Remembering a titanic cup campaign 20 years ago. Monday, 6th February 1984.
In his autobiography, World Light-Heavyweight Champion Archie Moore writes of his fight in 1955 with unbeaten World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Marciano ‘I knew that I could beat him, and early in the fight I threw the best punch I had ever thrown in my whole career. Marciano went down on his face, and you know that a man is hurt bad when he goes down on his face. But The Rock got up, and I knew that I would lose.”
So it was with Gills v Everton. Gills had thrown their best punch, but it hadn’t knocked Everton out. That’s the way with potential Cup giant-killings. If you’re going to do it, you’ve usually got to do it first time. This game was a sad anti-climax.
The media and TV had woken themselves up though, and there were cameras at the game and spreads in all the national dailies. Even more were in Priestfield, 17,817, to see this one, played in a howling gale blowing straight down the pitch into the Rainham End. The obvious thing was for the side winning the toss to kick towards the Rainham End in the first half, break the deadlock with a couple of wind-assisted goals, and hang on in the second half.
Gills won the toss, and attacked the Rainham End, much to everyone’s glee. But they kept over-hitting their passes, and everything was being blown into the crowd. Neville Southall was again on good form, saving well from Tony Cascarino, Steve Bruce and John Leslie. Finally, after four hours and three games, there was a goal ‘ and it went to Everton. In a breakaway, Andy Gray headed down a cross, and Kevin Sheedy scored from close range. Then Adrian Heath scored, and then Sheedy again. 0-3. It was all over.
The thought of Everton now taking advantage of the wind in the second half and really making us pay was not pleasant, but they gave us the respect of worthy opponents and coasted through the rest of the match. The only memorable things about that half were wondering whether the cameraman who was suspended in a cradle over the Gordon Road Stand and being blown about alarmingly would actually be sick, and a storming chant of ‘Gillingham! Gillingham! Gillingham!’ near the end showing our appreciation of the team’s efforts overall, and our traditional defiance.
And that’s how Gills went out of the Cup twenty years ago. Everton went on to win it. It was the first time that we had lost to the eventual winners, and we’d given them their sternest test. The tie, and particularly the Tony Cascarino/Neville Southall duel in the first replay, changed history. Had Cas scored, Howard Kendall would have been sacked, Everton wouldn’t have won the Cup, or the Cup Winners Cup the season after, and probably not gone on to win two League Championships in three years and make three successive appearances in the Cup Final.
Gills went on to have another good cup run the following year when we nearly turned Ipswich over, and three further good seasons under Keith Peacock. But when he was cruelly sacked, we entered the long decline which almost led to oblivion. One of the few glimmers of light during that dismal time was our first ever Sky TV appearance, in 1991 in a 3-3 cup-tie at Brentford. Andy Gray certainly enjoyed it, just as he did when Iffy took Frank Leboeuf apart in that rip-roaring second half against Chelsea. At one point, I thought he was even going to join in the singing. Could it be that as a result of the exploits of The Boys Of ‘84, Andy became a secret Gillingham fan?