Friday, 22 January 2016

1981 FA Cup Fourth Round: Everton v Liverpool

This week I am looking back at the 1981 FA Cup fourth round clash between Merseyside rivals Everton and Liverpool, as the home team get one over their neighbours, and Imre Varadi gets to experience football cuisine 1980s style.

Life was definitely not easy as an Everton fan in the 1970s. The decade started on a high, the League Championship won under Harry Catterick drawing Everton level with Liverpool on number of title wins (seven apiece). But as the decade progressed, the looming presence of their neighbours across Stanley Park grew and grew, the shadow cast by the Red Machine swamping not just Everton but the rest of the country. Under Shankly and then Paisley, Liverpool were settling in on their perch and booking in for bed and breakfast.

Between 1972 and 1978 Liverpool started to win a great number of wars, yet Everton fans were not even granted the consolation of an occasional victory in any battles against their swaggering foe. Fifteen derby matches came and went during a blue period for Evertonians and not one crumb of comfort could be consumed when it came to head-to-head encounters against Liverpool. Played 15 Won 0 Drawn 7 Lost 8 For 3 Against 18. Grim reading indeed.

There was one match that summed up the situation neatly: the 1977 FA Cup semi-final at Maine Road. With the clock ticking down and the tie heading towards a replay, it appeared as if Bryan Hamilton had scored a late winner for Everton, crushing Liverpool's treble dream and ending five years of hurt in a delicious way.

Yet as Hamilton wheeled away in delight, referee Clive Thomas - a man not shy of the limelight - stuck the biggest of pins into Everton's balloon. Disallowing the goal, Thomas instantly became a figure of hate in the eyes of most Everton supporters, who were unsurprisingly reluctant to forgive or forget the controversial figure.

The drought ended in October 1978, an Andy King strike finally giving Everton fans bragging rights, although the match winner was hastily moved on when trying to give an interview in the immediate aftermath. Liverpool seemingly got over the derby defeat just as quickly, losing only three more League matches on their way to the title, and defending their crown in 1979/80, whilst Everton slumped to 19th place under Gordon Lee's stewardship.

Everton's manager needed a strong campaign in 1980/81 to prevent the axe from falling, and by October the club had moved up to third place in the table, yet an abysmal second half of the season sealed Lee's fate. But amongst the darkness that saw Everton lose 13 of their last 20 League matches there was a moment of brightness.

Having already knocked out an Arsenal team that had not lost an FA Cup tie outside of Wembley since 1977, Everton must have been pleased to have been handed a home draw in the fourth round, but less so with the ball number that immediately followed. Saturday January 24: Everton v Liverpool. Merseyside held its collective breath.

Liverpool's attempt at three-in-a-row was not running as smoothly as most expected in the League. Too many draws - including a 2-2 at Goodison Park in October - initially held the club back, and although they cranked through the gears and topped the table at the start of 1981, an indifferent start to the New Year would result in Liverpool only having the European Cup, FA Cup and League Cup to focus on. Somewhat surprisingly, Liverpool's recent FA Cup record was not that impressive - their last win coming in 1974 - so there was certainly no lack of motivation needed when the players made the short trip to a buzzing Goodison on that January afternoon.

Just to spice things up a little, the referee appointed to control the potentially explosive clash was none other than Clive Thomas. Well, at least the powers-that-be had decided to go for experience, and for a man who definitely would not be overawed by the occasion. Thomas would have his hands full on an afternoon sizzling with a derby atmosphere combined with the cut and thrust nature of an FA Cup tie.

Such was the demand for tickets that officials from the two clubs joined forces in asking the FA for permission to set up a giant screen at Anfield. There was a precedent for this; in 1967 the match was shown at Anfield with a combined 104,487 watching the fifth round match which Everton won 1-0 at Goodison Park. But the request in 1981 was met with a negative response. "The Challenge Cup committee discussed the request and it was turned down," a defiant FA secretary Ted Croker stated, after the decision to delay the kick-off to 7pm was knocked back, without giving a full explanation as to why the application had been rejected.

