Everton in 1971 had a unique opportunity to establish themselves as a power in Europe and as the top team on Merseyside. One week in March crushed those dreams. It took Everton nearly fifteen years to reach those heights again.

On Tuesday 01 April 1970, Everton clinched the League Championship for the seventh time in their history by beating West Bromwich Albion 2- 0 at Goodison Park in front of a crowd of over 58,000 ecstatic supporters. Everton finished the season with 66 points, nine points clear of runners up Leeds United. It was the biggest title winning margin since Manchester United won the League in 1956 and it was the second highest number of points achieved by any team since World War Two. Everton fans had every reason to expect a continued decade of success in the seventies but it never really happened for them. One week in March 1971 saw those dreams become a nightmare from which the club took years to recover.

The 1970/71 season kicked off with Everton playing the Charity Shield opener at Cup Winners Chelsea. It appeared to be business as usual as Everton beat one of their potential challengers 2-1. Everton then commenced their league campaign by not winning any of their first six league matches, drawing three and losing three. Already the defence of the title was looking weak.

The competition that all Everton fans were looking forward to was the European Cup and the final was to be played at Wembley. Manchester United had demonstrated in 1968 that playing this game in your own country offered a distinct advantage. The European Cup appeared to be wide open this season as established European giants such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus and Benfica had failed to qualify for the contest this year. Now, the little known Cagliari were representing Italy. Surely this offered Everton a serious possibility of winning the European Cup Most Everton fans would have happily sacrificed their League ambitions for the ultimate prize.

The last time Everton participated was in the 1963/64 season when they were drawn against Italian giants Inter Milan. After losing the second leg 1-0, Everton exited the Cup at the first stage. It was little consolation that Inter Milan went on to win the cup that year. This season Everton were drawn at home to the Icelandic champions, Keflavik.

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On Wednesday 16 September 1970 , the Goodison Park faithful settled down to witness a comfortable victory. But, Everton being Everton contrived to make life incredibly difficult for themselves. After only 12 minutes, Gordon West mishandled a cross and Keith Newton in trying to clear, hit the ball against his goalkeeper to give Keflavik an unexpected lead. A few minutes later another miscalculation by West almost led to a second goal for Keflavik. Some nervy supporters started to barrack West for his nervy display, he hardly endeared himself to the crowd by responding with a V sign.

Thankfully, normality was restored as Ball equalised before half time and then scored a hat trick as Everton ran out comfortable 6-2 winners. Harry Catterick had not been impressed with his goalkeeper as another mistake from West led to Keflavik's second goal. Two days later Catterick announced that he was dropping West from the team. His replacement was reserve keeper Andy Rankin. He had proved a capable deputy in the past but had not made a first team appearance for over three seasons.

Two weeks later, Everton travelled to Iceland for the return leg. Although the match was in danger of being called off due to incessant heavy rain, Everton ran out comfortable 3-0 winners with goals from Royle and Whittle. Still, for the first time in their history Everton were through to the second round of the European Cup, unlike the current holders Feyenoord who had fallen at this stage.

The draw for the next round paired Everton with Borussia Moenchengladbach, the champions of West Germany who had just retained the Bundesliga title. They were a very strong side which included Bertie Vogts and Gunter Netzer and they were arguably the strongest team left in the contest. If there was any consolation for Everton, it was that the second leg was to be played at Goodison Park.

On the 21 October, Everton played the first leg in West Germany, hardly full of confidence after having lost 4-0 away to Arsenal the previous Saturday. In addition to the travelling Evertonians , over 5000 British soldiers based in the nearby NATO camp were cheering on the Blues. Borussia Moenchengladbach dominated the first half with Gunter Netzer spraying the ball around from midfield and Everton defending for their lives. Bertie Vogts gave the Germans the lead and Everton were fortunate to only be one goal down at the interval.

The second half started with a controversial goal in Everton's favour. The German goalkeeper Wolfgang Kleff had decided to pick up the toilet rolls that had been thrown onto the pitch by the visiting supporters at half time when Howard Kendall sent in a shot from outside the penalty area that flew into the net. Despite strong German complaints, the goal stood, and Everton had grabbed a vital away goal. At the end of the match, the 1-1 draw suited Everton far more than the home team.

