Howard Kendall: 'This Everton side takes me back to the Eighties'
The Brian Viner Interview: Ahead of tomorrow's FA Cup final, the man who presided over a golden era at Goodison Park explains why the spirit of his League and Cup-winning team lives on in Moyes' men
Friday 29 May 2009
Of all the coffee joints in all the towns in all the world, there could hardly be a more appropriate place in which to meet the 63-year-old former Everton manager, Howard Kendall, than Woodwards in the centre of Formby, a few miles north of Liverpool. Woodwards is owned by Alan Stubbs, the former Everton defender now on the club's coaching staff, whose devotion to the Toffees was cemented on the Goodison Park terraces during what Evertonians remember as Kendall's first coming, the golden years between 1981 and 1987 that yielded two league titles, the European Cup-Winners Cup and the FA Cup. And now Stubbs has reason to be grateful all over again to Kendall, who is clearly one of Woodwards' best customers, inviting a steady stream of regulars to stick their drinks on his account.
Amid this noisy mélêe of bonhomie and hissing capuccino machines, Kendall introduces me to his friend Paul, something of a local celebrity having won "Stars In Their Eyes" a few years ago as Gilbert O'Sullivan. I ask Paul where his cloth cap is and he obliges me with a chuckle; it's probably only the thousandth time he's heard that one. Kendall is even more used to questions about the halcyon 1980s, but with Everton about to play in an FA Cup final 25 years after he guided them to Wembley, a 2-0 win over Watford delivering the first of all those glittering prizes, and with a manager in David Moyes having built a team that is undoubtedly Everton's best since Kendall's managerial heyday, there has never been a better time to talk to a man who revitalised the club just as Moyes has done.
Nevertheless, he winces slightly when I invite him to compare the teams he took to three consecutive FA Cup finals, in 1984, 1985 and 1986 (albeit winning only the first of them), with the team that Moyes will field against Chelsea. After all, not even the most optimistic Evertonian thinks that a Cup win tomorrow will be followed next season by the league title, as happened in 1984/85.
"But David has them playing as a team and working very hard for each other," Kendall says. "That was the same in the '80s. They were a team off the field as well as on, with tremendous spirit. And it was a young team, like this one, to which I added the experience of Peter Reid and Andy Gray. Do I see this being the start of another golden era? It's much harder now, because Everton don't have the resources, which makes it a tremendous achievement to finish fifth again and reach a Cup final. I had resources. Mind you, when I wanted to take a chance with [buying] Reidy, the club had to change banks, from the Midland to the TSB. We needed £60,000, and the Midland wouldn't give it to us."
We'll come back to tomorrow's final, but let us dwell a little longer in the past. In fact, let's go back two decades further than 1984, when Kendall's relationship with the FA Cup final began with an entry in the record books. As a 17-year-old playing for Preston North End against West Ham United in 1964, he remained the youngest player to grace a Wembley final until Paul Allen, coincidentally with West Ham, beat him by 89 days in 1980.
"There was also a Millwall youngster [Curtis Weston in 2004], but I don't agree he should push me down into third place because he was only sent on for the last few minutes," Kendall adds, with a smile.
I ask him what he remembers of the 1964 final, which Preston lost 3-2? "I remember it vividly. We were a Second Division side, and the underdogs, but we only lost in the last couple of minutes. Before the game I was concerned that I'd make the error that would cost us the Cup, but the senior players relaxed me. They told me they'd get the ball to me straight away, but it went flying past me." A chuckle. "I did OK."
He is being modest. A contemporary newspaper report singled him out as one of Preston's best players that day, and by 1967 he was being wooed by both Everton and Liverpool. He chose Everton, and the following year was back in the FA Cup final, in a team which, although it lost 1-0 to West Bromwich Albion that day, was poised for greatness. In 1970 Everton won the league with one of English football's finest midfields, the wholly wonderful trinity of Kendall, Colin Harvey and Alan Ball.
I make Kendall wince again by venturing that Tim Cahill, the midfield goal-scorer on whom so much rests tomorrow if Everton are to overcome Chelsea, reminds me a little of Ball. "Cahill? I would say the timing of his runs to get into the penalty area is the same as Bally, but there's nobody better than Bally. He was the best player I ever played with."
And what would Kendall say, bearing in mind his own experiences as a youngster 45 years ago, to 18-year-old Jack Rodwell, who seems likely to make an appearance in the final? "Oh, I think he's a very confident lad, and he's confident for a good reason, because he has tremendous assets. He's a great athlete, he covers the ground, good vision, good feet. I think he's got a great chance."
