Liverpool and Manchester City were locked in an enthralling battle for the league title this season. The race was so tight it evoked memories of an incredible dogfight at the top of the First Division back in 1985-86.
The season promised to be one of the most exciting for years. Liverpool, who had seven of the last ten league titles, now had a challenger worthy of the name.
The 1984-85 season saw Everton win their eighth league title and their first for 15 years. It ended Liverpool’s run of three successive championships. Not since Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest at the end of the seventies had Liverpool had any kind of challenge to their dominance of English football.
Yet throughout this period of domination they were still to achieve the elusive double of league and FA Cup. The Double was still regarded as the pinnacle for football clubs. Since the War, only two sides (Tottenham 1960-61) and Arsenal (1970-71) had ever achieved this feat. There were only four occasions it had ever been done in English football, with Preston (1888-89) and Aston Villa (1896-97) making up the numbers.
For English clubs, it’s still iconic.
For all Liverpool’s dominance, the only time they came close was 1976-77. Manchester United foiled their challenge in the FA Cup, just days before Liverpool’s first European Cup success. In 1984-85 Everton came just as close when again Manchester United were the club to spoil things in the FA Cup Final.
Visibly shaken, Liverpool embarked on this season determined to put their neighbours in their place.
The season began under a cloud. The events at Heysel in June had sent shockwaves throughout football, notably in England and especially on Merseyside. UEFA had imposed a ban on English clubs competing in European competition for five years as punishment for the death of 39 Italian fans in the European Cup Final. Liverpool were to suffer further punishment beyond this period.
Everton had won the European Cup-Winners’ Cup in Rotterdam. But the events in Brussels a fortnight later would mean they could not represent the country in the European Cup for this season.
Liverpool were also forced into a change at the top. Joe Fagan had already signalled his intention to step down as manager before the European Cup Final. His two years had realised three trophies, including the first-ever all-Merseyside Cup Final when Liverpool beat Everton, after a replay, in 1984 League Cup.
Fagan had replaced Bob Paisley to continue the seamless transition through from Bill Shankly. But now Liverpool surprised many by opting for Kenny Dalglish. Dalglish was to be player-manager. The 35-year old was clearly at the end of his glittering career at Liverpool and it was somewhat of a surprise to see him take on the mantle of manager, let alone whilst still a player. How would his teammates react? Would he be able to instil discipline to players who he’d previously considered friends? He had no previous management experience and had not even captained the team. Surely it was a gamble?
During Fagan’s final year in charge, he made some significant moves in the transfer market. After playing a huge part in Liverpool’s fourth European Cup success, Graeme Souness decided to move to Italy. Michael Robinson and David Hodgson were also moved on. In came Jan Molby and Kevin MacDonald. Both were relatively unknown at the time but would soon play important parts during this season.
Across Stanley Park, Everton were looking forward to the new season. With a league and European trophy in their collection from the previous season, they started the new campaign as favourites. On 90 points they were a huge 13 points clear of Liverpool in second place. Could they retain their title?
One of the keys to Everton’s success was the goals of Graeme Sharp and Andy Gray. Gray was a bit of a surprise when Howard Kendall signed him from Wolves in 1983. There were suggestions of a desperate manager making a desperate mistake. But 18 months later and Everton fans were laying a lot of the responsibility for their silverware at his door. During their title run, he and Sharp scored over 40 goals between them. Gray was particularly potent in Europe with five in three appearances. In the summer Kendall dipped into the transfer market and signed Gary Lineker from Leicester City. This was to boost their attacking options but Gray took it as a snub and decided to move back to the Midlands when Aston Villa paid £150,000 for him.
What you have to understand about Lineker in the summer of 1985 was that he wasn’t a well-known name. He finished the season joint top scorer in the First Division with 24 goals and was in the England team. But he wasn’t the big name he became. By the end of this season, he was one of the most famous players in the world. You could argue this season changed his whole career and life. He certainly thinks so.
A week after snapping up Lineker, Kendall then strengthened his squad further with the signing of goalkeeper Bobby Mimms from Rotherham. There were no concerns over Neville Southall, who was developing into one of the best in the country, but they needed cover just in case.
Everything was set for a fascinating and exciting season
The traditional opener to the season was the Charity Shield (now known as the Community Shield). For the second season running Everton won it. In a repeat of the FA Cup Final they took on Manchester United, but this time came out on top. Goals from Trevor Steven and Adrian Heath gave them a 2-0 win. Heath had come on as a sub for Lineker.