On 04 November, a crowd of 43,000, who made their way to Goodison were to witness one of the most memorable evenings in the club's distinguished history. After just twenty-four seconds, Everton made the dream start. Johnny Morrissey put over an innocuous looking cross which Wolfgang Kleff somehow misjudged as it skidded off a soaked pitch and went past him into the net. This goal put Morrissey into the record books as the first Everton player to score for the club in three different European competitions, following his goals in the Cup Winners Cup and Inter Cities Fairs Cup.

On thirty- four minutes, from a free kick, the ever- dangerous Gunter Netzer floated a cross into the penalty area where Herbert Laumann put in a header which Andy Rankin could only parry away. Laumann reacted quicker than the covering defenders to score the equalising goal. The tie was level on aggregate at 2-2. Both teams had opportunities to win the game, but the scores were still tied at the end of extra time which meant for the first time ever in the European Cup, the game was to be decided via the newly introduced concept of a penalty shoot- out. Everton won the toss and opted to have the penalties taken in front of their fanatical fans in the Gwladys Street End.

Joe Royle, Everton's prolific striker, took the first penalty which was saved by Kleff. Sieloff stepped up to give the visitors the lead. Ball scored to level the tie and then the goal-scorer Laumann hit his penalty wide. Morrisey and Kendall scored for the Blues, Heynckes (the future manger) and Kopple (who wore a toupee throughout the match!) netted for the Germans. Both teams were level on penalties at three each, with one set of penalties remaining.

Everton fans were quite surprised to see the veteran defender Sandy Brown walk up to take the next kick. His last goal at Goodison had been a fantastic header which unfortunately gave Liverpool a three nil lead the previous season! Brown converted the penalty calmly, it was his last ever goal for the club. Ludwig Muller stepped up to take the final penalty but Andy Rankin dived to his right and palmed the ball away. Cue bedlam on the terraces as Everton had progressed to the quarter finals of the European Cup!

In January, Everton also started to make progress in the F.A. Cup. It helped that Everton were to be drawn at home in every round. In the Third Round Blackburn Rovers were dispatched 2-0, then Middlesbrough were defeated 3-0 and in the Fifth Round, Derby County were beaten 1-0. Everton were now in the quarter- finals to face Fourth Division Colchester United, who had sensationally beaten Leeds United in the previous round. As expected Everton strolled to a 5-0 win. Everton were now through to the semi- finals of the F.A. Cup without conceding a goal. On Monday, the draw gave them a tie with arch rivals Liverpool. The next day on Tuesday 09 March 1971, Everton resumed their quest for the European Cup.

Everton had been pleased with the draw for the last eight of the European Cup, which paired them with the Greek Champions Panathinaikos, arguably the weakest team left in the contest. They had avoided more difficult opponents in Ajax and Celtic who had been paired together. The Greek team were managed by the legendary Hungarian forward Ferenc Puskas .However the ever cautious Everton manager Harry Catterick warned that the opponents were a “much under-rated team”.

Panathinaikos had been well drilled by their manager. Their defence was well organised and they were not afraid to use some of football's darker arts to achieve a result. Everton winger Jimmy Husband was targeted by the Greek defence and had to leave the pitch after only seven minutes after a crude challenge by Domazos which damaged his knee. Everton totally dominated the play, Royle and Ball missed clear chances to score and Wright's header hit the bar. It seemed inevitable that the goal would come after all this pressure. It finally came in the eighty second minute, when totally against the run of play, the Greeks scored with their first shot on goal from Antoniadis.

The fans could not believe their eyes as the Greek players celebrated wildly. Everton threw everything into a last gasp effort to salvage something from the tie. Finally in stoppage time, from their seventeenth corner of the match, David Johnson managed to grab an equaliser for Everton with the last kick of the game. But the away goal had given the Greeks the advantage and a 0-0 result in Athens would see them through.

So for Everton everything was to hinge on one week in March. On 24 March they travelled to Panathinaikos for the second leg of their European Cup game and then on Saturday 27 March they were to face arch rivals Liverpool in the semi -finals of the F.A. Cup at Old Trafford. The possibility of appearing in two Wembley finals and achieving a unique European and F.A. Cup double was still a possibility. Destiny was in their own hands.

