I wouldn't normally do this, because I pay for it and y'all are cheapskates, but the piece is too good to not share. From The Athletic today.
Howard's Way: Tales from an era when Everton were on the verge of domestic and continental domination
April 24, 1985. A balmy night at a raucous Goodison Park; a game where the Gwladys Street was famously said to have “sucked the ball into the net”, and an occasion that will forever be consigned to Everton folklore.
Locked at 0-0 heading into the second leg of their European Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final against Bayern Munich, Howard Kendall’s side recorded what is now widely deemed to be Everton’s greatest ever triumph thanks to second-half goals from Graeme Sharp, Andy Gray and Trevor Steven.
The 3-1 victory over the German heavyweights was “the culmination of everything” according to club legend Peter Reid, but a feeling lingers that, outside of Goodison, it is rarely afforded the attention it merits.
In many ways, Kendall, Reid, Gray and co have become the team that time forgot. League and Cup Winners’ Cup holders, conquerors of Bayern Munich and a side packed full of some of British football’s biggest characters – but seldom held in the same light as some other great outfits from these shores.
That, however, could be about to change as the feats of Everton’s greatest team hit the big screen. The Athletic sat down with the director of Howard’s Way – a new film about the Goodison club during the 1980s – and some of the main protagonists from that side to look back on a period of success, laughter and regret.
“Most of my friends are Evertonians and they’ve always said, ‘no-one ever talks about you, you’re sort of lost’. And when you start thinking about it, I think we have got lost a little bit. At the time it was just Everton and Liverpool. They were winning stuff and we were winning stuff. It was always close. But they talk about them all the time and we got fobbed off.”
It is the eve of Howard’s Way’s big premiere at Liverpool’s neoclassical masterpiece St George’s Hall and Alan Harper, a key squad member under Kendall, is sitting down with The Athletic to talk through key moments from the film.
It quickly becomes apparent that Harper and others feel that such a film is long overdue. Speak to players and supporters from the time and there is an overriding sense that Kendall’s great Everton side have not garnered the recognition their achievements perhaps deserve.
“It always amazes me when you listen to radio shows and they talk about great managers and Howard never gets mentioned despite winning the league twice, the FA Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup. And I think it has been a bit like that with the team too,” Harper says.
Howard’s Way producer and director Rob Sloman echoes that sentiment. Sloman, a Everton fan and producer of sports documentaries, fought hard just to get the film made.
“I met all the players and very quickly they agreed that we would do something because the team hadn’t got much credit,” Sloman says. “We presented the film to one company, and the guy we spoke to had never heard of Howard Kendall. That breaks your heart and is obviously not a great start to a pitch!”
There were setbacks aplenty, including a deal falling through with one major film company on the day of Everton’s 3-2 FA Cup defeat to Millwall in January, but in the end, all parties agreed a film about Kendall’s side simply had to get off the ground.
Finally, a way forward emerged that saw Sloman and his wife Sarah team up with another Evertonian, investor Phil Brown, to seal the deal.
Howard’s Way is a celebration of a team that very nearly never was – and a manager who went from being on the brink of the sack to an all-time icon.
Kendall had enjoyed success as a player with Everton in the 1960s and 70s, lifting the first division title in 1970 and forming one part of the ‘Holy Trinity’ – a much-heralded midfield also featuring Alan Ball and Colin Harvey – but his first steps after joining as manager in 1981 were difficult.
By the winter of 1983, speculation was rife that he was about to lose his job. Poor results saw dwindling attendances, and leaflets circulated Goodison carrying the message: ‘Kendall and [club chairman Philip] Carter must go. 26,000 stay-away fans can’t be wrong.’
“It didn’t work initially. He was very close to being sacked and there were three or four games in 1983-84 that helped him keep his job,” Sloman says. “We live in a different world now where social media is particularly powerful.
“Howard doesn’t get through the winter of ’83 if Twitter is about. No chance. We don’t live in a patient world anymore.”
Kendall developed a novel way of dealing with times of crisis. Often, he would take the team for a Chinese meal followed by drinks in Southport. There, players and coaching staff were given license to air their grievances.
“He used to give us the Wednesday off so we could train Tuesday and then go to the Chinese in Southport”, Harper remembers with a smile. “It was a bonding thing and only if something had gone wrong over the weekend. He’d throw something in and we’d all start saying something. Everyone had something to say about where we were going wrong. Once you’ve had a few drinks, you’ve got even more to say.
“It did help but my wife didn’t like it because you’d get home about two days later with a sore head!”