Liverpool secretary Peter Robinson was confused and naturally frustrated at the outcome. "I can't understand it, especially as we were allowed to alter the kick-off when we were drawn against each other in 1967," Robinson said. "We are doing it as a favour to the fans, and in the economic climate we are living in, with falling attendances, the FA must be more flexible than they are at present."

Robinson had a point. Football was hardly fashionable at the time, and the opportunity to get more people through the gates should not have been sniffed at. Now of course, the FA are fully willing to move kick-off times without a thought for any fans who might want to possibly use public transport to attend a match. So in both 1981 and 2016 the fans were inconvenienced; at least the FA have been consistent.

However, the match coverage did make it to some cinemas in Liverpool and Southport, which highlights just how much interest there was in the fixture:

Liverpool were joint favourites with Ipswich at 5/1 to win the Cup, Everton priced at 16/1, and despite being drawn away at their local rivals, the visitors were expected to progress, certainly in the eyes of the bookies. But scratch beneath the surface and all was not hunky dory; Alan Hansen and Alan Kennedy were missing at the back, and the team had only scored one in their last four League matches. Everton were hardly pulling up any trees themselves though, with no wins in their last four League matches and only one goal to show for their efforts. Either way, it looked as if the forthcoming Cup tie would be a closely fought contest.

For three of Everton's youngsters the frantic opening to the match must have been a real eye opener. 21-year-old goalkeeper Martin Hodge - in for the injured Jim McDonagh - Kevin Ratcliffe (20), and Imre Varadi (21) were all playing in a Merseyside derby for the first time, and as the tackles flew in, they were fully aware of what was at stake.

In this Liverpool Echo article, Varadi indicates the ferocious nature of the match. "Some of the challenges were bordering on GBH. I remember Steve McMahon topping Phil Neal with one tackle which sent Neal somersaulting right up in the air - and he got away with it! It was like a war. Unbelievable." Thomas would need eyes in the back of his head throughout the afternoon.

After just two minutes the referee marched across to have a word with members of the Everton bench, doing very little to change the opinion of many who felt the official loved nothing more than being centre of attention. In general though, Thomas controlled the game as well as anyone could have been expected to do, John Keith writing in the Daily Express that Thomas "must be commended in controlling passions that could have flared into an unseemly spectacle."

In amongst the hectic start, Everton were clearly on the front foot, the midfield trio of Steve McMahon, Trevor Ross and Asa Hartford keeping a lid on Graeme Souness, Terry McDermott and Sammy Lee. Varadi had already struck the woodwork before Everton were rewarded for their fine opening. A McMahon through ball sent Peter Eastoe clear, and although Ray Clemence got a piece of the ball, it looked as if the Everton forward had given his side the lead.

The ball did in fact end up in the net and the goal was credited to Eastoe, but on each viewing of the goal it does appear as if Avi Cohen incomprehensibly scores an own goal. Whether Phil Neal got back to clear the ball in time is debatable, yet Cohen's strange finish ended any doubt. Thomas added to the confusion by discussing the goal with a linesman, and after many Everton's fans removed their hearts from their mouths fearing another 1977 incident, the goal was given. Probably just as well for the well being of the Welsh referee.

Fortune seemed to be smiling on the home team when Hodge somehow kept out a Kenny Dalglish effort with his leg, and when the Liverpool forward was unable to come out for the second half after needing three stitches in an instep injury, a major concern had been removed from the equation for anyone associated with Everton.

Dalglish's replacement did not take long to make his mark in the second half. John Bailey's back pass to Hodge was always going to reach the keeper, yet it was inviting enough for Jimmy Case to contest, his reckless challenge igniting the already fiery atmosphere. Unhappy at the lunge, Mick Lyons and Billy Wright were quickly on the scene, both slyly stamping on Case as Thomas tried his best to control the volatile incident. From out of nowhere, Souness charged in, never backwards in coming forwards if the situation arose.

