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Howard Kendall interview 2006

Everton sign Howard KendallBack in the winter of 2006, our Editor Simon Paul met up with Howard Kendall in his favourite coffee shop in Formby to discuss a career that spanned 40 years of top class football as player and manager.

Just as he always did, and as he did many more times with us, Howard spoke openly and honestly, with passion and genuine pride, about his time (s) at Everton.

You joined Everton from Preston in 1967 when as far as most people were concerned, you were heading over the park to Liverpool, how hard a decision was it to join the Blues ahead of them?

I didn’t have a decision to make because the Preston manager came round to my house and said, “I’ve got a club for you.” Both my father and myself thought it was Liverpool because that had the been the rumour for quite a while, but the manager said “no, across the park,” and that Harry Catterick was waiting for me down at Deepdale to talk to me. So, I went to talk to him, and I wasn’t ever given permission to talk to anyone else. It was a case of either stay with Preston or sign for Everton.

There was only really one decision to make.

But it wasn’t a choice of who I joined, although the manager had told me that Tottenham were interested, Stoke, Liverpool and Chelsea as well, but they’d made a deal with Everton, so it was a case of stay or go there.

Did you know a lot about Everton before Harry Catterick made the deal to bring you to the club?

This might not sound right, but I used to go to Anfield when I was at Preston with Peter Thompson, an ex-Preston player who invited me over to stay at his ‘digs’ and watch the game! I did go to Everton when Denis Law returned from injury with Manchester United.

Your debut was a pretty traumatic experience against Southampton; did you ever think that you’d made the wrong decision?

I’d had a long wait for it as well! Because I was cup-tied, I didn’t play for a while, but I’d also picked up an injury when I first joined. When I was fit again, I don’t think the manager wanted to change things too much for League games, so there was quite a considerable wait for my debut, and it was a nightmare of a game!

I think I just froze really, I just wanted it out of the way. But an amazing thing happened afterwards. Although I’d had a nightmare of a time – and I think it was the only home game Everton lost that season – I was on my way home to Preston after the game and stopped at a service station to fill up with petrol. Some Evertonians spotted me, and they were kneeling in the puddles, and bowing to me! And after that debut, if they did that, I thought ‘Well I can’t lose on this one!’

I never doubted that I’d made the right decision to join Everton. When you walk into a dressing room and you’re getting changed for training alongside the likes of Ray Wilson and Alan Ball, who both had World Cup Winners’ medals, and Derek Temple who got the winner in the 1966 FA Cup Final. It was just amazing the talent we had there.

The next year, though, you scored the winner in a Goodison derby, how did that feel?

I think it helps you to get accepted by the fans doing something like that. I remember it was in the Gwladys Street end, and it wasn’t a particularly well hit shot but it was accurate and it went into the corner.

Howard Kendall in ActionAs a player at Everton, you were part of what is probably the most famous midfield in Everton’s history, with Alan Ball and Colin Harvey. What was it like playing as part of that trio?

It was a pleasure to play in that team, and with those two lads in the middle of the park with me was fantastic. I think the credit for that has to go to Harry Catterick, because it was a great balance that he created. It just turned out that we were all on the same wavelength. I was on the right, Bally was joining in with the front, as well as working hard in the midfield and Colin was on the left-hand side with Johnny Morrisey outside him and the balance was excellent.

Aside from those two, who would you say were the best players you’d played alongside?

I think two of the best players I’ve played with were Alan Ball and Trevor Francis at Birmingham.

And what about the best you’ve played against?

One of the best players I ever played against was Gunter Netzer when we played in the European Cup.

You were on the losing side in the FA Cup Final in 1968 with Everton. What was the feeling after that game?

Oh it was a disaster. We’d beaten them twice in the league, and then lost the big one. It was devastating.

You were a key part of the title winning side of 1970, a side that was widely expected to dominate English football for a long time to come, what do you think happened that stopped that domination?

We played very, very well after the disappointment of not winning the FA Cup in 1968. In the following season we played some magnificent football, and then the next season going on to win the Championship as well and people thought we were the team for the 1970s, but it broke up too quickly.

As well as that side’s lack of trophies, the thing that shocks many of those who saw you play, was that you never made a full England appearance. Was it ever explained to you why?

I was in the squad a couple of times, I was sub a few times, and even got as close as Alf Ramsey saying that if he makes a change it’ll be me getting on – so I was as near as you can get, but it just never came. He was very loyal to his players, and at that particular time there were some good midfield players. It wasn’t as if he was giving caps away with, as we used to say, with cornflake packets — like we’ve seen with England in recent years. He stayed loyal and stuck with the players that did a job for him,

Your transfer away from Everton in 1974 saw Bob Latchford come the other way, was there a part of you that wished you were still at Everton to play alongside Bob in his “30” season?

