03 June 2018
That feeling of disappointment from that season never went away. Every time I looked at those three years from 1985 to 1987 something always felt disjointed, smudged. The 1986 season was the one that got away.
The cacophony from the Kop at the final whistle was deafening. There was jubilation everywhere. For the second year in a row we'd beaten them in their own backyard. The 2-0 score line didn't tell the full story. In my opinion it should have 4-0. But who was I to grumble, I was fifteen years of age, I'd stood on the Kop for the first time and Everton were on the march again to our second title in a row.
Before we'd even left the ground, songs filled the air; “We're going to win the league, we're going to win the league, and now you're going to believe us, and now you're going to believe us…”, “Everton, Everton, Everton…”, and so on.
The rapture grew as the full repertoire expanded and took no prisoners; “Who's up little boys, who's up little boys, Mark, Mark Lawrenson”, “Oh I do like to be beside the seaside, oh I do like to be beside the sea…fuck off McMahon!” There was joy everywhere.
My brother, and his red friends, those rare breeds of Red Scousers who actually went to the game, home and away, were quick to tell me that we'd won the league before we'd got back to the car. This was straight from the horse's mouth; the league was ours.
Rugger and I, my brother's blue mate who I had stood on the Kop with cheering the blues on, sat in the back of one of my brother's red mate's car eating chips, smiling, exhausted and exhilarated. We'd kicked every ball, our voices hoarse.
Life was sweet and couldn't get any better.
Unfortunately, as we all know things don't stay sweet forever.
Before the season ended those sweet tasting moments of February 22nd 1986 became sour. You know how it unfolded.
The 1985-86 season left a dark shadow over my young soul. I was convinced we were robbed. Another file to add to the ‘jammy red bastards' catalogue. I was convinced we'd played the better football, we were the more entertaining team and if it hadn't been for the injury to Everton's greatest goalkeeper I was convinced we would have won the league.
Others believed the sitters Gary Lineker missed in the away game at Oxford United were the real reason why we lost the league title.
Those two incidents seem to have gone down in Everton folklore as the reason we didn't win the 1985-86 season and making it three league titles in a row.
For me, that feeling of disappointment from that season never went away. Even winning the league the following season didn't erase that feeling of a missed opportunity. Every time I looked at those three years from 1985 to 1987 something always felt disjointed, smudged. The 1986 season was the one that got away. Compounded by the facts that ‘they' had done the double, of Heysel and how we really did throw it away.
Maybe it was more painful for me because the 1985-86 season was the first season my mum let me go to the match on my own. My fifteenth birthday present from my red brother was actually an Everton scarf and the ticket money for my first game on my own. The game was two days before my fifteenth birthday and Everton's third home game of the season. We stuffed Birmingham 4-1 and Lineker scored a hattrick. I've still got the scarf, tucked away at the back of my wardrobe somewhere.
My uncles had taken me to Goodison many times and so had my dad, who was a big red, but the 1986 season was the season I came of age. For the record, my dad was from that generation that would watch Everton one week and Liverpool the following week. Although he admits Everton were the better team and had the best stadium, somewhere along the line he turned to the dark side, long before they run riot in Europe and the league titles started to stack up.
By the way, his dad and two older brothers were staunch blues. But then I followed suit. For me, even though I grew up in the seventies when Liverpool began to win trophies season after season Everton was the only team for me. Always was and always will be. It was identity. There was something special about our club, almost ethereal.
The reason for this article is to look back at the two main reasons, I and others believed we didn't win the league in 1986 and to look at other factors often forgotten.
Neville Southall's injury
When Big Nev got the unluckiest, flukiest of injury playing for Wales against Ireland, Everton had nine league games remaining till the end of the season. The deputy to fill Big Nev's gloves was Bobby Mimms.
In the nine league games Bobby Mimms played at the end of the 1985-86 season he kept a remarkable six clean sheets and conceded only three goals. We won six of the games, drew two and lost one. He never conceded more than one goal in a game.
Apart from the obvious, I have to ask myself; what more could Bobby Mimms have done?
The notion I had, that we lost the league because Big Nev got injured just doesn't stand up to Mimms's stats; 9 Appearances, 6 clean sheets, 3 goals conceded.
It might have taken more than three decades to come to this conclusion, but after looking at the facts I'm willing to admit I was wrong about Big Nev's injury and the effect it had on the season. I was probably in denial for so long because Big Nev was one of the greatest goalkeepers the English game ever witnessed. I, like every other Evertonian loved and still love Big Nev. He is a legend.
