The Man Who Pushed Water Up a Hill – Howards Way (A Review)
For some time now there has been a perception amongst Everton supporters that the 1985 League Winning team has not had the credit it is due. It was a team that swept to the League by a then record margin of 13 points (despite losing 3 of it’s final 4 games). This has only subsequently been bettered twice (Manchester United in 2000 and Manchester City in 2018) and neither of those sides did so alongside winning a European trophy in the same season. Even to objective onlookers it deserves to be spoken about as one of the great post war teams and this film has done an enormous amount to begin that conversation which can hopefully reverberate outside of own ranks.
What cannot be doubted is the lack of appreciation or even understanding of what a great side Everton were during this period (with the apex being the 1985 season) is juxtaposed with our supporters consciousness of the team, particularly those who were fortunate enough to witness them play first hand. I think to my own dad, who had been old enough to see the club win the league in 1970 feels that while the 1970 team was an excellent side it simply does not compare to the 1985 vintage (the same being true of the 1987 title winning side). When you consider the league was won by 9 points in 1987 and also 9 points in 1970 (when 2 points were for a win) this is the very highest of praise. The 1970 won the league by a margin (9 points) only bettered once in 40 years by the Manchester United side of Matt Busby in 1956. When you add in that the Everton side had overcome a Leeds United side who the previous season had set a points record of 67 points in a season it makes the margin of victory all the more impressive. Yet to most onlookers, including my own dad while a remarkable team in their own right, not one that can be compared to the 1985 vintage.
My own experience of the 1985 side from a young age was one of great familiarity with players who I had never seen live. My dad would talk insatiably about each of the players at any given opportunity. His approach to describing them would be more akin to how a father may describe a superhero as opposed to a football team. Reid was the man who overcame injury, Gray defied gravity as he flew through the air, Mountfield found ways of scoring when no others could, Sheedy had the dynamic left foot in football history (and so it went on). Collectively they were imprinted on my brain as a part football team, part Marvels Avengers style super hero squadron able to dramatically overcome all odds thrown against them.
That’s the critical truth of the team and what the film tactfully draws upon. The summer Howard Kendall arrived at the club Liverpool was immersed in flames (touched upon by one of his first signings Neville Southall). The Conservative government were issuing internal memo’s that stated any attempts to try to rectify the damage caused by the rights, never mind address the underlying causes that had led to them was the equivalent of attempting to “push water uphill”. The city was deemed a hopeless, pointless and irredeemable body of people who the Conservative government felt needed to be managed into decline and ultimately irrelevancy. The subtle hope would have been if enough people are forced to leave and settle in other parts of the UK, the spirit and values of what made the city unique would ultimately be replaced by their own self serving ethos.
Unfortunately for them it was not any ordinary man who had returned to Liverpool, but Howard Kendall who had played a central part in the aforementioned league success of 1970. No over educated and aloof Tory politician could ever break the mans inherent belief that Everton could not only exist but also thrive.
He arrived not just into a city in deep decline, but into a football club that had lost it’s way. What was formerly the dominant football club of the city (it was only in the years prior to his arrival that Liverpool overtook Everton in terms of trophies won) had sunken to a sloppy 2nd best. Their cross city rivals had put together the greatest team in their history. In his first 3 seasons Liverpool would win the league in each of those as well as achieving a European Cup in 1984. The task facing Kendall was Herculean, and the apt throwaway remark of pushing water uphill perhaps the only one to do it justice.
The greatest compliment I can give the film, is that it does all of the above justice. When my dad would give me video’s of the great 80’s team to watch I always found them underwhelming. The footage was poorer than the contemporary football I watched and the amount of time each game took to watch tested the patience of a child to the limits. This film brings life to the stories he told me and present the individuals involved in an accessible yet heroic manner. The use of music is particularly striking and helps draw out many of the emotions that were felt along what was the most remarkable of journeys.
When you consider that this was largely a fan run project, alongside an enormous willingness of former players to support the project you have to give huge amounts of credit to those at the centre of the project. Our own David Fehily speaks with a passion and intelligence that creates an authenticity for the supporters watching. The director Rob Sloman (he too an Everton fan) has put together a piece of cinematography that can impact well beyond the boundaries of Evertonianism and help push the gospel out to new audiences. The film stands alone as a fantastic insight into a sports team who overcame all the odds placed in front of them.
