Thirty years on: The game that triggered the end of a revolution at Rangers - and a potential Steven Gerrard parallel
Everton 4-4 Liverpool is regarded as one of the greatest matches of modern times, and will be particularly well remembered today, on the 30th anniversary of the FA Cup fifth round replay. Further helping stir memories is the fact the same two teams also happen to be meeting in a league fixture, though at Anfield this time.
The game from 30 years ago was at a boisterous Goodison Park. Four times Liverpool took the lead, four times Everton came back following a goalless draw in the first game across Stanley Park. Looking back at footage from a current standpoint, it’s strange seeing people packed together so tightly – and this was nearly two years after Hillsborough.
This reference is relevant because at the time, 95 funerals of victims had taken place – a 96th casualty, Tony Bland, was on a life support machine and did not pass away until 1993. As Liverpool manager, Kenny Dalglish went to the majority of these funerals – including four in one day. “The strain kept growing until I finally snapped,” he wrote in his autobiography. He lost the ability to make decisions. “I agonised over everything,” he recalled.
The last team talk of this chapter in his life took place on the pitch at Goodison at around 9.30pm as Everton and Liverpool, locked at three goals apiece after Tony Cottee’s late equaliser for the hosts, prepared to carry on duelling in extra time. John Barnes and Cottee traded further goals in the additional 30 minutes – with Barnes’ superb strike proving the last of Dalglish’s first, trophy-laden spell as Liverpool manager. Washed out, he resigned two days later – shortly before turning 40 – to widespread shock.
“We knew afterwards there was something massively amiss with Liverpool,” recalls Pat Nevin when I caught up with him earlier this week – he made way for super-sub Cottee in the final minutes of regulation time.
“We were celebrating because we were happy, we kept on coming back. The dressing rooms at Goodison are adjacent to each other. We went quiet because all we could hear was screaming and arguing in their dressing room which was not their kind of thing. They were supposed to be above that. We knew there was something weirdly amiss. It was not normal arguing after a game. It was madness in there.
“In Liverpool there were a mass of suggestions (as to why he resigned) and they were not the ones Kenny eventually offered. He said he was suffering from stress – as he phrased it, with all the stuff going back to Hillsborough, his ‘head was bursting’.”
It is a very particular Scottish phrase. Before very long, Liverpool players were again receiving tactical instructions in a distinctive Scottish brogue, though one honed on the east rather than west coast. Liverpool looked to Ibrox, where Graeme Souness was in the process of leading Rangers towards a third successive title. However, he was not the one who ultimately delivered it following a tense last game shoot-out with Aberdeen.
Souness informed chairman David Murray that Liverpool had approached him and he was inclined to accept the offer, although would wait until the end of the season. He was told to leave immediately. Walter Smith stepped in for the last four games. “Get lost Souness!” was one headline. Bitterness abounded.
At an extraordinary press conference at Ibrox in April, Murray, with Souness sitting alongside him, announced the manager’s departure. Souness was at Anfield before the end of the day.
There are some remarkable parallels with now of course. Liverpool cannot help but monitor Steven Gerrard’s impressive start to management. Like Souness, a fellow totemic Liverpool skipper, Gerrard has cut his managerial teeth in Govan. Although it took him slightly longer to get to grips with things – Souness won a title in his first full season, while dealing with the added pressure of playing (when not suspended) – Gerrard is now excelling domestically as well as in Europe.
And what of Liverpool? As in February 1991, they are reigning champions, although their manager, Jurgen Klopp, has already conceded they won’t be retaining the crown. The German’s future has become a matter for speculation. Klopp addressed circulating rumours in a pre-match press conference earlier this week – he wondered whether he had left because he’d quit or been sacked, such was the certainty with which some were predicting his departure.
Although not suffering from the prolonged after-effects of a tragedy like Hillsborough, he is currently grieving the death of his mother, Elisabeth, with the added sorrow of not being able to attend her funeral. Some wonder whether he should be on the touchline at all while his head is clearly ‘bursting’ – the Dalglish example, while an extreme case, shows what can happen otherwise. Meanwhile, a fourth successive league defeat inflicted on Liverpool by their city rivals today seems unthinkable.
As for Nevin, he had reason to remember his part in an unforgettable game when he covered Everton 5-4 Tottenham Hotspur in the same round of the same competition for BBC Radio 5 Live earlier this month. He has a book coming out shortly dealing with his career up until 1992. The eight-goal classic is bound to feature – he saw a deft chip go narrowly over at 1-1.
On the subsequent Dalglish drama, he says: “We had a typical footballers’ reaction to it; we did not give a stuff. We were Everton players. I followed Kenny’s carer and played with him for Scotland, but we simply wanted to beat them in the next replay.” (They did, 1-0).
Rangers fans thought they didn’t care too – until, that is, eight weeks later, when Souness walked out of Ibrox, a decision he has since described as his biggest regret in football.
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