Classic TMYM: FA CUP FINAL 1986

There have been many occasions over the past 30 years when there has been reason to believe that the universe hates Everton. They are one of only seven clubs to have played in every season of the cash-rich Premier League and yet they never seem to have enough money. On the one occasion that they broke into the top four, the best referee in the world made a mistake and they were blocked from the transformative riches of the Champions League. But for peak Everton, for the absolute crystallisation of what life supporting this club must be like, you must look to the 1986 FA Cup Final.

In an alternative reality, this could have been the day that Everton strode towards an unprecedented treble, laying down a marker for Alex Ferguson to follow thirteen years later. Had it not been for the Heysel disaster, they would have been England’s representatives in the 1985/86 European Cup. No-one can guarantee that they would have been victorious, but given that an English team had won the trophy in seven out of the previous nine years and that Everton had won the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1985, they would certainly have been the bookies’ favourites. In this reality, they were left to contest the ScreenSport Super Cup, the unpopular makeweight competition knocked up by the Football League to compensate for the absence of European adventures. They lost in the final. To Liverpool. Obviously.

That wasn’t all they lost to Liverpool. Everton’s defence of the league title started badly, with defeat away to Leicester City, and collapsed away at Oxford United on April 30 when they lost and allowed Kenny Dalglish’s side to overtake them. Under their new player-manager, Liverpool made an uncertain start, winning only two of their first five league games before finding their feet in October with five victories on the spin. Neither club could hold a candle to Ron Atkinson’s Manchester United, who won their first ten games in a row before wobbling badly, relinquishing the lead in February after four defeats in six and eventually trudging home in fourth. But Liverpool saved their best form until the run-in, taking 34 points from a possible 36 with Dalglish himself scoring the league-winning goal at Stamford Bridge on the final day of the season. Denied Europe and beaten to the league, at least Everton still had the FA Cup.

The official attendance for the final was 98,000, but it was almost certainly higher. This was the first ever all Merseyside FA Cup Final and no-one wanted to miss it. One supporter watched the entire game from the roof. At least one other made a death-defying swing from the side of the stadium, grabbing the hand of a supporter leaning out of a window. 


On the face of it, Everton were weakened by the absence of Neville Southall, arguably the best goalkeeper in the world at that time. But his replacement, the 22 year old Bobby Mimms, had been entirely unfazed by his sudden promotion, keeping six consecutive clean sheets from his introduction, conceding just three goals in his nine league games. And Everton were hot up front. Gary Lineker, signed from Leicester that summer and already attracting the attention of Barcelona, had scored 30 in the league alone. His strike partner, Graeme Sharp, added another 19. The 1985 PFA Player of the Year, Peter Reid, prowled in the midfield, while the exquisite Kevin Sheedy, who had failed to make the grade at Anfield, lurked on the left. Howard Kendall had built a formidable team.

Liverpool had goals too, 23 from Ian Rush and another 13 from Danish midfielder Jan Molby. They could also look to their manager for inspiration on the pitch. Dalglish, now 35, had only picked himself eight times before March, preferring to pair Rush with Paul Walsh while he watched from the sidelines. But Walsh was out with ankle injury and Dalglish had thrust himself back into the fray. At the back, Liverpool were practically impregnable. In their final nine games of the season, they had conceded just a single goal. Mark Lawrenson, sidelined with injury for much of the run-in, was back to full fitness alongside the almost ever-present Alan Hansen.



It is, as you might expect given all that is at stake, initially a scrappy and incoherent mess of a game. Liverpool look edgy and make very few chances. Rush heads wide from a Steve Nicol cross in the fifth minute. A neat Jim Beglin ball to Kevin McDonald comes to nothing when Kevin Ratcliffe and Derek Mountfield shut him down instantly. Mimms is out swiftly on the one occasion that Craig Johnston’s pace threatens and there’s no doubt that Everton are the better side. They are infuriated when referee Alan Robinson denies them a first half penalty after a heavy challenge from Nicol, not least because Everton and Robinson have beef, as the parlance of today might have it. It was Robinson who failed to spot Hansen’s handball in the 1984 Milk Cup Final, a mistake that still rankles.

Lineker is quick and Everton try again and again to set him free. In the 24th minute, Reid manages to squeeze a pass through and, for a moment, the England striker has a sight of goal. But Lawrenson is quicker, he races back to stretch out a leg and deny Everton a great chance to take the lead. But even he can’t do anything about what follows four minutes later.

A sharp pass from Molby is miscontrolled by Dalglish. The ball ricochets from his boot to the feet of Reid who looks up and plays a perfectly weighted 50 yard ball over the top for Lineker to chase. Lawrenson is too high up the pitch to help this time and it’s Lineker against Hansen. The bookies aren’t taking bets. At full speed, Lineker takes a touch and fires off a shot. Grobbelaar is down to parry, but he can’t get the ball far enough away and Lineker is following up. Again, Grobbelaar spreads himself, but to no avail. As he has done so many times already this season, Lineker wheels away in delight.

In the BBC commentary box, Jimmy Hill is impressed. “Not a bad goal either, with the World Cup in mind,” he muses. “If you can catch out your neighbours with a ball like that when they know your play, it might work quite well against the foreigners.”

