Remembering a titanic cup campaign 20 years ago. Saturday, 28th January, 1984.
It was an early start for the 4,000 Gills fans who were off to see one of the biggest FA Cup ties in the club’s history. Was it winnable? We certainly thought so – despite being a genuine football giant, Everton were not having a good season. They had been under the shadow of arch-rivals Liverpool for several years, and manager Howard Kendall was the latest Everton manager to feel the pressure. Defeat by Third Division Gillingham would see him off.
Cars, coaches and two special trains were all on their way by 8.00am. I was on one of the trains, getting on at Rochester. A mistake, because the seat plans when booking didn’t take account that some coaches would have guards vans, so it was sitting on the floor for me all the way to East Liverpool station. The Merseyside police had a well-ordered routine for taking football specials each Saturday to either Anfield or Goodison Park. There was a fleet of buses waiting with a heavy police escort to drive us through some really run down parts of the city to the relative greenery of the Stanley Park area. The buses all parked up, and it was across the road and into the ground behind the goal where away supporters are still located.
This was at the time of the height of football hooliganism and I lost count of the number of times we were frisked by police and growled at by dogs. It was impossible to walk around the outside of the ground and appreciate what a magnificent stadium Goodison Park then was by any comparison, the only place in England other than Wembley ever to host a World Cup semi-final ‘ and Gills were going to play there.
Our team that day was:-
David Fry; John Sitton; Brian Sparrow; Steve Bruce; Mark Weatherly; Peter Shaw; Terry Cochrane; Jeff Johnson; John Leslie; Dave Mehmet; Tony Cascarino. Sub: Russell Musker.
Gills kicked towards our end in the first half, and looked relaxed and confident. It was Everton who were employing the strong-arm tactics – no more so than after twenty-five minutes when Neville Southall dived at Mark Weatherly’s feet to gather the ball and then rolled over onto his outstretched leg, putting our leading scorer out of the game and out for the rest of the season.
A body blow for Gills, and Everton started to turn the game their way, but Gills came again towards half-time and twice nearly grabbed the lead. Steve Bruce saw his header from Terry Cochrane’s corner cleared off the line with Southall nowhere, and then from Dave Mehmet’s corner Bruce’s header smacked against the bar, rebounded onto Mountfield’s forehead and then back over the top.
It was passionate singing and chanting to lift the team for a second half which was likely to be a rearguard action played out in front of us. Gills were under the cosh for most of it, but Everton over-elaborated and a Gills defender usually stepped in to clear. Steve Bruce was magnificent, keeping Andy Gray shackled, and still finding time to clear a shot from Adrian Heath off the line. As Everton got more desperate, their fans started to turn on them, and boos were mingling with our cheers as dogged defending broke up yet another attack.
Not that Everton had it all their own way. With about fifteen minutes left, John Leslie hit a shot across goal from well out which had Southall stretching, and with a minute to go Tony Cascarino had Southall stretching again with an almost identical effort. It was impossible to say from our end how close the shots actually were, but these were heart-stopping moments.
Everton were roundly booed off at the end, but we knew nothing of this at the time. Our end was just deafening cheering and singing from 4,000 happy souls, a glorious 0-0 result and everything to play for at Priestfield on Tuesday night. I got a seat on the train home, we survived intact the ritual stoning of football trains just before Warrington, and it was indoors in time for Match Of The Day. They didn’t show Gills of course, in those days they never did, but it didn’t really matter. We were already well into the advanced stages of that delightful of illnesses ‘ cup fever.
To be continued…