It was hard not to get carried away by the rise of Everton in 1984. Supporters were swept along as a team previously struggling under Howard Kendall turned the corner and hit the road to Wembley twice. There may have been disappointment in the Milk Cup final, but an FA Cup triumph pointed to a brighter future.
"It will be remembered joyously by those who love Everton, as the day this great club emerged again from the gloomy shadows cast by their conquering neighbours," Frank McGhee wrote in the Express, after the 2-0 win over Watford. A Charity Shield win against Liverpool increased the belief that Everton were now real contenders for the big prize.
"Everton have a formidably settled look about their line-up," Ronald Atkin stated in the Guardian before the start of the new season. "They possess, in Neville Southall, perhaps the best goalkeeper in the Football League, an excellent back line and an energetic and skilful midfield. If Everton can only start to score goals, Liverpool, and everyone else, will be in trouble."Everton fans were understandably drunk on optimism as the 1984/85 league campaign started. The highest attendance for an opening league fixture at Goodison Park since 1978 was proof that the feelgood factor was back. Yet the season opener was a sobering experience. Being thrashed 4-1 by another title contender was certainly not part of the script.
Gavin Buckland, Everton's official statistician and author of Boys from the Blue Stuff: Everton's Rise to 1980s Glory, recalls the pre-match atmosphere. "The FA Cup, Charity Shield and FA Youth Cup were paraded before the start and there was an element of triumphalism." What could possibly go wrong?
With new signing Paul Bracewell taking his place in midfield alongside Peter Reid, the home team started off on the front foot. "Everton, for more than half an hour, produced the flowing football that stamped their Wembley conquest of Liverpool," noted John Keith in the Express. "Tottenham's cause seemed grim."
Everton only had one goal to show for their dominance, as Adrian Heath slotted home a penalty in the 16th minute, after Paul Miller had been penalised for handling. Evertonians basking in the summer sun must have been hopeful that their team were justifying their pre-season hopes. But then the wheels fell off in dramatic style.
Losing to Tottenham was hardly a shock, even if the nature of the defeat was. Despite manager Keith Burkinshaw leaving after winning the UEFA Cup, an already impressive Tottenham squad was boosted by the arrivals of John Chiedozie and Clive Allen. With Peter Shreeves now in the managerial hotseat, the Mirror's Harry Miller backed Tottenham to end their title drought in his season preview.
In truth, Tottenham did well to get through the Everton storm just one goal down. Yet in a remarkable 17-minute period either side of half-time the match was turned on its head. An unusually hesitant Southall allowed Mark Falco to prod home an equaliser in the 38th minute and just three minutes later Tottenham took the lead.
After Kevin Ratcliffe failed to clear, £700,000 signing Allen took advantage, chipping over an outrushing Southall to leave most inside Goodison stunned. Hoping for a quick response in the second half, there was only to be more disappointment. This was escalating quickly.
Unfortunately for Ratcliffe, he would be involved again as another new signing opened his account. Flicking on a cross, Everton's skipper looked on in horror as the diminutive Chiedozie headed past Southall in the 52nd minute. Three minutes later, the match was over as Southall parried Falco's shot and Allen pounced on the rebound.
The 4-1 scoreline may not have been a true reflection of the match, yet losing to a Tottenham team without Glenn Hoddle and Ossie Ardiles was a bitter blow. "Everything was wrong at the back and our goalkeeper Neville Southall didn't have the best of games," Kendall said after the match. Conversely his opposite number was fielding questions about a Tottenham tilt at the title.
"It's a bit premature to start talking in those terms," Shreeves said. "I've got to keep my feet on the ground and make sure the players do too." But the Mirror's Chris James was not so cautious. "Clive Allen highlighted the reason why the White Hart Lane cockerel is more likely to be crowing at the end of the season than the expectant Goodison fans." Tottenham's title odds were slashed from 12/1 to 7/1.
"I suppose you could say we started the day with a silver lining and ended it under an enormous cloud," Buckland notes. In Cheer Up Peter Reid, the Everton midfielder explains the confusion felt after the Tottenham defeat. "It was one of those games in which you walk off wondering what's just gone on because you know you haven't played that badly - and they haven't played that well - but the result suggests otherwise."
"It affected us, though, giving the confidence that we'd built up a little knock," Reid continues. Two days later, Everton lost 2-1 away at West Brom. "There was still no panic, but I must admit I was taken aback by this calamitous opening," Graeme Sharp wrote in Sharpy. The Friday night trip to Chelsea now took on extra significance.
The 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge steadied the ship, as Everton lost just once in 13 league matches, including a win at Anfield and a 5-0 destruction of Manchester United. Defensively things were still not quite right, though, as the team conceded four goals in a win at Watford and a defeat at Norwich. When another London team visited Goodison and netted four goals in a win prior to Christmas, Everton's credentials were being questioned.
But the 4-3 loss against Chelsea would be a turning point. Once September signing Pat Van Den Hauwe had bedded in at left back, getting past an inspired Southall and a solid defence became a taxing task. Claiming 50 points out of the next 54, Everton conceded just nine goals, their nine clean sheets providing the foundation for their surge to the title.
A key win came at White Hart Lane in April, with a stunning Southall save from Falco clinching a crucial win in a six-pointer between the two title contenders. The season had gone full circle for the goalkeeper and his teammates. For Shreeves and Tottenham, that early promise had evaporated.
From that opening day humiliation to a first title in 15 years, with an FA Cup and European adventure added in, these were heady times for Evertonians. The exciting journey may have started with an almighty tumble, yet every time they tripped, Kendall's team managed to dust themselves down and get back on track.