The highly unconventional approach paid dividends; helping Kendall forge a lasting bond with his players. Rather than succumb to the pressure they found themselves under, Everton’s players fought for their manager; a Milk Cup draw against Oxford United and subsequent second leg victory are widely seen as a catalyst for the upturn in fortunes that followed.
“We didn’t want him to fail,” Harper says. “Any club goes through difficult spells and the team had been swapped around just before I came in.
“It takes a while to integrate everyone and we could have won a few more games. But the Oxford game was the turning point and we just went from strength to strength.
“One game just made all the difference. We just kept winning and winning and winning.”
For those that knew Kendall, it was his personality that marked him out as special. On and off the pitch, he had a way of pulling people together.
“I always said if Howard hadn’t have been a footballer, he would have ended up on the stage. He just had a way where people would gravitate towards him,” his widow Lily tells The Athletic. “You’d go on holiday and for the next two weeks, you’d be surrounded by people. That was all Howard’s doing. He was a real people’s person. That’s what he loved about the job that he had and it’s why people took to him so well.”
One story in Howard’s Way crystalises that dynamic better than any other. Brought in by Kendall to provide experience and drive in midfield, it took just one training session for Peter Reid to be won over by his new boss.
“I failed the medical but Howard pushed it through. I had glasses of champagne, red wine, white wine, and scotch to celebrate when I got home. I had to run against the manager in my first session the next day and he lapped me. The other players must have been looking around thinking ‘what have we got here?’
“I went to see Howard and I apologised. He said to me, ‘do you like a drink, lad?’ And then when I said that I did he said ‘you’ll be alright at this club then’. It’s funny, but that’s man-management. It’s why I’d have run through a brick wall for him. I knew I’d let myself down and he knew it too. I’d also failed a medical but he still had me on side. It was brilliant. He was a great manager and coach.”
Other players told similar tales. Kendall had a team of players ready to give everything to the cause.
“The changing room spirit, you’ll never get that back again,” Sloman notes. “Players turn up now in their headphones and I don’t suppose they even really know each other. Back then, successful sides were built on outstanding team spirit. They were all different characters but put that together and it was something brilliant.”
That dynamic extended to Harper and his fellow squad member Kevin Richardson. Two unheralded members of Kendall’s squad, the versatile pair filled in whenever required – doing so with minimal fuss.
“If we weren’t playing, me and Richo would fight to be the first one in to have a go at Howard,” Harper says. “It was strange though because whoever was playing, you’d want them to do well. We were a team and we all bonded in that way. Howard was a big part of that.
“You sort of accepted it because you wouldn’t expect to play the week after you’d taken Reidy’s place, for example. There were only 15 or 16 of us – it wasn’t a big squad – and it was always difficult to only have one sub. We were playing with internationals so being in the first 12 did me. You were playing in proper games.
“Richo was the same as me – he was a midfielder but could play anywhere really. If you told him to do it, he would do it. It was just lucky that I could play in a number of positions too. I didn’t play centre-forward or in goal, but I played everywhere else.
“I could probably have played more games and done more as a player, but Richo and I played in midfield against Bayern Munich – he was left and I was right. They were a top team at that point. But we battled hard.”
The Bayern Munich second leg was the side’s crowning glory. Maybe the club’s crowning glory too.
“When I started this, the first thing I thought of was how I did Bayern Munich. It is the game. It was a momentous night as an Everton fan,” Sloman notes. “In June 2018, we filmed the Bayern Munich stuff on the pitch at Goodison with Andy, Peter, Graeme and Pat [Van Den Hauwe]. I wanted to show people what we were going to do. It was a great clip and I knew we had something.
“The biggest things for me are the players stories and that it’s funny. There’s a point in the film where Andy Gray says ‘it wasn’t today; it was my day.’
“And in the Bayern game, he could have been sent off three times. Two elbows and a lash out, then Ratters [Kevin Ratcliffe] could have been sent off too. It was a very different time!”
The Bayern Munich tie was yet another occasion where Harper and Richardson showed their worth. The adaptable duo were asked to play roles either side of central midfield pairing of Reid and Paul Bracewell. Everton held their illustrious opponents to a 0-0 draw in the away leg, with the auxiliary pair dropped to the bench for the return leg, but it was still a night Harper and his team-mates will never forget.
“The second leg was the best atmosphere I’ve experienced,” he says. “European nights are different. It was England against Germany and better than any derby game.
“We thought we’d get them back to Goodison with a full house and put pressure on them. Some of the tackles we wouldn’t have got away with now. Rats [Ratcliffe] and [Andy] Gray were rattling into everyone. The bench was packed and both dugouts were having a go. The supporters in the stands were also having a right go at the Germans through the bars.
“We just knew we’d beat them at home and we just knew we’d win the trophy that year.”