Souness and Lyons both went into Thomas' book - yellow cards had recently been scrapped - and in all six men were booked on a day when it was calculated that 46 fouls were committed. "Every tackle was a battle," Lyons later declared, with the Daily Mirror's Derek Wallis adamant that this comment "sums up the brutality of a match that could have been a classic but instead was a pitched battle." The sadly recently departed John Lennon was at number one with Imagine at the time of this match. Imagine all the people, living life in peace; this sentiment was not likely to be adhered to at Goodison.

Despite the passion and obvious desire, Liverpool just could not get going on a day of frustration for Paisley on the sidelines. "In my 42 years at Liverpool I can never recall an Everton team that's been stronger than us," Paisley complained after the match. "They hustled us out of it. We were never in the game until near the end." Clemence had to be at his best to deny Varadi, but could do little to prevent the striker doubling Everton's advantage after the hour.

The decisive goal stemmed from a Phil Thompson error, the Liverpool skipper losing his bearings under a high ball and allowing Eamonn O'Keefe through on goal. O'Keefe took the ball too wide, but was able to send a ball across the face of the goal which led to Varadi tapping in at the far post, the goal scorer running off to celebrate at the Park End of the stadium. Unfortunately for Varadi, this is the end of Goodison which housed the Liverpool fans, one of which chose Varadi's moment of ecstasy to add some extra ingredients to the occasion.

"I was so excited I ran around the back of the goal not realising it was full of away supporters," Varadi recounts in this Daily Post article. "I incurred the wrath of an angry Liverpool fan who chucked a meat and potato pie straight into my face – I can still taste it now!" Wiping the pie off his face, Varadi was also instructed by Thomas to get back to the halfway line quickly. Despite the pie and the ticking off, Varadi had become an instant hero, and Everton now had one foot in the last sixteen.

Case pulled one back for Liverpool after 76 minutes, but in a strangely subdued performance the visitors never really threatened to get back into the match. Indeed it would be Varadi who would spurn the best opportunity, somehow contriving to miss an open goal, but ultimately it did not matter (it may have not felt like that at the time though to the anxious Everton fans).

At the final whistle, the Everton players celebrated joyously in front of the Gwladys Street End, O'Keefe and Varadi climbing on to the perimeter fences to get that little bit closer to the fans. Many of the 53,804 fans spilled on to the pitch, and the partying would carry on into the night.

For Mick Lyons the win must have been particularly sweet, as he finally won a Merseyside derby at his 20th attempt. "We all went out celebrating that night," Varadi explains. "We ended up in a place called Snobs in the city centre. People were going to the bar and ordering Varadi and Cokes instead of Bacardi and cokes. It was a great night! Ever since then I’ve drunk Bacardi and coke. I love the stuff now! But that was the first time I’d ever drunk it."

The hangover would last for Liverpool too. Winless in their next four League matches, the title was slowly slipping from their grasp, but being Liverpool they still managed to scoop the European Cup and League Cup come the end of the season. However, there can be no doubting that the Everton defeat hurt, especially given the status of the FA Cup back in 1981.

After knocking out both Arsenal and Liverpool, hopes were high regarding Everton's hopes for a first trophy since 1970. "We really fancy our chances now," a delighted Eastoe commented after the fourth round win, and after seeing off Southampton in extra-time after a replay, a home draw against Man City in the quarter final saw the belief grow. But a late Paul Power goal took the tie back to Maine Road, and when City easily won the replay 3-1 time was ticking for Gordon Lee. Come the end of the season, Lee was sacked, Howard Kendall appointed, and the rest is history.

The win over Liverpool may not have led to anything tangible for Lee or Everton, but any derby win is remembered with great fondness. That it came in a competition as revered as the FA Cup was back then only adds to the nostalgia for any Evertonian fortunate enough to recall that day. An afternoon when the blue half of Merseyside could hold their heads high, Liverpool were left with egg on their faces, and Everton's match winner collected a meat pie on his.

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