The best of times, the worst of times Everton’s Greatest Games- Jim Keoghan

At this time of year we are all looking for stocking fillers. Undoubtedly that will be sufficient motivation for many people to go and buy this text, available in Everton 2, Waterstones and online for Christmas. However of the reasons I can give to purchase this as either a gift for others or yourself it is towards the bottom of the pile. The project of chronicling Everton’s greatest 50 games is an ambitious task few would try to take on. Fewer still could do the history of the club justice by referencing games within their own lifetime. Jim has not only given a fantastic account of some of the crucial games not just within our own living memory, but more impressively still of games in the prewar era where he has had to use historical data to paint a romantic and thorough picture of the history of the club.

There are many ways to approach such a task of cataloguing and explaining the best 50 games for Everton. The first inclination is you look to the successes the club has had, be it league wins, international success or FA Cup victories and you identify the winning game for each. The difficulty with this is two fold’ primarily it gets you only 20-25 games but more importantly you are relying upon an archive that is extensively written about. How can a modern author add to the testimony that has already been written, either by players themselves as secondary sources, or by newspapers as primary sources? What the author has done very well within the text is not just make it a recollection and debate about our most famous moments, but create a compelling narrative about Everton Football Club encompassing all of the ups and downs alongside it.

As a result of this decision, for me the most enjoyable passages are not necessarily the chapters on winning leagues or cups, but the more authentic and incredible stories that are thrown up in the prewar era. Without wishing to give the entirety of the book away, we are told that silk hats are given as a reward for the Everton players in the first league derby against Liverpool (which we won!) and it is unusual details such as this that bring the book to life and give some indication of the breadth and richness of history the club has and the level of detail and research that the author has gone into to present a compelling story of Everton.

When reading the book you get filled with an enormous pride at being an Evertonian, which should be the standard by which any Everton related book is measured. What the book captures very effectively is that supporting a football club, and the moments you enjoy most are not always the game when you win the league or cup, but can be matches leading up to it or matches not connecting with the success. There is a story of how one of the few games where Lawton and Dean played together up front and the fans that day got to see arguably England’s greatest 2 centre forward’s line up together. When you consider the records each had it’s without doubt that on that occasion we saw English footballs most potent strike partnership and while it didn’t lead to league victory the magic for the supporters will not have been lost.

The final game chronicled, the away victory at Manchester United where Bryan Oviedo scored the winner again looks innocuous when refracted through the glass of Everton’s history. Everton winning at Manchester United, nor Everton finishing 5th is a particularly groundbreaking moment and Bryan Oviedo is far from one of the great Everton players, yet for all of us watching Everton at that moment it captured the spirit of something far greater than what the end result became. I am tempted to write this is the ultimate story of football, yet I am not sure if it’s more the story of watching Everton? That shall ultimately remain unanswered, but for better or worse we remain proud of our clubs history which is done a great service in this review  and is a welcome gift for any Evertonian who wants to recall some of the great matches they have seen, understand about some of the great matches that went before any of us were born, or be greatly enlightened with a rich narrative of how the club we know today has come to where it is.

You will not be disappointed or short changed if you buy this text. Move quickly to order online, or as indicated above most Waterstones should stock as should the Everton 2 store.

Excerpt: Everton 1 Liverpool 0 (Goodison Park 1978)

Years without a win, the sense that Liverpool always have the measure of Everton, the fear that a battering is on the cards. If this all sounds depressingly familiar it’s because it is. Everton’s modern malaise in Merseyside Derbies is nothing new. In the 1970s the picture was every bit as bleak.

When Liverpool visited Goodison in the autumn of 1978, it had been 362 weeks since Everton had bested them in a head-to-head.

‘People moan, justifiably, about us rarely beating Liverpool nowadays but back then you also have to take into account that not only could we not defeat them, we also had to watch as they won everything. It was awful’ recalls Dave Kelly of the Blue Union.

Despite Everton’s often erratic form during the 1970s, prior to that Derby, matters on the pitch had been looking up. Since Gordon Lee had arrived, Everton’s outlook had improved markedly. Although in its relative infancy, the 1978/79 season was looking good for the Blues.

‘There was extra spice to that game because both teams were at the top of the table. Liverpool might have been in their pomp but because our form was so good, we fancied our chances. Gordon [Lee] had got us playing well and we had nothing to fear’ says the former Everton midfielder, Martin Dobson.

But irrespective of the Blues improved form, amongst the supporters there was a sense of unease that would be familiar to those who follow the club today.

‘Liverpool were so good back then and their record in Derbies so impressive that you went to those games fearing that we could get turned over, even if things were going well on the pitch. It was a bit like it is nowadays. They had a psychological hold over us’ recalls Phil Redmond, co editor of When Skies are Grey

On an unseasonably hot October afternoon, 53,000 crammed into Goodison to watch what Match of the Day, in a rare example of pre-Sky hyperbole, billed ‘THE MATCH OF THE SEASON!’

