Since I attended my first match back in 1970, I’ve seen some of the great players pull on the famous blue shirt of Everton. My first hero was Joe Royle who, along with Alan Ball formed part of one of the great Everton teams back in 1970. Bob Latchford; the wonderful team of 1984/85; one season wonder Gary Lineker; Andrei Kanchelskis; “legend before he was a player, Duncan Ferguson; Mikel Arteta are just a few of the players who have made Goodison Park a wonderful place to be. One player stands head and shoulders above all of them in my heart. A player who to this day remains my favourite player of all time. The unpredictable genius of Duncan McKenzie. Rose tinted glasses? Maybe! This is an account of a fan and his sometimes weird affection for someone who was and still is his idol.
From Anderlecht to Everton
That he only took the pitch in 61 games, 48 of which came in the league is irrelevant. He came at a time when Everton were struggling to make an impact and certainly brightened up the place. His record of 20 goals in that time was unremarkable maybe, but it was his general play that was his trademark.
It was a cold December day in 1976 and news was filtering through that Everton were about to sign Duncan McKenzie from Anderlecht. Scoring 16 goals in the 30 games he played for them, he was just what we needed alongside big Bob Latchford. Most of us had heard of him, not just because of his spells at Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and Anderlecht. This was no ordinary footballer, he was the bloke who could jump over a mini and throw a golf ball the full length of a football pitch. Immediate excitement preceded his arrival. I’m not admitting to it personally, but there were stories going around at the time that young lads were going to local pitches, together with a golf ball to try their hand at the golf ball challenge. Mini’s weren’t exempt from the challenge either. I imagine local casualty departments may have had a few more broken bones than usual that winter.
Duncan duly arrived at the club and despite information limited to newspapers and the odd rare radio and TV bulletin, his reputation as a crowd pleaser went before him. We weren’t disappointed. His debut came away on a cold hard pitch at Coventry City. Everton were not playing well at the time and results were poor. A 2-4 defeat was the result. “Cometh the hour, cometh the man”, is that too grand a phrase for Duncan’s arrival for his home debut? Not for me, it wasn’t. The result wasn’t great, a 2-2 draw with Birmingham City but McKenzie ran the show scoring both goals. Regularly beating not just one but many Birmingham players at a time. It was wonderful to see and the most skilful player I’d ever seen live. The pre-Christmas attendance lapped it up and with a League Cup semi-final to look forward to, there was finally a bit of positivity around the club.
League form remained poor with a 0-4 loss to Man United and another draw at home to Middlesborough. Then came one of two matches he is most remembered for. FA Cup 3rd round day brought the usual expectations. The Cup meant something in those days and a home 3rd round draw brought more hope, despite the lowly league position. Saturday 8th January 1977 was the date and Stoke City were the visitors. Duncan chose that day to put on one of his extravagant shows. He performed his full array of flicks and tricks to single-handedly put Stoke to the sword. One particular passage of play shows him tormenting the opposition, beating one man after the other before inviting a series of hard tackles from an increasingly frustrated defence. Everton won 2-0 and Duncan scored with a penalty to round off his performance. OK, Stoke weren’t exactly high flyers themselves at the time but did we care? The cry from the terraces was “we all agree, Duncan McKenzie is magic”.
It’s a source of frustration and disappointment that TV cameras were so rare at matches in those days with maybe two or three games on Match of the day on Saturday nights and matches covered by the different regions shown on ITV on Sunday. Thankfully, this tie was covered by Granada and shown on Kick-Off on Sunday afternoon. The player who was given the job of choosing the man of the match was none other than Liverpool’s Tommy Smith. He ridiculously chose Andy King and I think I remember him referring to Duncan as a clown. Duncan would get his revenge later.
