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Counterfactual History in Seville

By Gerry Allen :  28/01/2008 :  Comments (10) :
?What I remember most? said Jimmy, ?Was the sense of total fulfilment. I knew straight away — as soon as the whistle went — that this was the best it would ever get. Kevin Ratcliffe lifted that cup with the big ears and it was still so hot in Seville and we?d finally stopped thinking about them. From now on it was just us. Everton: We were the best in the world.?

There is a really good interview on Everton TV at the moment. It?s with Clive Tyldesley and he discusses Everton past and present in warm but honest terms. It is a good benchmark of where we currently are and he provides a usefully dispassionate analysis of that old bug-bear of ours — the impact of the European ban after 1985. He very clearly suggests that Everton had great prospects in 1986 (and beyond) and that it?s possible we may only now be emerging from the shadow of this lost opportunity.

Those of you who enjoy a good read may be aware of a recent publishing phenomenon called ?Counterfactual History?. A number of books — or books with essays — have been published that paint a picture about what would have happened had certain key events not turned in the way did. Sometimes, according to the historians, minor events could change history — if the wind hadn?t blown the Armada off course in 1588, for example. Sometimes leaders getting decisions wrong was a more obvious reason — Hitler invading the Soviet Union two months later than he should have done and coming unstuck in the cold, cruel Russian winter.

With credit to Clive, therefore, and apologies to more informed Everton historians than me (and they know who they are) let us tell the ?what if? tale of events in the summer of 1985 and the Everton glories that may have followed a hot night in Seville in 1986.

December 1988 (Imagine it)

English clubs received news of the reprieve of June 15th 1985. Some of the anger and passions following the Heysel Stadium disaster had cooled. A five-year ban from Europe for Liverpool FC followed on from the club?s dignified admission of guilt over the deaths of 39 people and culpability of Liverpool supporters. After much lobbying by representatives of England?s ?Big Four? — a phrase hated by those who did not support Everton, Man United, Arsenal or Tottenham — a reprieve had been secured for clubs via both UEFA and a reluctant British government. It was a final warning, but one that was measured against facts. It was reported that the behaviour of England?s other representative in a European Final in 1985 had been exemplary and acted in mitigation of this u-turn. Evertonians in Rotterdam had saved the bacon of England?s finest clubs.

?We?ve also done this for our neighbours at Liverpool FC? Everton Chairman Philip Carter was reported as saying. ?After all, who knows what resentment could follow the terrible actions of a few fans wearing Liverpool colours. Why, that kind of resentment could burn for years.?

It?s hard to imagine now but this was probably the most important day for Evertonians in the decade of the eighties. Arguably more important than their victories in a succession of finals and championships. Perhaps its most important day since the Second World War and even of its long, illustrious history. It is almost impossible to imagine what would have been lost had this brave decision not been made on June 15th 1985. This is best left to the dark corners of nightmares for Evertonians and the dreams of the most partisan Kopite.

And so to Jimmy, Sean and John. Jimmy was the winner of the Echo competition two weeks ago that won a trip for three people to Tokyo for the World Club Championship. We are speaking in Bar Azul, one of several bars in downtown Tokyo adorned in Everton memorabilia. There is so much interest and enthusiasm for Everton on these streets that it is sometimes hard to believe you are 6,000 miles from home. Indeed, if this market could be tapped?

Jimmy was a veteran of many an Everton European campaign. He?d been to Rotterdam in 1985 and followed the campaigns of successive years both home and away. It was only World Club Championships that had stretched his budget and resourcefulness — he was therefore grateful he?d taken the chance to send in his competition postcard.

He recalled the 1986 campaign with particular joy. Savouring the memories and holding onto them like precious mementos. It was if the memory itself needed constant recall — that if he didn?t it would perhaps be forgotten or fade into mythology.

?We played Anderlecht first. What made this game easier was their complaints, of course. They were after a bye because of the Heysel incident: They tried to suggest a game with representatives of the city of Liverpool was somehow wrong so soon after that night in May.?

?Of course we showed them and we showed the world. Our fans were fantastic and real ambassadors for our city. Even the gutter press agreed that we helped heal some of the wounds inflicted earlier that year. Everton rose to the occasion. We beat them 3-0 over there and the second leg at Goodison was a doddle?

?A 1-1 draw? chipped in Sean. ?Lineker scored in the third minute and it was all over. They equalised in the 89th? he continued, cementing his role as the Everton statistician of the group.

