FA Cup final: A royal blue wave of emotion across ocean

From afar Adrian Heath hopes his beloved Everton can revive the spirit of '84
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The Independent Football

Adrian Heath has been in TV heaven since arriving in Texas as head coach to Austin Aztex. "There's the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS," the self-confessed sports nut says, "all of them huge." Next Saturday, however, the focus in the Heath household at West Lake Hills will be on a very English spectacle. And the only initials that will matter are those he wore with distinction on a royal blue shirt: EFC.

The itinerary is already mapped out. Once the Aztex' Friday-night home fixture against Puerto Rico Islanders in the United Soccer League has been put to bed, Heath will hit the sack himself before rising at 7am to wallow in the build-up to Everton's FA Cup final against Chelsea, desperate to see David Moyes' side emulate the class of '84.

Twenty-five years after helping Everton defeat Watford at Wembley, an occasion remembered for Elton John's tears and Andy Gray's goal after a robust challenge on goal- keeper Steve Sherwood, he will turn the television room into an annexe of the Gwladys Street End. Alongside the 48-year-old former striker will be his wife Jane, daughter Megan, Evertonian son Harrison and friends, exiles and Americans alike.

It promises to be quite a week for Heath's old teams; the two with whom he cut his managerial teeth, Burnley and Sheffield United, contest a Premier League place tomorrow. He retains affection for most of his former clubs – especially Stoke, where he started – but Everton really got under his skin. "It's the sense of class, history and tradition," he explains, "plus Goodison Park, the supporters and good football people like [chairman] Bill Kenwright."

"I may be in a minority but I don't want Everton bought by some mega-rich Russian or Saudi Arabian. Some things are more important than money. And I know the financial arguments about moving to Knowsley, but that ground represents everything that's great about English football. It'd be a sad day if it happened."

The majesty of Goodison contrasts starkly with Nelson Field, the 8,800-capacity American football venue where the Aztex, owned by Austin-based Stoke director Phil Rawlins and twinned with the Potteries club, are playing in their inaugural season. The USL is a level below Major League Soccer – and gridiron is next to godliness in the Lone Star State, with every Longhorns' game at the University of Texas drawing 96,000 – yet Heath is fired with missionary zeal.

"Austin is the largest US city with no franchise in a major league but it has 1.65 million people and 40,000 kids play 'soccer' every weekend. We've got a big community-reach programme, with players going out coaching. We had 5,200 at our third-ever home game, which was excellent. There's no away fans either! Our nearest rivals, Miami Blues, are in a different time zone. When we played Montreal Impact, it was a five-hour flight. People back home are amazed when I tell them Britain would fit into Texas two and a half times over. For one away match, our Under-23s were on the coach 13 hours and were still in Texas."

Heath keeps up with the British game through the satellite channels, never more pleasurably than when Everton dispatched Manchester United with a penalty by a player he nurtured at Sheffield, Phil Jagielka. "I was chuffed for the fans. They've had to watch as Chelsea and Manchester City had hundreds of millions of pounds poured in. There are 40,000 of the most loyal, knowledgable supporters there every game. Getting to Wembley is a big 'thank you' to them."

He is not surprised to see them there, despite Everton's mediocre record in the cups under Moyes. "Before the fifth round against Aston Villa I was on the radio with Ian Snodin and said I had a great feeling they were going all the way. Sometimes you sense it as a player, when you win and wonder how you squeaked through. We had it in '84. I thought they'd beat United regardless of what side Fergie put out."

Can they repeat the feat in the final? "Definitely. Chelsea were impressive against Barcelona, but this is Everton's year. I've managed teams against Moysey and they're always superbly organised and give it a right go. They'll miss Jagielka, Yakubu and [Mikel] Arteta, but the players who've come in have done brilliantly.

"It could be Louis Saha's day. At Fulham he was one of the best strikers around. He had so many injuries at United but he's getting sharper all the time. Tim Cahill is another potential match-winner, obviously. So is Marouane Fellaini. He's fantastic because he affects the game and worries the opposition."

Everton's hunger for a first trophy since 1995 may also prove important against opponents for whom this prize is tantamount to a consolation. "The Champions' League is the holy grail today, whereas every kid from my generation wanted to play in the FA Cup final. I love the fact that I was in the most successful side in a great club's history. I want this team to make their own history, because winning the Cup could be the start of something big again for Everton."

The Aztex, for now, are starting something small. "We know European football will never be as big as American football here but we're trying to get our own piece of the market." Everton, aristocrats but outside the moneyed elite, will strive for the FA Cup with the same defiant optimism.

Life and times

Born: Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, 11 January 1961.

Nickname: Inchy.

Position: Striker or midfielder.

Club career: Stoke City 1979-82; Everton 1982-88 (293 games, 89 goals, two League championship medals, one FA Cup-winners' medal); Espanyol 1988-89; Aston Villa 1989-90; Manchester City 1990-92; Stoke City (loan) 1992; Burnley 1992-95; Sheffield United 1995-96; Burnley 1996-97.

International career: England Under-21s 1981-83 (8 caps, 3 goals).

Managerial career: Burnley 1996-97; Sheffield United 1999; Coventry City (caretaker) 2005, 2007; Austin Aztex 2008-current. Assistant manager at Everton, Sunderland, Leeds, Coventry.

Record books: Everton's most expensive signing in January 1982, £700,000 from Stoke.

And another thing: Avid cricket fan; member of Longton in North Staffs & South Cheshire League.

Phil Shaw

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