Retro Match: The 1989 FA Cup Final where Merseyside united

1989 FA Cup Final Liverpool Everton

20 May 1989, Wembley – Liverpool 3 Everton 2 (AET)

As a 10-year-old, I don’t think I fully understood the hugeness of both Liverpool and Everton meeting in an all-Merseyside FA Cup Final just five weeks after the Hillsborough Disaster.

Looking back now, it is far easier to see what a poignant moment it was – at the time, I was aware, of course I was. But I don’t think I truly understood. And, when you say five weeks to me now it feels like the distance between now and next Wednesday. Five weeks at the age ten was a much, much longer period of time.

It’s staggering that Liverpool Football Club and all involved were able to get back on the pitch to honour the lives lost as quickly as they did. It was even more impressive, if that isn’t too much of a glib word, that they were able to beat Nottingham Forest and then go on to win the Final at Wembley on that May day.

This 10-year-old was now a complete football nut. Every waking moment was spent thinking about or playing the game. In our back garden in Upper Hale, Farnham, I would spend countless hours playing imaginary matches on my own. If I wasn’t doing that, then I’d be working on my goalkeeping skills in the school playground or at training with Heath End Wanderers. And when it was too dark to play, then I’d be learning about the game – reading absolutely anything that was out there, both current and historical.

So, as you could easily understand, the old-fashioned build-up to an FA Cup Final suited me down to the ground.

Coverage would start super early and slowly build over the course of the Saturday, leading up to the traditional 3pm kick-off.

Embed from Getty Images

I will have been talking about it all week – you’d think my parents would be starting to clock on to how important these games were to me. After all, 1988 had it’s moments. I’ve missed the date to recount the 1988 FA Cup Final between Wimbledon and Liverpool, but basically I missed the first 15 minutes (and therefore the goal) because I had a music lesson that I was guaranteed to be home from in time for kickoff. Obviously, I wasn’t.

Before that, Mum had forgotten to record the 1988 Littlewoods Cup Final (you know, Luton’s greatest moment) as I was playing in a match at the same time.

Reprimands had been severely issued to both parents as a result – surely there would be no issues for the 1989 FA Cup Final?

I was nicely set up for the game – TV on, beautiful day, excited to watch what should be an excellent game.

How had both teams got to the 1989 FA Cup Final?

Everton had been drawn away to West Bromwich Albion in the 3rd Round. They drew 1-1, meaning a replay at Goodison which they nicked 1-0 – Kevin Sheedy scoring.

The 4th Round saw the Toffees take the long trip down to Home Park where they faced Plymouth Argyle. Again, the game finished 1-1 meaning a replay back on Merseyside. Everton triumphed 4-0, Pat Nevin, Sheedy and Graeme Sharp getting a brace with the goals.

Another tricky away draw was presented in the 5th Round – this time, no replay was needed as Everton progressed 1-0 against Barnsley, Sharp with the only goal of the game.

In the quarter-final, Everton were given their toughest draw so far – a date with Wimbledon. Stuart McCall netted the winner in front of just 24,000 fans.

In the forgotten for obvious reasons semi-final, Everton were paired with Norwich City. The game was played at Villa Park and Nevin was in the goals once more, scoring in the 26th minute. It was enough for to take them to Wembley.

For Liverpool, their FA Cup campaign started with a potential banana skin at Carlisle United in the 3rd Round. But, danger was easily averted as the Reds ran out comfortable 3-0 winners thanks to two goals from midfielder Steve McMahon and one from John Barnes.

Another tough tie followed, a trip to the Den and Millwall in Round 4. Again, they progressed with minimal fuss – John Aldridge and Ian Rush getting the goals in the 2-0 win.

Lower-division Hull City proved a much sterner test in the 5th Round. It finished 3-2 at Boothferry Park, surprisingly. Aldridge got two and Barnes the other as Liverpool avoided a giant killing.

Kenny Dalglish’s side were drawn against another lower division side in the last eight. Brentford travelled to Anfield hoping for an upset but such dreams were soon done away with as Liverpool eased to a 4-0 win, two goals from Peter Beardsley and Barnes joining McMahon in getting the others.

The fateful semi-final against Nottingham Forest was rescheduled for May 7th, 1989 and played at Old Trafford. Liverpool took an early lead through Aldridge before Neil Webb levelled things up for Brian Clough’s team. Aldridge put the Reds ahead again early in the second half before an own goal by Brian Laws saw Liverpool through to meet their city rivals.

So, to Wembley – two of the greatest clubs of the 80s rightly meeting in the last FA Cup Final of that decade.

The 1989 FA Cup Final

Understandably, before kickoff, there was a minute of silence and both sides wore black armbands.

When you look at the two line-ups, you can see the quality that oozed each week on Merseyside.

Everton started with Neville Southall in goal, still considered to be the best British goalkeeper at this time. Their back four lined up with Neil McDonald at right back, the replacement for Gary Stevens who had moved to Rangers in Scotland in search of European football. Dave Watson was alongside skipper Kevin Ratcliffe in the middle and Pat van den Hauwe lined up at left back.

Their midfield was strong – Nevin on the right, full of skill. Trevor Steven was in the middle, and a fine player he was, alongside Paul Bracewell – another top centre mid. On the left, of course, was the elegant left boot of Sheedy.

Manager Colin Harvey, having taken over from Howard Kendall who had left himself needing European competition and signed for Athletic Club in Spain, opted for the big man little man pairing of Sharp and Tony Cottee. Cottee had joined from West Ham the previous summer and scored a hat-trick on his debut. But, the big-money signing wasn’t producing what had been hoped.

