It was a Hot August. Gazza’s Tears had stopped flowing, One Night in Turin had happened nearly two months earlier. It was time to cast aside the memories of an anti-climactic Italia ’90. Time to pack away the Orbis World Cup ’90 binder. Time to bid ciao to the flash-in-the-pan heroics of Milla, Cayasso and Valderrama. It was time to break open the Shoot! Team Tracker. It was time to welcome back our Champions in white. It was time to say hello to top-flight football.
Four months earlier I stood as a ten-year old in the South Stand and witnessed our closest rivals Sheffield United annihilated by four goals to nil. A swashbuckling performance encapsulated by the now legendary GO ON GARY SPEED GET ONE YOURSELF SON! Goal.
But even being wet behind the ears I was well aware that our Second Division Heroes still possessed a vulnerability which would be particularly prevalent at this level, for every 4-0 thumping of The Blades, we were equally capable of being humbled at home by Barnsley or at the Boundary Park plastic by Oldham.
The summer had all been geared toward watching as much Italia ’90 as feasibly possible, than attempting to re-create it on Cottingley fields, or from the touchline for Churwell Lions u-11s. Once Matthaus raised the World Cup trophy, our priorities changed to pinching ourselves for the adventure of playing the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and a side that throughout the 80s seemed to have won everything – Everton. No more would we be entertaining the Stoke City’s, Plymouth Argyle’s or Bournemouth’s of this world. No more would our Panini sticker book heroes be sharing a single sticker with their team mates on a single page near the back of the album, for we would now be on double pages and each player allocated his own sticker. We had arrived!
The fixture computer had appeared unkind throwing up Everton away for our first game back, we went into the eve of the game expecting defeat. After all they were First Division veterans and boasted the likes of Neville Southall, Kevin Ratcliffe and Pat Nevin. By comparison we were the New Kids on the Block and still had the likes of Carl Shutt, Mike Whitlow and ‘uncle’ John Pearson.
It was going to be tough. But the various pre-season Evening Post pull-outs contained enough inspiring words from Don Warters to give us enough optimism.
The journey to Liverpool seemed to take forever. But we had now arrived. Liverpool, Champions, massive Champions of the past decade and beyond carried with them an almost-mythical aura, by extension my imagination allowed me to believe the city too would be equally spell-binding.
As we drove slowly approaching Goodison through twisting concrete jungles this belief was soon lost.
Even on this hot, hot day, the stadium basking in the sun, everything around it still seemed grey and depressing. I imagine most parts of the North did back then…
The monotony of the journey had been softened by the tunes from the coach radio. But for every blast of New Order’s World in Motion there was the diabolical Itsby Bitsy Teeny Weeny by Timmy Mallett. For every beat of Crystal Waters’ Gypsy Woman there was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles soundtrack. It was a relief to be off the bus.
The game itself was the proverbial rollercoaster affair. Chris Fairclough bundled the ball home from a long throw to put us a goal up. Wow! Our first goal back in the big time had been slotted home earlier than expected and the embryonic Barclays League Division One table conjured up in my mind had us, at the very least, in the top half. This could be fun…
But footballing officialdom would soon conspire. Everton were awarded a penalty, right in front of where we were stood. Damn! Up stepped McDonald and …. GET IN, he missed! Life was good again.
A huge John Lukic punt up-field was cleared – together with the on-running Imre Varadi – by Southall, straight to young Gary Speed who prodded home a second. OH MY GOD! This team was ace! Two nil up away to Mighty Everton!
The noise being generated around me drowned out the chorus of boos from the home faithful as half-time descended upon us.
Two-nil up and completely equals to Everton. This was fantasy world stuff.
Certain things went on during the game that, as a child, you either phase out, forget, or simply missed. The now-infamous half-time sit-in by Southall right in front of us falls into one of those categories.
For whatever reason I was completely oblivious to it.
But that one moment, that single gesture by Big Nev could perhaps point to a reluctant acceptance by him that this was the start of a decline: malaise for a club that, over the previous 20 years, had won 3 league titles and an FA Cup. A malaise that would see them fall away from the elite and a slumber that has never seen them fully recover since.
Either that or he simply couldn’t be arsed listening to Howard Kendall’s half-time rant.
We started the second half like the first, going for the jugular, and a Chapman header caused all sorts of problems in the home penalty area before Varadi smashed home goal number three. THREE NIL UP! My last game saw the Blades blunted with four killer goals and now we were on our way again with three of the best getting the Toffees in a sticky mess.
WE WERE WORLD BEATERS!
Or maybe not. No sooner had my imaginary table put us top of England, then Everton struck back with a goal that suggested they were not yet finished, we were far from the finished article. The nippy Pat Nevin got in behind the defence to prod home what was hoped was only a consolation…
But things were getting tense. First Everton hit the crossbar and then, disaster, John Ebbrell poked home a second.
Everton were playing like a team possessed and the common consensus was next goal wins.
Attack after attack came until finally Mike Newell got the ball past Lukic and steered the ball towards the empty net for an equaliser. Hands to heads… hands covering eyes… hands… in the air, he missed! That was it. That was as good as a goal. Surely the Gods were smiling and we would see this out.
There was still time for hearts in mouths. Everton seemed to press and press but we hung on and got the win. Quite what effect it would have had on our eventual fourth place finish had we succumbed to defeat is anyone’s guess. Psychologically the damage could have been huge. But we held on. We were back!
We would score another three goals against Everton later that season, this time in a 3-3 draw in the Northern Final First Leg of the Zenith Data Systems Cup. Other than been pressed against the fencing of the Lowfields, seeing a Peter Beagrie somersault when he scored, been slightly perturbed hearing the Kop singing THERE’S GONNA BE A RIOT when we were trailing, there is little by way of memory compared to that Hot August.
Reporter – Aaron Pearson
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