Brian Viner: Why King's strike still stirs the sweetest of memories

The most enviable fans are those who enjoy fleeting success amid a drought

For Everton fans of a certain age, a significant anniversary looms. It will be 25 years tomorrow since the Blues beat the Reds in the Merseyside derby, which in turn was almost seven years since the previous Everton victory, 1-0 at Goodison Park.

The scorer on that November day in 1971 was 19-year-old David Johnson. By the time he signed for Liverpool nearly six years later, after a period with Ipswich, he was still the last Everton forward to have scored in a derby.

Those were gloomy days for Evertonians. Never mind Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?, which started in 1973. Whatever happened to Kendall, Ball, Harvey and the rest of Harry Catterick's championship-winning side of 1970, which had seemed poised, with Don Revie's Leeds, to rule the roost in English football?

Such questions were not uppermost in my mind as I queued at the season-ticket holders' turnstile in Gwladys Street, Liverpool 4, on Saturday 28 October, 1978. My main concern was how hot I was inside my denim jacket. It was three days after my 17th birthday and unusually sunny for late October in the north-west of England. The temperature on the terraces, once I'd squeezed into my normal spot near the stanchion from which a character known as Fozzie Bear used to hang, leading us in song, seemed sufficient to fry an egg. Even the Match of the Day cameras had problems coping with the sunshine.

The teams ran out into the haze, preceded as always at Goodison by the Z-Cars music. For Evertonians there was nothing remotely propitious in the Liverpool line-up of Clemence, Neal, Kennedy (A), Thompson, Kennedy (R), Hansen, Dalglish, Case, Heighway, Johnson (bloody turncoat) and Souness. The Everton team, which even the Street End faithful knew to be less formidable, was Wood, Todd, Pejic, Kenyon, Wright, Nulty, King, Dobson, Latchford, Walsh and Thomas.

All Everton fans over the age of 35 know what happened next. Mick Pejic played a high ball upfield, Martin Dobson headed it down and Andy King let fly from just outside the penalty area. He later admitted that the ball could just as easily have ended up in Stanley Park. As it was, it ended up in the corner of Ray Clemence's net. And famously there was a what-happened-next? after the what-happened-next?, when at the final whistle Inspector Jobsworth of the Merseyside Constabulary bustled King and the BBC reporter Richard Dukenfield off the pitch.

Everton had won a derby for the first time in 362 weeks, and the manager, Gordon Lee, a man so lugubrious that he made an undertaker with piles look like the Laughing Policeman, cracked an entire smile. As for me, Liverpool fans will think it pathetic, but I have never known greater euphoria after a football match, not when Joe Royle's "dogs of war" somehow overcame Manchester United in the 1995 FA Cup final, not when England beat Germany 5-1, not even when the Dunvegan Dribblers, for whom I was a sturdy right-back more Phil Jupitus than Phil Neal, won the University of St Andrews Sunday League Cup.

And therein lies an eternal football truth which was touched on by a reader, Matt Long, in an e-mail he sent me last week. Matt is a Manchester United fan who finds himself "missing the good old days of mid-table mediocrity, the excitement of the FA Cup and the odd night of glory in the Uefa Cup ... I still celebrate five-a-side goals in the manner of Stuart Pearson". I can understand that. Not the bit Stuart Pearson, whose manner always irritated me, but the rest of it.

Because, just as water tastes sweetest to the man parched with thirst, so the most enviable football fans are those who enjoy fleeting success in the middle of a drought of under-achievement.

To put it another way, I'd much rather have been a Wolves fan celebrating promotion at the end of last season than a Manchester United fan celebrating yet another championship. Especially as Wolves had squandered a handsome lead in the First Division at the end of the previous season (the Walsall fan with whom I fell into conversation while squatting beside the 10th green at the Ryder Cup last September, whispered gleefully: "What's the difference between Wolves and an arsonist? An arsonist would never throw away his last five matches").

It goes without saying that Wolves fans and Everton fans, and for that matter Northwich Victoria and Dagenham & Redbridge fans, would like more glory. And many United fans will scoff at Matt Long's nostalgia for the Arthur Albiston years. But success is a currency quickly devalued; it is now not even enough for the championship to arrive at Old Trafford, if the team has faltered in Europe.

It was all very different in the late Seventies. Anfield was the high citadel of English football, and as Sir Alex Ferguson says with characteristic pugnaciousness, his greatest achievement in football has been "knocking Liverpool off their effing perch". Everton briefly dislodged them too, in the mid-Eighties. But not even that was as memorable as a sunny afternoon 25 years ago tomorrow.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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