FA CUP MEMORIES...
Everton v Spurs
FA Cup Semi-Final 1995
"Sorry about your 'Dream Final', lads..."
It’s a game that is often voted as one of the most memorable Everton performances in living memory. A real ‘I was there’ event. On the 9th April 1995, Evertonians descended upon Elland Road in their thousands, turning 3 sides of the famous stadium into a sea of blue. ‘Royle blue’ to be precise…
The Evertonians in attendance that day, really should not underestimate the part they played, in what was a wonderfully memorable afternoon. When you listen to any of those Everton players talk of that game, the first thing they mention is the unbelievable atmosphere created by those Evertonians, famously filling three quarters of the stadium.
As a six-year-old boy at the time, my memories of the game itself are non-existent; but as a young Everton-mad kid, it was my go-to VHS tape that I must have watched a thousand times, over and over again. I would replicate the Matt Jackson swinging arm celebration when playing football in the street, and could recite the VHS commentary of Amokachi’s famous goals word for word… “Amokachi’s unmarked, is this four? IT IS FOUR!! Everton are on their way to Wembley!”
The Everton team that day, was without Duncan Ferguson and John Ebbrell, through suspension. They were boosted though, by the return of Paul Rideout - Everton’s top scorer, who had been struggling with a knee injury sustained in the game against Leeds United. Captain Dave Watson, was announced fit to play, after not training for three days, with a viral infection.
Spurs had problems of their own, with Sol Campbell failing a fitness test on the morning of the game, and Justin Edinburgh being suspended, meaning that right footed centre-half Stuart Nethercott was asked to fill in at left-back, where he had never played before, up against Anders Limpar. Spurs did however, have World Cup star Jurgen Klinsmann, supported by the talented Teddy Sheringham and Nick Barmby, in attack.
"We had a couple of injuries and players missing which didn't help us, especially Sol Campbell being ruled out on the morning of the game. I had to play left-back, which obviously wasn't ideal at all..." Stuart Nethercott told me.
The man in charge of Everton that day, was of course, Joe Royle - Still to this day, the last Everton manager to deliver silverware to Goodison Park. Regular readers will know that I have been fortunate enough to speak to Joe numerous times now, he is an Everton legend, but more importantly, an absolute gentleman, and always makes time to speak to me. “I've told you before, we are both Evertonians…” he says. And there is no bigger Evertonian than Joe Royle.
Everton came into the game on a good run of form, albeit on the back of a defeat to Blackburn Rovers, who went on to be crowned champions.
“We absolutely battered Blackburn that day you know, despite losing 2-1.
I still have the vision now of Alan Shearer – hoisting the ball over the stand, just to try and waste time at the end of the game. We absolutely battered them, so that wasn’t a defeat that was going to upset us going into the Spurs game.”
Despite the confidence within the camp, Everton came into the game as underdogs, with the press already salivating at the prospect of a potential Spurs v Man Utd ‘Dream Final’, which Joe famously apologized for spoiling, in his post-match interview.
"We were a really talented Spurs squad, who should have achieved more. Our confidence was high, especially after we had beaten Liverpool in the previous round at Anfield. We had some very talented individuals and a good mix of experience and youth. As Gary Mabbutt said after the game though 'We were getting plenty of acclaim, but won nothing'" Nethercott concedes.
The general consensus, amongst the media and football fans around the country in general, at the time, was that Everton and Crystal Palace, in the other semi-final, were merely there to make up the numbers.
It was a stark contrast to the feeling within the Everton camp, and fanbase, at the time. In an interview last year, Barry Horne commented on how he didn’t feel for one moment that day, that we would not win that semi-final against Spurs. The team had grown enormously in confidence and had developed a steely determination, since Joe’s arrival. Evertonians too had all fully bought into Joe’s siege mentality, and went into that game with the same confidence and belief that their manager had instilled in the players. Many have told me how they knew from the moment they left the house that morning, that Everton were winning that game. As an Evertonian of a younger age, that is not something I can honestly say I am too familiar with feeling, before a big game!
“Form wise, we were one of the most in-form sides in the Premier League, so there was certainly no inferiority complex on our side. We came to win the game, and when we arrived that day at Elland Road, the greeting we received from the Evertonians was unbelievable! They somehow managed to fill three sides of the stadium, or so it seemed, and the boys were absolutely buzzing at that, we were all bang up for it.” Joe tells me.
