Every so often during a Merseyside derby a football match breaks out and on this day in 1985 Liverpool and Everton were involved in an epic encounter at Goodison Park which helped restore the positive face of English football and the city itself just at the time it was needed most.
It’s fair to say the Merseyside derby has never been for the faint-hearted. “Ninety minutes of frenetic lunacy” was how Everton legend Joe Royle – who enjoyed significant success in the fixture as a player before going on to never lose a game against Liverpool as Toffees manager – once described it, amusingly adding: “We always said we could go out and play for the first twenty minutes, settle down and then someone could throw the ball on.”
All too often, the high stakes and fear of making the mistake which could plunge one half of the city into despair and the other into ecstasy can lead to the sides cancelling each other out, Opta Joe reporting after the recent 0-0 at Goodison Park – the ninth draw out of the last 11 played on the blue side of Stanley Park – that the age-old local dispute has seen more goalless draws than any other fixture in both English top-flight (36) and Premier League history (12).
There are of course exceptions to every rule. Less than a decade ago, Brendan Rodgers’s and Roberto Martinez’s attack-minded sides played out a memorable 3-3 draw at Goodison while the epic 4-4 FA Cup fifth round replay extravaganza in 1991 has long been written into folklore.
The latter proved to be last derby of Kenny Dalglish’s first spell as Reds manager before his shock resignation two days later and his first one after taking charge, played on this day 37 years ago, is also seared into the memory of those lucky enough to have witnessed it which at the time was limited to the 51,509 fans packed into Goodison due a complete black-out of football from British television screens that summed the parlous state of the national game in September 1985.
Less than four months earlier, after a season pock-marked by the scourge of ever-increasing hooliganism, the deaths of 39 Juventus fans after crowd trouble before the European Cup final held at Brussel’s Heysel Stadium between the Italian side and Liverpool saw all English clubs banned indefinitely from continental competition and plunged the game into a period of soul-searching.
That same summer a pay dispute broke out between the Football League and television companies which would not be resolved until December when a £1.3million deal was agreed for 13 domestic league and cup matches broadcast live over rest of season with highights shows resuming as well – but not a minute’s action would be shown for the first half of the campaign.
It was far from ideal at a time when all who loved the game were trying to change public perceptions with the changing dynamic between the Merseyside giants providing a fascinating backdrop. Liverpool had been the country’s pre-eminent force over the last decade, winning six league titles between 1976 and 1984 along with four European Cups and four league cups, but had just suffered their first trophy-less season in ten years having finished runners-up in both the First Division and European Cup and being knocked out of the FA Cup by Manchester United in the semi-finals, the Reds’ fall from grace made more painful by the identity of the side who had taken their domestic crown – Everton.
Having endured a barren decade since their 1970 championship success, the Toffees had appointed former title-winning midfielder Howard Kendall as manager in May 1981 but he initially struggled to turn fortunes around, being thought to be on the brink of the sack in late 1983 with his side struggling near the foot of the table and leaflets being circulated around the dwindling Goodison crowds urging his removal as manager.
Runs to both domestic cup finals that season and the lifting of the FA Cup after Wembley victory over Watford to end the club’s 14-year trophy drought eased the pressure on Kendall and his players, and the following campaign they put together the finest season in the club’s history, strolling to the league title with a record points tally (90) and winning margin (13), lifting the club’s first ever European trophy after victory over Rapid Vienna in the European Cup Winners Cup final in Rotterdam and only being denied a unique treble after extra-time defeat to Manchester United in the FA Cup final.
Their dreams of testing their abilities against the continent’s best were devastated through no fault of their own by the European ban but the Goodison board signalled their intentions to build on their success by paying a club record £800,000 to bring in Leicester City’s prolific England striker Gary Lineker to bolster their already-formidable strikeforce. It would prove money well spent with the forward banging home 40 goals in all competitions in what would be his only season on Merseyside and winning both the PFA and Football Writers’ Player of the Year awards but it took him a while to get going.
After defeat on his Everton debut at of all places Filbert Street, the Leicester-born hot-shot would have to wait until his fourth game before getting off the mark for his new club with the only goal in a victory at the Blues’ main title contenders the previous season, Tottenham. He followed that up with a hat-trick against newly-promoted Birmingham City at Goodison and a brace in a 5-1 win at Sheffield Wednesday and, despite a heavy defeat at Queens Park Rangers on the first weekend in September, Kendall’s men bounced back with a home victory over Luton Town to move up to second in the First Division table ahead of Liverpool’s visit.