Liverpool were unchanged from their previous game, boasting the side that had taken the league by its throat. Everton, by contrast, had one key absence, with Mick Lyons out injured, Roger Kenyon was deputising at centre-half.

‘You look at those two sides and in one, Liverpool’s, there are no weak links. In Everton’s, the likes of Roger Kenyon, Mickey Walsh and Geoff Nulty suggested a side that couldn’t match Liverpool player-for-player, so would have to work a lot harder for any chance of a win’ remembers Brian Viner, author of Looking for the Toffees: In Search of the Heroes of Everton.

A raw and raucous atmosphere in Goodison seemed, as it often does on Derby day, to be reflected in what unfolded on the pitch. From kick-off, the play was frenetic; tackles flew in, movement a blur, the rhythm of the game played at the highest of tempos.

Watching those two sides, you would never think that Liverpool were the kings of Europe and Everton their overshadowed neighbours. Recent history seemed to mean nothing as the Blues took the game to Liverpool with an attacking display that would shame some modern Everton sides. In a first half that rang with blood and thunder, it was the home team that always seemed to carry the greater threat.

‘Even though this was Liverpool, the kind of side you could imagine getting outplayed and still nicking a jammy win, at half-time it felt good that we had been so much better than them. Despite yourself, you had that weird feeling, something that very rarely occurs for us, that maybe this could be our day’ says Phil Redmond.

Under a floodlit pitch, this time switched on to compete with the sunlight, Everton (attacking the Park End) started the second half strongly. Almost immediately, a sublime cross by Walsh nearly put Nulty in. But although he flung himself at the ball, the Everton midfielder couldn’t quite get his head to the cross.

It felt like the game’s momentum was with Everton and that a goal was on its way. But it would take a moment of magic for one to be conjured up. And on this occasion, the magician in question was Andy King.

King was just 19 when he had moved to Goodison from Luton Town in April 1976 for £35,000. Almost on arrival he was taken to the hearts of Evertonians.

‘There was just something about him that we loved’ remembers Dave Prentice, Head of Sport at the Liverpool Echo. ‘His chirpy, effervescent personality helped. But it was also clear very quickly that he became an Evertonian once he had arrived. And I think the fans always have a soft spot for those who choose to become a Blue.’

Always capable of a moment of magic, this busy midfielder was about to score his most memorable goal for the club.

‘I remember Mike Pejic looping a ball into the box which was headed down. I could just about make this out through the glaring sun’ says Brian Viner.

The ball bounced right outside the box where it was met by the onrushing King. The midfielder adjusted his body to account for an awkward bounce and then let fly. To the delight of every Blue inside the ground, he caught it sweetly. The ball flew over the fingertips of a beaten Clemence and exploded into the top corner.

‘Cue complete euphoria and insanity. The Old Lady was at her best and was shaking, we were all just being carried around in waves of people, arms around each other, fists clenched. It was complete bedlam’ remembers Mike Constantinou, who was stood in the lower Gwladys Street.

In response to being one down, Liverpool (inevitably) upped-their game and not long after nearly silenced Goodison when Johnson put the ball in the back of the net. Most Evertonians probably think otherwise but sometimes the officials can come to the rescue in Derbies. The flag went up before Johnson had struck and the goal was ruled offside. With that, Liverpool’s brief resurgence started to run out of steam.

‘When the 90 minutes was up, Goodison went mad’ remembers Brian Viner. ‘I think that we gave more voice that day than we had six months earlier when Latchford scored his 30th. Goodison was hysterical. We’d actually been singing ‘Bobby Latchford walks on water’ during the game.  But for the remaining half-hour or so, the ground shook to a chorus of “Andy is our King, oh Andy is our king, oh Aaaandy is our King!”.’

After the game, as jubilant Blues danced around their hero, BBC North West Tonight’s Richard Duckenfield stuck a microphone under the nose of King. “Andy King …” he began before a local bizzie hovered into view and started to barge the pair down the nearby player’s tunnel. ‘Can you get off the pitch!’ barked the bizzie, making his allegiances plain for all to see.

The supporters never got to hear Andy King’s immediate thoughts. But that might be just as well as his goal probably said more than any words could.

‘In a time when Evertonians had so little to cheer, that was an unquestioned highlight’ argues lifelong Blue, George McKane. ‘The 1970s, specifically when it came to Liverpool, had been really hard for us. It’s probably difficult to explain to modern fans what it felt like to live so comprehensively under their shadow. So, to beat them, finally, was magical.’

This is an edited extract from Everton’s Greatest Games



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