Semi-Finals are often tentative affairs, with neither side wanting to show their hand or make their move to soon. Joe’s Everton side had different ideas that day, they dominated Spurs from start to finish, and the much-hyped Spurs side couldn’t cope with the blues that day. The Toffees started like a house on fire, and the early signs were that it was to be a long afternoon ahead for Stuart Nethercott. In the 6th minute, he was instinctively drawn back inside, causing a mix up with Gary Mabbutt, leaving Limpar free to get a shot off, only to be thwarted by an excellent stop by Ian Walker.
“They couldn’t cope you’re right, I do remember though - I sat up in the stand with Peter Johnson for the first half, I often did – you get a better picture of the game, and I said to Peter ‘I’m worried here…’”
“Peter said ‘Worried? What do you mean? We are playing absolutely terrific’”
“’ I know, but we haven’t scored yet’ I said.”
Indeed, it remained goalless until the 35th minute, when Matt Jackson got himself on the end of a trademark Hinchcliffe in-swinging corner, getting the wrong side of Nethercott, and glancing a header past Walker.
“As good as we had started, it was a relief when we scored. You know yourself, you see that so often, you dominate a game but don’t get the goal to go with it, then next thing you know – they go down the other end and score. But looking back, that was never going to be the case that day, we were so dominant.”
It looked as though Everton had doubled their lead, in the 55th minute, when Ian Walker palmed a shot into the path of Paul Rideout, who had strayed offside, and the goal was ruled out. They didn’t have to wait long for another chance though, seconds in fact, as straight from the resulting free-kick - Ian Walker’s tame kick fell straight to Rideout again, who was clean through, his shot parried again by Walker, straight into the path of Graeme Stuart this time, who could not miss. Everton were cruising!
“Then as we know – it took a dubious penalty for them to get a goal in the game. The only goal we conceded in that whole cup run, in fact. Even then though, I still felt confident that we would roar back.”
That penalty decision was indeed dubious, Sheringham backing into Dave Watson somewhat, and hitting the ground like a sack of spuds. They say 2-1 is a dangerous scoreline, so did the nerves begin to creep in for Joe?
“To be honest, I felt more aggrieved, with the penalty being so dodgy. Thankfully we weren’t down to a one-goal lead for too long and very soon we were back on the break, they had some very good players on the pitch that day but they just couldn’t handle our mobility that day. Our performance never dipped after their goal at all, if anything, it spurred us on.”
The penalty was a frustrating blot on the copybook, as our center-half pairing had coped admirably that game…
“Waggy and Unsy, the youth and experience mixed together, they were such a fantastic pairing together. They both handled Sheringham and Klinsmann fantastically that day, and when we got to the final they were outstanding again that day too. That was such a huge part of what we achieved, the way we started to get clean sheets, the whole defence as a unit – Waggy, Unsy, Gary Ablett, Neville Southall, with that bit of a barrier in front of them, they were fantastic.”
“Dave Watson – what a leader. I had the privilege of being at Norwich when he first made his debut, and even then he was a man when he was a youth. An outstanding leader.”
Talking of ‘leaders’, that Everton side under Joe Royle was littered with them. The side was famously labelled ‘the dogs of war’ but make no mistake, that Everton side could play…
“Neville – He was a master craftsman, he wasn’t the athletic Neville Southall of say, 1985, when he was the best goalkeeper in the world, in Howard’s successful side. But I tell you what, nobody knew their craft better than him. Knowing where to be, and what to do, there was nobody better than Neville.”
“Gary Ablett - I can still picture him now tearing down that wing and supplying the cross for Daniel Amokachi. He was a smashing lad and a great character. Nobody had a bad word to say about Gary, and his medal collection is up there with the best of them. He had played in big games for Liverpool and coming to Everton, that was never an easy barrier to break down, but he did it and he was totally respected by both sets of fans. What a man.”
“Matt Jackson – A brilliant right-back, very progressive going forward, and obviously weighed in with a goal that day. A great guy too, a fantastic personality to have in the squad, I have a lot of time for Matt. He obviously moved on and made himself a career as a very accomplished central defender, but at Everton he only ever played right-back.”
“Joe Parkinson – He was that perfect build, so quick for a big man and a wonderful holding midfielder. Joe was a certainty to play for England, Terry Venables had spoken to me about him numerous times, but for those injuries. It was such a shame how injuries ended his career, a tragedy.”
“Anders Limpar – The little fella, on his day, was world-class. People say he could be inconsistent, but on that day against Spurs, in particular, he gave Spurs a torrid time. But on his day, he could do that to anyone, he was totally world-class. He was so two-footed that you couldn’t tell what his natural foot was! He used to make me laugh Anders, he was so quick, yet before each game, he would come up to me in the changing room and ask who was playing full back for the opposition? When I would tell him he would go ‘Oh no, he’s quick!’ – I would go ‘Anders! You’re one of the quickest men on the planet!”
“Up top, we had Paul Rideout, who was so underrated, and the versatile Graeme Stuart; they were such a great pair together, they worked off each other and were both very clever footballers. Then with Amokachi and Duncan in the background, there was certainly no shortage of firepower in the squad.”
We all know, and love, the story of Amokachi bringing himself on in that semi-final, before Joe could stop him, only to score two goals and confirm our place at Wembley for the FA Cup final. “The best substitution I never made!”
This was no smash and grab underdog performance - It was an energetic, intelligent display, from start to finish, and Everton were fully deserving of their victory. Much was made was of the ‘Dogs of War’ tag in the run-up to the game, but that day at Elland Road, Joe Royle’s men were the pedigree breed, and most certainly ‘Best in Show’.
"The 'Dogs of War' was right though, because that was a tough team - strong centre-backs, a tough midfield, really decent wingers, and the likes of Amokachi up-front, who was a massive handful. In the end, we got bullied all over the pitch, and we just couldn't match their aggression. I still look back at that game and think 'what if' but we got exactly what we deserved that day..." Nethercott admits.
As an amateur writer, speaking to an Everton legend is a big deal, and can be a nervy occasion, yet Joe has a remarkable way of putting you at ease; speaking to you candidly, like a close friend would over a pint, but at the same time making you feel that while you are in his company, you are the most important person in the room. It’s easy to understand how those players developed such confidence and self-belief, and would clearly run through a brick wall for their manager, and each other.
Despite the confidence that Joe had instilled in them, this was a side that was still yet to confirm safety from relegation. I wondered if the cup had been a welcome distraction from the premier league battle, or if it had initially been something of a hindrance?
“Initially, to start with, it was a bit of a hindrance, but as soon as we got to the semi-final it became huge, especially for the fans. Then as you know, winning games breeds confidence, just keep winning games. People may have worried that defeat in the cup might have knocked the wind out of our sails in terms of the league, but my lads were always bigger and stronger than that.”
“It was another four or five games until we confirmed our safety, despite being hard to beat and keeping clean sheets, we had a few draws that we probably shouldn’t have done, in all honesty. That game against Ipswich was such a big game for us, it wasn’t the prettiest goal that won it for us but it didn’t matter. There was no celebration on the way home though, there were no party hats and streamers, that was just a big sigh of relief to get the job done.”
Joe Royle led Everton to some fantastic victories in his time as Everton manager, those famous victories over Liverpool always spring to mind, but where did that semi-final win against Spurs rank, in terms of overall performance?
“I have to say my first game against Liverpool, when nobody gave us a chance, has to be up there. The cup final was obviously great, but I would have to say that semi-final performance. With so many people writing us off, fully expecting a Man Utd v Spurs final and saying we couldn’t live with either of those sides, and we could, of course we could – we had beaten Man Utd in the run-up, too! So I would have to say that semi-final performance is right up there, it was a justification.”
Everton go into the game on Wednesday night, up against a Spurs side who have clearly been struggling of late, however, the return of talisman Harry Kane at the weekend gave them a huge lift and brought about an immediate upturn in fortunes. Mourinho’s style of play might divide opinions, but there is no doubting that Spurs side features some serious talent, and the manager’s record speaks for itself. The Toffees will be buoyed by the last gasp equalizer at Old Trafford on Saturday night, let’s hope they can build on that momentum, and summon up some of the spirit of ’95 to see us into the next round, and a step closer to a much, much needed trophy…