It wasn’t my first Everton match. That was 20 months earlier when Everton beat high flying Chelsea 5-2 on the way to a seventh League Championship. This game though has lasting memories for anyone who was there. For Everton, who were on the slide after that league title the previous year it was a week of highs in a very poor season. A week before, they had beaten local rivals Liverpool in front of over 56,000 fans with David Johnson scoring the only goal. This game resulted in hope that the blues had finally arrested their poor form and offer some hope to their fans.
It’s 20th November 1971 and having been born less than a mile from Goodison Park, just off Everton Valley, my family were forced to move to one of the overspill areas on the outskirts of Liverpool. Our terraced house was crumbling and we had no choice but to make the 6-mile journey north to Kirkby. T-Rex were heading up the charts with the fabulous ‘Jeepster’ and Slade were No1 with ‘Coz I Luv You’.
For the first few years of my life, I would enjoy listening to the crowd whilst I played football in my small backyard, too young to attend many games. I would fall asleep to the sound of the Goodison faithful during night matches, longing for the day I would be part of it. I was finally allowed, just after my eighth birthday to attend. Beating Chelsea 5-2 in March 1970 will be with me until the day I depart this life.
Just over a month after moving to Kirkby, instead of leaving home to walk the short journey to the ground I had to negotiate the 20 minute, 44D bus journey instead. It was a cold day but I honestly can’t remember being cold. I don’t think you do at that age. My memory is of snow that day, a blizzard that engulfed the ground. The other abiding memory of the start of the game was of the orange ball. Memories of my Wembley Trophy Football come flooding back whenever I see those old pictures of that orange ball.
In the midst of decline
Looking back at the team Everton put out that day is a stark reminder of how far a wonderful attacking football team can fall in such a short time:
- Gordon West
- Tommy Wright
- John Mclaughlin
- Howard Kendall
- Roger Kenyon
- Peter Scott
- David Johnson
- Alan Ball
- Joe Royle
- John Hurst
- Alan Whittle
- Jimmy Husband
Seven of the side that won the title with some of the best football ever seen on these shores were in the starting eleven. Another was on the bench. How can a team of such talent fall to the lower depths of the First Division? which is where they finished that season.
Gordon West was still keeping goal but his powers were starting to wane and he retired less than two years later at the painfully early age of 30. England international, Tommy Wright played right back with John Mclaughlin on the left. Mclaughlin and teammate Peter Scott (playing wide right in this game) were decent enough professionals but nowhere near the standard of those who had gone before. Scott, who had earlier in his career represented Kirkby boys, was having his most consistent season. He played 32 games for the blues that season at either full-back or wide right, scoring one goal. He was a later to be a Northern Ireland international, gaining 10 caps. Roger Kenyon was a solid centre-half, strong in the air and he was partnered by John Hurst who was one of many underrated Everton players in the Championship winning side of 1970.
Alan Ball had been going through something of a poor run of form by his standards but the previous weeks’ derby victory had seen him back to something like his best. Joe Royle up front with a young David Johnson, fresh from his winning goal the previous week was flanked by Alan Whittle. Why that team faded so fast has been the subject of much speculation over the years. Whether it was Harry Catterick’s health or his management style; Alan Ball being made captain; poor signings; Injuries to key players? All have been cited in what was a very quick slide from the top.
Everton had just 13 points from their first 17 games and had been beaten in the League Cup by Southampton. Southampton at the time had endured a poor start to the season but were above Everton at the time. They had beaten a very good Leeds United side the week before so a good match was feasible. They also boasted famous names such as Terry Paine, Mick Channon, Ron Davies and ex-blue, Jimmy Gabriel. Having been promoted in 1966 they had steadily improved and had qualified for that seasons UEFA Cup, finishing in seventh place the previous season.
An attendance of 28,718 reflected Everton’s poor form and was half of that the previous week. Is it the mind playing tricks or did the swirling snow seem so much worse than it actually was? It’s my abiding memory of this game. I was sat in the Gwladys Street stand near to the corner with Bullens Road and at times could not see the other end of the pitch. What did help was the previously mentioned orange ball which stood out. It was one of those days when it seemed every attempt at goal went in. Reports since that day, however, suggest Everton may have had, even more, had they had their ‘shooting boots’ on.
Everton kicked off playing towards the favoured Gwladys Street end. It took all of 13 minutes for Everton to make their mark. David Johnson angling a shot past keeper Eric Martin. The goals then came at regular intervals. Joe Royle with a shot from a Whittle pass in the 16th minute made it 2-0. A Whittle/Kendall combination set up Johnson for his second after 28 minutes and Royle made it four on 40 minutes. The goal of the game came on the stroke of half-time when Alan Ball ran the best part of 60 yards, Whittle alongside before slotting home for the fifth goal.
The Second Half
Often when games are so one-sided, the scoring screeches to a halt once the half-time whistle blows, but not in this game. Around the hour mark, Johnson fed Royle a pass and in true big Joe style, he hammered home a half-volley from 18 yards for his hat-trick. Chances continued to be created by Everton and to a lesser extent, Southampton. A Royle glancing header in the 72nd minute was followed by David Johnson’s hat-trick goal, a flicked finish with five minutes to go. No one was more relieved to hear the final whistle than Southampton keeper Eric Martin, who it could be argued, actually kept the score down.
For those who remember, Everton had one of the first electronic scoreboards, a small one with just three rows. At the end of the game, it showed the numbers of the scorers instead of the names. That day, the scoreboard was too small.
As far as I can remember, the snow did not stick but the snow came and went throughout the game making it difficult at times to see the players, but not the ball. David Johnson’s first hat-trick would normally have been headline news but Joe Royle’s 4 goals that afternoon relegated it to secondary news.
During the rest of that winter, I longed for snow so I could recreate the conditions of that fine performance. When it did snow, I was out, with my Wembley Trophy football onto the school field at the back of our house with the many other blues that formed my early friendships. Happy times.
Everton’s season had peaked and performances from then on were largely poor. Alan Ball was sold one month later to the disgust of Evertonians everywhere. Everton ended up in 15th place with just one win in their last 17 games, incidentally at Southampton. Only 37 goals were scored in the league that season, 8 of them in one match. Southampton themselves finished 19th, just two places above the relegation zone. It wasn’t the last ‘thrashing’ Southampton endured that season. Their 7-0 loss to Leeds in March 1972 is famous for the Leeds players attempting to humiliate the Southampton players at the end of the game by keeping the ball (see the video on YouTube if you don’t know what I mean).
For me, it was a chance to see a superb performance by a team fast fading away. I didn’t know that at the time of course. I went to every match after that expecting much the same, but of course, it didn’t happen again for many years. That I was witnessing Alan Ball’s last goal for Everton, which, many years later is my overriding memory, even ahead of the snow. But as a nine-year-old at the time, very little could beat my warm glow in the snow that Saturday afternoon.