50 Years on- Remembering Everton’s 1969/70 Champions

On the 1st of April we approach the 50th anniversary of Everton’s title winning 1969-70 team, completing a 7th title success for the club. The title was clinched on April 1st 1970 with a 2-0 win over West Brom in front of 58,523 supporters following goals from Alan Whittle and Colin Harvey. Conventional wisdom tells us that the greatest Everton team was the one that would win it’s 8th league title in 1985. While it is hard to contravene such sentiment there is legitimate challenge to the title for the 1970 vintage. 

In truth it is a challenging discussion for me to discuss while exploring the impact and quality of the 1970 vintage. I have relied heavily on stories from my dad for the brilliance of the 1985 side but he himself was only a very young child when Everton would clinch the 1970 title. He has some memory of it, but his appreciation and understanding of the team is very much coloured through the eyes of how a young child views the world. He also feels exceptionally protective of the 1984/5 side and is quite clear that it is unquestionably the superior one. So I don’t automatically have the bank of information that comes as easily as discussions about the mid 80’s sides.

The context of the season was the challenge to overcome Don Revie’s Leeds United, but also to look to surpass city rivals Liverpool who had finished 2nd to them the season before. This was no small task, Revie’s Leeds had set a record points total for a league winner the season before taking 67 points from 42 games (at a time of 2 points for a win).  City rivals Liverpool scored 61 and Everton were on 57. While it was Leeds first title success the manner they had achieved it, losing only 2 games and breaking the points record was an imposing target for any potential challenger.

Everton though had been making steady progress. They had won the league impressively in 1962/3 just 6 years earlier with an impressive 61 points though only 3 of that team were still present in 1969 (Labone, West and winger Johnny Morrissey). Following an impressive FA Cup win in 1966 Catterick had added midfielders Howard Kendall and Alan Ball to youth protégé Colin Harvey to make one of the finest partnerships in English football history (notably dubbed by locals the Holy Trinity). This was very much the engine room of the side, which was further aided by young players such as Joe Royle  and Tommy Wright coming through the clubs youth ranks to supplement the experienced players.

While the challenge was an unenviable one, manager Catterick had won the league before and there had been steady improvement following the cup win in 1966, with league finishes of 6th, 5th and 3rd in the following seasons. Everton were certainly going in the right direction. What is also apparent is that the age profile of the team was right. The sides average age had often been well below 25 in previous seasons, and a young team was beginning to mature together. This side in 1968 (http://www.evertonresults.com/match06041968ages.html) was fairly typical of the youth focussed approach Catterick took in the proceeding years with an average age of just over 22.

When you evaluate the season itself chronologically it fits into 3 segments namely an impressive beginning, shaky middle and triumphant end for Everton. They would start with 6 wins out of 7 and avoid defeat until the 8th game at Derby County. Impressive away wins at Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle (which would symbolise the season) were coupled with a crucial home 3-2 win against champions Leeds on the 30th August. After 18 games they had won 15, drawn 2 and lost only 1 game. This was an insatiable pace for competitors to have to live with and according to football rankings website ELO were on course to win 64.7 points (over 58 for nearest rivals Leeds and 53.6 for 3rd placed Liverpool). They enjoyed an 8 point gap and were 88% more likely to win more points than Leeds with just 8.6% chance of finishing with less points (as seen here http://clubelo.com/1969-11-08/Everton).

To an extent the wheels began to fall off for the middle period of the season. Over the next 15 games they would win just 6 and lose 4 including a home derby match against Liverpool and a crucial defeat at champions Leeds over Christmas. The costly home draws to Coventry and Arsenal in February had eroded Everton’s advantage, and while they were clear favourites in early November they were very much 2nd favourites at this juncture. Going into their 34th game of the season against Burnley they were now 2 behind Leeds (albeit with a game in hand) and on the same ELO projections we showed earlier they were forecast to finish with 59.9 points (versus 62.2 for Leeds) http://clubelo.com/1970-03-07/Everton. In terms of a head to head forecast they now had a 19% chance of gaining more points and a 71% chance of gaining less. So while still a 2 horse race, it was one that was now heavily in the favour of Leeds.

From this position, the run in Everton produce is nothing short of sensational. 6 of their remaining 9 fixtures are away from Goodison (in an era where home advantage played arguably a bigger role). From position they would win their next 8 games consecutively and draw the final game at Sunderland. Within the run there are crucial wins at Tottenham and Stoke and most memorably at Anfield. In as far as a league can be clinched it was done so with that memorable 2-0 triumph at city rivals with goals from local lads Joe Royle and Alan Whittle (in front of only 54 000-thousands less than the corresponding fixture at Everton). Prior to the Liverpool game it was 45% v 39% as to who would gain more points out of Everton and Leeds which would jump to 54 %V 30% the next time the two teams played. The league would be clinched 10 days later on the back of 3 further consecutive wins.

So where should the team rank in terms of not just being the best in that season, but in terms of the all time pantheon of Everton’s and indeed England’s great champions? Perhaps the most striking factors of the title success are the margin of victory (9 points) and the overall total achieved (66 points). If we focus firstly on the gap following the 1920’s onwards only 2 sides had achieved a bigger margin of victory (and 4 in the 20th century). They were Manchester United’s great side under Matt Busby in 1955/6 (an 11 point gap) and Sheffield Wednesday in 1929/30 who had a 10 point gap. This record stood until the introduction of 3 points for a win and Everton’s 1984/5 team would smash the record. In the 70 seasons that were played in the 20th century under the system of 2 points for a win, only 4 would better Everton’s scale of victory. It is also worth stating though, none of them did so in a season immediately following a title that had been won by a side that set a points record. For Cattericks Everton to be in the top 5 for margin of victory is an astonishing achievement when they were facing an all conquering Leeds side is taken into consideration.

The 2nd point to note is the overall points total achieved. At 66 points achieved there are only 2 teams who would achieve more points in a single season (Leeds in 1968 and Liverpool in 1978) though neither would have as big a margin for victory as this Everton team. When considered together in the era of 2 points while you can find a small number of sides who had either a bigger margin of victory, or a higher points total, it is very difficult to find one who had both cumulatively as this Everton team did. Apart from this team, no side has every scored more than 60 points in a season while having a winning margin of greater than 8 points. You are looking at a side who had displayed exceptional performance alongside demonstrating it is noticeably better than all it’s competitors in a way no other could match up until the change to 3 points per game.

As a final aside, in evaluating this team it is also worth noting had a change of 3 points for a win been introduced they would have attained 95 points from the season and finished the season an enormous 17 points clear of their nearest rivals Leeds (who would have finished with just 78 points). With 12 away wins this was a side that would have been worthy of being noted with any of the teams that have followed in the 3 points for a win era. Even the two 20th century examples we can find of sides with greater margins of victory would be smaller with the conversion to 3 points for a win (Manchester United’s being 16 points and Sheffield Wednesdays 15 points) to this Everton sides 17 point margin with conversions added.

Regarding the fabled 1984/5 side there is a very big caveat that Kendall’s side would get to an FA Cup Final and would also lift a European trophy (and would perhaps understandably state they lost 3 of their last 4 games by taking their foot of the gas somewhat) yet the league numbers are interesting. Kendall’s team won the league earlier but would end with 28 wins and 6 draws and 8 defeats to Cattericks 29 wins 8 draws and 5 defeats. Cattericks side would score 72 and concede 34 while Kendalls would score 88 but concede 43. Both would enjoy superlative runs at the key end of each season, Cattericks side winning 8 straight while Kendalls Everton would win 10 straight league games (or 16 from 18 games). How you rank each team is ultimately up to each individuals, but there is a legitimate and fair comparison to be made. Interestingly if you convert the 1984/5 season back to 2 points for a win, Everton would have achieved 64 points, but would have had a 9 point advantage over Liverpool who would have finished closest on 55 points and been the only team to date at that point who would have achieved at least a 9 point advantage with more than 60 points attained overall.

When you begin to conclude the discussion it ought to be a source of frustration for Everton fans. The 1970 side was a comparable one to the 1985 vintage (and by comparable I do not mean better or even equivalent but worthy of mention alongside) yet the club would ultimately not capitalise on this opportunity. The average age of the league side was just 25 years and 64 days (http://www.evertonresults.com/averageages.htm ) and the club was well set up off the pitch with one of the biggest fan bases in the country.  The club had not fallen outside of the top 3 for best supported teams through the decade prior and had topped the best supported team table on more than 1 occasion in that time. http://european-football-statistics.co.uk/attnclub/league/ever.htm

Undoubtedly the European ban is held up as a key turning point in the history of the club (and this is understandable as it certainly damaged the club over the 5 years) though I do not think enough attention and consideration is given to the mistakes that were made from the early 70’s onwards. Following the league success they slipped to 3 consecutive bottom half finishes and much of the momentum was lost that ought to have been seized.

However painful it is to acknowledge, it was city rivals Liverpool who would emerge more strongly from this period. There is often a misunderstanding that flows from a people not studying history that states that Everton have always been playing 2nd fiddle to Liverpool. This is simply not the case. In 1970 both sides had won the league the same number of times, but Everton had won the FA Cup far more than rivals Liverpool (who only secured a first cup success in 1965). Everton had a greater trophy count from 1891 until 1974. Liverpool were supported by a similar (but ultimately smaller) number of people in 1970 yet they were went on to win 11 titles from the next 20 years.

There was no inevitability to this course of action. Yet a ruthlessness and a greed within our city rivals ensured they put a sequence of domestic performance that has only been matched by Manchester United under Alex Ferguson. That ruthlessness and greed needs to be made central to Everton Football Club moving forward, who if given an opportunity to be successful need to seize it and maximise it to it’s full potential.

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