The opening day of the season brought mixed results. Ronnie Whelan and Steve Nicol scored to give Liverpool a 2-0 win at home to Arsenal. Everton travelled to Filbert Street. For Gary Lineker, his first league outing was back at the ground he’d spent six years at. He didn’t score. Derek Mountfield put the visitors in front. Bobby Smith equalised just before the break and then in the second half Mark Bright scored twice to give Leicester City a famous 3-1 win. Not a great start for the defending champions.
In the week Everton turned things around quickly with a 2-0 win at home to West Brom. Heath was again on target getting both goals.
Liverpool travelled to Villa Park and were behind to an early Gary Shaw goal, which Ian Rush equalised. Mark Walters put the home side back in front late in the game but Jan Molby spared Liverpool’s blushes with an equaliser with just five minutes to go.
Liverpool tasted defeat in just their third match of the season when they were at St. James’s Park. Jack Charlton had sensationally walked out on the club just a week before the start of the season and caretaker manager Willie McFaul gained his first victory at the helm. With an eighteen-year-old Paul Gascoigne in midfield, Newcastle won thanks to a George Reilly goal. On the same day, Everton were held at home by Coventry City. Terry Gibson’s first-half strike looked as if it would inflict a second defeat in three matches but Graeme Sharp scored his first of the season with just five minutes to go.
This was Bank Holiday weekend and teams played two games in three days. Kenny Dalglish had limped out of the Newcastle defeat but his team bounced back into form. Ipswich Town were the visitors to Anfield and two goals from Ian Rush helped the home side to a 5-0 win. Everton travelled south to White Hart Lane and finally, their new signing got off the mark as Lineker scored the only goal of the game.
The following weekend Lineker finally looked at home as he hit a hat-trick at home to Birmingham City. Meanwhile, at Upton Park, Liverpool twice had to come from behind to grab a point against West Ham.
September began for Everton in the way August had ended, with plenty of goals. They followed up their 4-1 win over Birmingham City by hitting Sheffield Wednesday, 5-1. Lineker grabbed a brace to give him six in three matches. At Anfield, Ronnie Whelan continued his fine goalscoring form with both goals in a 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest.
When Liverpool came from behind to beat Watford at home they moved into second place. Everton suffered another defeat when two Gary Bannister goals helped QPR to a 3-0 win. They were fourth.
Out in front were Manchester United who were flying with seven straight wins.
Kenny Dalglish then made his first purchase as he bought Steve McMahon from Aston Villa for £350,000. McMahon had previously played for Everton before moving to the Midlands.
McMahon was straight into the starting line-up for Liverpool’s first league trip to the Manor Ground. Oxford United had won the Second Division the previous season and Jim Smith was building a decent team of good old pros and promising youngsters. They were on a run of four straight defeats so when John Aldridge put them in front, the small ground was rocking. They lead until the hour when Ian Rush scored and then Craig Johnston put the visitors in front. As the game headed towards a finish it looked as if Liverpool would take all three points. But Alan Kennedy put through his own net. It would be the last kick for ‘Barney’ in a Liverpool shirt as Jim Beglin was threatening his place in the first team. Dalglish then agreed on a deal with Sunderland to take Kennedy off his hands.
Everton beat Luton Town 2-0 and traded places with their Merseyside rivals as United won the Manchester derby to make it eight wins from eight games.
Mid-September saw the launch of a new competition. Reeling from the loss of European competition, The FA created a new format for the six clubs who would’ve qualified for the various tournaments they were now banned from. Unfortunately, the public weren’t as keen on the competition. Barely 16,000 made it to Anfield to see Dalglish return from injury and score his first of the season as they beat Southampton. Everton were at Old Trafford. United had won eight out of eight, conceding just twice. But all this was thrown out the window as Everton won 4-2. Kevin Sheedy scored twice with Lineker and Sharp completing the win.
Next up, the Merseyside derby at Goodison.
Last season Everton did the double over their neighbours, making their title win all the more pleasurable. This time Liverpool were out for revenge. Dalglish scored in the opening minute. Whelan doubled the lead 15 minutes later. By half-time, McMahon had scored his first for the club against one of his previous employers and Liverpool were 3-0 up at the break. But this Everton side were made of sterner stuff and Sharp scored early after the re-start. Lineker grabbed a second but it was too late to earn a point. Liverpool were back up to second but still nine points adrift of United who continued their relentless start to the season with their ninth win. This time West Brom were vanquished, 5-1.
