On this week... 25 years ago

Looking back at similarly unsettling times as today as Joe Royle struggled to reproduce the promise of his first few months in charge at Goodison Park

David Hardman 06/08/2022 30comments  |  Jump to last

It’s been difficult to choose a significant match from this week down the years simply because of the early start to this season. However, 1997-98 began on 9 August and the downbeat manner which has surrounded the club this summer is reminiscent of 1997.


To remind readers, after 2 promising years under Joe Royle, the team plummeted down the table in the second half of the 1996-97 season, winning only 3 of 21 league matches after 16 December, and, having already been knocked out of the league cup at the first opportunity by York City, they crashed out of the FA Cup with a disastrous home loss to seconnd-tier strugglers Bradford City.

Royle left the club in March, by which time, the previous year’s star player, Andrei Kanchelskis, had also gone, along with several members of the FA Cup-winning team. The captain of that side, Dave Watson, took temporary charge for the remainder of the season and managed to grind out enough points to keep the club afloat, only securing mathematical safety when Middlesbrough could only draw at Blackburn on the Thursday night before the season ended.

Ironically, that fixture should have been played in December; had it not been for the controversial decision to deduct 3 points from Middlesbrough for failing to fulfil the fixture originally, then Everton’s fight for survival would have gone to the final day of the season, like it had in 1994. It was hoped that Everton would have secured the services of a new manager by this time.

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They hadn’t, and the search continued long into the summer, as a much-promised big-name manager failed to materialise. With the right spin, bringing Howard Kendall back to the club could have been sold as a heroic return; that – under different ownership – this wouldn’t be like his second spell and that he could restore the club to the glory he’d previously overseen. Instead, it ended up looking like a desperate move from a club that couldn’t convince anyone else to take over, and, unfortunately, that’s what it was.

Fans were also promised several world-class signings – instead, promising youngsters from lower divisions or the fringes of other Premier League clubs (Oster, Thomas, Farrelly) were drafted to add some much-needed squad depth, while the only established players to join were both from fellow 96-97 strugglers West Ham – Slaven Bilic and Danny Williamson, the latter transfer seeing yet another key part of the FA Cup-winning side, David Unsworth, leaving in exchange.

With all due respect, none of these arrivals could be considered world class. It was against this backdrop that Everton began the season at home to Crystal Palace. The game, on a sweltering day, it looked like a picture book start as new signing Slaven Bilic appeared to head Everton in front just minutes in to his home debut. This effort was disallowed, correctly so, with replays showing that Graham Stuart, in an offside position, got the final touch.

The team didn’t recover from this setback. Some sloppy and clumsy defending saw Palace’s new signing, Attilio Lombardo, spring the offside trap with ease and neatly finish past the helplessly exposed Southall, before Stuart, usually so reliable, also did a disservice at the other end of the pitch, giving away a penalty that Dyer converted to make it 2-0 to the visitors. A typically powerful header from Duncan Ferguson saw Everton make a fight of it but the final scoreline was 1-2.

Coincidentally, Howard Kendall’s last competitive match before this one had also been against Crystal Palace, while managing Sheffield United in the playoff final, where they also lost by a single goal. For those predicting a season of struggle, losing at home to the lowest-placed newly promoted team appeared to confirm their worst fears.

And supporters would have to sit and stew on this one for a while – due to the mid-week trip to Chelsea being re-scheduled for late November (I’ve still no idea why!), and an international break, it would be 2 weeks before Everton’s next game.

Everton – Southall, Thomas (Branch), Phelan, Watson, Bilic, Thomsen (Barmby), Oster (Short), Farrelly, Speed, Stuart, Ferguson. Unused subs – Gerrard & Barrett

Crystal Palace – Miller, Edworthy, Gordon, Dyer (Shipperley), Roberts, Tuttle, Linighan, Muscat, Lombardo (Veart), Rodger, Warhurst (Fullerton). Unused subs – Nash, Hreidarsson


Everton did win that next game against West Ham, and, although it was little consolation, Crystal Palace proved to be one of the best away sides in the Premier League that year, beating far better teams on their travels than Everton – unfortunately for them, their form at Selhurst Park couldn’t match it and they finished bottom of the table, winning only 2 home matches, both of them coming when they were already down.