Liverpool just can’t get their game going at all and the frustration shows in their manager on the stroke of half-time. As yet another move breaks down, Dalglish picks up the ball and drop-kicks it at the legs of Sheedy, before briefly squaring up to him. Another referee might have pulled out a yellow card. Robinson settles for a quiet word.

Whatever Dalglish, or his lieutenant Ronnie Moran, choose to say at the break, it fails to make an impact. Just seven minutes into the second half, Liverpool go to pieces, titting about with the ball in their own box and allowing Sheedy to flash a shot just past the far post. Grobbelaar, a man who has seen military action in the Rhodesian Bush War, stares hard at his team-mates and repeatedly taps his temples with both fingers. Use your brain. Look how composed I am. Think. Stop panicking. Sixty seconds later, he proves his point, making a full length save from a long range, goalbound Sheedy free-kick. Everton are running rampant.

But Grobbelaar can only hold his patience for another minute before it wrestles free and makes a break for freedom. He leaps for a swirling cross and drops it. The ball is played back into the box and as he tries to grab it again, Sharp kicks it out of his hands. Grobbelaar shouts at Beglin to leave the ball for him and rushes to the side of his box to get it. Without warning, Beglin stamps down a foot and traps the ball as Grobbelaar skids past helplessly with steam venting from his ears. Trevor Steven gets involved and the Zimbabwean goalkeeper reaches a level of anger so intense that the turf underneath his boots begins to smoulder. Again, Beglin gets in the way. Finally, Grobbelaar snatches up the ball and unloads his fury into the Irishman’s face from a distance of little more than an inch. He furiously shoves his defender away, then summons him back, rolls the ball to his feet, demands the ball back again and scoops it up.


The Everton fans roar with laughter. What a day. Not only are they beating Liverpool, they’re making them fight amongst themselves too. A minute later, the ball falls to Grobbelaar again. He picks it up, takes a deep breath and aimlessly wallops it out of play. “He’s rattled,” says John Motson. He’s not wrong. Everton find Lineker again with a long ball moments later, but this time Hansen reaches it first and calmly passes it back to his goalkeeper. And this is the moment the game turns on its head.

Grobbelaar rolls the ball out to Lawrenson. Under pressure, Lawrenson slips the ball to the recently-chastised Beglin. Beglin smashes the ball upfield where Mountfield reaches it and passes it out to Stevens on the right. But when Stevens tries to play the ball up the wing, he succeeds only in finding Ronnie Whelan who quickly pushes it to Molby in the middle. Molby tenderly sends the ball into the box with such a delicate touch that it just sits up in Rush’s path like a puppy waiting to be stroked. There’s a flash of boots, a right and a left, Mimms is left stranded and the ball rolls into the back of the net, just ahead of the lunging Johnston who tries unsuccessfully to Nugent it over the line. This isn’t just a goal. It’s a portent of doom for Everton. Liverpool have never lost a match in which Rush has scored, a trend that will hold until the League Cup Final the following year against Arsenal.

If anyone is in any doubt at all as to what will follow, confirmation of Everton’s fate comes in the 61st minute when a poor clearance from Hansen is powerfully headed towards an empty net by Sharp, only to be tipped over by a gravity-defying Grobbelaar. This is not to be Everton’s day. Ninety seconds later, Liverpool take the lead. Molby again is the creator, driving a low cross along the Everton six yard box. Dalglish can’t reach it. Johnston can. The Australian, who would abruptly walk away from football in 1988 to care for his seriously ill sister, puts Liverpool ahead.

Everton are broken. The energy that has characterised their performance ebbs away. They barely threaten again and there’s a crippling inevitability about Liverpool’s third. Molby, who has dragged his team back into contention, finds Whelan in open space behind raggedy Everton lines. He spots Rush, of all people, open on the far side of the box. The ball is perfect and Rush has time to bring it under control before slamming it into the bottom corner of the goal, sending someone’s camera flying. Six minutes remain, but it’s all over. Two heavy-set men in large white coats clamber onto the scoreboard to make a manual update. Everton 1-3 Liverpool. And the BBC panel of Emlyn Hughes, Andy Gray and Terry Venables have much to discuss.

In time, few will remember Everton’s part in this campaign. It will forever be Dalglish’s season. Liverpool are only the fifth team to win the double, only the third team to do it in the 20th century. And it’s only his first season of management. A season that could have brought Everton European glory, a season that, until a week ago, could still have brought their own double, has brought them nothing whatsoever. This is 1986. There are no Champions League group stages and even if there were, no English team would be allowed to play in them.

Everton will be back. They recover to win the league the following season, finishing nine points ahead of Liverpool, but that will be the beginning of the end. Frustrated by European exile, Howard Kendall will depart to Atletico Bilbao in the summer of 1987.  Everton will never again reach the heights they hit in the mid-80s.

Do you want to watch the whole game as screened by the BBC? It’s all here. Don’t worry about the poor quality recording, it clears up after a few minutes. If you’d prefer extended highlights from ITV, try this

Classic TMYM: FA CUP FINAL 1986
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