When Søren Lerby sauntered into the Goodison cauldron without shin pads even my 13-year-old eyes could see it was a reckless act. Nearly 35 years on, the artful Bayern Munich midfielder’s decision can now be dismissed as the quaint machismo of a bygone age.
It was 24 April 1985, the night Howard Kendall’s Everton came of age to blow away the West German giants and reach the European Cup Winners’ Cup final. Somehow Lerby survived unscathed. Not so Bayern’s red shield of invincibility.
I arrived at the semi-final second leg of Uefa’s highly prized second-tier competition – the first had finished 0-0 in Munich – warmed up after a mile-long jog from home and itching to play my part as a ball boy on the biggest night in the club’s history. Nestled in behind the Park End goal, I kicked every ball as though I was playing in the Anfield Junior League in Stanley Park.
Billed as a clash between the treble-chasers, the coming team of England were up against the most recent non-English serial conquerors of Europe, whose coach, Udo Lattek, was freshly reinstalled to recreate the mid-1970s glory days of three consecutive European Cups. English teams had dominated ever since.
Bayern’s disruption tactics were apparent long before Dieter Hoeness snatched a 37th-minute lead. The Germans arrived in the semis after dispatching a Roma side led by a future England manager (Sven-Göran Eriksson) and captained by a future Everton manager (Carlo Ancelotti). On the pitch at Goodison Lerby was joined in midfield by Lothar Matthäus in an unflinching head to head with Peter Reid and Paul Bracewell. Hot-tempered one-on-one confrontations were soon ablaze all over the pitch.
The firestarter in chief, Hans Pflügler, traded kicks with Everton’s Andy Gray before scything down Graeme Sharp and nailing Reid (who needed half-time stitches in a calf). Bayern’s Klaus Augenthaler marshalled a rugby-style cavalry charge/offside trap and engaged in persistent abuse of the back-pass law with his Belgian goalkeeper, Jean-Marie Pfaff, to quell home momentum.
My clearest first-half memory is giving a time-wasting Pfaff evil stares every time he feigned to miscontrol my perfectly weighted passes.
The second half was a different story. Neville Southall was at my end. A stirring comeback fuelled by the raw howl from the swaying terraces turned the air blue with the fury of 50,000 Evertonians.
Acting on Kendall’s advice to “let the Gwladys Street suck the ball in the net”, Everton bombarded Bayern. I played my part, skittling the ball quickly to Southall to maintain the attacking intensity. This wasn’t easy. I was carrying a few pounds extra – in the pockets of my Le Coq Sportif trackie bottoms, the result of scouring the turf at half-time for coins readily donated to the Ball Boy Appreciation Fund by home fans furious at the gloating Bayern subs sent out to warm up after the Hoeness goal.
Once Graeme Sharp nodded home the equaliser, Gray’s second was inevitable. Both came from long Gary Stevens throw-ins. The sublime third goal by Trevor Steven moved the ITV commentator Martin Tyler to declare: “That’s settled now.” It was. The one-sided final victory over Rapid Vienna in Rotterdam was a formality. The real final was at Goodison.
The European Cup final disaster at Heysel – just 14 days after Rotterdam – meant this turned out to be the end of an era for Everton, rather than the start. Denied the chance to fully emerge out of Liverpool’s shadow and contest the European Cup (twice) during the ban on English clubs, Kendall departed for Spain in 1987 and Everton’s 1985 triumph proved the final hurrah for English football’s golden era.
When the ban ended in the early 90s, Everton’s (and England’s) dominance was consigned to a different age along with goalkeepers picking up back passes and optional use of shin pads.
Speaking in a 2019 documentary about the era called Howard’s Way, Southall, Reid and Gray recall the Bayern game as their finest footballing moment.
Lattek saw it very differently. “This is not football, Mr Kendall,” the German famously moaned as Goodison rocked. A two-word reprise from the Everton dugout sent the German packing.