Fault Lines

In recent years, the so called ‘friendly derby’ has become anything but. The sight of Evertonians at Anfield last Sunday turning their backs on the pre-match rendition of ‘You’ll Never walk Alone’ was represented in the media as yet another example of the breakdown in relations between the respective sets of fans.

It’s become commonplace now, both before and after derbies, for articles to appear in the media exploring the increasingly poisonous atmosphere, lamenting the loss of the once ‘friendly’ tag.

Whether this tag was ever completely accurate is open to debate. Those Blues of a more mature vintage can attest to the fact that there has never been much love-loss towards our neighbours. From the 1970s onwards, as Liverpool began to marry success on the pitch with a sneering contempt for Everton off it, relations began to sour.

Sour, but arguably just about remain cordial. Until the 1990s, if not exactly ‘friendly’, the rivalry between the two clubs had an undercurrent of tolerance. The same could not be said about the rivalry today.

A few of the articles written have highlighted the role that Heysel has played in this deterioration, many claiming that we Evertonians exaggerate its impact on our club. A recent piece by Tony Evans in the Independent summed this up, claiming that:

‘Everton have been in decline since the 1980s and the after effects of Heysel contributed to that downturn in fortunes – but only to the smallest degree.’

Evertonians would obviously disagree. For Blues the UEFA ban has been a gripe for over 30 years. Far from contributing to the ‘smallest degree’ it has long been identified by many as the main reason why the club’s mid-1980s period of success proved short-lived and a significant contributory factor in Everton’s relative decline in the years that followed.

And there is certainly a case to support this. For Everton, the ban was a particular blow. The club would have qualified for European football in four of the five years that the prohibition was in force, and done so with some of the finest Everton sides to have ever graced Goodison Park; sides that won league titles, bristled with talent and which were packed with an array of Everton greats. 

Aside from missing out on the revenue aspects of participation (ticket sales, sponsorship, prize money) the absence of European football also meant that Everton suffered a talent drain.

And the most important loss was Kendall. Here, the ban was key. As he wrote in his autobiography, Only the Best is Good Enough:

‘Inevitably, one of the major reasons why I felt so drawn to the continent was the UEFA ban on the participation of English clubs in the European competitions, imposed in the wake of the Heysel Stadium tragedy. I missed those nights of European glory very much indeed.‘

Managers like Kendall are rare in the game, people who come along and transform clubs. Kendall awoke a sleeping giant, shouldering the pressure of the crowd and moulding something that even managed to threaten Liverpool’s dominance in English football. He was our Shankly, our Ferguson, our Wenger. That’s how important and how rare he was.

And whereas the above got to remain at their clubs for years, shaping them and building something great, ours was stolen, robbed from the club because of the ban. Imagine Liverpool without Shankly, United without Ferguson, Arsenal without Wenger and you get a measure of how catastrophic the resignation of Kendall at that point was.

Along with his loss, several players also left Goodison in search of European football. Gary Lineker moved to Barcelona in 1986 after just one season with the Blues, robbing Everton of one of English football’s greatest ever goalscorers.  A few years later, the club then lost the right-sided partnership of Gary Stevens and Trevor Steven to Rangers, two players who had been an integral part of the title winning sides in the mid-1980s.

Because of this, many Evertonians contend that Heysel ruined the club’s best ever chance to build something magical. The various squads of Kendall’s first-era collectively represented Everton at its finest, Nil Satis Nisi Optimum brought to life.  The potential was there to ‘do-a-Liverpool’ and dominate on the European stage. And, as Colin Harvey mused in his autobiography Colin Harvey’s Everton Secrets, there was every reason to believe that such an outcome was possible:

‘At that period I felt we were the best team in Europe. We’d beaten two of the great European forces in Bayern Munich and Liverpool and even without the comfort zones of today’s Champions League system – in which you can lose several games and still win the trophy – I felt we were a match for anyone, capable of beating anyone. We had a squad filled with international quality and experience with an average age only in the mid-20s. The players had demonstrated their mental and physical toughness and durability, Howard was a proven manager, I felt great fulfilment in charge of the coaching and Mick Heaton dovetailed into a balanced backroom set-up.’

Had Everton been permitted to compete and, as Harvey contends, done well, it’s possible that the momentum created could have continued (with Kendall at the helm). Certainly English clubs had been succeeding in Europe. The European Cup in particular had been a happy hunting ground for this country. In the years leading up to Heysel, seven of the eight finals contested had been won by an English team.

