HOWARD KENDALL, who died yesterday aged 69, evokes two memories from either end of the football spectrum which are indelibly etched in my mind.
The first was just over 30 years ago. The balmy evening of April 24, 1985 at Goodsion Park where the greatest team performance I have ever been privileged to witness unfolded in 90 breathtaking minutes.
The second was a at Wembley on May 26, 1997 where exactly one half of the old stadium was left dumbstruck by a crushing late goal, the precursor as it transpired for too many similar disappointments. For me, however, it remains the worst moment of a lifetime watching football. Even worse, because of the suddenness, than relegation to Division Four.
Kendall was manager and architect on both those occasions. A sublime Everton who, in the end, outplayed and out-thought Bayern Munich in the semi-final of the European Cup Winners' Cup. A curiously cautious and frustrating Sheffield United who appeared to be playing for extra time against Crystal Palace in what was then the First Division (now Championship) play-off final, only to succumb to the only goal of the contest in final seconds which left barely time for the restart.
I can still recall as if it were yesterday. The eerie silence which engulfed United's side of the stadium all the way from the wooden benches which passed as seats behind the goal where I was, to the halfway line. In the distance a joyous roar contained within the rafters which stopped dead at the demarcation point.
In an instant the chance of a return to the Premiership snatched away by Palace captain David Hopkin, the ginger-haired assassin, and literally no time left to strike back. There were 64,383 in the stadium that day and each of the 30,000 Blades might just as well have been standing lost and alone in a muddy field.
Of course, there have been three play-off final defeats since then, two First Division/Championship and a League One final that ended with goalkeeper Steve Simonsen, a near-neighbour of Kendall’s in Southport, striking the ball over the bar, the decisive 22nd penalty in a shootout that followed extra time of a goalless battle with Huddersfield. But as gut-wrenching as they all were, not forgetting the 1993 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley in an FA Cup semi-final, the Palace experience, for me, remains an all-time low. To rub salt into the wound, not a week goes by when I don't recall those shocking lime green shirts!
The blue shirts of Everton were sublime on that fantastic night on Merseyside in 1985. Looking on from the Press box at Goodison as a reporter for the Daily Post, the city’s local paper, the unfolding tie was as gripping as it was mesmerising.
Everton, who were shortly to be crowned First Division (now Premier League) champions, against Bayern Munich who arrived as three-time European Cup (now the Champions League) winners. They too were to finish the season as domestic champions in Germany.
Kendall had an extraordinary squad, which to this day reigns supreme in Everton’s history. The likes of goalkeeper Neville Southall, Kevin Ratcliffe, Gary Stevens, Paul Bracewell, Kevin Sheedy, Trevor Steven, Andy Gray and Graeme Sharp. A young Gary Lineker was to replace striker Gray the following season and I have to mention Adrian Heath who was to much later become, in my opinion, the worst manager in Sheffield United’s chequered history.
Bayern arrived after being held to a goalless draw in the first leg. Everton took the match to them from the start. Goodison’s 49,000 crowd was rocking as both sides played out a drama at breakneck pace and quality of football which was way ahead of its time. Everton, who had gained the upper hand, were stunned shorty before half time when Dieter Hoeness gave Bayern the lead and an all-important away goal.
What followed after the break was the stuff of make belief. Everton, attacking their favoured Gladys Street end, were on fire. Graeme Sharp headed an equaliser just three minutes into the second half. Bayern were then overrun but somehow managed to hold out and were heading for the final until 15 minutes from time when old warrior Andy Gray gave Everton the lead. Trevor Steven put the tie out of reach to make it 3-1.
The stands at Goodison Park literally shook. The noise generated by jubilant Toffees fans was ear-splitting. Triumphant Everton continued to lift the Cup Winners’ Cup in Rotterdam after a 3-1 win over Rapid Vienna.
Kendall, who won the League title again with Everton in 1987, played a part in my first FA Cup experience, too, watching on my dad’s shoulders from the terrace by the players’ tunnel on the John Street.
Kendall was in the Everton side, then First Division champions, which came to a three-sided Bramall Lane on January 3, 1970 and was beaten 2-1, courtesy of Gill Reece and Colin Addison. Kendall played in midfield alongside Alan Ball and Colin Harvey, a partnership dubbed the ‘Holy Trinity’. The Blades, managed by John Harris who was putting together what was shortly to become the greatest United side in modern times, were then in the old Second Division (now Championship).
Nineteen months later I was in the 41, 727 crowd at Goodsion where Alan Woodward gave newly-promoted Sheffield United a 1-0 win against Everton with Kendall in the side. It was the Blades first away match of the campaign and part of a run of eight wins and two draws in the first 10 fixtures that saw United top the top tier of English football until the beginning of October.
If you need a reminder of what happened next you only have to look at the Match of the Day's title sequence which for years has featured George Best's wonderful goal for Manchester United at Old Trafford that inflicted the Blades first defeat. It's been largely downhill since then!
Kendall managed United for 18 months, succeeding Dave Bassett and followed by Nigel Spackman. Had United beaten Palace at Wembley, the history books might now look very different.
United had new investment at the time and had become a publicly quoted company on the Stock Exchange in anticipation of winning promotion. Kendall had been promised a healthy recruitment pot.
When United cruelly missed out, Kendall left to manage Everton for a third time. The club’s accounts were later to reveal that the Blades funding of his so-close promotion bid had resulted in a £6million loss.
For the record:
Sheffield United team ( v Crystal Palace, First Division play-off final, Wembley, May 26, 1997): Simon Tracey, Mitch Ward, David Holdsworth, Carl Tiler, Roger Nielsen, David White, Nigel Spackman, Don Hutchison, Dane Whitehouse, Petr Kachura, Jan Age Fjortoft. Subs (all used): Lee Sanford, Gareth Taylor, Andy Walker.
Everton team ( v Bayern Munich, Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final, second leg, April 24, 1985): Neville Southall, Gary Stevens, Pat Van den Hauwe, Paul Ratcliffe, Derek Mountfield, Peter Reid, Gary Steven, Graeme Sharp, Andy Gray, Paul Bracewell, Kevin Sheedy. (No subs used).