Oh absolutely. But in 1974 we needed a goalscorer. I didn’t ask to leave Everton Football Club, but I’d had an injury and Billy Bingham had taken over, and he felt he needed a centre-forward, while Freddy Goodwin who was manager of Birmingham felt that to avoid relegation that I could possibly help out.

At Birmingham they still had Trevor Francis, still had Kenny Burns who could play up front, and they still had Bob Hatton as well, so he must have thought that the midfield area was one that he needed to strengthen and that he could afford to let Bob go.

You had a couple of great seasons at Birmingham, was it ever in your mind that one day you’d come back to Everton as manager?

When I was at Birmingham Freddy Goodwin encouraged me to concentrate on the coaching side of things, he made me captain, he involved me in team selection and encouraged me to go to Lilleishall to gain the coaching qualifications. So when I moved on to Stoke(August 1977), I already had my qualifications and when Alan Durban took over as manager, he asked me to be player-coach.

I think what helped me there was that I’d got my qualifications while I was still playing, and I was able to enjoy the coaching side of things as well as the playing.

At Stoke, you were mentor to a young apprentice called Adrian Heath, who became so enthralled with your tales of Goodison that he decided that one-day he would join them. Had you decided then that one day you would be manager and wanted to make sure he’d join you at Everton?

I knew he was a tremendous talent, he had a great engine and thought a lot about the game and when I came to Everton he was someone I wanted to bring in.

We used to play practise matches at Stoke and he’d be up against me, and I was very, very impressed with him. When I brought him to Everton he was a record signing at that time, and it was money well spent.

Adrian’s someone you’ve worked with a great deal in your career.

I’ve got a lot of time for Adrian. He thinks about the game, he’s very enthusiastic, and I’m glad he’s still involved in the game.

Your first managerial post was at Blackburn, where you won the Third Division championship. How close an eye did you keep on Everton and the manager’s post here while you were at Ewood Park?

The first season there we got promotion as you’ve said, and the second season was going well as well. We missed out on promotion to what is now the Premiership on goal difference. There was a lot of talk that Gordon Lee’s job at Everton was under pressure and that my name was being linked with it, but I just got on with the job at Blackburn, as there’d been no approach from Everton.

On the last day of the season, Swansea won at Preston, and we won at Bristol Rovers and it was the goal difference that did it, and when the Blackburn chairman told me of the Everton interest, there was only one decision I could make. However, I did have to consider the playing side of things. I elected to keep my registration and played a few reserve team games and felt I could do a job and help out with that.

As it happened, when Everton had a bit of an injury crisis I ended up playing a few first team games as well.

I didn’t want to though! I wanted the fans to remember what I’d done previously, and not what I was doing at the end of my playing career.

Kevin Ratcliffe mentions in his book that you wanted to sign him while you were at Blackburn, how glad are you, looking back, that he never made the move?

Oh without a doubt! Mind you, I might have left Blackburn a First Division side if I’d have managed to sign him.

Your first couples of years as manager at Everton were tough ones for any manager to cope with, what kept you going through the dark days?

I’d made a lot of changes when I first arrived. I looked at the squad and we had half a dozen centre halves, there seemed to be a shortage of wide players, so I tried to balance things out a little bit. People say I made some bad signings or whatever, but Neville Southall was my first. I’d been interested in Neville since I was at Blackburn, but we already had two good goalkeepers there, and when I went to Everton we needed a goalkeeper, so I went for Neville.

We did in fact go from 17th in the table the season before I joined, to 8th in my first season, with all those bad players that I signed! But I felt that the players then had reached their level and I needed to change things again to move up to the next one.

Howard Kendall at Goodison ParkThere are two games that are always credited with changing Everton’s fortunes back then, at Stoke and at Oxford “€œ which stands out in your mind as the game that turned things around?

I don’t know really. People always talk about the Oxford game when people were saying my job was lost, and I always knew that game was going to be a difficult one, as they’d beaten Manchester United in the previous round. But we survived that, and then we knocked them out in the replay.

I think an important game was the Coventry game at Goodison Park when there were so few people inside the ground that you could not only hear the criticism, but you could pick it out “€œ it was awful.

Your first appearance at Wembley as Everton manager was the Milk Cup final against Liverpool, what was the feeling going into that, and then finally losing in the replay?

