Everton’s Class of 1985: The Greatest Team You Probably Never Saw
Everton’s all conquering class of ‘85 was one of the greatest ever. They ran away with the league, lifted the European Cup Winners’ Cup and only lost out on the FA Cup to Manchester United in extra-time; but unless you were one of the few who attended Goodison Park at the time there’s a good chance you never actually saw them play.
That’s because, despite being one of the most attractive sides in years, Everton hardly featured at all on television that season, while the average league gate throughout that magnificent campaign was just 31,984 as a combination of high unemployment and economic recession took its toll.
During the previous campaign, the 1983/84 season, there was little to suggest just how dominant Howard Kendall’s side would go on to become and that Christmas the Blues found themselves 16th in the league; eventually rallying to finish 7th.
In the cup competitions, however, they fared much better. Beating Graham Taylor’s Watford at Wembley in the FA Cup final and narrowly missing out on a domestic double after a Milk Cup final replay defeat to neighbours Liverpool at Maine Road.
Even so, their achievements over the following 12 months or so had to be seen to be believed, except not many people did see them due to the fact that football was a very different beast from the slick well-oiled 24-hour media friendly machine it is today.
Compared to the wall-to-wall broadcasts we have now become used to, there were only a handful of top-flight league games televised during the 1984/85 season and the Toffees’ only live appearance in the league came on a Friday night away at Chelsea with ITV not broadcasting a single one of their league games; a scandal considering what they would achieve.
A two year agreement had been reached in 1983 which allowed both the BBC and ITV to screen seven live games each per season and while the BBC showed theirs on Friday evenings and stuck with a traditional Match Of The Day highlights package on Saturdays; ITV’s weekend coverage was broadcast on Sunday afternoon with a mixture of highlights and the occasional live match.
Those unable to watch Everton that season missed something very special as everything fell perfectly into place just at the right time; resulting in one of the most dominant and destructive sides to grace Goodison Park for years.
The defensive partnership of Kevin Ratcliffe and Derek Mountfield offered pace and power in abundance while Gary Stevens was the epitome of a modern, attacking full-back, surging forward at every opportunity while Pat van den Hauwe was as classy as he was ruthless.
Behind them was the ever-reliable Neville Southall who was at the peak of his powers and a genuine contender when it came to being one of the best ‘keepers in the world at the time and would go on to be named Player of the Year at the end of that season.
While the midfield of Steven, Reid, Bracewell and Sheedy was the most balanced since the days of Ball, Harvey and Kendall and a forward line of Adrian Heath and Andy Gray terrorised defences the length and breadth of the country ably supported by Graeme Sharp.
After two defeats from the first two games of the season Everton eventually got off the mark with a 1-0 away win at Chelsea in their third game of the campaign; the only time they featured on the box in the league that season as the BBC covered the match as part of their Friday night live coverage.
Once they were up and running there was no looking back and following a thrilling 5-4 victory over Watford at Vicarage Road their class began to show as they eased away from their nearest challengers like a finely tuned sports car.
A run of six consecutive wins that autumn included victories over Liverpool at Anfield, thanks to a fine effort from Sharp which was eventually voted goal of the season, and a 5-0 thumping of Manchester United at Goodison Park; a sequence of games which saw them score 16 goals and concede just one.
And if that wasn’t enough Kendalls’ side racked-up another run of six successive wins from Boxing Day which included a 4-0 trouncing of Newcastle. When asked if he was disappointed at the scoreline the Magpies boss Jack Charlton replied: “No, I’m not. I’m delighted. I’m delighted that it was only 4-0, because it could have been eight.”
Another 10 wins from their next 12 games all but sealed the title as nearest challengers Liverpool and Spurs could only look on, while a superbly disciplined goalless draw in the Olympic Stadium and a quite remarkable night at Goodison against Bayern Munich (only the highlights featured on Sportsnight) secured them a place in the final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup to go with an FA Cup final appearance.
The championship, Everton’s first for 15 years, was confirmed with five games still remaining and the fact that the title was won by such a margin, despite the fact that the last two matches were all but forfeited in order to rest players, just shows how much better they were than everyone else.
Victory over Rapid Vienna in Rotterdam secured Everton’s first European silverware and set up a treble chance; but a leggy display resulted in defeat to 10-man Manchester United in extra-time at Wembley just three days later and ruined that particular dream.
Nevertheless, the 1984/85 campaign remains one of the most glorious periods in the club’s history to this day with numbers that are nothing short of astonishing.
They won the league by 13 points, accumulating 90 in total and scored 88 goals, the most in all four divisions and some 20 more than second-placed Liverpool; and it can only be surmised what they might have achieved in the European Cup had English clubs not been banned from competing following the death of 39 supporters amid tragic scenes at the Heysel Stadium that May.
But that campaign wasn’t about statistics, it was about glorious moments. Moments like Graeme Sharp’s stunning volley at Anfield, Andy Gray’s two diving headers against Sunderland and Trevor Steven’s blistering shot in the same game. Moments that perfectly encapsulated one of the finest teams of the past three decades in full flow.
Alas, just a handful of moments that were seen by so few that season due to the fact that one of Everton’s greatest teams, for one reason or another, were so rarely shown on national television; and for that reason we should all be sorry.