With much of the talk of a 1984-85 season dominated about the growing violent behaviour on the terraces, on the pitch, Everton were drawing the plaudits as the FA Cup became the only trophy that stood in the way for Howard Kendall and his impressive team to secure a historic treble.
Having wrapped up the league in which their cup final opponents Manchester United were in touching distance throughout most of the season, Everton also defeated Rapid Vienna in Rotterdam to lift the UEFA Cup Winners Cup. Ron Atkinson’s Manchester United side were seeking their second FA Cup in three years after previously beating Brighton 4-0 in a replayed final in the 1982/83 season. Everton secured the FA Cup in the 1983-84 season defeating a brave Watford side 2-0 courtesy of goals from Andy Gray and Graeme Sharp.
Their confrontations in the league that season amounted to a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford and Atkinson suffering his heaviest defeat as a club manager, losing 5-0 at Goodison Park. A John Gidman own goal ensured that Everton also came out on top against United in the third round of the Milk Cup. The season’s head-to-head record would appear to suggest the Toffees writing their names in the history books, United however, would offer a much different opposition in the FA Cup final as their route to Wembley suggests.
United’s first task was to erase the performance of last year’s short FA Cup defence against same opponents Bournemouth, dispatching them by three goals to nil with goals from Strachan, Stapleton and McQueen. After wins against Coventry, and a tricky tie at Blackburn, United met West Ham in the quarter-finals after their historic win against Videoton from Hungary in the UEFA Cup as Frank Stapleton’s goal stood as the last goal scored by an English team before teams were banned from Europe. Everton’s route began with a 2-0 victory over Division Two side Leeds United at Elland Road. Victories against Doncaster, Telford, and Ipswich came en route to the semi finals.
The semi-finals threw together United against Liverpool at Goodison Park while Everton faced Luton at Villa Park. An all Merseyside final was conjuring up the imagination of the press, United though were not willing to deliver the final that they craved. United’s game went to a replay at Maine Road after an antagonising first game. Mark Hughes eventually secured United’s place in the final against an Everton side that despite falling behind to a Ricky Hill strike, overcame a dogged Luton side with goals from Kevin Sheedy and Derek Mountfield.
Despite depriving neutrals of an all Merseyside affair, the final still threw together what would appear on a paper to still be a mouth-watering football feast. The scheduling of the final would become a particular issue of debate for the Everton manager Howard Kendall. His team would walk out at Wembley just three days after securing the UEFA Cup Winners Cup believing that put his side in a hugely disadvantaged position. The final would go ahead as planned and in front of a 100,00 capacity crowd, supporters were to witness a significant moment in FA Cup history.
Everton’s line up consisted of the team that had performed so admirably throughout the season. Goalkeeper Neville Southall, voted Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year provided the solid foundations of a back four consisting of Gary Stevens, Pat Van Den Hauwe, captain Kevin Radcliffe and a young Derek Mountfield who had an uncanny eye for goal. The midfield quartet comprised of England international Trevor Stevens, Paul Bracewell, Kevin Sheedy and the dynamic Peter Reid. The diminutive midfielder in the ‘Alan Ball’ mould impressed throughout the season earning him the PFA Player of the Year Award. The attack line formed the potent strike partnership of Scots Andy Gray and Graeme Sharp. The solitary substitutes place fell to Alan Harper.
United lined up with the ever-present Gary Bailey in goal, with a defensive line-up of John Gidman, Arthur Albiston, and Irish centre back pairing of Kevin Moran and Paul McGrath. Moran, had suffered a fourteen match injury absence during the early part of the season, and his replacement during that absence Graeme Hogg, was ruled out on the eve of the final suffering with pelvic problems. The midfield was made up of Dane Jesper Olsen, the free scoring Gordon Strachan, captain Bryan Robson and Norman Whiteside. Frank Stapelton and a young Mark Hughes recognised for his form in his first full season for United, with the PFA Young Players award, made up the attack. Defender Mike Duxbury was United’s substitute that day.
For much of the game it was largely an uneventful affair perhaps with Everton still suffering from their European outing just days before. The significant moment came in the second half on the 77th minute. Peter Reid capitalizing on a loose ball drove towards the penalty area clear of United’s defence. United defender Moran threw himself feet first pushing the ball away with his right foot and his left foot catching Reid who’s momentum carried him into the air. Referee Peter Willis blew for the foul and called over Moran. An expectant Moran turned his back to allow Willis to take his number for a booking, but of course as history shows, Moran became the first player to be sent off in a FA Cup Final. Atkinson had to reshuffle his side and drafted Frank Stapleton as a make shift centre half for the rest of the game.
With United now down to ten men, it was expected that an Everton side that ended their league season in such blistering fashion would take the silverware, while United battled for a replay. Instead Atkinson felt that his team could still win the game, and with no goals in the ninety minutes, and entering into extra time, United carved out one crucial opportunity that fell to the feet of one Norman Whiteside.
Mark Hughes picked up the ball deep into his own half, and cutting inside sprayed a ball with the outside of his boot to Whiteside. As Strachan raced alongside him for support, Whiteside advanced and throwing his left foot over the ball bent his shot around full back Van Den Hauwe who partially obstructed Neville Southall’s view as he gripped his near post and threw himself in an attempt to stop the ball flying into the opposite corner.
Everton frantically tried to conjure up an equalizer but to no avail as the Northern Ireland international’s moment of genius had clinched Atkinson’s second FA Cup in three years. Kevin Moran notably ecstatic that his mistake was redeemed walked up the famous steps along with the team but was to find his medal withheld, as under FA rules, a player sent off did not qualify for a winners medal. After weeks of public outcry though, he was eventually rewarded with his piece of FA Cup history.
This final loss was a mark on what was an otherwise tremendous season for an Everton side who, despite achieving success in league and Europe, perhaps would never fulfil their true potential with the imposed ban on English clubs in Europe to follow next season. United meanwhile happy with the silverware, had again faltered in the league and would prove to be a significant moment in the club’s history as they continued to try to break the stranglehold that Everton and Liverpool had on league proceedings.