end, their Cup victory was richly deserved.

As skipper Kevin Ratcliffe received the Cup, on the pitch Everton boss Howard Kendall gazed up to the Royal Box with a look of satisfied accomplishment.

Another Joe Baker recollection demonstrates the fine spirit in which the game was played. His brother-in-law, Chris, who had been among the Watford fans for the whole game was late back to the coach but, as Joe remembers: “He was completely bedecked in Watford colours having swapped every bit of Everton memorabilia he had on him with Hornets’ fans. The looks we got from confused customers at service stations on the M6 on the way back when a drunken bloke in Watford colours with the broadest Scouse accent and biggest smile you’ve ever seen walked past singing ‘We Won the Cup’ were a sight to behold.”

The next day was one of celebration for both clubs. For Watford, reaching Wembley had been the apex of their wonderful rise from suburban also-rans to a club deserving of a place at the top table.

For Everton, the 1984 FA Cup win remains a significant moment in their proud history. After 14 years in the wilderness they could finally hold their heads high again and even greater success was just around the corner.

“I don’t think I’ve read anything better on The Cup than these books. They really hit the spot.” - David Barber, FA historian

Out now! FROM RICKY VILLA TO DAVE BEASANT When the FA Cup ReallyMattered, Volume 3 – by Matthew Eastley (Pitch Publishing, £14.99).

Click here to read a free sample chapter

Or here to buy on Amazon