The Dark Shadow of '86

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.

Gary Lineker

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

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!”

Reader Responses

Selected thoughts from readers

Julian Simcox
Posted 03/06/2018 at 16:22:41
I was at the infamous Oxford Utd game and Gary Lineker did have an unusually poor one. To my eyes he inexplicably missed an easy hat trick. I left the game crestfallen but also mystified — 2 of the chances I could have scored myself.

Several years later Gary was interviewed on Parkinson and he talked about his 1 season at Everton as his personal highlight— and said he should have had a League Title medal.. but for a catastrophic penultimate game vs Oxford. He explained that it was all down to the error of one lad at Goodison who forgot to put his boots on the bus. He had to play in a borrowed pair!

Dennis Stevens
Posted 03/06/2018 at 18:27:51
Maybe Kendall was too hasty in letting Gray leave upon the arrival of Lineker, or signing Lineker at all - one can only speculate.

Liverpool won the title with two points less than we'd reached the season before & we would regain the title the following year with the same tally that had seen us end as runners-up - fine margins.

Some may well argue Liverpool should never have been in a position to win the League in the first place. If the events at Heysel had happened to any other English club, leading to a European ban for all English clubs, how many of them would not have faced a points deduction or even demotion down a Division or even two?

Trevor Powell
Posted 03/06/2018 at 19:01:15
The contention that EFC lost the title at Oxford is partially true. It was really at Luton a few weeks earler when with two minutes left EFC were leading one-nil and fell apart as two corners from the right were headed in by unmarked Luton forwards! Those three points would have made a huge difference on the final run-in!
Rick Tarleton
Posted 03/06/2018 at 20:01:22
Everything in the eighties can be summed up in one word: Heysel. Liverpool did the crime Everton and others paid the price. Liverpool survived the aftermath, Everton were destroyed. Any club at that time could have been Liverpool, all clubs at that time were followed by hooligans, but Liverpool were the guilty party and we paid the price.
Shaun Sparke
Posted 03/06/2018 at 20:17:19
Great article and an enjoyable read. I was in the main stand that day surrounded by reds. I remember jumping up when the second went in screaming like a madman. Getting told to sit down and shut up by some fat nosed, one toothed, large-headed, red-faced scarf-clad inbred. I had the best night out of my life in town that night with my brother and mates. Little did I know that the season would end in double heartbreak.
Marcus Leigh
Posted 03/06/2018 at 20:22:29
I used to love those derbies - back in the '80s when a good third of the Kop used to be turned blue and there wouldn't be a spot of bother. In fact there'd be thousands of Evertonians waving to each other from the Kop to the Anfield Road end and back again. Between them, the Merseyside teams dominated the football league at that point in time. Halcion days.

Anyone remember a guy on the Gwladys Street terrace with mad hair known as Worzel (named after Worzel Gummage I guess)? For a few seasons in the '80s he used to be the Blues' unelected cheerleader and I distinctly remember him charging down the terrace at the Anfield Road end after a derby we lost there, offering to beat the crap out of a few Blues who I seem to remember had had the temerity to be less than supportive as the teams left the pitch.

Sorry, a trip down memory lane.


Dave Abrahams
Posted 03/06/2018 at 20:26:27
Yes Mark we should have well wrapped the title up, that day at Anfield was brilliant for us and sad for them. Every Evertonian who was there celebrated another title triumph, but Amanda who never played that day changed them from being second best to a team transformed by him, just because he was on the pitch with them every game, I think, after we fucked them: Kenny Dalgish, he inspired them by playing with them, he even scored the winner at Chelsea that ensured they won the league.

We didn't really play that badly, in fact did enough to have won the title, but they won eleven out of twelve and forced themselves over the line to beat us. Bastards!!

Keith Dempsey
Posted 03/06/2018 at 20:51:23
Our 1st game that season was at Leicester with Lineker making his debut and very guilt game his replacement was mark bright who needless to say had a blinder, despite taking the lead through Mountfield we lost 3-1 which ultimately cost us as much as the Oxford game. Still got the image of Brucey letting Ratcliffe's pile driver through his legs.
Peter Mills
Posted 03/06/2018 at 21:01:44
I think the conclusion is correct - we just weren’t quite good enough, and the rs put their foot on the pedal and it stayed there.

It was certainly not Lineker’s fault, he was superb. But we played everything to and through him, and when he faltered slightly towards the end of the season, there was no plan B.

