"It Had The Longest Tunnel Ever!"

by Paul McNamara

Colin Montgomerie was talking recently about his storied golf career. The Scot, it turned out, could recall, with some clarity, the finer detail of every single tournament he had played.

Not merely where he’d finished in any given week, but how he’d fared in each round. Every stroke, which club he’d chosen for each blow – and whether that selection paid off.

Talk to Peter Reid about Everton and a similar theme emerges.

Reid is reminiscing about the Blues’ only previous trip to Slovakia – ahead of the team’s return to the country to tackle MFK Ruzomberok on Thursday night.

At first mention of the European Cup Winners’ Cup tie at Inter Bratislava 33 years ago, Reid instantly conjures up the name of its matchwinner.

Paul Bracewell scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory in October 1984, right around the time when Howard Kendall’s Everton were announcing themselves as the continent’s pre-eminent football team.

Reid’s mind is fully plugged in now, awash with memories from the Blues’ visit to a very different Slovakia from the one Ronald Koeman’s side will land in this week.

His major recollection of the night is what he encountered en route from the changing rooms to a playing field that was isolated from the stands by an athletics track circling its perimeter.

“I always remember, they had the longest tunnel I have ever seen,” says Reid.

“It took about 10 minutes to walk up it… we were shattered by the time we got on the pitch. We didn’t need a warm-up!”

Reid, who played alongside Bracewell in the Blues’ engine-room in Bratislava and throughout that heady 1984-85 campaign, takes up the story of how his midfield ally decided the contest.

“We had a throw-in, on the right,” says Reid. “It went to – I think – Sharpy (Graeme Sharp) or Inchy (Adrian Heath). The ball was crossed into the box and Brace had made a great run. He met it and headed the ball into the bottom-left corner.”

The delivery was actually supplied by Trevor Steven but, otherwise, Reid has described the goal with the lucidity he might have, if it had happened five minutes ago. Given it happened over 30 years ago, we’ll let him off.

Everton subsequently beat the Slovaks 3-0 on home soil to secure an ultimately facile passage into the competition’s last-eight.

The win in Bratislava, though, came in what Reid considers a seminal week in the Club’s history. Four days earlier Sharp’s crackerjack strike had won the Merseyside derby at Anfield.

Everton returned from Slovakia to thump Manchester United 5-0 at Goodison Park.

“We had won the Charity Shield but started the season by losing the first two games (against Tottenham and West Bromwich),” says Reid.

“So that was a massive week for us. We won at Anfield and were bouncing off the walls. Then the late, great Howard Kendall came in and said, ‘hey, we play against the top of the league next week’.

“He reminded us we had a League Cup game at Old Trafford 10 days later as well!

“We did not really know anything about Bratislava. I knew where it was and that it was on the Austrian border. I could not have told you anything about the players, though.

“It was not like it is now, with all the games on television. The Club did some scouting but we learned about them by playing the first-leg.”

Koeman, of course, was able to study Ruzomberok in microscopic detail and plied his team with information in readiness for last week’s first meeting at Goodison, settled by Leighton Baines’s second-half goal.

He will do the same tomorrow, when the Blues will play in a neat, compact stadium – and in a country which continues to thrive in its own right following the separation of Czechoslovakia in 1993.

“It was still behind the iron curtain when we went,” says Reid. “Our hotel was really basic. The main square in Bratislava was nice but the rest of the area wasn’t so aesthetically pleasing back then.

”The atmosphere in the stadium was quite intimidating, even with the running track. Going and winning in that sort of environment bonds you as a team and builds the belief you need to be successful.”

Reid’s Everton would overcome Fortuna Sittard, Bayern Munich, famously, and Rapid Vienna on the way to lifting the Cup Winners’ Cup, alongside the Club’s first English title in 15 years.

Today’s Blues are at an embryonic stage of their development, preparing for the second match of a potentially hectic campaign and integrating a raft of new, first-rate signings.

“The feeling around Evertonians is the best I have known for many a year,” says Reid, who won a second league championship with the Club in 1987.

“I think people were getting a bit carried way with what might happen straight away in the first game last week. The team needs time to gel.

“The most important thing is to win. To do that – and keep a clean sheet – I would take that every week.”

And park it safely in that richly-stocked memory bank, no doubt.

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