Before that game, we’d drawn a league game with them at Goodison which gave the players and fans a real lift as they’d been streets ahead of us, so I think that helped. Then when we got to Wembley I think we were really unfortunate not to have won there. I think the only people in the ground not to have seen Alan Hansen’s handball were the three officials. But it gave us a lot of credit: we’d got to Wembley in the first ever Merseyside Cup final, and come away with a draw and could look forward to the replay.

The good thing about the replay, even though we lost, was that it was a close game, and we also had something else to look forward to with the FA Cup. So I don’t think the fans were too depressed about losing that game as we had the FA Cup Final to look forward to.

Six weeks later though, you were back at Wembley and watching Kevin Ratcliffe lift the FA Cup, What was the feeling going into the Final?

I was confident, I was very confident. I knew the way that Watford played, and I knew the way we could play against them to get the win, and it turned out to be correct on the day. You can never be over-confident going into an FA Cup Final though. When we played against West Brom in 1968, we’d put six past them in the league away with Alan Ball getting four, and then we went to Wembley and lost.

Whilst at Preston, you became the youngest player to play in an FA Cup Final, and grabbed another runners’ up medal in 1968 with Everton. Did not winning the FA Cup as a player make the victory in 1984 as manager any sweeter?

Yeah, I was the youngest player in a Cup Final for a long time, I think it lasted until 1971[Howard is actually selling himself short, as in 1983 Norman Whiteside was the player to take this achievement away from him]. I think as well, the fact that it was the first trophy I’d won as a manager as well, I mean, they can’t take that away from you can they? 1964, nobody expected us to do as well as we did, twice in the lead and then losing in the last minute, and we got a tremendous reception when we got back to Preston. All that was said in the dressing room after was the captain got up and said, “Hey lads, chins up, we’ve done brilliantly today.”

A number of your signings, which were probably very high risk at the time, played a huge part in those few years of great success, Peter Reid and Andy Gray spring to mind. What was it about those players that gave you such confidence in them?

Andy was a risk signing because of his injury problems, the same with Peter Reid as well. But, you go and see a specialist and you get his opinion on the condition of the player. He looked at Andy’s record and said that he’d played roughly 30 games in the previous two seasons, and he said that if he works hard, maintaining the strength in his muscles to stabilise his knee, then there was no reason not to sign him. He was a big risk, but he made a tremendous impact both on the pitch and in the dressing room.

The atmosphere in the dressing room was excellent, we had a team off the pitch as well as on it. The lads all got on well with each other, appreciated each other’s qualities and they all had a similar sense of humour. It was a pleasure to manage.

I think it’s a very important part of the game that you’ve got a good captain, and a good atmosphere. Mind you, there’s nothing like winning to create a good atmosphere! But I wasn’t chopping and changing the team, all the players knew that they were the best that we could have had. We had two very, very good players who “filled in” “€œ Kevin Richardson and Alan Harper “€œ but the team knew that they were the first eleven.

You created a great midfield as manager, how would you compare the midfield of Sheedy, Steven, Bracewell and Reid to that which you played in?

They were an outstanding midfield, without a doubt, each one of them had tremendous qualities. And again, if you look back to what Harry Catterick did with myself, Alan Ball and Colin Harvey in creating a perfect balance, I took that into consideration when I brought in those players. You need that balance: the natural left foot of Kevin Sheedy; Trevor Steven on the right was a dream; and the two lads in the middle worked off each other – great workers and born winners.

Out of the FA Cup, the league titles, and the Cup Winners Cup, what are you most proud of winning as manager?

The first one, I think, is always the most important. But if you win a Cup, you’re not necessarily the best team in the country. If you win the league, you’re the most consistently good team in the country. So winning the league the season after winning the FA Cup, gave me the best of both, and then the European Cup Winners’ Cup “€œ the club hadn’t won a European trophy, and bringing that to Goodison gave me great pride.

It would be a travesty not to talk about that night against Bayern Munich. What was going through your mind in the build up to that game?

Everyone talks about that game, and it was a tremendous game, a fantastic buzz in the ground, and even at half time when we were a goal down, I couldn’t fault the players at all. The effort and quality they were putting in was just excellent, and when you see the pace of the game when you watch it back on video now, and the tackling, it was a real spectacle & the whole place was buzzing.

We’d been to Munich the week before and got a 0-0, which their coach said wasn’t a bad result for them as we hadn’t scored the away goal, which is a fair comment, but I was well pleased with coming away without conceding. We were without Trevor Steven and Kevin Sheedy away from home, so I thought a draw was a great result.

Going 1-0 down actually put some pressure on us because we needed two then, but again, the Gwladys Street sucks the ball in.

You famously told the players that at half time – that if they got the ball forward then the Gwladys Street would suck the ball in. What else did you tell them?