Midweek saw the League Cup begin. These were the days when the big clubs came in at the Second Round stage which was a 2-legged format. Liverpool saw off Joe Royle’s Oldham, 3-0. Everton welcomed Bournemouth, then a Third Division side and managed by Harry Redknapp. Northern Ireland international, Colin Clarke, put the visitors in front within 11 seconds. Then Colin Russell, once an apprentice at Anfield, made it 2-0 after 11 minutes. Lineker soon got one back and gradually the home side wrestled back control. But it took a Tom Heffernan own goal to give Everton a lead to defend for the return leg.
September ended with Liverpool turning on the style against Tottenham at Anfield. The previous season had seen Spurs win at Anfield for the first time since The Titanic sunk. But they would not be so lucky this time around as Jan Molby scored twice from the spot in a 4-1 win. Everton were held to a goalless draw at Aston Villa.
A Mark Hughes goal gave Manchester United their tenth successive win as they remained nine points clear of Liverpool at the top of the table. Everton were back in fifth.
The month began badly for Liverpool as they suffered defeat at QPR. Paul Walsh gave them an early lead but goals from Terry Fenwick and Gary Bannister gave Rangers the win. Everton were at home to Oxford United. Goals in each half from Graeme Sharp and Paul Bracewell were enough to move them up to fourth. Elsewhere Manchester United’s 100% record had gone as Brian Stein’s goal gained a point for Luton at Kenilworth Road. Liverpool’s defeat meant their lead was now 10 points.
In the week there were the second legs of the League Cup Second Round. Everton went to Bournemouth defending a 3-2 lead and goals from Lineker and Kevin Richardson confirmed their passage through to the next round. Liverpool were at Oldham with a healthy 3-0 lead from the first leg. Ronnie Whelan scored twice in a 5-2 win. Kevin MacDonald scored his first goal for the club and evidence of Liverpool’s strength in midfield was that four of the five goals came from there. The two Oldham goals came from former Liverpool ‘super sub’, David Fairclough.
Back in the league Steve McMahon second goal for Liverpool was enough to beat Southampton at Anfield. Fourth place Everton travelled to third place Chelsea. Kerry Dixon scored his fifth of the season to give the home side an early lead. As half-time approached David Speedie also grabbed his fifth of the season to double the lead. Kevin Sheedy got one back immediately but the visitors couldn’t find an equaliser. This defeat allowed Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday to move above Everton but Liverpool and Chelsea were still on United’s tail. United won again, after their ‘blip’ the week earlier and the lead was still 10 with just 12 games gone.
A week later first met second. At Old Trafford, United had won all six matches in the league so far, without conceding a goal. Liverpool were a different matter. The visitors dominated most of the first half but it ended goalless. 19 seconds into the second period and Craig Johnston opened the scoring. Rush was put clear down the left and his cross was turned in at the far post by Johnston. Liverpool had chances to increase their lead and it looked as if the home side’s unbeaten record would go. But midway through the half, Albiston crossed from the left, Lawrenson failed to control it and Paul McGrath reacted first. Despite the continuing cut-and-thrust, it ended 1-1 and the points were shared.
Everton were at home to Watford, who were only a point behind. But the gulf in the sides was wider than that. Sharp helped himself to two more goals as Everton ran out 4-1 winners. Heath opened the scoring. Jackett levelled things from the spot, but then two goals in seven minutes put paid to the visitor’s hopes.
Chelsea went to Oxford and were beaten 1-2, with Aldridge and a former Chelsea player, Peter Rhoades-Brown, getting on the scoresheet.
The next round of Screensport Super Cup matches were even less popular with the public than the first. Just over 10,000 turned up at The Dell to see Liverpool and Southampton draw 1-1. David Armstrong put the home side in front from the penalty spot. Paul Walsh equalised for Liverpool. At Carrow Road barely 12,000 were there to see Norwich beat Everton thanks to a Peter Mendham goal.
In the league, Luton Town were the visitors to Anfield. The Hatters had always enjoyed their trips there but two goals in five minutes from former Luton striker, Paul Walsh gave Liverpool a half-time lead. Brian Stein got a goal back early in the second half before Molby restored the two-goal advantage. Mick Harford scored a consolation goal in the final quarter-of-an-hour but another win for Liverpool.
Everton travelled to Maine Road and were given the lead by Adrian Heath. But Paul Simpson equalised and the champions had dropped another two points.