For Everton, it went on to be a crazy season of fits and starts. In successive home games in early autumn, they drew with eventual double winners Arsenal having been 2 goals down, then beat 3rd placed Liverpool. Shortly after this, they lost 6 matches in a row and entered December bottom of the table, but by late January they’d climbed to 13th.

Sadly for the blues, January also saw Hinchcliffe and Speed sold for big money. O’Kane, Hutchison, and Spencer came in for a fraction of these sales, and Everton’s league form deteriorated again, culminating in the team needing to gain a better result than Bolton on the final day of the season to stay up.

Everton’s most recent home match against Crystal Palace thankfully saw a different outcome to the result Everton endured at the start of the 1997-98 season, and also marks the closest Everton had been to relegation since that fateful day at the end of the 1997-98 season.

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Danny O’Neill
1 Posted 07/08/2022 at 06:08:23
Thanks for reminding me of my / our League Cup nemesis David!

This year right?

Personally, no matter how bad it got last season, that was a dark period in my opinion. The straw that broke Joe Royle's back was lack of support in wanting to sign Flo who went onto Chelsea.

Owners and Chairman interfering in football decisions and transfers. Familiar ring.


Lee Courtliff
2 Posted 07/08/2022 at 06:47:28
I was at the game. The difference in atmosphere and expectation between the opening days of '96 and '97 was unbelievably stark.

A year earlier, I sat there with my Dad watching Duncan upstage Alan Shearer as we ran out comfortable 2-0 winners. I left the game convinced we would be challenging for everything that season and beyond!

In '97, we knew we were shite. In fairness to Howard Kendall, after the horrific run in November we only lost 6 more League games. Averaging 1 defeat per month for the remainder of the season, we just had far too many draws.

I never saw the '80s glory days, so I've never been a massive fan of Kendall, I thought he was a poor outdated choice. But with the lack of the funds and the players he had to sell he actually did a decent job of keeping us up.

Along with Duncan, who had his best season for us in 97-98 – 11 goals and 7 or 8 assists in 28 League games was some return for a striker in a struggling side.

Danny O’Neill
3 Posted 07/08/2022 at 11:38:34
You'd have loved the '80s and Kendall Mk 1 once he found his formula, Lee

Going to the match not just expecting to win, but mostly knowing we were going to win was an experience to behold. Unfortunately for me, it's the benchmark. Just as my dad preached to me about the '60s teams, I judge Everton on challenging for titles and competing with the best.

Never let that go. It's drummed into my son who was 5 months old when we last won a trophy.

Paul Hughes
4 Posted 08/08/2022 at 08:09:32
I missed this game, as I was in the air flying to Heathrow, after an unscheduled overnight stay in New York – due to Delta Airlines' inability, the previous day, to find a plane that worked.

Good one to miss, as it turned out. Can't believe that it is 25 years ago.

Dave Abrahams
5 Posted 08/08/2022 at 09:21:37
How Howard Kendall was selected to be Everton’s manager for the third time was unbelievable, the people who brought Howard back knew of his illness but still appointed him.

It was doomed to be a failure from the off and we were very lucky we didn’t get relegated that very dismal season and very depressing with Gary Speed being transferred to Newcastle and Gary’s going never properly explained and Gary never said a word about it although he was the innocent party but made to look like he had engineered the transfer.

Jim Lloyd
6 Posted 08/08/2022 at 09:34:53
Yes, Dave. Gary Speed, Evertonian, Captain and booed on his return visits, when it was not him who wanted to leave. Another chapter in this club's Hall of Shame!
John Raftery
7 Posted 08/08/2022 at 20:10:44
Dave (5),

I think it was a ploy by Peter Johnson to keep the fans off his back. He had promised to appoint a ‘world class manager’ and failed to deliver. Bringing Howard back was a soft option.

The situation was made worse by the lack of support in the transfer market and the fact one of our greatest ever players, Neville Southall, was approaching the end of his career. After that season, things could only get better which, to a very limited extent, they did.

Danny O’Neill
8 Posted 08/08/2022 at 20:15:07
It was sad to see Howard put in that position. He was never going to turn it down. It was a poor strategic decision playing on the emotional heartstrings of Kendall and the fans.

I personally thought it was wrong to bring him back the 2nd time.

Will Mabon
9 Posted 08/08/2022 at 20:24:21
Somehow, every time I read of the Everton of the '90s, it seems dark as all hell. FA Cup aside.

It was a testing time for sure but it comes across worse in print than it felt at the games.

Brendan McLaughlin
10 Posted 08/08/2022 at 20:40:32
Danny #8,

I was delighted when Howard returned for his second spell. Okay... things hadn't worked out for him in Spain but I thought we were making progress under Howard until he walked out over the Board's failure to back him over Dion Dublin. Often wonder how things would have panned out if we had backed Howard and bought Dublin.

I actually was pleased to see him back for a third time because I thought we were on the verge of something during his second spell.

Obviously I got that very badly wrong but, in my defence, I was only seven at the time.😉

Dave Abrahams
11 Posted 08/08/2022 at 21:01:57
Brendan (10),

Howard came back from Man City; it’s true things never turned out for him in Spain, in fact things never turned out for him anywhere else after he walked out on Everton the first time after he managed us to the First Division title for the second time.

He gave us four great seasons on the run and gave us our pride back and I’ll always be grateful for that. Also, Howard Kendall the player – I could go about him forever, absolutely brilliant for us.

Agree with John (7), Peter Johnson kept most fans off his back by appointing Howard for the third time but it could have turned out badly for the club and the fans. Actually it didn’t do Howard any harm, he was paid up on a 3-year contract after a very poor year in charge.

Brendan McLaughlin
12 Posted 08/08/2022 at 21:19:31
Dave #11

I seem to remember (perhaps incorrectly) that Howard had us in or around 7th position and wanted to bring in Dion Dublin but the Board refused to back him. Not saying Dublin would have made us title contenders but he did have a pretty good goal-scoring career.

ps: Anyone else having to press the Submit button several times to send a comment?

Dave Abrahams
13 Posted 10/08/2022 at 09:05:58
Brendan (12),

I’m not sure where we were in the league when Howard walked out, for the second time, but I’m sure we won 1-0 that day. He did say that it was because the board had refused to let him buy Dublin and that might be true. If you read Howard’s book about his career, he makes a lot of excuses about his failures at managing clubs and there were quite a few.

He wasn’t doing very well the first time he managed the club. A big turn-around came the day after the brochures were given out at the Coventry City League Cup game demanding that Howard be sacked.

Kendall appointed Colin Harvey as the first team coach, Colin was a big help to Howard and that was the start of the club getting it’s act together, a great combination.

Brendan McLaughlin
14 Posted 10/08/2022 at 23:26:32
Dave #13,

You're the only Everton supporter I've ever come across who seems reluctant to put Howard (as manager) on a pedestal. Or am I reading your post incorrectly? Genuinely curious?

Jay Harris
15 Posted 11/08/2022 at 00:09:15
A strange reminder how the club don't learn its lessons. Failing to back Howard over Dion Dublin, big Joe over Flo, not replacing Lukaku, and not getting anyone in since.

The club really do tie a manager's hands behind his back.

16 Posted 10/08/2022 at 00:25:52
Brendan @ 14; Kendall was brilliant as a player, even as a brief 38(?)-year-old player/manager, he was the best player on the pitch.

Aided and abetted by Harvey, some luck and astute buys (we'll quickly gloss over a few of his Magnificent 7) he hit a purple patch... and I loved it.

Some will query the 'Luck' bit, but anybody who gets a full season out of previous supposed sick notes Sheedy, Reid and Grey has a little bit of luck going for them.

But hey, we deserved it and rode it for all it was worth.

Howard was a total Legend... and, in a different way, was Catterick's equal.

But as we have seen over the last 5 or 6 years, there was no 'repeatable magic formula' and versions Mk II & III were set up to fail due to the decline in the Board's performance.

Puts tin hat on.

Jay Harris
17 Posted 11/08/2022 at 04:30:42
I think Howard's difficulties as time went on was due to his illness which must have been common knowledge in the club's hierarchy so why they kept on bringing him back was a mystery.
Steve Mandaluff
18 Posted 11/08/2022 at 12:49:53
Despite the paucity of quality during that season, it holds very fond memories for me.

A couple of months prior to the start of the 1997-98 season, I turned 18, and in September, I left the confines of Kent to head up to Sheffield to start University.

As an only child who went to an all-boys grammar school, suddenly living by myself with a group of other 18-year-olds in halls of residence was a fantastic experience.

I guess things were very different then compared to now. Very few mobile phones, I had never used the internet until I went to University (I remember distinctly the first time I used it probably in the September of 1997) and I was in the last batch of Uni students to get a free grant from the Government each term. No tuition fees, no loans.

I'd never even set foot in Sheffield until the day I started Uni but I love the city now.

I vividly remember the Liverpool game that year and Cadamarteri breaking onto the scene.

I remember watching the penultimate game of the season too when Arsenal trounced us to win the league.

I can't remember where I was for the first game of the season against Palace, but I do remember watching the last game of the season in Champs on Eccleshall Road in Sheffield and the feeling of relief when the game finished.

I am pretty sure I changed immensely as a person between that first game of the season and the last.

Terrible team, awful season, but very happy memories. Can't believe it was 25 years ago.

Leighton Cooper
19 Posted 11/08/2022 at 13:56:07
I was 20 that season. I vividly recall watching that Arsenal 4-0 game, Tony Adams putting a nail in our coffin, and thinking "That's it, we are down" knowing it was now out of our hands.

Bolton had to play Chelsea who were playing in a Cup Winners Cup Final a few days later and I was sure they either wouldn't turn up or field youngsters.

Turned out a youngster Jody Morris sealed Bolton's fate. I'm friends with a Chelsea season ticket holder who was there that day and he said they were booing their own team winning as they wanted to see us go down.

Dale Self
20 Posted 11/08/2022 at 19:42:09
Good stuff gentlemen (loosely). Thanks David for starting that discussion.
Kieran Kinsella
21 Posted 11/08/2022 at 19:52:40
Dave Abrahams,

The funny thing was about Kendall's issues was that it had be made public when he was sacked at Notts County. But subsequently, he did a really good job at Sheff Utd with no real money to spend and almost got them into the Premier League. So at the time he returned he was on the up as it were.

With regard to his second spell, it was like Carlo's season. We won the first three games and were top of the league before I think we lost the next three and started sliding down, but it was Jimmy Gabriel's lengthy caretaker spell where we really went into free fall to find ourselves in relegation trouble when Walker came along.

Your statement on him having no success post-Everton the first time is accurate but I think he was on the way to success at Man City. He built a good team there which Peter Reid inherited and even he kept them as a Top 6 team for a while.

Dave Abrahams
22 Posted 11/08/2022 at 20:12:05
Brendan (14), see my posts (11) and (13),

I’m writing those as I saw it, giving him praise for those four great years that let us hold our heads up high and see how much those Red fans squirmed and hated us being in that position. Then Howard walked away from the club and the squad as did a few players, they might have stayed if Howard did as well,

The other side of those four great years were not very good at all with the attendances falling away to below 20,000 and many fans who left and never came back.

On to his career after he left Everton as a manager, not much to see, I’m afraid, apart from getting Sheffield Utd into a losing play-off final for promotion from the Second Division and of course those mitigating circumstances that stopped him from being the man he was.

As a player, I would put him on a very big pedestal, I just loved him. I would have to put him in my all-time Everton XI.

When he first came to Everton, I saw him in Tom McArdles, a club in Temple Court off Dale Street. He came in with Alan Ball, they’d been to The Liverpool Stadium watching the boxing.

While Ballie held court with Blues and Reds arguing the toss and giving and accepting the banter with everyone, Howard nursed about three half-glasses of lager the whole couple of hours he was there like an altar boy.

I wish he would have stayed that way… he might have extended those four great years into many more successful campaigns.

Ken Kneale
23 Posted 11/08/2022 at 20:24:03
Dave Abrahams, correct to a degree – very on Howard's third spell.

His second spell is a conundrum. I do not hold him responsible for the decline– the club was stasis personified. Banned from Europe at the start of our peak, exacerbated by the iron grip of Mr John Moores on decisions and the selling of his shares not to occur until his death, yet he was incapacitated through age and illness and having no leadership at the board level we became hostages to fortune with Peter Johnson and subsequently misfortune with Kenwright.

We have never recovered from the events and it looks like a long road ahead now.

Dave Abrahams
24 Posted 11/08/2022 at 20:31:44
Kieran (21),

Howard took over the second time at Everton after Colin Harvey was sacked, not long before Christmas. Good enough, he appointed Colin as his assistant.

I think he was at Man City for less than a year, quoting something like “City is a friendship Everton is a marriage” when he rejoined the club – make of that what you will!!

Yes, you are correct: Jimmy Gabriel had a long losing spell as caretaker manager, taking over the same players Howard had left after being there for about 3 years… and then along came Walker from Norwich who couldn’t do anything with these players and we nearly went down.

Dave Abrahams
25 Posted 11/08/2022 at 20:49:33
Ken (23),

Yes of course there wasn’t much leadership at the club after John Moores's decline in health.

Phillip Carter could have done more to argue with the government over our ban from Europe, but he just went along with it and received a knighthood and a stand named after him later on. I don’t think he was a man with a load of football knowledge, being brought from Littlewoods, if I’m not mistaken, by Sir John.

Again though I think Howard’s illness had a big bearing on how he shaped as a manager later on for Everton, but more importantly, for Howard himself, unfortunately.

Ken Kneale
26 Posted 11/08/2022 at 21:13:34
Sadly, you are right there, Dave – Howard's illness was bad for him and bad for the club.

I admire him greatly but, if I had to choose, the top manager and my number one in my lifetime is still Harry Catterick – although again illness clouded his authority and judgment in the latter years as with Howard.

Harry gave me great memories and cemented my love of Everton nonetheless . I know you have more memories than I on this era from your posts over the years.

Michael Kenrick
27 Posted 11/08/2022 at 21:27:02
Dave @25,

Re Phillip Carter: "I don’t think he was a man with a load of football knowledge."

I think you're right – he did come from Littlewoods (as did Sir John Moores) – but that's quite the slap-down for a bloke who would go on to be President of the Football League from 1986 to 1988 and an instrumental figure in the formation of the Premier League in 1992.

I know, we blame him for everything. He was a Tory after all.

Dave Abrahams
28 Posted 11/08/2022 at 21:37:20
Michael (27),

Well, Sir Phillip was Chairman of Everton during our great 4-year spell and he did keep Howard here after the leaflet out drama so Everton were in the limelight during that period but that doesn’t make him a football master.

Even Tories can have good football knowledge, Michael, didn’t you like Boris and him getting Brexit done?

Michael Kenrick
29 Posted 11/08/2022 at 22:05:28

Some impeccable logic there that I can't dispute.

It's like that classic TW put-down: "If you think x-y-z, then clearly you have no knowledge of football." What an incredible insult on a football forum! I think people use this when they really want to call others out as closet Kopites but know that'll draw a red card.

I miss Boris. At least he got a mention on the news today. But he didn't get any result in terms of cutting the ridiculous UK fuel prices – the highest in the (free?) world, apparently.

Dave Abrahams
30 Posted 11/08/2022 at 22:21:10
Michael (29),

“I miss Boris”!!

Well that's got me fucked, Michael. I haven't got any answer to that!!

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