On Everton’s bench were Ian Wilson, who nobody remembers, and Stuart McCall, who everyone remembers.

If you thought that was a strong Everton side, Dalglish’s eleven simply take your breath away.

Bruce Grobbelaar was in goal. A back four of Steve Nicol at right back, Gary Ablett and Alan Hansen in the middle and Steve Staunton at left back was as good as it got. Across the middle of the park, Ray Houghton, Ronnie Whelan, Steve McMahon and John Barnes were each at the peak of their powers. Up front, well if you can leave club legend Ian Rush on the bench you know you have strength and depth. Aldridge started alongside Beardsley with Barry Venison joining Rush as substitute.

Embed from Getty Images

In fairness, 89 minutes of the 1989 FA Cup Final action was pretty standard fare. The emotion of the day was clearly taking a lot from the players and after Aldridge opened the scoring early on, it looked like the game was going to quietly 1-0 to Liverpool and that would be that. Liverpool played well, Everton were incredibly grateful to Southall that it was only one.

Liverpool had scored in their first attack, McMahon released in the channel between left back and centre back racing away before squaring to Aldridge just inside the area. Putting the previous season’s disappointment behind him at the first time of asking, Aldo bent the ball home. It was his 30th goal of a season where he’d also had to contend with a certain Mr Rush returning back to Division One. He really should have netted number 31 and 32 as well.

Beardsley was also guilty, missing two great chances in a second-half minute – the first struck too close to Southall and the second, cleverly created by himself, dragged wide.

Harvey had introduced McCall to proceedings in place of Bracewell in the 59th minute but the Scot hadn’t made much of an impact.

Then, in a moment that meant the ribbon tiers work had to be scrapped at the last, McCall pounced for a last-minute equaliser for the Blue side of Liverpool. It was Everton’s best move of the game, the ball worked wide to the right and a low cross coming in – Grobbelaar failed to hang on and the Blue number 14 with a shock of red hair poked it home. It was 1-1 and the game was going into extra-time!

“Come on, son – time to go!”

What’s that, now?

“The game is finished, we are off to your Granny’s.”

Hang on a minute, what about extra time?

Neither of my parents had grasped the fact that a cup final wouldn’t absolutely 100% certainly end after 90 minutes and they had planned for us to go and visit my Mum’s mum straight after the final whistle.

This was not good. Not good at all.

Quickly explaining to my Dad what error had occurred, we scrambled as fast as we could into the car and set off on the 10 or so minute journey to see Granny and Grandad.

Granny, who understood me better than anyone and still does, to be honest, would have been there TV on, front door open and all obstacles out of the way as I leapt out of the car before Dad had even applied the handbrake.

Whilst I had been making a mad dash across Farnham, Rush was starting to warm up to the game at hand.

Having returned from Italy and Juventus for £2.8m, Liverpool’s record scorer was having to get used to job-sharing with his replacement, Aldridge.

It was Aldo who had been hooked after 73 minutes, Dalglish fully aware that the failure to turn dominance into actual goals could come back and bite them.

The Scot was right as Everton nabbed the late one, but there was plenty more drama to come.

Please note – goals were scored in the 95th, 102nd and 104th minutes of the 1989 FA Cup Final.

Our house to Granny’s house was approximately 10 minutes and you had to factor in getting everyone into the car.

I have no idea how long there was between the final whistle and extra time getting underway.

By some small miracle, I was in front of Granny’s TV just in time to see McCall put Everton ahead, or so I thought. There was no doubt he was going to be the super-sub everyone referred to the next day.

Not so fast! I realised I had missed a goal! Rush, latching on to a pass from Nicol, spinning and firing past Southall had turned the game around and McCall’s goal was actually the second time he’d squared things up.

A free-kick was sent straight and deep into Liverpool’s area – headed out and McCall, lurking outside the area killed the ball with one touch on his chest before sending a gorgeous, dipping volley past Grobbelaar in the Liverpool goal.

Everton fans had barely stopped celebrating when McMahon moved the ball wide left to Barnes.

Now, I know it was extra time. But given how dangerous Liverpool’s left winger was, it could be said that minimal effort was made to stop him picking out a cross.

Barnes looked up for movement. He waited until he saw some. He waited again for the perfect timing. He bent the ball into the area.

Rush arrived unmarked between the two Everton centre backs to gently guide a header past Southall. 3-2 to Liverpool, a different super-sub was going to get the headlines.

Buy this iconic Ian Rush poster from the Football Bloody Hell shop
Buy this iconic Ian Rush poster from the Football Bloody Hell shop

The goal fest was over – Everton struggled to get another sight of Grobbelaar’s goal and that was that. Liverpool had won the FA Cup.

Given the circumstances, it feels right, looking back that the red half of the city lifted the trophy. Everton played their part, a superb fightback making an average game an absolute classic.

What happened next?

This was very much the end of an era for Everton – from winning Division One twice in the 80s, plus an FA Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup, relegation battles were to follow in the 90s. They lifted the FA Cup again in 1995, but that was their last major trophy.

For Liverpool, they lost the Division One title with the last kick of the season against Arsenal. It wasn’t long before the toll of everything hit Dalglish and he resigned. Their title in 1990 was the last time Liverpool, the dominant club in England over such a long stretch, won the top flight until Jurgen Klopp arrived decades later.

It was a game played in circumstances hopefully never, ever to be repeated – and it certainly lives in the memory.