Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughWould Everton Have Won the European Cup? - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Would Everton Have Won the European Cup? - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Would Everton Have Won the European Cup?

As a self-deprecating Everton sympathiser who finds discussions of and complaints about Heysel at best distasteful, I’ve always been reluctant to approach this topic. Indeed, there is in the back of one’s mind the lingering suspicion that the contention, that Everton would have won the European Cup after the Cup Winner’s Cup triumph of ’85 had it not been for English teams’ ban, is just something Everton fans tell themselves to feel better about having never even made a significant mark on the competition in their history, never mind having won it the 5 times that Liverpool can claim. After all, in the season following on from Everton’s finest achievement, they didn’t even win a trophy – they were pipped to the league title and the FA Cup by their local rivals.

Checkout the William Hill promo code this week for for £50 Free Bet, £150 in Casino section and £75 to play Poker.

Consider, also, the reason behind Everton’s narrow failure in the league – the replacement of Andy Gray with Gary Lineker (not, by the way, forgetting Peter Reid only managing 15 games all season). This is not to disparage Lineker’s skill or achievements, especially not since he scored 30 league goals that season, but Everton suffered from the same sort of problems as Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United team would later discover with Ruud van Nistelrooy. Having a world-class poacher often means more is required of your other players, especially since Gray was the sort of all-round forward who would drop deep to collect the ball one minute and go for a diving header a yard out and two inches off the ground the next, drifting wide to drag centrebacks of opposing teams out of position in between. Whilst they still scored 87 goals and picked up 86 points, that’s still down from 88 and 90 respectively from the (almost – thanks, Kevin Moran) all-conquering previous season. Everton had become more predictable in their play.

However, winning the domestic league has never been a pre-requisite for winning Europe’s most coveted trophy the same season. It’s more than arguable, too, that Lineker would have been an even more effective tool in continental competition considering the relative tactical dearth (or, at least, restrictive play) that seemed to define European football over this period. The European Cup final that year would have suited him down to the ground – Steaua Bucharest defeated Barcelona on penalties after a stifling 0-0 draw, which is almost certainly one of the main reasons Barcelona bought Lineker in the summer. And while Bucharest were a good team, the other danger teams were either tailing off (Ferguson’s Aberdeen for instance) or going through transitional periods – whilst it’s true that Bayern Munich had just regained the Bundesliga the season before and boasted such talent as Jean Marie Pfaff and Lothar Matthäus, this hadn’t stopped them from being handily beaten by Everton in ’85 and not enough of a change had been made 12 months on. Anderlecht, too, were on the decline.

The following season, Everton walked the league title (despite missing Kevin Bracewell, whom, with Peter Reid, who again only played a game more than he had in ’85-’86, had formed the best central partnership in Europe in ’85 but rarely had the opportunity to play together hence). And whilst there were plenty of teams who would have caused them problems, if Porto could win the European Cup, beating a fantastic Dynamo Kiev and Bayern Munich along the way, it’s hard to picture Everton not at least being competitive. Hell, Liverpool, who finished 9 points behind Everton in the league, wouldn’t have been counted out either. By this time, both Merseyside teams would have had enough European experience to worry any of the big sides and to see off the upstarts who did well.

By the time ’87-’88 rolls round, we’re well into crystal ball territory. The feared, fast, free-scoring Everton team disintegrated this year, with manager Howard Kendall moving to Bilbao and key players moving elsewhere, and the team finished fourth. It’s unlikely they’d have been beating the likes of Real Madrid, who were smashing teams left and right, or Napoli, whom of course boasted talents like Ciro Ferrara, Salvatore Bagni, Fernando De Napoli and, of course, Diego Maradona. However, again, it’s largely because of the lack of European competition that Everton declined, starved of that notoriety and not having a large enough base to fall back on as, say, Liverpool could.

So, it’s not tautological to say that, had Everton at least remained a side that could represent itself well in Europe from ’85-’86, further European success wouldn’t have followed. Nor is it unimaginable that this team, which was known for its flowing movement, speed across the park, creativity and goalscoring, complemented with one of the finest goalkeepers in history, wouldn’t have won the European Cup against minimalist and staid foreign opposition even when pipped domestically. Had they been able to maintain the standard they showed at home and in the Cup Winner’s Cup, at least one of Steaua in ’86, Porto in ’87 and Guus Hiddink’s PSV, who didn’t win a single fixture from the quarters onwards, in ’88, all look beatable.

This is certainly something all English fans can be aggrieved about, as by the time the ban finished in 1991, the outcome was tangible: English football had fallen behind the likes of AC Milan, or the Red Star Belgrade side that were comparable in style to Everton of the mid ’80s. Having won 7 titles in the 9 years running up to the ban, which includes a victory by Aston Villa who finished 11th domestically, and of course Liverpool being squeezed out in the ’85 final, there wouldn’t be another champion from England until Manchester United in 1999 (and who is to say that Everton, had they not fallen apart due to their lack of European exposure, couldn’t have begun to build a dynasty before Ferguson’s United filled the void? It certainly looked the case that the Merseyside clubs were destined to dominate the league before Everton’s collapse and before Liverpool, almost certainly because of the ban, went through a title drought that is unprecedented among their European weight class). Whilst it is true that in the immediate three years before the ban, there was a contemporary feeling that the balance of power was shifting to Italy; in hindsight, and with the bigger picture to hand, it’s still not outlandish to say that it was the turn of Everton, the best team in the country, to do what Villa, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest had done in the decade before and continue the country’s stranglehold on the tournament.

Which is not at all to say that the strain in relations between Everton and Liverpool fans caused partially by disgruntled reactions to the Heysel disaster is justified. In light of continuing speculation as to the precise nature of the Thatcher government’s unsavoury attitude towards the Hillsborough disaster, we should remember that it was the Prime Minister herself who recommended the England-wide ban, citing continuing displays of hooliganism to hide her distaste for the working class origins of the sport that would also motivate her to cut funding for school teachers participating in extracurricular football sessions, before breaking up the ITV regional companies and her handing the sport over wholesale to Rupert Murdoch.

English football fans should never forget the ban and what surrounded it, not least (but not most) because it prevented one of the finest teams that ever emerged from these shores from taking up the mantle of its predecessors and showing its talents on the grandest stage in club football.

L.K. Thompson

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *