Decline and Fall

Alasdair Jones 29/04/2020 42comments  |  Jump to last

The unpredictability of Politics was described by the late Harold MacMillan, as the sudden appearance of “events… dear boy, events”. And so it must be, I imagine, in the world of football management. Not so much on the field but off it as well.

Having completed my last post about the Blues championship triumph in April 1970 (Our Golden Anniversary), my thoughts turned inevitably to the team’s fortunes in the following seasons. How did it come about that a squad of players, rightly applauded by their fans, others in the game, and the national press as one of the most technically accomplished and attractive sides, declined from their pinnacle of achievement in the space of about 18 months? As I hope this post demonstrates, it was events… dear boy events.

Over the course of season 1970-71, the team amassed 37 points; 12 wins, 13 draws, 17 defeats, scoring 54 goals and conceding 70. In broad terms, the team performed only half as well as the previous championship-winning season. The campaign never really got off the ground. The first six games under new captain Alan Ball comprised three draws and tree defeats. In the case of games against Arsenal (2-2), Leeds (2-3), and Chelsea (2-2), points were surrendered from winning positions. So, by early September, the Blues had three points and were in 20th position in the league. There were 22 teams in the league, so the team hovered above the relegation places.


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And so we come to the first event. The appointment of Alan Ball as Captain of the team by manager Harry Catterick. He may have been encouraged to make this appointment by the player's undoubted enthusiasm and energy for the game and Ball’s post championship view that Everton could dominate English football for the next five years. It was a decision the manager was later to regret, obviously with the benefit of hindsight. In Rob Sawyers book, Harry Catterick: The Untold Story of a Football Great, Catterick is recorded as indicating the appointment might not have been his smartest move. He didn’t anticipate that the burden of captaincy was to affect the player's game to the extent that it did.

Ball had returned from the Mexico World Cup Finals with what turned out to be a pelvic injury which resulted in his energy levels dipping. As a consequence, he fell back into a deeper midfield position, often to the frustration of the defenders. Howard Kendall indicated that the effect of this was to upset the balance of the team. Its overall playing style was disrupted. A further consequence of the change to Ball's game was that he could not make the same goal-scoring contribution which had been evident from the day of his arrival in 1966.

On 17 October, the team travelled south the play their return fixture against Arsenal at Highbury. By then the Blues had recovered a bit and were in 11th in the table with 12 points. Events were about to intervene. In the week before the game, Catterick embarked on a foray into the transfer market. His history of transfer dealings up to then had been for the most part sure-footed. On this occasion, his touch deserted him.

In Rob Sawyer's book, the author recounts that Catterick had identified that the team’s mid-field needed reinforcing. He had a number of targets in mind, the preferred player being Archie Gemmil, then at Second Division Preston North End, managed by Alan Ball Snr. An agreement was reached between the two clubs regarding the fee and papers were drafted, as they say.

Brian Clough, then manager at Derby County, got wind of this and basically, to Catterick’s dismay, was allowed to gazump Everton, spending a night camped out in Gemmil’s lounge (allegedly). So, on 14 October, Catterick signed Henry Newton, a versatile young midfielder from Nottingham Forest. Tommy Jackson went to Forest as part of the deal.

At the time, I regarded the deal as a strange bit of business. Tommy Jackson had served the team well during the Championship season and so, if some refreshment was needed, why not give him another run in the team. Even more curious was the decision, the following Saturday, to play Howard Kendall in a central defensive role to accommodate Newton in midfield. Needless to say, the culmination of these off-field decisions resulted in a calamitous 4-0 defeat. Ray Kennedy quickly bagged two first-half goals having quickly identified the Blues weak spot.

In the run-up to Christmas, there were two games, both of which I attended but which demonstrated to my mind the emerging demise of the team. There would be no recovery from the poor start to the season.

The first was at Anfield on 21 November. After taking a 2-0 lead shortly after half time, the team betrayed its underlying frailties as this winning position turned into a 3-2 defeat. Earlier that month, the team appeared have recovered some of its energy and determination in overcoming Borussia Moenchengladbach in round two of the European Cup. But that was not evident in the display at Anfield. Howard Kendall was injured shortly after Royle scored the second goal for the Blues. The midfield triangle was broken and you could almost feel the confidence drain from the side.

The second game I would highlight was the home fixture against Leeds, which was lost 1-0 to an early Jack Charlton goal. As all followers of the game over that period will know, Leeds needed no second invitation to steadfastly defend a one-goal lead.

In the New Year, form remained patchy, but the team embarked on a good cup run ending up drawn against Liverpool in a semi-final tie at Old Trafford on 27 March. Before that, the team flew to Athens to play Panathinaikos in the second leg of their 3rd round European Cup tie, having drawn 1-1 in the first leg at Goodison Park.

And so we come to events again. By common consent amongst the English press corps in Athens, Everton were the subject of considerable off-field mischief by the Greeks in and around their hotel and at the stadium. Added to that, the match was played on a poor and uneven playing surface, during which the refereeing was less than impartial. The resulting 0-0 draw saw Everton knocked out of the competition by the away goals rule. The squad flew back to Manchester that night, disappointed to say the least as, before the tie, Alan Ball had expressed the view that, given the teams left in the competition, they had every chance of progressing to the final.

On the journey home, Harry Catterick and two others took ill (Wilf Dixon and David Johnson) with a flu-like virus. On arrival in Manchester, Catterick was immediately taken to hospital. He did not return to the bench for two weeks. As fate would have it, his absence possibly contributed to the teams demise on that following Saturday afternoon.

Having played well in the first half and taken a 1-0 lead into the half-time break, they then lost the services of Brian Labone with a serious hamstring injury. Brown appeared as substitute but was no match for Toshack. As Joe Royle recalls in his autobiography, had Harry been there he would probably have asked Joe to fall back to look after Toshack, leaving Brown as a makeshift forward to pester the Liverpool defence. So, once again, a winning position was surrendered.

Royle in his book described those two cup defeats in March as the week in which the team died. I cannot dissent from that view. Over the remaining eight league fixtures the Blues only won one further game, 3-0 at home to Coventry, and they finished the season in 14th position. By the time they played their final home game against Blackpool, attendances had slumped to 26,000...

In Rob Sawyer's book, David Exhall, the club’s promotions manager, recalls that, whilst many of the players played the same number of games as in 1969-70, they were never able to perform at the same level. In his view, it broke Catterick’s heart. He could not understand how the standards had fallen in what he felt was his greatest ever side. He never came to terms with that.

Others record that Catterick would later attribute the team’s inability to recover their form to a World Cup hangover. Four of the team had been on duty for England that previous summer. And he felt it left them jaded.

Alan Ball was not of the same view. He considered that all players go through bad time and it was his turn in season 1970-71. There is no question of being worn out by too much football. He also revealed that he had played with a niggling groin injury that was putting him off his game. No mention of the burden of captaincy.

The following season started no better than the previous one. By mid-October, the team had amassed only 9 points from 13 games and lay in 19th position in the table. There was however one shinning performance at Goodison Park. Southampton were demolished 8-0. The team appeared to have recovered its mo-jo. New acquisition John McLoughlin was slotted in at full-back and Peter Scott replaced the injured Colin Harvey who had been in and out of the team for much of the season to date. However, the next three games yielded only 2 points: two 0-0 draws, at home to Stoke and away to Leicester, with a 2-0 defeat at Derby.

The latter was the game that convinced Catterick he had to take action in the transfer market. The result took the football world and Blues fans with complete surprise. The manager had become increasingly disillusioned with Ball's form and captaincy. It had become apparent to him that Ball was getting under the skin of a number of players with his incessant moaning, both on and off the pitch. It was impacting on team morale.

A training ground outburst, during which Ball expressed the view that he could not be expected to play with this lot, was witnessed by Catterick standing on the sidelines. his mind was made up. Ball was sold to Arsenal on 22 December for a record £220,000. There was no advance briefing to the player that the club were looking to sell him. Nor was John Moores, the Chairman, kept informed at any stage. There was no stellar replacement lined up to come in to replace Ball. The consequences of this decision and Ball's exit would turn out to have far-reaching consequences which, in the context of this article, are probably for another day.

There is no doubt that this event was in part due to Cattericks failing health and the loss of his sure touch in the market. In January 1972 Catterick succumbed to a heart attack, leaving Tommy Casy, a newly appointed assistant, in charge. His approach to the game was based on hitting the front players as quickly as possible. Anathema to the squad of players in his charge.

I will spare readers the torture of recounting the teams continuing inconsistent form through to the end of the 1972-73 season, during which at one stage they headed the table on 16 September 1972 but ended the season in 17th position. Following his heart attack in the January of 1972, Harry Catterick’s health never really recovered and he was relieved of his managerial duties in April 1973.

In less than 2 years, the music that had been studiously composed over the previous 4 years, had died.


I am indebted to the insights afforded to me about events 1970-1972 by the following:

Joe Royle in his Autobiography
Colin Harvey in his book, Everton Secrets
David Tossel in his book, The Man In White Boots
Rob Sawyer in his book, Harry Catterick: The Untold Story of a Football Great
Rogan Taylor et al in their book, Three Sides of the Mersey


I am sorry if readers may feel this somewhat sad slice of history is perhaps inappropriate in the current circumstances when we all need a bit of an uplifting tale. However, the fall from grace of the team is something that rankled with me as it unfolded in the early '70s. Writing about the 1970 Championship win, however, reignited my need to try and get a handle on why it all came about. I cannot pretend to have covered all aspects of that small time in the club's history but I feel I better understand the events that shaped those 18 months from August 1970 to December 1971.

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Ian Pilkington
1 Posted 29/04/2020 at 00:20:17

Thank you for another most interesting article.

It was hard to believe at the time how such a great team could decline so quickly, yet it was clear even then that a number of poor decisions by Harry Catterick were at the heart of it all; a very sad period in our history.

Derek Thomas
2 Posted 30/04/2020 at 01:32:56

Another well put-together piece and your footnote sums up my view.

But, if we glory in the Lord Mayor's Show that was the late 60s, we have to wallow in the shit that came after.

Poor signings, failed signings, poor decisions, Injuries, ill-health, poor appointments, failed appointments, eg, Robson and/or Clough... and I wouldn't have wanted that cowardly cheat Revie anyway.

Events! if it wasn't for those pesky Events, we'd have got away with it. It's been said before on here 'We don't do Dynasties'.

Everton That.

Greg Anderson
3 Posted 30/04/2020 at 05:03:18
My first game at Goodison was that 1-0 loss to Leeds in December 1970 (still a magical experience!).

Having supported the club for about 2 years by that point, I thought of us as the biggest club in the land, since no-one else had more league titles and we had the best history and that peerless cathedral of a ground.

So I have always wondered ever since, as many have, why the dramatic decline in the early 70s??

I am sure you are right, Alasdair, that it was actually a complex nexus of reasons, not just one big one. Thanks for enlightening us all finally, so many years later!

Jack Convery
4 Posted 30/04/2020 at 05:25:19
My father always told me the defence was goosed after playing at altitude in Mexico 1970 – Newton, Wright and Labone. Ball never looked fit and making him Captain was the biggest mistake Catterrick ever made.

The week we went out of the European Cup and lost to the RS at Old Trafford was the week football changed on Merseyside. Only the mid-80s team gave us a breather from their gloating. I keep waiting for their week of hell but it never happens.

My misfortune was to start going to Goodison in season 72-73. A bit like meeting Charlize Theron who tells you to meet her in her hotel room, only to find when you get there that she's decided to become a nun!

Mike Galley
5 Posted 30/04/2020 at 05:53:32
Alasdair, thank you very much for such an interesting (depressing) read! I was born in 1970, but it's long been a subject of confusion to my dad about how our 1970 team fell away in the fashion that they did. I'll print this off for him to read.

Interesting that you mention the week of our European exit and semi-final defeat by the other crowd. Dad has always said (with the benefit of hindsight, I would guess) that you felt something changed that week.

If he's right, It could be argued It was a change that would impact on us for years... decades!

Alan J Thompson
6 Posted 30/04/2020 at 07:06:37
Bertie Mee, the then Arsenal Manager, said that he used to ring Harry Catterick nearly every Monday morning to ask if Alan Ball was for sale. It usually just ended up as a bit of a natter and he said he was shocked when, one Monday, Harry said Yes.

I'm also trying to remember when one of Ball's kids was born, as I remember him crossing the pitch from the car park not 20 minutes before the start of a game after having been sat with his wife all night – something of which Harry took a very dim view, regardless of the reason.

Alan McGuffog
7 Posted 30/04/2020 at 08:41:26
Could Shakespeare have penned a better tragedy?

1968-69, we played the best football I've watched live (with the possible exception of Hungary v Brazil in 1966). 1969-70 was similar but with more "bite" and ruthlessness.

1970-71... bad feeling at the opening game. The new Goodison Road stand half-built and us losing a lead. Then, the rest of the season! If we hadn't have had bad luck, we wouldn't have had any at all.

1971-72 and onwards. We'd had the sublime... we were well on the way to the ridiculous. Selling Ball, swapping Johnson for Belfitt. Joe Harper, "Tiger" McLoughlin, Henry Newton.

Culminating in 1974-75. Workmanlike team that could have been Champions. Beaten home and away by Carlisle... One of the very few teams in all the divisions that has a 100% record against us.

Lear? Hamlet? The Scottish Play? Nah... give me Everton 1970-75.

Martin Mason
8 Posted 30/04/2020 at 09:46:25
A very good summary of what happened during the Everton tragedy.
Peter Mills
9 Posted 30/04/2020 at 10:18:57
Alasdair, that's a fair and accurate article on how things panned out.

My first full season, as a 10-year-old, was 1965-66. Boyhood then was consumed by footy, playing or watching, and my first few seasons were full of great memories, and obviously some bad ones such as losing to West Brom in the FA Cup Final 1968, and the following year to Tommy Booth's last-minute winner in the semi at Villa Park.

But that day losing to Liverpool at Old Trafford felt ominous, even there and then. As I recall, Brian Labone was injured about 10 minutes before half-time and Joe Royle did drop back to defend to help get us to the break leading 1-0. Brian reappeared for the 2nd half but only lasted a few minutes before he had to be substituted by Sandy Brown. Even as a 15-year-old I remember thinking Joe should remain at centre half and Sandy go up front.

The almost 50 years since, apart from the glorious mid-80s (even, we had the misery of losing a treble, then a double), have been very average. There have been a few great occasions like the 1995 Cup win, and the spontaneous delirium that followed Jagielka's penalty shoot-out winner, but precious little else. As a fan of another team pointed out, “Everton are just there”.

One of our great flaws has been a lack of resilience. When things have gone wrong, we have often not put them right, whereas clubs like Liverpool and Man Utd have often made advantage out of adversity. Some call it luck, but there is more to it than that.

Steve Hogan
10 Posted 30/04/2020 at 10:31:05
Alasdair, great article. Interesting to see a more forensic opinion of how things began to unravel for the team post 1971. As a 16-year-old, I travelled to most of the away games that season, and we were very poor.

Fans expectations were high following the majestic way we had won the league the previous season. Whilst Catterick is rightly lauded as a "thinking man's manager", with great technical expertise, he made some dreadful signings after the championship win, people who were nowhere near the calibre of those players he was trying to replace.

'Tiger' Mclaughlin, a Marty Feldmen lookalike, was also an incredibly small fullback, who I remember scoring a dreadful own goal in the derby at Anfield. Strange how those awful memories stick with me, nearly 50 years on.

Henry Newton, who sported a terrific quif on top of an impressive hairline, had previously been Nottingham Forest's best player by a country mile, suffered a strange debilitating 'blood disorder' shortly after joining us, and was out for months.

At the time, David Johnson's departure to Ipswich was surrounded by stories on Merseyside of some scurrilous rumours of the players conduct off the field (no idea if they were true), but Belfitt, his partner in the swap deal, was a lumbering journeyman at best.

Harper, whilst a prolific scorer at Aberdeen, was never going to cope with the increased skill level required in the 1st Division, added to the fact he was diminutive in size, and a little overweight.

Whilst poor managerial decision's played a large part in the demise, a large portion of bad luck also contributed to the downfall of the squad, including the ill health of the manager, and serious long term injuries to key players.

In conclusion, a sad time for the football club and its fans.

Rick Tarleton
11 Posted 30/04/2020 at 10:31:35
Everton had four players in Mexico for the 1970 World Cup (Ball, Labone, Wright and Keith Newton) and not a lot at that time was understood about the effects of playing at altitude and add in the high temperatures. So there was probably an inevitability that those players, in particular, were going to suffer after-effects.

In addition Harvey was largely unfit, so we had a large proportion of the team not at their best. I use the word 'team' because at that stage the squad rotation system was not really used. You simply played your best eleven in every game.

Whoever won the league had probably had a large slice of luck with injuries, if in the next season that luck did not continue for whatever reason, your team would suffer.

Qatar in 2022 will be interesting to see how players perform after a midseason World Cup in very demanding conditions. Everton were unlucky in 70-71 and Catterick, hoping for a quick fix, disastrously sold Alan Ball. A decision that ranks alongside the selling of Collins, Vernon and Gabriel, all of whom he sold too quickly. Of course, all of the above were "characters" and Mr Catterick wasn't fond of mouthy players.

Dave Abrahams
12 Posted 30/04/2020 at 10:51:25
Couldn't agree more with Peter (9) except to say having read Rob Sawyer's excellent book on Harry Catterick, and with hindsight, I'd say it was Harry's descent into bad health that was one of the main reasons for Everton's collapse into going from the best club and side in the country to being a very mediocre one for years until Howard Kendall gave us a brief respite with four good seasons.

To explain Harry Catterick's decline into bad health, you have to look at the way he operated as a manager. He was a one-man manager, never delegated his duties to anyone, did everything himself, all the transfers, driving all over the country to watch players, and also deal in the transfer dealings. He did much more but, in doing so, drove himself into bad health and this contributed to his not being as good as he was in these matters.

Harry suffered... and so did Everton because he, sadly, wasn't up to the job in his later years at Everton, but it should never be forgotten what he did for the club and the massive debt Everton owe him for the great years we had when he was himself.

Patrick McFarlane
13 Posted 30/04/2020 at 11:01:07
I blame the Beatles for splitting up. Seriously, the world of football changed very dramatically in the early 1970s:

Arsenal, despite signing Bally after they did the double in 1971, failed to challenge for the title for many years.

Manchester United, following their European Cup triumph, faded very quickly and even got relegated.

Leeds United maintained some threat for the first half of the decade, but it was left to the 'smaller' clubs such as Ipswich, Derby and Nottm Forest to challenge the only big club to improve during the 1970s whose name we are all too familiar with.

Most of the bigger clubs won cups but not many of them were equipped to be Champions.

Ken Kneale
14 Posted 30/04/2020 at 11:28:50
Dave – a most sensible post. Catterick's personality at times counted against him, both during and after his reign, but his love of Everton shines through at all times and his football has never been bettered. Who knows if a combative but skilled Archie Gemmill would have turned the tide?

Peter's point is also one to examine - Everton has declined in real terms since 1970 as the fantastic period of the '80s was not a monied era and indeed TV coverage of another great team was denied due to industrial unrest.

Combined with the decline of John Moores, the inability of the boardroom to take action and the advent of post-1992 football, the history of Everton seems to weigh too heavily on those charged with restoration of our club.

It is really a sad analysis if you look at the number of external storms and internal ditherings that leads us to the present day.

Brian Murray
15 Posted 30/04/2020 at 11:44:03
Catterick's fall-out with the media (BBC) denied us access to cherished derby victories on screen... Kendall's derby winner in '67 and Bally's brace in a 3-1 win, to name but two.

By the way, can anyone elaborate on David Johnson's 1-0 win in '71? I was a kid and all I remember is 4 players were booked in a dirty game (which was very unusual, to go in the book). Then my dad, at full-time, going nuts. Hard to even get a report of it online.

Lenny Kingman
16 Posted 30/04/2020 at 12:05:50
# 7 Alan

Yes that Hungary game against Brazil was of an astounding quality. Hungary were possibly the best team at that World Cup. I was also at the Portugal game against North Korea. Some of the play in that game was the stuff of legend. In tandem these two games had the magic of Goodison, its team and fans washing over them.

#10 Steve

Just on the Dave Johnson rumours. From my own experience, he was usually in the Babalou when I was also in attendance. More often than not with his mate red John Toshack. And lots of tempting clubs round there to enjoy a long and endless night as a famous footballer in the city. So maybe the Catt heard about his night crawling (not from me I must add)

Excellent article Alasdair. I have always been of the opinion that that week in March 1971, for many varied reasons as you have put forth, was the seed of disaster for the Blues for the many, many fruitless years that followed.

Ironically, it was Dave Johnson's last-minute equalizer against the Greeks at Goodison which raised spirits that maybe we could get to the final at Wembley and beat Ajax to win the European Cup. Long before a certain team in red went on to dominate the European football scene.

Andrew Clare
17 Posted 30/04/2020 at 12:11:24
A very good article.

I watched that 1970 team developing through the sixties and it was plain to see that something exciting was happening. We were playing great football and getting better year by year.

I watched that great team of Champions home and away in the 69-70 season. The atmosphere at Goodison was electric especially in the Gwladys Street end. Things looked great for the future as the season ended and I couldn't wait for the following campaign.

My pal at the time, Drew, had won 2 season tickets for the Bullens road stand directly opposite the tunnel right at the front top tier. Now all I can remember from that season is the 8-0 against Southampton.

It just wasn't the same being in the Bullens Road stand felt wrong... I don't know why and the team totally underperformed. Maybe it was the World Cup, maybe Catterick has lost his grip, I don't know.

Although we had some very good teams later, it wasn't until later that we got it together again. Unfortunately, by that time, we had been left in the shadows by our neighbours.

Eric Haworth
18 Posted 30/04/2020 at 14:07:14
I'm a bit surprised there are no posts on this thread that attribute our rapid decline at that time to the untimely retirement of “Labby” due to serious injury?

Not only did we lose a great player but also an outstanding captain, who brought not only authority but an assured calmness to the defence and team as a whole.

For me, there was no greater example of this than a moment in the 1966 FA Cup Final when an ever so slightly inebriated Eddie Kavanagh ran on the pitch, being pursued by a slightly over-enthusiastic “bobby” who pulled off a heck of rugby tackle to bring him down right in the middle of the Wembley pitch. Now Eddie wasn't exactly a little guy, so in the ensuing melee, the bobby lost his hat, which Brian Harris and Labby retrieved. As Labby knew Eddie, both he and Brian Harris we're able to help calm the situation and assist the bobby escort Eddie off the pitch, laughing and joking with Eddie and the bobby along the way, with Brian Harris wearing the bobby's hat.

The real point of the story is the fact that we were behind at the time and not playing particularly well. But as this scene played out, a few of us made the same comment, “There's no way we're gonna lose this”. Coz Labby just oozed a calm confidence that transmitted to the fans as well. We went on to win 3-2 and the rest, as they say, is history.

Another major influence his presence had on the defence in particular, was to make some of those around him appear better than they actually were. An example of this was John Hurst, his centre-back partner, who was being talked-up by the pundits of the time as the next Bobby Moore. Alongside Labby, I must admit he did look quite useful. But once Labby was no longer there, he looked woeful.

In some respects, the same can be said of Labby's mate, Gordon West, because all his shortcomings became even more pronounced without Labby there to cover for him, such as flapping at crosses. Tommy Wright's form also took a nosedive without Labby there at his side to cover for him. It really did spread like wildfire.

For me, his retirement caused a shockwave through the whole club, not just on the pitch, but off it as well, as it also brought the promotion of Bally to captain which was another contributory factor in our rapid decline. The discipline and calm assuredness on the pitch and in the dressing room disappeared at a stroke. It was like the glue holding it all together had suddenly dissolved.

What a player, what a man.

Ken Kneale
19 Posted 30/04/2020 at 14:23:05

I am sure Brian's departure was a factor – a true example of leadership by quiet example if ever there was one. He attended one of our supporters' club dinners in the Isle of Man and remained a man of quiet dignity whilst simultaneously being effusive about all things Everton and sadly was taken very prematurely from us. His love for the club was most apparent in both formal speech and informal chats at the bar.

Paul Tran
20 Posted 30/04/2020 at 14:42:05
Fabulous piece, Alasdair. Makes you realise the importance key individuals have on any team, as well as those 'sliding doors' moments that push things for and against you.
Tom Bowers
21 Posted 30/04/2020 at 14:54:51
We veteran fans have seen more downs than ups over the years and it's hard to put the finger on the reasons why but generally it's because of poor acquisitions and far too many to name.

However, like most clubs, the man in charge has been less than adequate and for a club like Everton that is inexcusable given their tradition which has also been evident in recent years too.

After Catterick they had the likes of Bingham, Lee, Smith and Moyes who just didn't cut it along with a number of caretakers in between. Far too many in my book but several other big name clubs suffered the same fate but somehow did well.

l agree Ball was a tremendous player but never a captain and a stalwart like Labone was never replaced with the likes of Kenyon, Lyons and Watson falling well short of the Labby status. John Hurst was a really nice guy who I met but a little slow and was lost when Labby went.

Many dismal memories of the seventies sad to say but that squad of the mid-eighties brought back some prestige and was a delight to watch.

Dave Abrahams
22 Posted 30/04/2020 at 15:02:58
Eric (18),

A very nice tribute to a great captain and footballer, Brian was a true Evertonian, he would never say a word against Everton, never. If he couldn't say anything nice, he wouldn't say anything. A few times I'd argue the toss with him and say, “You know I'm right” which he did. His simple smile would tell me, “I'm saying no more.'

By the way, Eric, Eddie Kavanagh ran on the pitch after the second goal which made it 2-2.

Derek Thomas
23 Posted 30/04/2020 at 15:48:07
Eric @ 18; an interesting opinion.
Alasdair Jones
24 Posted 30/04/2020 at 16:09:49
I am always grateful for readers' comments on my posts as often they are written with a degree of trepidation; will anyone read this or find it interesting?

Dave, your post at 12 reminded me that Catterick apparently had in mind a succession strategy from within the club. An up-coming young coach would be appointed and groomed by him to take over the reigns, as it were. Of course this never came about. Not surprising really as his philosophy on football management was that, "You have to do things yourself. Once you let other people do things for you, you are slipping."

Eric, I note what you say about Labone. He did in fact announce his intention to retire in 1968 but reconsidered and became an important part of Everton's and England's defence. He was still first choice centre-half in 1970-71, which makes Ball's appointment as captain even more curious.

Thanks again to all who have taken the time to post their comments.

Brian Murray
25 Posted 30/04/2020 at 16:39:29
I was named after the great man. His hatred for them was edged with tongue-in-cheek, none more so than his famous quote: "One Blue is worth twenty kopites".

Bit of the Joe Royle dry humour but total class and was sorely missed in that 1971 semi-final when he went off injured with us one-up.

Dave Brierley
26 Posted 30/04/2020 at 17:14:26
A thoroughly good read, Alasdair. Thank you.

You've brought back to life a sad and frustrating period, particularly as some of us had enjoyed the earlier seasons admiring and enjoying, as you describe "one of the most technically accomplished and attractive sides".

It all happened so quickly too. That's how I remember it. In a couple of months from the top to, well, very nearly the bottom.

There was also a rumour circulating at the time that Alan Ball had huge gambling debts which necessitated him selling his own home and moving into a club house, although I'm not sure how true that was.

Just goes to show the margin between success and failure, as Paul so eloquently put it: "sliding doors moments".

Eric Myles
27 Posted 30/04/2020 at 19:25:27
Please give some info on the "considerable off-field mischief by the Greeks".

And a future article on the far reaching consequences of the departure of Alan Ball.

Martin Mason
28 Posted 30/04/2020 at 19:28:54
Alan Ball was one of the greatest players I have ever seen anywhere but he was never the same after coming back from the 1970 World Cup. He never reached the levels at Arsenal that he'd achieved at Everton and, with the benefit of hindsight, it wasn't a disaster for us when we sold him.

At the end of the 1970 season, we stood astride the world of football, potentially one of the best club sides ever; within a season, we were gone. No single event but the loss of some key players, like Labone, and the fall from perfection of others, like Ball, Morrissey and Harvey.

Martin Nicholls
29 Posted 30/04/2020 at 21:05:29
Another great article, Sas – I've alerted the lads on the WhatsApp group to it!
Ken Kneale
30 Posted 30/04/2020 at 22:43:25
Eric, from memory, the on-field mischief of the Greek players and "their" referee's decision-making also needled. That game is what drained us physically and emotionally for the semi-final and likely the pitch played a part in the then ageing Labone suffering an injury breakdown.
John Raftery
31 Posted 30/04/2020 at 23:41:54
Great article which brought back all the agonies of a pivotal period in the club's history.

I think by August 1970, the team and their manager were worn out. Several key players had become increasingly injury-prone and/or burned out. The squad lacked energy and badly needed refreshing with a couple of top-class additions. Unfortunately, Catterick had lost his grip in the transfer market at a point when, compared with the early and mid-sixties, there was a dearth of top-class talent in the English game.

The signings which were made, starting with Henry Newton, were not of the standard we required to stay at the top. Subsequent arrivals were decidedly underwhelming while the sale of Alan Ball ripped the heart and soul out of the whole club.

One factor in the decline of individual players was the brutal nature of the game in the late sixties and early seventies. The teams which prospered invariably employed hatchet-men. Those of us who were around at the time all recall which teams and which players they were. Our team's league title triumph was the skilful exception to the rule of thuggery but the constant kicking and tackles from behind on the likes of Royle, Husband and Whittle ultimately took its toll.

Peter Mills
32 Posted 01/05/2020 at 07:19:43
John #31 – not to mention a Romanian named Mocanu who crocked both Tommy Wright and Keith Newton in the World Cup group stage match.
Steve Hogan
33 Posted 01/05/2020 at 10:38:16
Tom (21),

I think you're being a bit harsh on the skill set of Mike Lyons. He was a tremendous player for Everton, often under-rated because he generally played in average or poor Everton teams at that time. He would walk into the current side though.

Dave Abrahams
34 Posted 01/05/2020 at 10:49:10
Steve (33), I go along with that. Mick was a much better-than-average footballer who gave his all for Everton, along with Dave Watson who was similar to Mick and, like him, a great captain as well. Another who would walk into today's team.
Ken Kneale
35 Posted 01/05/2020 at 12:25:02
Peter – I had forgotten his name but remember his character. Wikipedia has a succinct entry about him; he passed away in 2009 and gained 33 caps for the Romanian national team, and represented his country at the 1970 FIFA World Cup, where "he attracted attention for the uncompromising vigour of his tackles".

Certainly Wright was never the same and Newton was in and out of the team having signed as a cultured defender who could use the ball well.

John @31 – worn out is a major possibility – the whole system of football and the tackles allowed made this Everton team a footballing beacon at the time. I suspect, in today's climate, all of the side would have added a few years onto their playing time.

Steve Carse
36 Posted 01/05/2020 at 13:03:18
I totally agree with Martin (28). It did not show immediately, but Ball was out on his legs by Christmas of 1970 and, by the end of the 1970-71 season, he was receiving stick from the crowd. The continuation of his (relatively) poor performances the following season puts Catterick's decision to sell into context.

Ball argued after his move to Arsenal that his game had changed and that he was now a more complete player. He used the phrase that he was now 'run-in', an analogy relating to how in those days a new car had to be treated carefully initially before being driven to perform at its optimum.

The truth is that the role he had to perform in Mexico, as the ball chaser, had burned him out, and at Arsenal, the box-to-box scoring midfielder became a fairly bog-standard, safe playing, withdrawn midfielder.

Alasdair Jones
38 Posted 01/05/2020 at 16:44:08
Eric at 27. My understanding of the off-field mischief was that the team hotel was the subject of car horns being sounded all night and the banging of doors along the hotel corridors. Greece was under the control of a military junta at the time.

On arrival at the stadium, the team were jostled as they left the coach by armed militia. The accompanying press corps were similarly treated and nearly did not get in to report on the game.

My comment that the decision to sell Alan Ball had far-reaching consequences was based on the fact that Catterick had no stellar replacement lined up. Nor does it appear from what I read that Catterick took the time out to sit down with Ball and discuss the impact of his captaincy on his form or the niggling injury problem post-Mexico.

I agree with others regarding the long-term injuries to all four of the Blues players and the impact that inevitably had on the team's form. Nor can we overlook Catterick's continuing health problems allied to the break up of his marriage at the time of his decision to sell Alan Ball. All these factors contributed to leaving the team struggling to recover the form displayed in the 1969-70 season.

Martin Mason
39 Posted 01/05/2020 at 19:30:33
When I look back now to that time, it was a golden era in so many ways, in that the age of reverence was over, opportunity was unlimited, and the football clubs, players and fans had a close and symbiotic relationship.

Now, the commercial world is governed by greed and the clubs and especially players couldn't be further removed from the fans. I've had enough of the greed that is personified by agents, players and Sky. I hope that this virus focuses us back on what really matters, to the detriment of obscenely overpaid footballers and celebs in general.