A packet of 20, please
After the game, I stayed behind with a few mates to see if we could get a glimpse of our hero. After a wait in the dark and cold, we were rewarded when Duncan appeared from the player’s entrance. He walked up with us towards the Park End car park happily answering questions as we went. About halfway down Goodison Road, we passed a newsagent on the other side of the road. Duncan was known to be a smoker and dug into his pocket and pulled out a £5 note. He promptly gave it to one of my mates and asked him to run across the road and buy him 20 cigarettes. “Just say they’re for Duncan,” he said, in case they wouldn’t serve him. They did and having handed over the cigarettes, ordered us to buy chips with the change. He then signed our programmes and left us for his car. Could we possibly love him any more than we did? If Carlsberg did five-minute conversations, this would be it.
A new manager
That result wasn’t enough to save manager Billy Bingham’s job. Gordon Lee’s appointment at the end of January came after the league position became worrying. Results improved immediately but Lee’s opinion of McKenzie was not the same as the fans opinion. Duncan wasn’t hard working enough and Lee preferred Jim Pearson who was considered a better team player. Despite this, he continued to be selected and having scored in the League Cup semi-final earlier in the season, he scored against both Swindon and Cardiff City in the FA Cup.
When Duncan McKenzie and Bruce Rioch moved into our house
I’m not sure what came first, the idea or the name but either way it led to my own personal tribute. The pal who had done the cigarette errand weeks earlier lived on the same road as me. He decided he wanted a pet hamster so we went off to City Pets in Liverpool City centre. I also decided I would have one and together with a cage and food each, we brought our new pets home. When I got home, in tribute to my new hero, I named my hamster Duncan Mckenzie. About half an hour after we arrived home, my friend turned up on my doorstep, a hamster in tow. His mum wouldn’t let him have his new pet and he was palming it off on me. My new housemate was named Bruce Rioch.
FA Cup Semi-Final: Another master performance
Having cruelly lost an epic, three-game League Cup Final to Aston Villa in the last minute of extra time in the third game, disappointment was replaced by more hope. An FA Cup Semi-Final against Liverpool’s finest team came after significantly improved performances in the League. Despite the loss to injury of top scorer Bob Latchford, the team had McKenzie and Pearson up front. Incessant rain made fans worry about Duncan McKenzie’s ability to perform on what turned out to be a ploughed field of a pitch. There was no need to worry as Duncan gave one of his showpiece performances. That day he ran rings round Tommy Smith, nutmegging him and on one occasion flicking the ball over his head and running around him to collect the ball. This was particularly satisfying given Smith’s previous criticism. Scoring the first equaliser set Everton up for a terrific performance. Duncan’s performance in this match is often forgotten due to the circumstances in which the match ended. The ‘winning’ goal five minutes from the end by Bryan Hamilton incredibly disallowed in dubious circumstances by the notorious referee, Clive Thomas. In an interview years later, Jim Pearson stated that Thomas had indicated it was handball and later changed it to offside. Neither of which were true. “An infringement” was his parting shot. Who knows what was behind that decision other than the man himself. Still, we made our way home in the pouring rain, still hopeful for the rematch.
In the replay four days later, Everton went behind to a controversial penalty and were picked off with two late goals and lost 0-3. Duncan could not weave his magic and Everton were out. After a poor first half of the season, Everton ended up a relatively respectable 9th. More importantly, fans were positive for the following season.
McKenzie always gave a good interview and his sense of humour led him towards the media. Fame followed and he hosted a show on the local radio station, Radio City with Liverpool’s John Toshack. Broadcast on Sunday afternoons at 5pm and imaginatively called ‘Mac n Tosh’ they discussed the week’s sport and played their favourite tunes. It was unique at the time and essential listening for football fans, starved of football information.
1977/78: Onwards and upwards?
Everton were title challengers the following season with Duncan hitting the ground running, scoring 6 goals in his first 8 games. After losing their first two games, Everton then went unbeaten until Boxing day. All was not well in Duncan’s world however as his place was taken by Jim Pearson until the post-Christmas fixtures. Jim was more of a team player, albeit a bit uninspiring. Although Duncan gained his place back, it seemed to be an uneasy truce. I remember him having another of his special days against his old club Leeds United. It was Easter Saturday and Duncan scored with a magnificent placed shot. If my memory serves me correct from just outside the penalty area high into the Gwladys Street net. It was his last goal for Everton. The blues won 2-0 and finished the season in 3rd place behind Champions Nottingham Forest.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, Duncan’s last game for the club came on April 15th 1978 in a 1-0 against Ipswich. His place for the last three games taken by the local player, George Telfer. The final game of the season is better remembered for the 6-0 victory over Chelsea. It was Bob Latchford’s 30th goal of the season, enabling him to win the princely sum of £10,000 put up by the Daily Express. Duncan McKenzie was nowhere to be seen.
