He may well describe it as Everton’s ‘forgotten’ title success – but Trevor Steven insists the magnitude of the Club’s 1986/87 championship win should not be underestimated.
Friday marks the 25th anniversary of the Blues’ 1-0 triumph at Norwich City – a 30th win for a team whose eventual nine-point cushion underlined their status as the division’s dominant force.
A quarter of a century has passed since the unlikely figure of Pat Van Den Hauwe swivelled and thumped a shot into the top corner at Carrow Road – a 1-0 victory celebrated wildly on a team coach that more resembled a tour bus as it rocked and rolled its way back to Merseyside.
Naturally the ale flowed as the Blues celebrated being crowned the best team in the land for the second time in three seasons.
But for Steven the disappointment that the European ban prohibited them from translating domestic dominance to continental hegemony lingers on.
The 1985 title year was augmented by the Cup Winners’ Cup and is understandably reflected upon as Everton’s greatest season. Two years on, their campaign lacked a glamorous sub-plot – nor would their triumph give them one to look forward to.
And it’s for that reason – along with the wider issues of the time like dwindling attendances and televisual underexposure – that Steven feels the success of 1987 is often, and somewhat harshly, overlooked.
“It certainly seems to take second place to our achievements of two years previous,” he explained. “But if you look at the record books then we are in there as the winners.
“Obviously we had the huge miss of European football and you can’t just ignore that. You wanted that as a player for yourself and for your team. You wanted to test yourself against the best and I think because we didn’t do that the whole game in England suffered.
“Also, if you look at the attendances we had that season they were really up and down – 40-odd one minute and then 25,000 the next. They fluctuated all season.
“I was looking back at it and saw we had an attendance of about 25,000 for Manchester United and I just don’t know how that could happen – there must have been a bus or a train strike or something!
“It was a strange season and not much was recorded on television either, so there is not a massive amount of footage like there is with 84/85. Maybe because of that the memories have faded that bit more rapidly than other seasons.
“But it was a great period for the Everton fans and any Everton player at that time. It was a shame we ran out of momentum for various reasons after the 1987 title win but all we could do that year was win the league.
“That was our sole aim really and to do it under the circumstances we did made it as commendable an effort as the 1984/85 win.”
Indeed, there are some who argue that the second title even stands alone as a greater feat, such were the problems the team overcame.
The core of what had become Everton’s most successful side for a generation was confined to the treatment room. Southall, Reid, Bracewell, Van Den Hauwe, Mountfield and Stevens were all absent when the team started the season with a 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest on August 23, 1986.
Not to mention the Blues were coming off the disappointment of seeing arch-rivals Liverpool claim a domestic double and were playing in a different style following Gary Lineker’s departure to Barcelona.
“We definitely carried some baggage into the season,” continued Steven. “We looked like we were going to win the league (in 1985/86) but narrowly missed out and then we carried a bit of a hangover going into the FA Cup final having lost the league.
“Lineker left, we had a lot of injuries and a host of new bodies came in. We made an average start to the season but eventually managed to pick up as we went along.
“The good thing about it was how we were able to use a lot of players – unlike 84/85 – but still turn in winning performances.
“Injuries hit us hard, particularly at the start of the season, but also intermittently throughout. Yet everyone who came in not only pulled their weight but also chipped in with valuable goals here and there. That helped us pick up valuable points and put us in a winning position come the end of the season.”
The skill of Kendall in shuffling his pack and identifying new recruits who could make an impact was absolutely fundamental.
Players like Paul Power and Wayne Clarke might not have been top of some club’s wanted lists, but both came in and played key roles.
Steven added: “The management team was particularly pivotal that season in keeping everyone focused and not letting us get down that we couldn’t get the team we wanted out on the pitch.
“Howard got everyone on the same level, the spirit was great and to win the league that season was a huge achievement – particularly going into it with the disappointments of the previous season.”
A decent start was countered by a pre-Christmas blip, but runs of eight wins in nine through December and January and 10 from 12 to finish the campaign completely blew the opposition away.
There were some great memories along the way – not least a comprehensive victory at St James’s Park which stands out as a particular highlight for North East native Steven.
“It was a long, hard slog of a season – it wasn’t pretty – and we had to grind out results at times,” he continued. “There were of course high points as well, like going to Newcastle on Boxing Day, which is always a fervent atmosphere and a hard place to go. So to play as we did and win 4-0 was great. I am from the North East and I scored twice, so it meant a lot to me personally.
“I think that was the second game into a winning sequence and that gave us belief that we could put runs together and climb the table. We had real momentum and we enjoyed those periods like Christmas when you had a lot of games close together. We had our shooting boots on, were solid defensively and able to keep clean sheets.
“We then had a great run going through March and April where I think we won seven in a row. That put pressure on the other teams, particularly Liverpool, and in the end we just pulled away.”