Reid, a pivotal figure as ever in midfield that night, traced the win back to a run of form that had started with a 1-0 victory at Anfield that October.
“We beat Liverpool at Anfield one Saturday, then the next we beat Manchester United 5-0. It was the best team performance I’d been involved in,” he tells The Athletic. “Then we went to Old Trafford to face Manchester United again in the League Cup three days later.
“Can you imagine playing them again, having to face Bryan Robson and Paul McGrath after beating them 5-0? We won 2-1 and those 10 days were the catalyst for everything else.
“Bayern Munich was the culmination of all of it. But after those 10 days, we believed and the fans believed that we were going to win the Championship.”
But if Kendall’s side had developed into a winning machine, it did not stop them from having their fair share of hairy moments off the pitch. Stories of their antics have become folklore in just the same way as some of their biggest wins.
Harper, for his part, still remembers the night he got on the wrong end of roommate Neville Southall with hilarious consequences.
“We were in the hotel before the Bayern first leg,” he recalls. “Nev doesn’t drink so he went to bed but the rest of us had been at the bar. I went up about two hours later and couldn’t see my bed. He’d taken it and hidden it somewhere. I asked him about it and he just said, “what bed”?
“It continued, so he folded me up and put me in the wardrobe. I just thought there was no point in arguing with him! I fell asleep and was in there for a couple of hours before he let me out. What a nuisance he was! Then he got up early and made me a cup of tea!”
For all the mischief, Kendall had fostered a real sense of camaraderie – something that is still in place to this day.
“I feel really fortunate to have played with players who had ability and skill, but also drive and desire to win games,” Reid continues. “That’s important as well as you’re not always going to play well in football – you’ve got to dig results out and we did that. Having the best goalkeeper in the world in Nev certainly helped.
“There is something there. There’s a love between the players. I always say that a good dressing room invariably leads to a good team, and that’s the case here. It was special.”
Everton went on to do the league and Cup Winners’ Cup double that year, beating rivals Liverpool to the former by a mammoth 13 points and defeating Rapid Vienna 3-1 in Rotterdam in the latter. It cemented their status as one of Europe’s top sides, but Harper still looks back on the FA Cup final defeat to Manchester United that year with a slight sense of regret.
“We had a game on the Saturday, the Cup Winners’ Cup final in midweek and then the FA Cup final against Manchester United the following Saturday. That was with a squad of 16,” he notes.
“We would have won the treble that year. That would never happen now. It doesn’t upset me as such but why didn’t they look after us a bit and compromise?”
The stage seemed set for a period of Everton dominance at home and on the continent until English clubs were banned from competing in European competition following the Heysel disaster.
Although Everton won the league again in 1986-87, the team started to break up, with several members leaving England in search of European football. Kendall himself moved to Athletic Bilbao at the end of 1986-87.
“I do have regrets because at the time we were so confident,” Harper says. “We thought we could win it. When we got thrown out, that was the end of it really. People wanted to play in Europe. We all went off in opposite directions.”
“It still hurts,” Sloman adds. “Reidy tweeted something the other month saying how he would have loved to have had the chance to play in a European Cup final. Of course it still hurts. Andy Gray says in the film. ‘I wonder what we would have become’.
“With that team and the English dominance at the time, I think we would have won the European Cup. Andy says he would have stayed even with [Gary] Lineker coming in. Imagine your four strikers being Heath, Sharp, Gray and Lineker.
“Lineker could have gone anywhere [but chose Goodison because] Everton were the best around at that time. Ian Snodin chose Everton over Liverpool. We had a young team and I think Everton would have stayed at the top of the game for the inception of the Premier League.”
Howard’s Way is a tale of nostalgia and success harking back to a bygone time, but one that also gets to the heart of why Everton sit where they do in the modern-day pecking order. Unlike some of their rivals, the club was unable to stabilise and take advantage of the inception of the Premier League. They are still making up ground to this day.
But above all, the film is a fitting tribute to the life of club great Kendall, who passed away in 2015, and the team he assembled. It’s a palpable, lasting legacy that his family will be able to cherish for the rest of their days.
“It means a lot,” Lily Kendall says. “Howard loved Everton. It was like a marriage for him. I just wish he was here to see it.
“It was overwhelming to hear the players speak about him, and you could see what he meant to them. They meant a lot to him as well.
“You watch the film and you see Colin Harvey’s reaction to Howard’s death, and that shows everyone how close the bond was.
“He’s gone now and you do start to wonder if the memories will start to fade, but I think the film now means they never will.
“He’ll be up there with Dixie Dean [in the pantheon of Everton legends] and quite rightly so.”