Just to keep going as they were. They were playing brilliantly so there wasn’t much I could change. Sometimes those 15 minutes of half time is too long, because on that particular occasion I didn’t have anything to say. I just wanted to get them out there!

There’s a lot of talk that that game was almost like the final, as you were very confident that we’d beat Rapid Vienna.

Well I’d seen Vienna, and again I was very, very confident. But I couldn’t pass that on to the players, because I didn’t want them being over confident, but in the back of my mind, I knew that if we performed on the night, that they certainly wouldn’t be able to cope with us.

I think going into the FA Cup Final so quickly after that Final was too quick though: from the Wednesday night to a Saturday afternoon, there just wasn’t enough time. And when I woke up on the Saturday morning and looked out, and the sun was beating down, I thought “We could really have done with a good downpour” “€œ just to cool everything down and freshen the lads up again.

Did the sending off of Kevin Moran give you new hope that we could do the treble?

No, quite the opposite really, as we see so often that ten men come out on top. They seem to defend better, or get that little bit extra out of the nine men that are left out on the pitch, and we just didn’t really have anymore to give unfortunately.

Howard KendallAfter that season of European success, English clubs were sadly banned from Europe after the disaster at Heysel. What kind of an impact, for you, did Heysel have on Everton Football Club?

Massive. A massive effect. To get a five year ban was just terrible. We were so looking forward to going into the European Cup, which for us was the big one, and it was just a massive blow to Everton.

You’d added Gary Lineker to the side. Do you feel that Everton would have dominated Europe with the side you’d built?

No, well, I don’t think it’s fair to say that we would have anyway. I mean, we nearly went out against University College Dublin in the first round of the Cup Winner’s Cup, it was 0-0 away and we won 1-0 at home, but they had a hell of a chance near the end, which would have put them through on the away goal.

So, I don’t think you can say that we would have dominated Europe, but there was a belief in the players that they wouldn’t be beaten.

Were there any players you wanted to add to that squad that you didn’t?

No, not really. Mind you, one player I did want to sign when I first came in 1981 was Bryan Robson when he played for West Brom, but unfortunately for us Ron Atkinson had other ideas for him. He would have been my first signing, and they say your first signing is always the most important one, but then I went out and got Neville “€œ who turned out to be a very, very important signing for the club.

Gary Lineker left after just one season, after becoming the first Englishman to win the Golden Boot at a World Cup. How hard was it to see him go to Barcelona?

It was difficult, but in ’85, before we had him, we’d had five players who’d scored in double figures, Derek Mountfield, Sheedy, Gray and Sharp, but then when Gary came in, the whole format of play changed, and we went more direct. Which was because of him, because of his goalscoring ability, but the others couldn’t catch up and there was very little goalscoring contribution from the other players.

So when Barcelona came in, it’s very difficult to stop somebody going to Barcelona, and I just felt that if we went back to the way we were playing the season before then we may not miss him, certainly not as much as people were reporting at the time.

Fortunately enough for me, we went on to win the title the season after we’d sold him, so it can’t have been that bad a decision!

The season that Gary was with us, we missed out on the double to Liverpool by the narrowest of margins, how much did that hurt?

It was a matter of two games, Liverpool won the double on those two games, and if it had been the other way round then we would have won the double. But again Oxford were involved in that season, it was a league game that went against us, and Liverpool won at Leicester the same night which changed the balance of the season.

The next year though, Everton won the league easily. Would you have stayed on if European football had been on the agenda at Goodison?

I think there was every chance. I’d had the taste of Europe, and I wanted it to continue. Very similar to the two Stevens lads [Trevor Steven and Gary Stevens] who went to Rangers in search of European football and did very well for themselves up there. It’s a massive pull, and when you’re looking at the length of ban on all English clubs that there was, it was a big blow to English football, with players and managers going elsewhere to look for European football.

You signed Dave Watson with some of the money from the sale of Gary Lineker, and he turned out to be a tremendous signing for the club.

I wasn’t actually planning on spending any of the money from Gary’s sale, but then Derek Mountfield had a problem with his knee, and it was flaring up all the way through pre-season. I thought that I couldn’t go into the season without a centre half, so we agreed a deal for Dave. I remember Ken Brown, who was the manager of Norwich, saying, “It’s like cutting my right arm off.”

[What a signing he proved to be. Consistent, professional, gave 100 per cent every day in training.

When you came back as manager the second time, things didn’t quite work out, and the success you enjoyed in the mid-80s eluded you. What, for you, were the key factors in that?