I remember the game at Notts Forest with maybe 6 games to go, it was 0-0, not a disaster, but there was a feeling coming away from it that we were beginning to struggle.

Tony Marsh
10 Posted 03/06/2018 at 21:34:09
Great Article Mark.

The only time in my life Everton as a team were not in some way under the jinx/curse of LFC was when Joe Royle was the manager. We never lost a Derby under Joe.

We beat the Reds 2-0 @ Goodison in Joe's first game in charge. Duncan Ferguson's legendary header the highlight.We even manged to beat them at Anfield under Joe the dsy when Kanchelskis scored two cracker at the Kop end.

When Everton we were at our very best in the mid 1980s we never could beat Liverpool when it mattered most. Now we just can't ever beat the Twats at anytime. Definetly a curse over us that never gets lifted.

I used to dwell in the past but there's not much in our recent past to dwell be on.Now it is a case if the here and now that matters. At present we are years behind them Let's hope it changes thus season..

Jack Convery
11 Posted 03/06/2018 at 21:37:48
Like you I always said Nevs injury on that farmers field of a pitch in Ireland cost us dearly that year. Having read your analysis of the League results I realise now Bobby was not to blame in any way. Neither was Lineker, though I do remember listening to the Oxford game on the radio and kicking quite a well built chair across the kitchen when the final whistle went. I knew we'd fucked up big style.

Their end of season form was ridiculous and as you say we weren't quite good enough when it really counted.

As for the FA Cup, with Nev in goal who knows, though I suspect the momentum they had carried them over the line in that one too. They were great times and as for what would have happened if Heysel had never occurred we will never know. Though we do know what happened after it did.
Ian Hollingworth
12 Posted 03/06/2018 at 22:01:54
Great read and made me feel better about the pain we've been carrying all these years.

Still hate the bastards though.

Let's hope we get some of those good times back soon.
Tony Abrahams
13 Posted 03/06/2018 at 22:15:15
I thought we lost the league at Oxford, in possibly the strangest atmosphere I've ever witnessed, at the match. I don't think I've ever known Evertonians so tense, but this was possibly because Lineker, missed a few chances that he'd gobbled up all season.

They then beat us at Wembley, in a game we had dominated for an hour, so they done the double, even though we had them in real trouble, and even now when I look back, I still think we were the better team, even if my argument is weak, considering where all the cups ended up that fateful season.

Andy Crooks
14 Posted 03/06/2018 at 22:25:05
Gary Lineker was the last great signing we made. Never since then have we signed player who chose us as the best choice. Whatever one thinks of him as a pundit he was very special for us. His deparure was the end of us as a major player.
Brian Wilkinson
15 Posted 03/06/2018 at 22:46:45
One that never gets mentioned is the game a week or so before the Oxford United game was away to Forest. Somehow from a couple of yards out and an almost open goal, Sharp managed to hit the post when it was easier to score.

With those dropped points, we then carried it to the Oxford game. For me that is when we threw the league away in those two games.

Derek Thomas
16 Posted 04/06/2018 at 01:18:47
For me it all comes down to how we were still trying to come to terms with Lineker and the new formation in those early games, especially the Derby.

We lost 2-3, they get 3pts. We get 0pts. Even a draw would have done us. Even with Southalls injury and all the games mentioned above, its all just the slings and arrows of a season.

Get that draw or even a win and all other things being equal- including Oxford, we win the league.

Everton that.

Pete Clarke
17 Posted 04/06/2018 at 03:33:13
I was in the Kop amongst you that day and stayed singing in the local pubs with loads of fellow blues before heading into town. We were in control of the City for sure.

Liverpool's form after that Derby was amazing and we cannot blame any player of ours for that but as with the cup final, when it mattered those bastards got the job done.

Have been looking forward for many years to when we put a few big ones over them in situations that count. We are light years away from them but I do see a Silva lining.
Paul Ferry
18 Posted 04/06/2018 at 06:57:36
Marcus Leigh 6 - I used to love those derbies - back in the '80s when a good third of the Kop used to be turned blue and there wouldn't be a spot of bother.

That's not true Marcus mate. I was in the Kop in 1986 and there was a lot of violence towards the end of the game. I was on the left-hand-side with plenty of blues and there were missiles and charges and fists flying.

Years later, I remember saying to a mate who was there with me that day that that was when a different tone set in at derbies - post-Heysel ban also? - although Hillsborough brought us closer together. I was singing 'Merseyside' at the 1984 final but in defiance and hatred of Thatcher/ism and what it was doing to our city.