All of the changes in football since those days have been driven by greed at the expense of fans, not to their benefit. I'd gladly go back in football terms even if it saw the Sky 4 go their own way into further greed-driven ventures.

I'd sooner see our club developed players play than overpaid, underperforming like the rubbish that we typically waste our money on – even if the outcome was no Champions League.

Roy Johnstone
40 Posted 02/05/2020 at 09:46:49
I remember meeting Brian Labone in 1981. My old man got us tickets for the 1981 FA Cup 3rd Round game against Liverpool in the main stand. Somehow, we got access to the 500 Club before the game, and Brian was sat with a few mates having a drink before kick-off.

I trundled over and said "Can I have your autograph please, Mr Labone?" He chatted to me for 5 minutes, came over and had a word with my old man and signed my programme, which was a special with the FA Cup picture on the front.

He was a total gent. And then we beat them courtesy of Imre Varadi. Going in the loft to try and dig it out later. Special day.

Dave Williams
41 Posted 02/05/2020 at 12:01:35
It is pretty clear from the posts on this thread that there were a variety of things which happened at the same time which caused our decline.

The World Cup certainly left our players jaded and we did not have the depth in our squad to rest them.

Ball as skipper was a disaster and Catterick should have taken the bull by the horns and relieved him of the position but the damage to team morale was likely done by that time anyway.

Injuries took their toll: Harvey and Morrissey never returned to their earlier heights and, as others have said, the loss of Labone and decline of West (the most influential members of the dressing room) affected the defence and morale as Ball became a more dominant personality in the dressing room which didn't go down too well.

Replacements were substandard. Gemmill would have been ideal but Henry Newton was no more than a solid wing-half whilst the eventual replacement for Ball was Mick Bernard, a decent enough player but not fit to clean Alan's boots.

I remember the plan was to play Bernard deep and move Kendall further forward into the Ball role but, with Colin's decline, we had lost two of the Trinity and, whilst Kendall single-handedly saved us from relegation with a series of quite magnificent displays on his own in midfield, the engine room had gone.

Royle suffered a terrible back injury from which he never truly recovered, Husband declined, Whittle was inconsistent and Johnson was sold presumably because of something off the pitch as he was a good young forward as he proved at Ipswich and Liverpool.

The replacements for West turned out to be Lawson (on the strength of one stellar performance for Huddersfield at Liverpool) and Dai Davies, who was the most inept keeper I have seen at Everton in nearly 60 years.

All told, a catalogue of injuries, decline of key players, decline in team spirit, poor replacements... but most of these reasons can be attributed to poor management – failure to act when Balls captaincy was clearly having a bad impact, failure to bring in the right replacements, and failure to strengthen the squad when the team was doing so well.

We only had Jackson, Brown, Whittle and Kenyon as squad players and, of those, the first two were not regular first-team standard, Whittle was inconsistent and Kenyon turned out to be injury-prone albeit, when fit, one of the best centre-backs we have had.

I am not altogether blaming Harry – he was clearly not in the best of health and as someone else has posted, he took on all aspects of the job which cost him dearly.

The side he built is still the best side I have seen; no other midfield would have got anywhere near our boys when on form. Rather than criticise him for the decline, I prefer to praise him for the fantastic displays I saw at a time when most clubs were trying to kick their way to success.

Michael Low
42 Posted 06/05/2020 at 04:08:52
Thanks for this Alasdair. I left Merseyside in 1969 - to my dismay - just before the championship win. I had met many of the team players the season before while autograph hunting. In those days players used to often be seen walking to the ground.

Without internet and very little coverage of English football all I could do was scour newspapers to try and find out what was happening with our glorious team. I remember being ecstatic when I found out we won the league. However, the following season always remained a mystery to me and I never knew what happened, why we fell from grace until now. So I thank you Sir for filling in that part of our history for which I was unaware. Cheers.

Mark Murphy
43 Posted 11/05/2020 at 10:18:01
Just to add another anecdote of a personal experience of Brian Labone. I attended a few dinners in Nothampton to raise funds for the ex players. I'm attendance were Gordon West, Brian, Andy King and Jimmy Husband (who admitted he was still a Magpie and who got upset when I called him a left-winger: “I'm a streikah, not a fuckin winger!”)

I was talking to Brian Labone at the bar and was star-struck, calling him Mr Labone – he insisted on me calling him Brian. Anyhow, he asked me if I had family and I told him I had my eldest son Tomas who was a Blue. That was a short conversation but the next year I went to the same do and Brian saw me and came over to me. “Hiya Murph, hows Tomas getting on? Still a Blue?” he asked.

I have close friends and even family who forget my son's name, let alone a big star pro footballer who must meet millions of fans pulling at his sleeve but Mr Labone remembered me and my son.

Quite probably the nicest, most genuine bloke I ever met – I cried when he died.

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