Remembering a titanic cup campaign 20 years ago. Tuesday, 31st January 1984.
Only season-ticket holders and the usual hangers-on had tickets for this one, for everyone else it was pay on the night as Priestfield bulged with 15,339 eager to see whether Gills could break a then 76 year hoodoo by beating a side from the top division in a cup tie. And in the first minute, they nearly did. John Leslie got round the back of the Everton defence and crossed low, and they were all over the place before Peter Reid hacked the ball into Gordon Road.
Blimey, this is going to be the night, but from then on for the rest of the first half, Everton really put together a display of passing and movement which had Gills under fearful pressure. Fortunately, they couldn’t shoot and we hung on, with slowly increasing confidence, to half-time.
In the first minute of the second half Terry Cochrane smacked a fierce shot against the post with Neville Southall beaten and with Gills now really carrying the game, a Dave Mehmet diving header went just wide and then Southall pushed a stinging drive from Leslie round the post. So the pattern of the second half, and half-hour of extra time, developed. Everton keeping possession for long periods but basically doing nothing with it, and Gills looking highly dangerous when they broke forward themselves. Southall at that time was the best goalkeeper in the country, and at Priestfield he needed to be. He was by far the busier, and was really tested.
When the game went into extra time, everyone thought that the top division side would finally clinch it, and with two minutes to go they almost did, swarming round Gills’ goal for a corner. And then…
Mel Sage cleared the ball under pressure. It went straight to Tony Cascarino, just inside his own half, and he was completely and utterly on his own. Cas devotes a couple of pages in his autobiography to what happened next. In the Main Stand, everyone immediately leapt to their feet at the realisation that here was the most golden of chances. Then, with the enormity of what was about to occur in the next few seconds sinking in, everyone stood mesmerised. 15,000 people held their breath. Here is my own memory, written the following day:-
‘He galloped halfway the length of the field, towards the Rainham End. Southall stood frozen at the edge of the box, but with the crowd on its feet willing him on, poor Cas took the ball a bit too close to the goalkeeper, had to blast it rather than a chip, and Southall blocked with his legs. The clearest chance had gone.’
There was still time for Kevin Sheedy to hit the post at the other end, and for Steve Bruce to block the rebound. Then it was all over. 0-0 after extra time.
In those days, there would be another replay, usually on a neutral ground, but with the agreement of both clubs a coin was tossed for home advantage. Gills won it, and we would all be back to Priestfield again on Monday night.
To be continued…