Mistake that almost cost Moran a medal

CUP FINAL COUNTDOWN: Ten years ago, it was the same clubs, same prize, but a dismissal made the match famous, writes Guy Hodgson
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The Independent Online
Andy Gray feared the worst 10 minutes into the 1985 FA Cup final. As Graeme Sharp, his Everton co-striker, passed him on the Wembley pitch, he muttered: "I can't feel my legs, Andy. I'm absolutely knackered." At the time, Sharp - now player-manager of Oldham Athletic - was 24 years old.

Ten years ago, the sun baked down on the same red and blue colours of Manchester United and Everton that will be in evidence at Wembley this Saturday. The clubs, the venue and the prize will be the same, but the context will be different.

Then it was Everton who were the best team in England. The championship and the European Cup-Winners' Cup were already theirs and the FA Cup would complete the treble; United were still searching for their first title since 1967.

As ever, they had disappointed in the League and were searching for consolation in the Cup. Envy swept Manchester like a wave when football's hegemony was wrenched from Liverpool's grasp but remained on Merseyside.

Everton had won the championship by 13 points, but the recuperative effects of an easy run-in had been more than compensated for by the Cup- Winners' Cup. The final in Rotterdam was played just four days before Wembley, and the players barely had time to come down from the high of winning 3-1 before they were being presented to royalty prior to meeting United.

Gray, now a football commentator with Sky Sports, recalled what he described as the "ludicrous situation" of having to play two finals so close together. "We desperately wanted the double of the League and Cup, and if we'd not played in Rotterdam I'm sure we'd have done it. Everyone was tired, aching and hoping that they would recover in time."

United, meanwhile, welcomed the sun like a long-lost friend. Ron Atkinson, then the United manager, remembered opening the hotel curtains and smiling to himself when he saw the bright light and felt the warmth through the glass of the window. Wembley on a hot day would debilitate already weary Everton legs and play into his team's hands. It would be like having an extra man.

So it was to prove, although not in the manner Atkinson or anyone could anticipate. No player had ever been sent off in an FA Cup final, and there was no reason to suppose the trend would be bucked until Paul McGrath played an injudicious pass along United's back line 12 minutes from time.

Kevin Moran had the heart of a lion and a face, legend had it, that did not have a inch of skin which had not been stitched back in place, but he was not a dirty player and was more likely to injure himself by being over-brave than any opponent. He lunged for McGrath's underhit pass just as Peter Reid touched it beyond his reach. As the two players collided, it was clear he was in trouble.

The referee, Peter Willis, dismissed Moran from the pitch with a wave of his hand and, for a second, madness took over as comprehension sank in. Frank Stapleton restrained his colleague, fearing his reaction. "I looked at Kevin and saw he'd gone," he said. "I grabbed hold of his shoulders and held on for all I was worth."

Moran, who later admitted his first reaction was to "smack" the referee, said: "It was a shock, a terrible shock. I'd gone for the ball, not the man, you can see on the television replays that I kept my foot down. I almost got there, too, but as I followed through my body caught Peter and he was knocked into the air, which made it look far worse than it was.

"As I left the pitch I felt dreadful. I thought I'd cost United the Cup, that 10 men couldn't possibly hold out, particularly as the match went into extra-time. I sat on the bench and could hardly bring myself to watch. I felt sorry for myself and even sorrier for my team-mates." As the Republic of Ireland international suffered, however, the sending-off proved to have an effect that he could not anticipate.

United's players, stiffened by a sense of injustice, found their resolve just as Everton, perhaps relaxing in the anticipation that Moran's dismissal had won the match, began to seize up.

Instead of Everton's 11 dominating, it was the 10 in red, and the match was won by an extraordinary goal. Norman Whiteside, wide on the right, teased a desperately weary Pat Van den Hauwe before cutting in and curling a shot from 25 yards past Neville Southall. "I could have criticised Pat for not closing Whiteside down," Everton's then manager, Howard Kendall, said later, "but he was on his knees and didn't have much left."

The goal had an uplifting, almost surreal effect on Moran on the sidelines. His sadness dissipated in one scream of delight and his guilt was swept aside by excitement. "As soon as Norman scored I forgot about the sending- off. It was a great weight coming off my shoulders. At the end, I was just like all the other players, on the pitch celebrating, applauding the fans." Or almost like the other players.

Moran was not allowed to climb the 39 steps to collect his medal with his team-mates, and received it only after a meeting of the FA Challenge Cup Committee the following Wednesday. His humiliation at being dismissed was considered sufficient punishment.

"I didn't feel any stigma at being the first player to be sent off in the Cup final," Moran said. "When people saw the incident on television, I think most people thought I was unfortunate rather than malicious. Certainly the support I got from the club, the supporters and people within football was overwhelming. Looking back on it now, I regard it as just a statistic for the record books."

Just as Everton regarded the Wembley defeat as an unfortunate blot on an otherwise wonderful season. Their sights were on bigger and better things: the Champions' Cup and the chance to test their belief that they were the best team in Europe.

Like the treble, that was also denied them. Eleven days later, 39 people died at Heysel.

THE 1985 WEMBLEY TEAMS

Manchester United: Bailey; Gidman, Albiston (Duxbury), Whiteside, McGrath, Moran, Robson, Strachan, Hughes, Stapleton, Olsen.

Everton: Southall; Stevens, Van den Hauwe, Ratcliffe, Mountfield, Reid, Steven, Gray, Sharp, Bracewell, Sheedy.

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