“We were a serious team, played real football, kicked when we had to kick, professional. But honestly, it was like playing with your mates on the pitch every Saturday.”
Graeme Sharp is not one for sentimental language. He was born and brought up in Glasgow, the son of a reporter who covered business news, and has spent his adult life immersed in the ways of the football dressing room.
Yet reflecting on the greatest Everton season – and arguably team – of all time, there is a hint of wistful poetry in his words.
It was 35 years ago – on May 15 1985 – that Sharp help write the most glorious chapter in the club’s history, as they lifted the Cup Winners’ Cup in Rotterdam.
They had already secured the League title, with four games to go, and were due at Wembley three days after their European date, to meet Manchester United in the FA Cup final. An historic treble was calling.
“There was such a bond with that team, a sense that we were brought together at the right time, in the right place. It just gelled, a real camaraderie on and off the pitch,” he explained.
“Perhaps our achievements don’t get the credit we deserve, because football is always about the now. But that side…people these days talk now about the high press, the intensity, well we did that 35 years ago.
“We could play too. There’s a new documentary about that period, Howard’s Way, and in the European final, it shows a sequence I don’t know how many passes we strung together, but it seems like forever.”
For Sharp, now an Everton ambassador, the sense of chemistry that Howard Kendall and his assistant Colin Harvey instilled in creating that team has never left.
“When Howard and Colin brought that team together, we could feel how it all fitted. Stevens and Steven on the right, Sheedy could pass and play, Van den Hauwe could tackle. Me and Inchy, (Adrian Heath) understood each other. It was the perfect fit.
“35 years on, and we’re still all friends – there were experienced guys who’d been at a few clubs, like Peter Reid and Andy Gray, but when we get together, every one will say that was the best time they had in football, and the best team.”
“Andy and I were big mates, there was no rivalry, even people said we were too similar to play together. He just said ‘right, let’s show them we can’.
“I had the nine shirt, and he’d always had it. Then I was injured and he got it. I remember I wanted to play all the time, and Howard dropped me at Newcastle – even though I’d scored in the previous game. He said it didn’t count as it was from a set piece!
“Anyway, that was me. I was fuming, had enough. I’d got a letter in my bag I going to give it to him. but Andy pulled me one side, and said ‘don’t be stupid, football changes in an instant. He was a good teacher – he got injured the next week!
“I repaid him in the final by setting him up with a tap in – but he wouldn’t have it as a tap in…he had to adjust his body and all that!”
Even Gary Lineker, who replaced Gray in the summer of ’85, says it is the best team he has ever played in. Before Lineker arrived, it was only a crazy fixture list that denied Everton a historic treble.
Defeating Rapid Vienna in the final on the Wednesday night, they flew straight back to England afterwards, were off Thursday and then travelled to London on the Friday, before facing Manchester United – and extra time on a scorching day at Wembley.
They lost 1-0, and he says: “It was a game too far. I remember after just 15 minutes turning to Andy (Gray) to say: ‘I’m knackered here.’ It was the heat and exhaustion – If they had delayed that final by a week, we’d have won it. We beat United 5-0 in the league that season, and knew we had the beating of them.
“There were some crazy conspiracy theories going around, saying we were partying to all hours after Rotterdam, that Reidy supposedly had a mad one with Derek Hatton in Chinatown. Biggest load of rubbish going.
“We had a couple of glasses of champagne flew back and the wives met us at the airport. Andy Gray’s wife drove us back to their house, and we watched the game over again.”
The European final itself – with a brilliant Everton expected to defeat the Austrians, did so with ease – proved something of an anti-climax, not least because UEFA spoiled the trophy presentation completely.
“It was as though it was an afterthought, a shambles. Like they didn’t realise we had to be presented with the cup. There were no steps to climb, no big ceremony, just a little platform the lads couldn’t get on.
“And some of the lads, Kevin Sheedy I think, missed it completely, because they were dragged away to do the drugs test. Not that it can detract from a night we will always remember.”
And there was always the semi final too. After drawing 0-0 in Munich with a weakened team, Everton found themselves a goal down in the return leg at Goodison, going into the interval.
“Howard just handed out the tea, and said ‘I can’t fault you, you’ve done everything right. Get back out there and do it again and the Gwaldys Street will suck one in.” They did, on perhaps the most passionate night in Goodison history.
“It was crazy. There were so many fans, it took us half an hour for the team bus to just turn the corner into the car park at the stadium. They were no shrinking violets, with some world class players, but we battered them, dominated them. They shrank when we scored.
“People say football has moved on, the modern game is unrecognisable, but that night, the high press, the energy, the passing, it was all there. They had Augenthaler, Matthaus, Hoeness, Rummenigge, Pfaff. Yet we blew them away. I heard Augenthaler talk about it many years later, and he admitted they were intimidated, by our crowd, and by us.”
He is too modest to say, but it was Sharp’s goal that turned the tide that night, to lay the foundation for victory. But it could have been very different, with Everton just scraping through the first round by a single goal over two legs…against University College Dublin.
“We didn’t know who UCD were in the draw, but maybe we were complacent when we realised they were students, drew 0-0 over there, and though I scored early at Goodison, we couldn’t break them down for any more, and right at the end, the lad, Ken O’Doherty I think it was, hit the bar. If it went in we were out.”
History rewritten by inches. Instead, it was made in the right way, with Everton going on to lift their only European trophy. Wistful once again, Sharp believes there could have been more, and so do Blues supporters, it seems, with the Howard’s Way film the top-selling DVD on Amazon’s sport chart. “It felt like the first step to cementing our place in Europe, winning more.
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