Johnny Phillips recalls Everton's 1995 success when the Toffees won the FA Cup under Joe Royle.
Last Updated: 15/03/12 2:12pm
It's FA Cup quarter-final weekend and Evertonians are once more dreaming of silverware.
In the 25 years that have passed since their last league title in 1987 they have won just one trophy. The fantastic 10 years of service given to the club by David Moyes will be treasured for many reasons; astute signings, stability, team building and European football. But as yet no trophies. In fact it was during a period of upheaval that Everton last added to their honours board.
The 1995 FA Cup was a triumph for a manager who improved a club's fortunes and a group of players who came together to defy the odds.
When Everton came back from two goals down to beat Wimbledon on the final day of the 1993/94 season they dramatically escaped relegation. But they started the following season poorly again under Mike Walker.
David Unsworth was a young centre-half who was just finding his feet at Goodison Park. "It was a horrendous time. To come out of that Wimbledon game to stay up and then start again on another poor run of form, it was just a nightmare. Something that a club like Everton doesn't need. It was unthinkable that we could have gone down but it was there for all to see," he explained.
By November chairman Peter Johnson turned to Joe Royle - a title winner as a centre forward in Harry Catterick's team and by now working wonders as a manager with little resources at Oldham. "They were low on spirit, no question," said Royle.
But a derby victory over Liverpool, in his first game, changed everything. He said: "That started us on a great run. We won the first three games without conceding a goal and we were on our way."
Unsworth remembers the immediate impact of the new manager: "The influx of a couple of players from the squad who hadn't been in the team like Andy Hinchcliffe, Joe Parkinson and John Ebbrell helped and within no time it was all galvanised."
The two men are what their peers would call 'football people'. They live and breathe the game and on more than one occasion during our conversation over a cup of tea earlier this week Unsworth referred to his old boss as gaffer as they recalled Royle's first season in charge.
After Christmas, with league form still good, attentions turned to the FA Cup and it was following a scrappy fourth round victory that Royle thought they might be on the road to something special: "It was probably when we beat Bristol City and they absolutely battered us. They had four or five one-on-ones against big Neville Southall and then after that Matt Jackson turned up on the edge of their box and smashed in a left-footed half volley that he probably never repeated in his career. I remember thinking 'I hope we haven't used up all our luck.'"
It was the semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur at Elland Road that is perhaps remembered most fondly by supporters. With Manchester United in the other semi the press were talking up a United-Spurs final.
Unsworth vividly remembers seeing the supporters arriving in their droves. "When we left the hotel and got to Elland Road there were Evertonians everywhere. We got to the changing rooms and walked out onto the pitch and we had three sides of the ground. The Evertonians were in there already and they were buzzing. We just thought it felt right on the day."
"The omens were good, Royal Athlete had won the Grand National the previous day," Royle recalls. "We were terrific on the day. Our front two ran them ragged, Graham Stuart and Paul Rideout, and right the way through everyone was at the top of their form."
It was substitute Daniel Amokachi who stole the headlines with two goals in a 4-1 victory. The Nigerian striker had only been told to warm up but misunderstood the instructions from the bench and with Paul Rideout off the field receiving treatment he wandered on for his moment of glory. "It was the best substitution I never made," said his manager.
Alex Ferguson's side did win their semi-final but having lost the league to Blackburn Rovers they arrived at Wembley to find an Everton side - who'd already beaten United in the league - in buoyant mood. Swedish winger Anders Limpar was enjoying a great run of form and his new-found confidence epitomised the belief coursing through the team. "On his day he was the best player I played with," said Unsworth. "The thing with Anders is that you knew within 10 or 15 minutes of kick-off if it was going to be his day. Thankfully in that FA Cup run he fancied it more often than he did not."
There were other fine players in that team. Defensive midfielder Joe Parkinson, both men are certain, would have played for England were it not for a knee injury that curtailed his career. Senior players like Southall, Dave Watson and Gary Ablett provided essential experience at the back whilst Duncan Ferguson was a talisman for the fans at the other end of the pitch. Unsworth himself went on to play for his country.
Rideout scored the only goal in the final against United at Wembley, nodding in a straightforward rebound after Stuart had crashed his shot against the crossbar. The cup triumph should have been the start of a revival and for a while it looked as if the struggles were coming to an end.
"We finished sixth the following season. We strengthened bringing in Nick Barmby, Andrei Kanchelskis, Craig Short and Gary Speed. We were building again the next season [1996/97] and the club was going forward but then we got hit by a terrible injury run." Matters off the pitch were as troublesome as those on it. Royle continued: "Then the local paper started stirring it up in the city and the chairman and I had the only disagreement we've ever had - because we're still great mates - and we parted company."
The speed with which Royle left the club shocked everyone. He was in charge for just two years. In that time he took a side heading for relegation and turned them into FA Cup winners and challengers for Europe. It was a heady, if brief, period for a club that found itself battling relegation once more following Royle's departure.
Not until Moyes arrived in 2002 did Everton start moving forward again. It was Unsworth who scored the first goal under the new manager, just one minute into his opening game.
On Tuesday evening I joined a group of supporters in a bar round the corner from the Gwladys Street End to watch the Merseyside derby. Moyes made six changes to the team that beat Spurs the previous weekend and they tamely surrendered to their arch rivals.
On any other night this would have been cause for uproar. But the fans I was with, whilst hardly endorsing team selection, at least understood it. In picking the XI he did, Moyes gave a clear indication of where his priorities lie. Beat Sunderland on Saturday and that illusive first honour draws closer into view.
"I'm proud to be the last manager to win a trophy at Everton" Royle added. "But I don't want to be."