The Reds were a point behind their neighbours in fourth as they prepared to cross Stanley Park with a new Anfield era very much in its infancy. 64-year-old manager Joe Fagan had retired after two seasons in charge in the aftermath of Heysel to bring his 27 years of sterling service in the Boot Room to a close and the Liverpool board had stunned football by announcing his replacement would be Kenny Dalglish as the club’s first ever player-manager. The 34-year-old Scot had seamlessly replaced Kevin Keegan following his £440,000 British record transfer from Celtic in 1977 and been the inspiration behind the resulting years of seemingly-effortless dominance but, while his ethereal brilliance on the pitch amply showed his gifted football brain, it was a huge step into the unknown at one of the most difficult times in the club’s history.
The new player-manager handed himself a start as Liverpool began the season with a 2-0 victory at home to Arsenal but, after leaving himself out of the 2-2 draw at Aston Villa, dropped himself after playing in a 1-0 defeat at Newcastle and kept a watching brief from the bench as his side began to repair their indifferent start with home victories over Ipswich Town, Nottingham Forest and Watford and further 2-2 draws at West Ham and newly-promoted Oxford United, the latter of which proved to be something of a watershed for two of the Reds’ defensive lynchpins.
The forward raids of full backs Phil Neal and Alan Kennedy had seen both of them score numerous vital goals at home and abroad during the previous years of success but, at 34 and 31 years of age respectively, their days were numbered with youngsters Steve Nicol and Jim Beglin emerging as likely successors. Kennedy’s last-minute own goal at the Manor Ground would be his last kick in a Liverpool shirt before he was sold to Sunderland weeks later while Neal would be left out of the midweek home clash with Southampton and would make only three more league starts before leaving to join Bolton Wanderers as player-manager in December.
The Saints’ visit to Anfield was in the Screen Sports Super Cup, a swiftly-devised but sparsely-attended tournament devised to give clubs who had qualified for Europe matches to fill during the now-vacant gaps in the fixture calendar, and Dalglish restored himself to the starting line-up, scoring the winner in Liverpool’s 2-1 victory and seeing enough of what he liked to four days later name the same XI an hour before kick off in the biggest game of the season so far at Goodison. It meant Neal had to settle for a place on the bench and brought an end to 27 consecutive derby starts (the first of which was his 1974 debut) for the decorated right-back, with midfielder Jan Molby keeping his place after scoring against Southampton but playing for one of the first times as an auxiliary sweeper in what would become a familiar Dalglish tactical ploy, and former Everton midfielder Steve McMahon continuing in the middle of the park in only his third appearance after his £350,000 move from Aston Villa the previous month.
Everton too were unchanged after their midweek 4-2 Super Cup win away to Manchester United which had ended the league leaders’ eight-game winning start to the season, 19-year-old defender Ian Marshall continuing at centre back in place of the injured Derek Mountfield and former Liverpool reserve Alan Harper in centre midfield for the crocked Peter Reid with forward Adrian Heath – now recovered from the serious knee ligament injury which caused him to miss the second half of the Blues’ previous all-conquering campaign – having to again settle for the number 12 shirt with Lineker and Graeme Sharp preferred up front.
A rain-soaked Goodison crackled with anticipation ahead the 133rd league meeting between the great local rivals – the victory tallies sitting level at 46 apiece – with Howard Kendall receiving the previous season’s Manager of the Year trophy on the pitch before kick-off, the ninth time in 12 years the award had ended up on Merseyside, and England manager Bobby Robson watching on from the stands to run his eyes over the international hopefuls with World Cup in Mexico only nine months away. Neither he nor any of the capacity crowd could have expected proceedings to begin the way they did though, with Liverpool flying out of the blocks in one of the most dramatic openings ever seen in the long history of the fixture.
By the following May, many more people held a similar viewpoint after an epic campaign in which the two Merseyside clubs restored the city’s pride with a cut-and-thrust battle for domestic supremacy that captivated the nation. Everton gained revenge from their September home defeat by triumphing 2-0 in the February Anfield return, a result which opened up an eight-point lead at the top of the table over their local rivals and made them odds-on favourites to retain their league crown. Dalglish’s men would however then embark on a relentless run, winning 11 and drawing only one of their final dozen league matches, with the player-manager himself fittingly scoring the winning goal in the final match of the season at Chelsea to confirm the title was heading back across Stanley Park.
The Mersey clubs’ superiority was further illustrated by both winning through to face each other in the FA Cup final a week later for the first time where Liverpool became only the third club that century – and only the fifth ever – to clinch the hallowed league and cup Double after fighting back from a goal down at half time to triumph 3-1.
It put the seal on a remarkable and momentous twelve months at Anfield in which so many strove to show the best face of the club and the city after the horror of the previous May, the seeds of which were undoubtedly sown on that rain-soaked and never-to-be-forgotten September afternoon at Goodison.