And, in the long-term, success in Europe could also have helped the club in other, less obvious ways, as Simon Hughes, author of several books on Liverpool FC, explains:

‘During the 1970s and 1980s, Liverpool built a strong reputation in Europe that has sustained the club. It’s helped Liverpool maintain popularity amongst a global audience, which has ensured that the club enjoys decent revenues from ticket sales, broadcasting rights and merchandising, even though Liverpool hasn’t enjoyed the same level of football success as European and domestic rivals since.’

By the club’s own lofty (if unrealistic) standards, the past two decades have not been great. Yet, despite the relative lack of silverware, the absence of any Premier League title and the sense of a club that has underachieved, Liverpool remain wildly popular. They are one of the top ten most followed clubs in the world, one of the most televised clubs across the globe and one of the richest football businesses on the planet.

‘The Liverpool teams that won four European Cups during the 1970s and 1980s created an enduring legacy,’ argues Hughes. ‘That’s what a European presence can give you. It might be a horrible term, but the Liverpool FC ‘brand’ was created during those years; years when English football was slowly growing in popularity across the globe, though nobody at the club really knew how to capitalise on it in monetary terms until much later. Liverpool’s European history has undoubtedly enhanced the club’s allure during the leaner years of the 1990s and 2000s and it is part of the reason Anfield still sells out and attracts wealthy foreign owners.’

A strong showing in Europe could have been enormously beneficial to Everton. Even if, for whatever reasons, the momentum of the 1980s had dissipated, much as Liverpool’s did during the 1990s, a wider fanbase would have been a useful source of income to cushion the club against any storms faced. But the ability to build one up was denied the club and instead Everton remained a peripheral international presence.

But although the UEFA ban was undeniably devastating, an external shock that could not fail to have some impact, Everton were not the only club affected. Back in the late 1980s, each of Everton’s peers within the ‘Big Five’ was also denied European football of some description during the length of the ban. But none would suffer a fall from grace as dramatic as that endured by Everton.

By the close of the 1990s three of those five, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United would be regularly challenging for domestic silverware and back competing in Europe on an annual basis.

‘Heysel was a terrible blow but I think attributing Everton’s problems to that one moment is slightly revisionist. Heysel had an impact, that’s unquestionable. But other clubs endured the ban and managed to cope. Over time, we’ve become too fixated on it as the main reason for our problems’ says Graham Ennis of When Skies Are Grey.

Certainly, Everton did not respond well to the fallout from the ban. Most obviously, it appointed poorly. Any club, big or small, must make the right managerial appointment. Get it wrong and no matter how successful you are, everything can unravel. Following Kendall’s departure, the key was to ensure a successful transition. Without this, the momentum that the outgoing manager had created could be adversely affected.

When it came to transition, the model that had proven most effective in English football in the 1970s and 1980s was that employed across Stanley Park at Anfield.

‘Liverpool promoted from within, picking members from the coaching staff when a new manager was required.  Bob Paisley had taken over when Bill Shankly had resigned from the position. Then, when Paisley eventually stepped down, his assistant, Joe Fagan took on the job. When Fagan resigned in the wake of the Heysel tragedy, Kenny Dalglish was installed as player-manager. The belief was that appointing in this way ensured that men who understood the traditions of the club, and the approach to football that had proven so effective, would always be in the manager’s chair’ says Rob Sawyer, author of Harry Catterick: The Untold Story of a Football Great.

So successful was this method that it’s understandable why the Everton board did not cast its net very wide when it came to appointing a successor to Kendall. The Liverpool method was seductive. It promised seamless transition and the continuance of those elements that had made the previous regime so effective. With that in mind, from the board’s perspective, the appointment of Colin Harvey (Kendall’s number two) as manager made perfect sense.

Then aged 42, for those looking through a ‘boot-room’ perspective, Harvey’s credentials were impeccable. Not only had he been Kendall’s right-hand-man, Harvey had also coached at youth and reserve level and played for the club for most of his professional career, including a role at the heart of the so called ‘Holy Trinity’ of the 1960s alongside the departing manager and Alan Ball.