The truth was Lineker did miss a couple of chances against Oxford United, chances he would have scored on another day, something he freely admits himself. That night, the ball just wouldn't go in for him. That happens to every striker.
When you look at the stats it's hard to hold too much of a grudge against him for that season, with regards to his goal scoring ability, it was fabulous He played 41 league matches for Everton and scored 30 goals. In total, he scored 40 goals in 57 appearances.
He was the first Everton player since Dixie Dean to score 40 goals in a season and the first Everton player since Bob Latchford to score 30 league goals in a season.
Since Lineker's one and only season, no Everton player has scored 30 league goals in a season or 40 goals in total in all competitions in a season. Can we really justify the argument that we lost the league in 1986 because of the missed chances by one player in one game?
When Rugger and I walked away from Anfield singing all the Everton songs, Everton were eight points ahead of Liverpool with twelve games remaining. We were on 62 points and they were on 54.
In the remaining twelve league games we won seven, drew three and lost two. We collected twenty-four points from a total of thirty-six. We played six games at home and six away. We won five at home and drew the other game. Away from home we won two, drew two and lost two. We scored eighteen goals in those twelve matches (six in the one game against Southampton). Lineker scored seven of the eighteen goals. We conceded six goals and kept seven clean sheets.
For the season, our away record was neither good nor bad compared to the two-title winning seasons it was sandwiched between. In 1985 we won 12, drew 3, lost 6 and in 1987 we won 10, drew 4 and lost 7.
Our home record was more than decent, we won sixteen, drew three and lost two. The stats matched the previous season and we gained one less point at home than the title winning season of 1987.
Liverpool on the other hand won eleven of their twelve remaining games and drew the other one. A total of thirty-four points from thirty-six. Seven of those games were away from home.
They scored thirty-two goals and conceded four. They kept eight clean sheets. They beat Oxford 6-0 at home, and Coventry and Birmingham City 5-0, also at home.
The truth was, Liverpool's form after Everton beat them on their own ground was outstanding. In those twelve games they collected ten more points than Everton.
When the season came to an end Liverpool won the league by two points. They scored two goals more than us and conceded four less. We had both won the same amount of games, twenty-six, but they drew two more games than us.
From the eight games we lost all season, six were away matches. We conceded eighteen goals and scored seven. Thirteen goals out of those eighteen were away from home.
To show how close we came to retaining the title, if we had scored one more goal at Goodison in the 3-2 defeat to Liverpool earlier in the season, we would have won the league. We could have won the league just by scoring one more goal in that game. Not by beating Liverpool at home, just by drawing with them.
Leicester City won only ten matches all season and two were against Everton; 2-1 at home and 3-1 away. They lost twenty league matches and survived relegation by one point. They finished the season one point off the final relegation spot. Oxford, the team in our psyche that we believe we lost the title against finished one place above Leicester, both on forty-two points.
Coventry finished one point better off than Leicester and Oxford. We beat them away 3-1 but could only manage a 1-1 draw at home.
Villa finished above Coventry by one point. We beat them 2-0 at home but could only draw 0-0 away.
We failed to beat Nottingham Forest home or away, with two draws, a 1-1 at home and a 0-0 away.
We failed to beat Chelsea, the team Liverpool beat 1-0 away to clinch the title on the last game of their season. We lost 2-1 away and drew 1-1 at Goodison.
So, what does this all mean?
I think it means that the outcome of any one season does not rely on the result of just one football match or the loss of a talisman. It's a fallacy.
The truth is, we lost the league in 1986 not because of injury to the greatest Everton goalkeeper ever or because Gary Lineker missed chance after chance against Oxford United. We lost the title because we just weren't good enough.
Ouch! that hurt.
But at least facing the past and finding some facts, that dark shadow that has hung over me for far too long is now starting to disperse. It may well have taken more than thirty-odd years but I can now look at the past and understand and accept that we were second best in 1986. Simple as that and something not to be ashamed of.
My new way of looking back at 1986 is with a sense of pride, standing on the Kop surrounded by thousands of other Toffees and knowing we out played Liverpool and out sung them, we were contenders. We were to Liverpool what Joe Fraizer or Ken Norton was to Ali, a foe that on another given day could not be beaten without pulling out all the stops and fighting to the end.
This has been cathartic; the past has been exorcised. Hallelujah!
Thanks for reading.
“We shall not be moved!”
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