Harry Catterick had been warned by the ex- Everton player Billy Bingham, who was now managing in Greece, of the type of “welcome” the team should expect. Everton flew out on Tuesday 23 March to Athens. The team had rather naively decided to stay in a hotel on the outskirts of Athens. It was a bad move. On arrival they encountered Police patrolling the grounds to keep the local supporters at bay. All night before the game, Greek fans drove around the hotel grounds on motorbikes and scooters to keep the Everton squad from sleeping. Some sneaked into the hotel and ran down the corridors screaming and banging on doors. Many players had a very disturbed night's sleep.

Everton arrived the following evening at the dilapidated 25,000 Leoforos stadium. Panathinaikos were the first ever Greek team to progress this far in the European Cup and everyone wanted to see the game. The pitch was dusty and uneven which prevented Everton from playing their normal passing game. The Greeks had also been offered a huge bonus of £2000 each if they qualified which increased their motivation even more. The levels of hostility directed towards the Everton team were off the scale. The Everton players sitting on the bench were subjected to a constant stream of phlegm from the home support. Everton's John Hurst had two fingers stuck in his eyes by one of the Greek defenders. Alan Whittle was hacked down inside the penalty area, but the referee awarded a free kick outside the area! The home team were determined to hang on to their advantage by any means possible as a goalless draw would see them through. Even the renowned football correspondent, Brian Glanville wrote that the referee Robert Helies had “outrageously favoured.” the Greek team. Catterick went to his grave convinced that the official had been bought.

The Greeks held on for a 0-0 draw which saw them through to the semi- final. Harry Catterick could not hide his disappointment: when asked if Panathinaikos had played better than at Goodison, he tersely replied “they had a better referee”. He took out his frustration on the team storming into the dressing room and shouting, “You bastards have cost me five grand tonight”. Apparently, that would have been his bonus for winning the tie. With a crucial F.A. Cup semi- final three days away these were hardly the words of consolation and encouragement the team were expecting to hear. Everton had blown their chance of winning the European Cup, little did the watching Blues fans realise that it would be another thirty four years before they would be in the competition again.

The F.A. Cup was now Everton's only possible route into Europe. As the demoralised team flew in to Manchester, Harry Catterick took ill on the plane and was not seen again until after the Liverpool game. The players just wanted to return home to relax and recuperate but Catterick had arranged instead for the team to stay in Lymm in Cheshire and travel back to Merseyside for training. In one final twist, Everton had to decamp to a hotel in Blackburn the evening before the game as Liverpool had booked their hotel in Lymm! Not an encouraging omen! On match day , the Everton players encountered Bill Shankly who indulged in some highly effective mind games ,taunting his opponents by claiming “I'd have climbed out of my coffin rather than miss a semi- final”. The barb hurt. When the team needed him, he was nowhere to be seen.

Everton, in front of a capacity crowd of 62,000 started the game strongly knowing full well that their season depended on a positive result. After ten minutes, Alan Ball scored to give Everton a well -deserved lead. At half time, Everton appeared to have the edge. Then, five minutes into the second half, Everton suffered a crucial blow when commanding defender Brian Labone went off with a hamstring injury. The loss of Labone was a massive blow and a huge boost to Liverpool. Substitute Sandy Brown struggled to cope with the aerial threat of John Toshack and Liverpool started to dominate. Two goals from Evans and Hall sealed the tie for the Reds. The misery of Evertonians everywhere was complete.

Joe Royle described those two cup defeats as “the week the team died”. Howard Kendall reflected “that was the day we handed the baton of Merseyside football supremacy to Liverpool”. Catterick blamed his absence for the defeat claiming that he would have handled things differently when Labone came off injured. It didn't matter. The dream was over. The chance of glory had been squandered, Everton would not be playing at Wembley after all.

The following Tuesday, Everton played a home league game against West Ham in front of their lowest attendance of the season, 29,000. They lost 1-0. They only managed to win one of their remaining nine games. Everton finished in fourteenth position, the worst defence of a title since Ipswich Town in 1963. By the end of the year, Alan Ball had been sensationally sold to Arsenal. The next month, Catterick suffered a heart attack and by the end of following season he was no longer in charge. Everton fans who had grown up watching the Holy Trinity of Ball, Harvey and Kendall now had to suffer as players such as Bernie Wright and Rod Belfitt wore the royal blue jersey.

Everton in 1971 had a unique opportunity to establish themselves as a power in Europe and as the top team on Merseyside. One week in March crushed those dreams. It took Everton nearly fifteen years to reach those heights again.



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