‘I believe very few people at the time, fans or journalists, questioned the wisdom of appointing Colin to the vacant hot seat. I certainly didn’t. The year before, Howard had made sure the club’s hierarchy were aware of the initial Barcelona approach. Sir Philip Carter indicated that if Howard went to Barca, Colin would be the next manager of Everton. It was therefore no surprise at all to see Colin’s name in the frame when Bilbao tempted Howard 12 months later. It seemed to make absolute sense for the Blues to turn to the coach who had been such an influence in the winning of two titles, the European Cup Winners Cup and the FA Cup’ says Ken Rogers, author of Born Not Manufactured

But the decision turned out to be a poor one. Harvey, despite his many talents, wasn’t cut out for management, specifically a managerial job as tough as Everton’s. What followed Kendall’s leaving was an inevitable period of transition, as the old guard from the championship winning season moved on and new blood arrived. It was a transition that was far from seamless.

‘We were never a ‘team’. That was the problem with Everton. We had really talented players and on our day could beat anyone. But those days were depressingly few. There was limited cohesion to the side and at the root of this was an inability to reconcile the cliques that had developed’ says Pat Nevin.

Roughly, these were divided between the ‘old guard’ that had thrived under Kendall and the more recent acquisitions brought in during Harvey’s process of transition.

‘I had no time for cliques and tried to get on with everyone’ continues Nevin ‘but I can remember how destructive they were to team morale. In short, you had the older players thinking that the new arrivals weren’t as good as those they had replaced. And on the other hand you had the new arrivals, some of whom might have believed that some of the older players were possibly past their best.’

A better manager could’ve handled this transition better. But instead Everton had Harvey. And so, the momentum of the mid-1980s was hit by the double blow of the European ban and a poor managerial appointment. By the time Kendall returned in 1990, the club was back to where it had been before he arrived, a struggling mid-table mediocrity. And by this point, his managerial talents had dissipated after his European adventure. Kendall was never quite the same again after he left Everton that first time.

Although other factors played their part, and into the mix you could also add Everton’s lack of commercial sophistication as English football moved into the Sky age, Heysel unquestionably played a key role. But that only really reveals part of why Heysel matters to us. Because had the disaster been perpetrated by fans of Manchester United or Spurs, it perhaps would not have resonated as much as it has done. But it wasn’t. It was perpetrated by our oldest enemy. And that makes a difference.

‘I, along with many other Blues, have never forgiven, understood or respected Liverpool Football Club since that time. They damaged the future prospects of Everton – our great club, perhaps irretrievably and have shown little humility for the trouble they caused. Even taking into account mitigating circumstances, like poor policing and an unsuitable choice of stadium by UEFA, Liverpool fans were primarily at fault for what happened. And yet we suffered because of it’ says lilfelong Blue, John Bohanna

Since Heysel you have never got the sense that Liverpool, both the club and the fans, have really felt any sense of shame at what happened. No shame at the lives lost, no shame regarding the damage done to English football and no shame at how the ban impacted on so many other clubs. What you get instead is either indifference or a disgusting sort of wriggling, a grasping attempt to find others at fault, the Belgian police, UEFA or even the Juventus fans. And that inability to admit fault, to say sorry fuels our anger.

And along with anger at what Liverpool did and how they responded to it, many Evertonians also feel a strong sense of injustice.  Just two weeks before that fateful night in Brussels, Everton had clinched the Cup Winners Cup against Rapid Vienna at the Feijenoord Stadion, Rotterdam.

‘Following the match, the press praised Evertonians for their impeccable behaviour from “sunrise to sunset”, citing them as a being “a credit to Britain”. After the horror of Heysel people tend to forget that just a few weeks earlier Evertonians, the police and the fans of Rapid had been happily playing football together in the centre of Rotterdam’ says James Corbett, author of Faith of Our Families Everton FC, An Oral History.

A huge injustice, perpetrated by our greatest rivals (who remain indifferent to what happened), and one that had a devastating and long-lasting impact on the club. And that, in essence is Heysel. What set of fans, anywhere in the country, would be able to let that go?

Imagine, if you would, Everton fans somehow conspiring, right now, to rob Liverpool of Klopp, Salah, Mane and Van Dijk. To, in the blink of an eye, devastate everything that club has spent the last four years building towards. Now, keeping in mind the average Liverpool fans complete inability to let anything go, could you imagine that event being quietly forgotten about. And could you imagine the outcry if we taunted them about it, dismissed their anger as them just being ‘bitter;’ and got our friends in the media to write about the way in which Liverpudlians refused to let go of the past.

Heysel is an open wound, a festering sore that poisons everything around it. And it’s hard to see how it ever gets healed. Although, I’m pretty sure that dismissing it and presenting it as an Everton problem alone isn’t the way to do it. Our anger and frustration remains justified. It’s an unresolved injustice. Far from a small thing

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