Leaders Manchester United travelled to third place Chelsea and won 2-1, to maintain their ten point lead at the top. Sheffield Wednesday were now up to third with their fourth win in their last five as Lee Chapman scored the only goal against West Brom.
The last action of the month was the League Cup Third Round. Liverpool were at home to Second Division Brighton. Albion had knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup twice already in the eighties but there were well beaten here. Paul Walsh scored a hat-trick and even the player-manager got amongst the goals. In the Brighton side that day were Justin Fashanu, Martin Keown, Dean Saunders, Danny Wilson and Dennis Mortimer.
Everton also had Second Division opposition to negotiate. They were at Gay Meadow to take on Shrewsbury. Sharp and an own goal gave them a 2-0 lead before Robinson got one back. Sheedy then immediately restored the two-goal lead and Heath made things certain in the last minute. 4-1 saw them safely through to the Fourth Round.
Everton were at Upton Park where Trevor Steven put them in front. But two goals from Frank McAvennie inflicted a fifth defeat in the league for the champions, who were down to seventh.
Liverpool were at home to Leicester City. An Ian Rush goal maintained their 100% home record. Man Utd were also still unbeaten at home as two Jesper Olsen goals saw off Coventry. 15 games in and still the lead was 10 points. Liverpool now had a three-point cushion on Chelsea in third.
Liverpool were then at Coventry City. A rare Jim Beglin goal gave them the lead and then Walsh and Rush finished things off for their fourth successive win.
Everton’s reaction to defeat at West Ham was to thump Arsenal 6-1. Lineker’s double gave them a half-time lead. Charlie Nicholas got one back soon after the break but two from Adrian Heath, one from Sharp and a Steven penalty confirmed the win.
United’s unbeaten run came to an end at Hillsborough. Lee Chapman’s eighth goal of the season was enough to end the record. The five clubs immediately below them all won and for once United could start to feel their breath.
A week later Liverpool made it five wins in a row when they beat bottom club West Brom 4-1 at Anfield. Again the goals were shared around as even Mark Lawrenson got on the mark. Everton were at the club second from bottom, Ipswich. It was a thriller. Mich D’Avray gave the home side the lead. They were on a run of ten without a win, but then Kevin Wilson doubled the lead. Heath got an important one back before the break. But then early in the second half Sharp equalised. Sheedy then put Everton in front on the hour. But Ipswich weren’t finished and Terry Butcher levelled things with 18 to go. But another penalty from Trevor Steven and Everton had been pushed hard for the win.
United were held to a goalless draw at home to Tottenham and now the lead was down to five points.
A week later and United dropped more points when they were soundly beaten 0-3 at Leicester. Alan Smith scoring twice for the side third from bottom. Liverpool were at Birmingham and Rush and Walsh were again on target in a 2-0 win. Six straight wins for Liverpool.
Everton dropped points at home to Nottingham Forest. Nigel Clough put the visitors in front but Paul Bracewell equalised soon after.
The lead at the top was now just two points. Chelsea were still third with West Ham and Sheffield Wednesday just below them. Everton, the title holders, were 11 behind the leaders in sixth.
The League Cup Fourth Round was up next. Liverpool had been drawn up against Manchester United in the tie of the round. McGrath put the visitors in front before two goals from Jan Molby put Liverpool through. His first was incredible, his second a penalty. His first has become legendary. The game wasn’t on tv so only those in the stadium could brag about seeing it. Thankfully footage has now emerged, go to 5:23 and sit back and enjoy. Molby presses inside his own half, dispossess Olsen then surges forward. Going past Albiston as if he wasn’t there, he then got all the way to the edge of the United area and then unleashed an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net.
Everton were at Chelsea. Kerry Dixon scored after just 53 seconds. Sheedy equalised a minute later. Bracewell then put Everton in front inside the opening 15 minutes. Nevin equalised just before the break and neither side was able to add to this in the second half. A replay was required.
The month ended for Everton at Southampton. They’d beaten Southampton to clinch the title back in May, but now they were finding things far harder. Another early goal conceded as Glenn Cockerill put The Saints in front in the first minute. Lineker scored again. With 20 minutes to go Steve Moran put the home side back in front. But Heath equalised and then Steven grabbed a vital winner.
Liverpool were at home to the side in third, Chelsea. Jan Molby scored again with five minutes to go and looked to have won it. But Nevin got an equaliser in the final minute and the 100% home record had finally gone.
West Ham made it seven wins in a row to move above Chelsea into third. United were still two points ahead as they were held at home by Watford. Everton were still sixth.