As for Rodwell's chances of taking home an FA Cup winner's medal, Kendall thinks they would have been significantly improved had Chelsea made it to the Champions League final on Wednesday. And he knows whereof he speaks, because Everton lost the 1985 FA Cup final to Manchester United just three days after winning the Cup-Winners Cup. "Unfortunately the sun was beating down that day and our players were shattered after 10 minutes. The game came too soon and their legs had gone. I think it may have been too soon for Chelsea, too. As it is, Everton will have to be very, very good defensively, and pinch one maybe from a set piece. But they can do it."
A quarter of a century ago, the boot was on the other foot. It was Graham Taylor's Watford who were underdogs, Kendall's Everton who knew that if they played to their potential, they would win. "We had great balance in that team, everyone played in the position that they were most comfortable in. David doesn't always have that luxury, and he needs alternatives if things aren't going to plan, which is why [Mikel] Arteta is such a big miss, because he can dictate play in the middle of the park, or switch from one side to the other. But I know how important it is for David to win the FA Cup, because I felt the same. Once you've won a trophy, nobody can take it away."
Everton's pre-match preparations won't be quite the same as they were 25 years ago. They started with the team's impish left-back John Bailey ordering a stripogram for the manager – "a policewoman, I think she was" – and continued on the very morning of the final with the Everton-supporting madcap comedian Freddie Starr doing a turn in the team hotel. "That helped to take players' minds off the game," says Kendall. I bet it did. And as a fellow not averse to a glass of champagne or two, what does he recall of the post-match celebrations? "Actually, the lads had their own party in London. Me, the directors and the staff went back to Beaconsfield, to the hotel. I remember the party we had with Preston in 1964, though, because some of the journalists turned up and said ours was livelier than the West Ham party. We'd reached the Cup final and we were buzzing. There was a cabaret. Vernons' Girls, and Des O'Connor..."
I suggest to Kendall that Des O'Connor probably hasn't been booked for either team's party tomorrow. He laughs. "No, probably not. I'll tell you what I do remember from 1984. We got the train back up north the following day, and Bob Paisley was on it. He came over to congratulate us and had his photograph taken with us, which was good of him."
Paisley had retired as Liverpool manager by then, and it was Kenny Dalglish, his successor-but-one, who led Liverpool out against Everton in the 1986 FA Cup final, which for obvious reasons was the most painful of the four Cup final defeats Kendall suffered as player and manager.
By then, too, the Uefa ban on English clubs playing in Europe was in place following the Heysel tragedy, and I ask Kendall if he, like some Evertonians, still feels a lingering bitterness towards Liverpool?
A short pause. "No. It's not appropriate to raise that now. There was a ban, and maybe it was needed. Also, I remember [Liverpool's former chief executive] Peter Robinson telling me that they expressed concerns about the stadium that were ignored. No, it was a tragedy for Everton Football Club but that was nothing compared to the tragedy for the 39 [dead Juventus fans] and their families. What I would say is that Cloughie [Brian Clough] said on television during the  European Cup-Winners Cup final, 'goodness, how long this team is going to stay together and dominate Europe?' so it was desperately disappointing not to get the chance. That team used to go out and never thought they were going to get beaten, and that mentality started, really, with the 1984 FA Cup final."
Six of the best: What happened to Everton's stars of the Eighties
Neville Southall (goalkeeper)
Winner of two FA Cup Finals, the legendary goalkeeper made a record 750 club appearances and is now at Margate Football Club working under the management of Terry Yorath.
Gary Stevens (right-back)
A product of the club's youth system, Stevens won two league titles at the club and featured in four Wembley finals. He qualified from Salford University in 2002 after studying physiotherapy. He specialises in musculoskeletal problems and acupuncture.
Kevin Ratcliffe (centre-back)
Captain of the 1984 side, also won 59 Wales caps. Left the Toffees in 1991 and began management with Chester City, before taking over at Shrewsbury in 1999. Now a pundit for BBC Wales.
Peter Reid (midfielder)
The hard-tackling England midfielder was a key part of the cup-winning side and won the PFA Player of the Year award in 1985. He went on to manage Sunderland and Leeds among others but is now coaching at international level, with Thailand.
Adrian Heath (midfielder)
Joined the club in 1982 for a then club record £700,000 becoming their top scorer in his first season. Heath then went on to play for a host of other clubs, the last being Burnley, where he went on to manage the team. Brief spells at Sheffield United and Coventry followed and he is now the manager of the American team, Austin Aztex.
Andy Gray (centre-forward)
Ever popular with the fans, and a goalscorer in the 1984 final. Gray is now the face of Sky Sports, where he started working as a pundit and co-commentator at its inception in 1990. He has been there ever since.
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