Duncan leaves but has one last hurrah!
September 1978 is significant in my life as it was one of the few times in my life that I have been genuinely upset at a player leaving Everton. Alan Ball 1971, Andy King 1980, Andy Gray 1985, Gary Lineker 1986, Wayne Rooney 2004 all qualify. Maybe I should have noticed the signs. OK, he wasn’t Gordon Lee’s favourite, but he did get his place back for most of the previous season. I hoped he wouldn’t leave but in those days, Everton had a quick turnaround of players. The biggest sign, however, happened one morning when I returned from my milk round. I was greeted by my dad who said, “I’ve got bad news!” Now, your mind races when you hear that phrase so I was pretty anxious. Dad went on to tell me how Duncan McKenzie had been eaten by our cat. He’d got into my bedroom, tipped over the cage and freed him, only to catch him and, well, I won’t go into detail. I was distraught. It was clearly a sign. Weeks later, the same thing happened to Bruce Rioch although this time we never found the body. I really hope he was liberated.
Duncan joined Chelsea for £165,000 in September 1978 and most blues were disappointed. The writing had been on the wall ever since Gordon Lee took charge. Lee had famously sold Malcolm MacDonald from Newcastle and incurred the wrath of Newcastle fans. He was no stranger to controversy. With that decision, Lee’s more attacking style of 1977/78 gave way to a more functional style the following season.
Saturday, November 11th was the day Duncan returned to Goodison Park. This time in a Chelsea shirt. He was greeted with a standing ovation as he took to the field but nobody expected what was to come. No doubt sensing the big occasion once again, Duncan obliged by scoring the opening goal after just 9 minutes. Incredibly the ground erupted and the goal was greeted as if Everton had scored it. Those not standing, stood up. Evertonians had made their point. Duncan had been replaced by Micky Walsh, signed from Blackpool for the then-pricey figure of £325,000. Presumably on the strength of his goal of the season effort from three years earlier. One League goal in 21 games over seven months just made me reflect on Duncan McKenzie’s needless departure.
Where Duncan stands in the affection of Evertonians is a matter of individual opinion. He breezed into Goodison with a freshness sorely lacking in the previous few years. One reporter even went as far as calling him the greatest player, not to win an England cap. That’s maybe pushing it a bit. With his peers, Frank Worthington, Tony Currie and Stan Bowles he stood out as an entertainer. He did things I had never seen another footballer do and for that, he excited me. He is now 68 years old and as well as writing the odd newspaper column and hosting the occasional Five live 6-0-6 broadcast, he is an after dinner speaker. A cornerstone of this is a mean impression of the late, great Brian Clough.
I remember his genius but also remember that he was terribly inconsistent. He wasn’t the hardest worker in the team but then as far as I was concerned, that was for the other ten. His only honour was winning the Super Cup with Anderlecht, beating Bayern Munich over two legs. I have a signed picture of his famous mini jumping, taken at Elland Road in 1975. It has pride of place in my house. In his autobiography, ‘The last fancy Dan’ (2009) he shows no bitterness towards the manager that ousted him from Everton. Despite FA Cup runs and 3rd & 4th place finishes, I don’t think Gordon Lee is held in the same affection as other Everton managers from the past. Selling the fans hero didn’t help.
Whether 61 appearances and 20 goals are enough to class McKenzie as a legend is debatable. He still loves the club and classes himself as an Evertonian. The title ‘Cult hero‘ is probably more accurate. One thing blues had in common though, was that we all agreed Duncan McKenzie was magic.