?Of course we couldn?t believe our luck in the next game: Juventus, Barcelona, Bayern — no. We get a trip to Cyprus against Ammonia Nicosia?

?Omonia Nicosia? chipped in Sean. ?Omonia?

?As he says. Anyway it was a joy for Evertonians. We beat them 5-0 first game and famously lost the second leg 3-1 on a dustbowl in Cyprus. We were never in danger though. Definitely a dodgy ref?

?No chance Jimmy. You know the truth of it? commented John. ?It was like the 1985 FA Cup Final all over again. They?d been drinking too much and played like a Sunday League team after a good night out. It was a good job they had that game won at Goodison.?

?Pessimist: If we needed to win that game we?d have won it, the lads needed to let their hair down. Anyway, we got Christmas out of the way and got ready for the big quarter final. We?d drawn Bayern Munich and everyone was expecting us to lose. It was their revenge match from ?85 and we were supposed to finally get found out?.

?We nearly did? said the truly pessimistic John. ?We were 3-0 down in the first leg?.

?But we scored that goal didn?t we, John? retorted Jimmy ?A Peter Reid header!?

?91st minute was the official timing? chimed in Sean. ?It was officially classed as our only effort on goal?.

?The second leg was memorable, of course. The night Evertonians still talk about? continued Jimmy. ?We were 3-0 up by half-time but they sneaked one with five minutes to go. Sharpy got the winner just into extra time and we never looked like conceding after that. A great night? though I still say the Bayern semi the year before was much more exciting, much more tense.?

More drinks arrived at our table. By now a small crowd had gathered around us eager to hear the stories. Like a great protagonist Jimmy continued in front of his growing audience.

?Barcelona in the semi final was a different story. We put four past them at Goodison and they showed nothing. We?d been built up to expect a team of invincibles in red and blue but they seemed to freeze in our stadium and against our reputation. We lost over there in the Nou Camp (2-1) but we?d scored early again and the game was as good as over by the tenth minute when Health scored. We just spent the whole of the match singing and celebrating. Of course we didn?t have that many with us — many of the lads were saving their money and making preparations for Seville?

?Ah Seville? said John to knowing looks from many in the room.

?It was so hot? said Jimmy. ?The 7th of May 1986?. We?d been welcomed by the people of Seville for days before the final. They loved us. We were spending money, drinking the beer and dancing on the streets. They loved us even more because we?d beaten Barcelona — they hate Barcelona. They said they were happy to have us instead of a load of miserly Catalans who?d buy one drink and bring their own sandwiches to the bar?.

And the game?

?Well it was tense. Steaua Bucharest had made it clear they didn?t think they could beat us and wanted to play for penalties. It had been a dour game but then Trevor Steven scored in the last minute of the first half and we knew we had it in the bag. The second goal just made the last ten minutes really comfortable and allowed us all to dream?.

And what did Jimmy think of the match he was going to witness tomorrow night? The 1988 Intercontinental Cup Final against Penarol of Uruguay? Everton?s chance to become the first team to be World Club Champions three years on the run?

?This is just the icing on the cake? said Jimmy. ?Our history was complete by winning the European Cup that night in Seville?.

?What I remember most? was the sense of total fulfilment?.

Pure fantasy, of course. In this way we?ve probably won hundreds of Europeans Cups via the playstations and Nintendos of junior Evertonians. You could easily imagine ?what if? to countless other key moments — Hamilton?s goal is not disallowed in the 1997 semi; Collina gives Duncan?s goal against Villarreal, even the Clattenburg nailed-on penalty in this year?s derby. The more mischievous could turn happier events a different way — Inchy?s shot rolls past the Oxford goal in 1984, for example.

What we lost in 1985 was more profound, however. Not a victory in one match or even one cup final. This was the moment when our history had the chance to move to a higher level and cement a position in Europe (and the world) that could still be resonant today.

Chin up Evertonians! We?re fighting back now and we could get another crack at the cup with the big ears next year. Who knows, perhaps 2010 will be the year that Jimmy gets his trip to Tokyo and we?ll become the Champions of the World!