It is a great advert not just for this film, but for what can be done when supporters work together. I am obviously biased in my assessments but to me no fanbase I am aware of has the understanding, intelligence and historical awareness comparable to Everton supporters. As a whole the club needs to be more brazen about our history, not just in terms of the 1985 but more broadly in terms of our contribution to the game since 1878. What this film clearly illustrates is that if the club can become more confident in projecting it’s message, it couldn’t ask for a more compelling group of disciples to carry it’s word.
So for all Everton fans, I strongly advise that you take the opportunity to buy and watch a film, which celebrates everything that is positive about the club, and give yourself a moment to enjoy the story of a remarkable team.
Being born in 88 I often thought
“maybe my birth cursed Everton” although I was lucky enough to watch us lift
the FA cup in 95 (only on the tele mind) but being 6 going onto 7 I was too
young to really appreciate it. I have seen Derby victories, UEFA cup runs,
sides that worked hard and played for the shirt. Although I’ve never seen
anything near what we experienced in the 80s under Howard Kendall, my
experience under Howard was Mikael Madar, Carl Tiler and John Oster. Although
we got a great derby victory I remember the shouts in school playing ground
from my fellow blues “Danny Cad is going to be the new Fowler!”
“Michael Branch is one to watch!”
and the on the nose shout of “gone to one” from the lovable Reds. Their own
supporters club actually paid for a coffin with “Gone To One” emblazed on it,
even went as far to plan relegation parties across Merseyside…How did that work
out lads? A Gareth Farrely screamer (shin roller?) a missed penalty from Nicky
“JUDAS” Barmby and a goalkeeping error from Tommy “Popper Dom hands” Myhre left
a nervy finish but we managed to stay up. That season was my own personal
experience of our greatest ever manager, although hearing old tales of days
gone by made me green with envy. It is very refreshing that now Evertonians and
football fans alike have Howards Way to look back on. As director Rob Sloman
described them “the great side that people forgot” partly due to the premier
league in 92. Certain sections of the media not talking about them when they
talk about great sides from the past. Now younger Evertonians have a chance to
watch Everton’s most fruitful period.
Embodied by a spirit of not
giving up and fighting back against the noisy neighbours in red, the film
begins with a young Dave Feeley running to a phone box to make a phone call to
Everton telling them they’ve ruined his Christmas by selling Alan Ball. Also
saying they would never win anything again, and as Dave says “I was kind of
right, took us 15 years to win something again”. This film isn’t just about
Everton, the depiction of what a Tory government did to Merseyside is laced
throughout, also the impact of drugs and high rates of unemployment and what
Everton meant to the people. A lot had little to look forward to but a strong
Everton team on Saturdays. The soundtrack is superb also, my highlights were
Sheedy taking a free kick twice and telling Peter Reid “Just get out of the
F*&^ing way Reidy so I can put it in the other corner!”
Neville Southall arriving in the
City during the Toxteth riots thinking this is amazing, the city has set itself
on fire for me. Seeing Mountfield going up to the loft to get some of his
memorabilia, nice to see he didn’t pull a Richard Wright and fall out of it
also. The impact Colin Harvey had after coming on to join the first team staff.
It is a rollercoaster of emotions. I’ve seen people admitting online it brought
tears to their eyes, even some of our own Team from Falcon Blues TV have
admitted to shedding a few tears during the final moments. It is a credit to
everyone involved in making this possible which in my opinion is the best
documentary on Everton I’ve ever seen. It is fantastic the younger generation
can now watch the definitive moments of our greatest time.
A lot can be said about team
bonding, as shown about the regular trips out for a Chinese meal. It is
something we’ve sorely missed in recent years, team spirit. I’d like to think
that that all the first team squad gets a chance to sit down and watch Howards
Way, to take some inspiration of what these players, manager and coaching staff
achieved. We don’t expect the world but effort and not letting head drops
should be a given for this club. Hopefully good times aren’t too far away
again. Until then don’t rent Howards Way, purchase it. It is something you will
want to re watch again and afain. Don’t take my word for it go and watch it
yourself and form your own opinion. UTFT