How can anyone at that game still today watch Chrissy pushing coughing and spluttering George in his wheelchair through that desolate dock on Blackstuff without getting teary?

Liam Reilly
19 Posted 03/06/2018 at 08:41:39
You don't win a league on one Saturday and you don't get relegated on one either.

Their 11 wins in 12 was unprecedented and won them the title.

Everton"s form was good; there's was better.

Craig Walker
21 Posted 04/06/2018 at 14:00:31
Great article.

Regarding Lineker's boots at Oxford United, I read 'Here We Go: Everton in the 80s' by Simon Hart which was an excellent read. There's a section in it from Gary Lineker and if memory serves, Gary's lucky boots had been packed after all and they were under the dressing room benches (possibly under a heating pipe) if memory serves. He only found them after the game. I'd have to re-read it but that was my recollection.

Rudi Coote
23 Posted 04/06/2018 at 15:05:47
When we won that game at Anfield I said to my mate, "Liverpool are finished." Never again will I write those twats off. I wasn't celerbrating when they were 3 down against A.C. it didn't sit comfortably that night.

I still don't believe Dalglish managed the team after the defeat at Anfield. I think Paisley took over cos they were really shite.
Christy Ring
24 Posted 04/06/2018 at 15:32:40
I believe injuries to key midfielders Reid and Bracewell were the reason we didn't win the league. The assault by Whitehurst on Brace that January cost him his World cup place,it took nearly 3 years to get his ankle sorted, and Reid was missing also.
Tommy Carter
25 Posted 04/06/2018 at 16:50:11
Southall was world class. As was Lineker. Sheedy and Steven were top class. Ratcliffe, Reid and Stevens were good international standard players.

The rest were good decent professionals but no more than that. Together they were a great team but we never had a mix of world class talent.

Signings after Lineker went in 1986 were not good at all and although they helped us to win the league in 1987 - we had no second generation emerging. We then held on to Sharp, Ratcliffe etc long enough to watch them become very ordinary players.

The signings made by Kendall post Lineker sale and during his second spell as Everton Manager tell em that he didn’t really have an eye for picking world class players

Ste Traverse
26 Posted 04/06/2018 at 19:59:05
It's not really been mentioned by many on this article that the highly influential Peter Reid started just 15 league games in that season. Had he just doubled that could we have earned the three extra points that would have give us the title? Who knows.

He was just one of a catalogue of injuries we suffered that season.

Lineker did have an off night in that infamous defeat at Oxford but had been unbelievable all season for us and to this day I've never agreed with his sale. Lets not forget him and Graeme Sharp contributed a whopping 64 goals between them that season and would have only got better and better as a partnership.

Liverpool were unstoppable after we beat them at Anfield but it did seem sides were rolling over for them during the run in. The reverse happened in 86/87 as they completley collapsed in the final third of the season.

Mimms didn't let us down but he just wasn't Nev was he?

Dave Ganley
27 Posted 04/06/2018 at 20:41:19
Good article and I have to admit I always blamed Southall's injury for losing the league but your analysis proved me wrong on that score. I think Liam #19 has it right, our form was good but theirs was exceptional, you can't knock 11 wins and a draw from the last 12 games. Definitely title-winning form.

As to being ok to go in the kop as a blue, well it was always pretty dicey depending on who and how many you went in with. I first went in there around 77 or 78, a 2 2 draw when I think Micky Lyons put through his own goal. Had to celebrate quietly as it was just quite nasty around us when we scored. Having said that, I was in the Liverpool side of the Kippax for the league cup final replay in 84 and although I got a lot of stick it was all good natured. Similarly, a RS mate of mine didn't come to Goodison for years after he got a good dig when he was in the Gwladys Street end with his mates so I guess it's swings and roundabouts.

I think the 86 loss to the RS never made a lasting bitterness with me mainly because we won the league the next season. I always thought that we were a much better team in 85 and 87 when Lineker wasn't there. Don't get me wrong he did fantastic for us in 86 but we were too 1 dimensional and everything went through him. We didn't seem to have a plan b. As has been pointed out earlier, I always thought it was a huge mistake selling Andy gray, still had a lot to offer.

The big miss that I still think about was 74/75 season. Really should have won the league that year. 2 defeats against Carlisle of all teams. Relegated too. How the hell did we get beat twice by them? That's the one that still rankles with me after all these years. If we had won that one who knows how the rest of the 70s would have panned out. Missed out big time with that one.

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