The club is just such a big pull, and when they asked me to go back I just couldn’t say no. But you’re very rarely asked to join a big club like Everton when things are going well, there’s always going to be problems that need solving. But it takes time to sort them out, and if you haven’t got the resources or the time, then it’s going to be very difficult.

We weren’t flushed with money, but I felt that we were nearly there and needed to sign someone like an Andy Gray or a Peter Reid, and we agreed a deal for Dion Dublin. We had the money, and I’d agreed a deal that I was happy with to bring him to Everton, but then I got a phone-call from my chairman to say that he didn’t like the deal, and it was off. So, I thought about things, and thought that I was just no longer the manager, I was no longer making the decisions on what players I was bringing in. I knew the money was there, but they didn’t want to give it to me, and it seemed that they’d suddenly become Chief Scout or managers. And looking back, he would have been a tremendous signing, but I just felt that I’d been undermined as a manager.

When I came back the third time, I was working at Sheffield United and we were having a good time of things, but it’s that pull again that Everton has that brought me back again. I’d had seventeen years of playing and managing at Everton Football Club, and the pull was just too much to resist.

Looking back, people might be saying it was a mistake to come back, but I don’t look back at mistakes.

The third time as manager saw a last-day escape from relegation against Coventry, what was the feeling going into that game in the squad?

From a personal point of view, I didn’t want to be the manager that took Everton out of the top flight, . After all the successes, I didn’t want to be remembered just for that. It was a tense week going into that match, I got all the press out of the way on the Thursday, so there was no interviews or anything like that to get in the way, and then I took the lads away on the Friday night.

I went to bed that night, knowing my team, and woke up with a different one! Gareth Farrelly wasn’t in the side that I’d picked the night before, so someone up there must like me to change my mind. And I thought he was due for one, he’d been ballooning them all over the ground in his attempts to score, but he certainly hit the target that day.

It was such a relief, because it wasn’t important for Chelsea [who played Bolton at home, who Everton would need Chelsea to beat to be sure of safety] and I thought they’d be thinking about their holidays and get beat. But they didn’t, they went out and put in a performance, and won it.

It wasn’t as close as the Wimbledon game though, which thankfully I wasn’t involved in. I was in Greece at the time working over there, and I phoned back here when I knew the whistle would have gone, and I was delighted when I was told we’d won 3-2, but they were down 2-0 at half time, which must have been awful for the fans.

Any regrets about coming back the 2nd and 3rd times?

[Emphatically] No. You can look back and think that maybe it would have been better if I’d stayed at Sheffield instead of coming back a third time, but the pull was there, and it’s an irresistible pull that Everton has on you. You can’t ignore it.

The times you spend, the good times you’ve had. You’re always going to go back to the good times and where you’ve been successful.

When I went into management, the aim was to get to a big club eventually, and with the association I’d had with the club as a player, and going into coaching and then management just gave me a bit more grounding early on in my career. Maybe I went to Everton a bit early as manager, but you can’t turn round and say “No, not yet” when a club like Everton come knocking. Someone else could get in there and do well, and you might not get the success at your current club that you’d hoped for, and you won’t get mentioned again in connection with big clubs. It’s all about timing.

Through your writing in the local press, you obviously keep a close eye on the goings-on at Everton. If it wasn’t your job, would you be just as keen?

Oh yes, I go to the games still. I think if you’re writing about them, and talking about them, then you’ve got to see first hand what you’re going on about! But I still love it, I get well looked after, and I still love the whole experience of watching Everton.

People certainly remember you for your high points, as whenever any Evertonian is asked to name the most successful Everton manager, your name is the first off their lips.

And that’s something I’m very proud of. Harry Catterick was a fantastic manager, a very successful manager. Two league titles, an FA Cup, which was the same as me domestically, but I think the European Cup Winners’ does it for me. We also had the hat-trick of Charity Shield wins as well, and I think that’s what managers should be looking for at the beginning of season. When asked where they want to be, they should be saying “In the Charity Shield next year.” That means you’ve achieved something.

You managed some wonderful players at Everton, who would you say were the best you worked with?

Undoubtedly Neville [Southall] who for me became the best goalkeeper in the world in mid 1980’s.

You could go on though, Kevin Sheedy and his contribution of goals, Trevor Steven on the other side, I could go through the whole side of the mid 80’s! Van den Hauwe was a great player, who I actually knew when he was a kid at Birmingham, coming up from London, and I saw he was going to be a great player.

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Simon Paul

Managing Editor at NSNO.co.uk
Si has been going to Goodison Park for over 30 years and has had a season ticket in all of the stands, currently taunting away fans from the Lower Bullens.

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