WHEN I’m asked to write these pieces on old matches there’s usually a process which takes place in my mind. Firstly, I’m tempted to tell the lads that I’m not old enough to remember a particular game and they’ve got me confused with those who remember Billy Liddell and days when you wore a suit to the match, though it’s patently not true. I then dredge my mind for some background into the game – of league positions or following games or debuts or whatever. Once that’s established and I feel confident enough to justify their decision in approaching me, I think about adding something extra. Maybe it’s that the game was preceded by a thunderstorm or there was a power cut in town or something, but I’ll try to bring something new about the game for which everything is known.
It’s not always easy as so many games just run into each other and it’s easy to make mistakes.
The 1986 FA Cup final requires no such dredging and no need to gild the lily with added gloss.
I can’t just remember everything that happened around that game — I can feel it.
There’s little point in talking about the game itself. We all know what happens. Gary Lineker, Everton being good, yet another man called Bobby trying to get one over the Reds etc, before Ian Rush, Craig Johnston, Rush again and Kenny Dalglish’s smile took over and rescued both the day and season before I set about drinking enough to make myself sick. OK, you weren’t in on that last piece of vital information but if I tell you that I was 17 and still thought that Woodpecker cider was an acceptable drink, you might feel a twinge of sympathy for the horrors of my May 11, 1986. I can remember that date as well as I can recall the 10th but it wasn’t anything like as pleasurable. Suffice to say that I paid for one day with the loss of another.
My 1986 cup final began with this small piece of green card.
You see back then, before a cup final, derby or Manchester United games, the club would give out a voucher in a prior run-of-the-mill game without telling anyone which one. If you kept hold of it and the final digit coincided with one they announced in the Echo a week or so later, you had the right to buy a cup final or whatever ticket.
Vouchers were much sought after in the ground and anyone foolish enough to lash theirs would be rewarded with the sight of several men scrambling on the floor to retrieve it.
No one lashed theirs on this occasion.
They gave that out on the day of the Coventry game. A much older man on The Kop requested that my mate Chee hand his over to him in the interest of bonhomie and Scouse harmony. We won that game 5-0 thanks to a Ronnie Whelan hat-trick, but Chee missed much of the action as it was difficult for him to watch the game while in a headlock.
That voucher there is mine. I found it this week along with a load of old match and gig stubs that I can barely remember attending. The fact that it remains in my possession tells you that my number didn’t come up. Nor did Chee’s in fact, so we moped around together on the big day.
The days leading up to the game were unbearably tense and one story in particular sticks with me. A few days before the match, Rush was interviewed on Radio City about his friendship with Everton captain Kevin Ratcliffe. He played the usual PR game about them being good mates and Welsh international colleagues etc before relating that one would often give the other a lift home if their training coincided. He went on to say how he dropped Ratcliffe off for the final time a day earlier before they would meet again, this time on the Wembley turf.
Of course, Liverpool had just grabbed the league title from under their very noses a few days earlier but, before that critical encounter with Chelsea, they had agreed that it was only fair that the clubs should win a trophy each. Of course, Rushie had other ideas once the title was in the bag, but was polite enough to not mention it to his devastated mate. As he dropped him off he offered him a handshake. Both men stared at the outstretched hand for a while before laughing at the sheer lunacy of what was happening to them. They then went their separate ways.
Of course, when I heard that I was furious that Rushie gave Ratcliffe a lift at all. I wanted him stuck away in the Welsh hills eating steaks and drinking milk like in Rocky IV, not being nice to their captain.
The day, like all cup finals then, began with helicopter shots of coaches driving down motorways as well as an item where one player from each side told us about their team-mates one by one. The term ‘joker in the pack’ being the common parlance for ‘banter’ in those days — see also ‘a bit of a character’ and ‘good to have in the dressing room’. That fearful sort of tosh, though it was fine if it were about us.
For some reason, the BBC coverage featured Mark Lawrenson playing snooker against Gary Lineker (he was quite good) while wearing a tux.
Hold on, I’ve just found it! How mad is this?
Two opposing finalists playing snooker before a cup final! What next? Laurent Koscielny and Diego Costa showjumping at Hickstead before this year’s final?
You’ll notice that the commentator was Clive Everton. Typical BBC bias.
As for the game, it was the biggest event in Liverpool in years though much of the city itself was empty. Even the trickiest pubs to get served in would let you in as they were largely empty. The tricky off-licence at the ‘top shops’ allowed us to buy ale that day as they reasoned that they had to sell someone something.
The aftermath was really strange. A few months ago, we recorded an episode about this game for The Big Match on TAW Player. Gareth Roberts, a mere child at the time, claimed that he went outside after the game looking for Bluenoses to scoff at but found none. The streets of Croxteth, L11, were similarly Bluenose free come 5.30pm. Just as well as we were pretty wrecked by then. We must have had at least four whole pints each in an hour. That’s a lot at 17, particularly if it’s gut-rotting, entry-level cider.
Of course, Everton won the league the following season and we lost Rush to Juventus. I had a vague feeling even then that this was to be the end of days, and that all youthful experience and exuberance was crammed into those short months between losing the Anfield derby in February to Kenny beaming at Alan Hansen on the Wembley pitch. Maybe it’s for that reason that cider now tastes like vinegar in my mouth. Maybe it’s for that reason that I still won’t give up that Priority Voucher even now. Maybe it’s because to give up that useless scrap of paper is to give away something golden and necessary.
The 10th and 11th of May, 1986. It was the best of times, it was the worst (hangover) of times.
Oh, and we won 3-1.