Everton’s average league gate throughout the sparkling, splendid, spectacular 1984/85 season was 31,984.
A few hundred more had watched a home victory over Norwich on April 27, a few hundred less had turned up for a midweek stroll over West Bromwich Albion a week and a half earlier.
Which is why I was still at home at quarter-past 12 on Bank Holiday Monday, May 6 1985 – watching Football Focus – frozen with horror as John Motson declared: “And the gates are already locked at Goodison Park where 50,000 fans are waiting to see Everton crowned champions.”
Football was different back then. Everton’s first title coronation for 14 years wasn’t all ticket.
The standing areas of the ground were first come first served.
And after racing to the Northern Line, running from Bank Hall and arriving breathless at Goodison Park, I discovered Motty hadn’t been kidding. Goodison was a lock out. Well before 1pm.
I hadn’t missed many matches that season – but was in real danger of missing the most significant – until I heard someone mention that the away section on the Park End wasn’t full.
Wow 30 years ago we won the league. @Everton @GregOK @irishtoffees78
— Kevin Sheedy (@kevin11sheedy) May 6, 2015
Of course the other Boys in Blue were aware of this ruse and were carefully quizzing eager Evertonians with the worst cockney accents since Dick van Dyke trying to blag their way onto the Park End.
My pal John Coyle, who had bizarrely decided to take his girlfriend to her first match that afternoon, was turned away.
Somehow, with a flurry of “Cor Blimey geezer, up the apple and pears, have a heart me old China” and offering up an imaginary address in Hounslow, I was allowed in.
Of course I then found myself surrounded by several hundred real cockneys – in the days when crowd violence was still prevalent – so I pushed my way to the front and told a bobby in my broadest Scouse that I was in the wrong section.
He let me through the gate into the Everton section next door – which is how I ended up almost directly behind the Park End goal for the first time.
The Gwladys Street ledge was my favoured viewing spot, but that afternoon my stars were aligned.
Derek Mountfield volleyed in off the crossbar into the Park End goal, Graeme Sharp looped a header into the same net – and I witnessed a moment that, as a child living through Liverpool win trophy after trophy after trophy, I never believed would happen.
The 1984/85 season really was remarkable.
Everton ended the calendar year of 1984 in 16th – but had a better squad of players than that league position suggested.
They just didn’t believe in themselves. And crucially they were still in both domestic cup competitions.
Reaching the final of the Milk Cup and the FA Cup gave a talented but underachieving group of players confidence.
Then winning the FA Cup at Wembley against Watford convinced them they could be winners.
With the addition of just two modestly priced players – Pat van den Hauwe from Birmingham and Paul Bracewell from Sunderland that summer – Everton took off.
A Charity Shield victory over European Cup winning neighbours Liverpool was reinforcement that Howard Kendall’s men really could compete with the best.
The 1984/85 season was a campaign when so many factors fell gloriously into place at just the right time – to create the most dominant, dazzling and destructive Everton side I have ever seen.
Neville Southall was at the peak of his powers as a world class goalkeeper.
Andy Gray was an infectious, charismatic catalyst whose force of personality was so important in allowing talented but hitherto retiring players like Trevor Steven and Graeme Sharp to grow their personalities and express themselves. And he was one hell of a centre-forward, too.
But at the start of that sensational season he couldn’t get into Howard Kendall’s starting line up because of the form of Adrian Heath, a whirling dervish of a forward who was enjoying the most sparkling spell of his career – 13 goals in 26 appearances – before Brian Marwood’s reckless challenge cruelly ended his season on December 1st – and pitched the original Bruise Brothers together.
Gray and Sharp were just as effective. Even serious injury worked in Everton’s favour that campaign.
Steven, Reid, Bracewell and Sheedy formed the best balanced midfield since Ball-Harvey-Kendall were weaving mesmerising patterns around the Goodison playing surface.
Kevin Ratcliffe and Derek Mountfield were a defensive partnership which had pace, power and authority, Gary Stevens was the very epitomy of a modern raiding full-back, while Pat van den Hauwe oozed steely, ruthlessness.
After taking a couple of months to find their feet, Everton exploded.
They were swashbuckling, stylish, fiercely competitive and enormously entertaining.
In September they won an away match at Watford 5-4.
They lost 1-0 at Arsenal a week later, then really started to believe.
For eight months they were magnificent.
Ten successive victories in autumn included the 5-0 demolition of Manchester United – the match later described by Joe Mercer as the most complete Everton performance he had ever seen. And Gentleman Joe was a contemporary of Dixie Dean and had seen Catterick’s great title winning teams.
Another nine successive wins from Boxing Day included a 4-0 rout of Newcastle – a result that actually delighted Magpies boss Jackie Charlton!
“You must be disappointed,” one unimaginative interviewer ventured. “No, I’m not. I’m delighted,” he replied. “I’m delighted that it was only 4-0, because it could have been eight. Everton are the best balanced team in the country.”
They were also the most free-scoring after four goals that day took their tally to 53 – the highest in all four divisions.
Those nine wins in succession were interrupted by a draw at Old Trafford.
Then Everton racked up another 13 wins from 14 matches – a supreme sequence interrupted only by a superbly disciplined goalless draw in the Olympic Stadium, Munich.
Those 13 dominant, swashbuckling, we-shall-not-be-moved victories saw Everton clinch the league title, reach the final of their first European competition and get to a second successive FA Cup final.
There was a real sense of invincibility about that team.
They had the will and the mentality of champions, to go with their obvious quality.
Almost the same squad of players were champions again two years later.
But the 1987 title was a pragmatic triumph, a Howard Kendall masterclass of squad management during a campaign wracked by injuries.
In 1985 Everton were often glorious.
Witness Paul Bracewell’s volleyed pass from one side of the Goodison pitch to the other, for Trevor Steven to rifle a shot into the roof of the Sunderland net.
Witness Graeme Sharp’s glorious volley at Anfield – a strike voted the BBC’s Goal of the Season and for many Evertonians the greatest goal they have ever seen.
Witness Andy Gray’s two diving headers against Sunderland, witness the same player running into a goalpost in his eagerness to celebrate a winner at Leicester – and witness the incredible evening against Bayern Munich which took Everton to their first European final.
The Toffees won the title by 13 points – despite fielding reserve teams for the final two matches of a season which ended on May 28 with a host of players called up for international duty.
In truth it was a season many hoped would never end.
The Exception which proved the rule
It is an 84/85 anomaly. It’s an incongruous oddity. It’s the exception which proved the rule.
On Tuesday November 17, three days after demolishing Stoke City 4-0, Everton’s chances of winning every trophy they entered that season were ended.
By Grimsby Town.
The Mariners were a decent second tier team in 1984. But only that.
And they sent Everton crashing out of their bogey competition, the League Cup – despite a superb performance from Howard Kendall’s side.
Everton forced 18 corners to Grimsby’s one. They had four shots cleared off the line. They had another shot handled off the line, but no penalty was given.
The Liverpool Daily Post reported: “After surviving a non-stop barrage for 89 minutes, the promotion chasers stole a dramatic winner to cruelly dump Howard Kendall’s men out of the competition and burst the bubble of invincibility that their run of 10 straight victories had created.
“But Grimsby took a hell of a pounding.”
Afterwards a bemused Howard Kendall shrugged: “I thought we were superb. I have nothing but praise for my team. Their goalkeeper played out of this world, although he did have some luck.
“Injuries apart, I have told them it will be the same side at Norwich on Saturday – and that is the highest compliment I can pay them.”