Reader Comments

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Rich Grisdale
1   Posted 30/01/2008 at 00:16:10

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Very well summed up at the end of article. We were denied a chance of creating history, that is for us. It will always just be a chance wont it? Its time to create our own....
Sean Condon
2   Posted 30/01/2008 at 03:17:00

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If I could change one moment (or rather, match) in Everton?s history it would be that loss at Oxford in spring ?86 when Bobby MacDonald essentially confirmed that we weren?t going to win back to back titles. In fairness, we had been on the ropes for weeks, missing Southall was a MAJOR blow (Mimms was a poor replacement, awful in the Cup Final) but that loss at the Manor Ground took destiny out of our hands, and I just knew the Pinkies weren?t going to lose pts at Chelsea on the Saturday. After all, they were just the Pensioners then.
Or, go back to September ?85 and the GP derby. Kenny Fat Ass scored after half a second, we went 3-0 down and then began the fightback. At 3-2 Lineker hit the bar. That ball goes in and we are champions.
I still wake up thinking about that Oxford match.
Dave Lynch
3   Posted 30/01/2008 at 12:47:35

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I know this was not the aim of the post mate.
But you have opened so many wounds, i had put most of it behind a locked door.
But you have kicked it wide open.
I now need intensive therapy and anti-psychotic medication.
Won’t hold it against you though.
Well writen piece.
Stan Shepherd
4   Posted 30/01/2008 at 15:09:52

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The great thing about counterfactuals is coupling them with the philosophical implications of versions of quantum theory. Multiverse theory sees many other worlds where incidents that could have happened in this world, did happen in those worlds. In the 80s the RS didn?t get us banned from Europe in World X, and we went onto rule World X?s Europe for the next decades. Unfortunately, in World Y, Everton declined rapidly during the Gordon Lee era and currently ply their trade in the 2nd division. The possibilities are endless.
Jay Campbell
5   Posted 30/01/2008 at 18:24:40

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When it should be addressed because NO CLUB suffered more than us.

All because of the shocking behaviour of fans associated with Liverpool Football Club. IT should have been them banned no one else. Disgrace!!!
Julian van Lingen
6   Posted 31/01/2008 at 01:41:12

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And then there’s the second-order counterfactual whereby the existing order eventually reasserts itself. So in spite of the European ban being overturned, Everton fall at the first hurdle to Anderlecht and the failure to qualify for the European Cup the next season sparks a player exodus ...
Derek Thomas
7   Posted 31/01/2008 at 04:39:46

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Nice one:
After 20 odd years maybe we do need to re open the book on this one and try to re-evaluate it all now that the scars and pain has dimmed, if only a little.

I can still remember a dream I had back then....bear with me.... Me and the brother in law, a rabid rednoz called Ray, were standing out side the dole office on the corner of Horricks Ave in Garston. He said there you go then and paid up the bet we had about Everton winning the European Cup that season. The coin was an old shilling and as I looked in the palm of my hand, it was showing heads...Charles?s head.

So I am looking for an early Abdication in the next few years.

For Alternate History stories Harry Turtledove is you man, check him out at your local Library.
Paul McGuinness
8   Posted 31/01/2008 at 21:04:24

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Great stuff this, and like Dave Lynch says, re-opens many old wounds.

I’ll tell you what though, I’ve spent the best part of twenty years thinking and fantasising along the very lines of Gerry’s excellent post.

It’s so weird when you see someone write in print what you’ve been thinking yourself for years.

Keep the faith, COYB
Will Leefe
9   Posted 01/02/2008 at 01:08:43

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With all this talk of quantum mechanics and science fiction, I liken Oxford United to a comet that suddenly came into our orbit, destroyed us with a blast of radiation, ie that horrible 1-0 loss in ’86...ending what could have been three championships on the trot.

Oxford has now returned to the vastness of the void, haunting the Conference. Their fans may argue the ban from the UEFA Cup led to their slow decline.

By the way, their winning of the League Cup makes them the only team to win a major trophy and get relegated from the League.

I guess is some other multiverse they stride like giants, as one of the Big Four.
Jon Brown
10   Posted 04/04/2008 at 16:27:36

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Just stumbled across this as an Oxford fan. So let’s get a few things straight:

1) As the article says, if it weren’t for Kevin Brock’s backpass in 84, you’d have won nothing in the mid-eighties.

2) It wasn’t Bobby Macdonald, it was Les Phillips. We had to win that game to stay in the top flight. We were a decent team then, you know.

3) Everton are regularly playing in Europe again. Thanks to your red cousins, we NEVER got that chance. Not once.

4) We’re now a mid-table Conference side, losing to Droylesden and Histon. So forgive me if your self-pity seems a little misplaced

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