This Week – 23 years ago

David Hardman 23/10/2022 5comments  |  Jump to last

It’s funny, I can hardly remember anything from the past 10 years, relating to either Everton or football in general. And yet, the corresponding weekend in 1999, I can still recall it like it had just happened. I am going to reel off all of this without looking anything up, so I hope there’s no inaccuracies this time.


It had already been a wet and wild weekend. On the Saturday, Tottenham beat treble holders Manchester United, with Simon Davies scoring the pick of the goals with a fantastic long range effort. Sadly, he didn’t produce anything like that in a blue shirt.

Titi Camara scored with another fine strike to earn Liverpool a point at The Dell, but the big story of the day was Arsenal coming from 0-2 down to win at Stamford Bridge. All 3 of the Gunner’s goals came from the mercurial Nwanko Kanu, who completed his hat-trick in the last minute by impossibly chipping the ball in from virtually on the goal-line.

All this was played against a backdrop of torrential rain. And the downpour continued on the Sunday when David O’Leary’s exciting young Leeds United side came to Goodison Park. And what a contest it proved to be.

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The Game

Kevin Campbell had been a revelation since arriving on loan the previous spring, and he opened the scoring with a brilliant curled effort from just inside the area. Leeds equalised – I seem to remember this being a tap-in by Michael Bridges but I could be mistaken. No mistaking Kevin Campbell again putting Everton in front, this time cooly lifting the ball over the low dive of Nigel Martyn – a more than competent keeper (as we know) having no chance with Campbell’s 2  exquistite finishes.

Harry Kewell equalised for Leeds with an effort from way over on the touchline, and only he knows if it was deliberate or if it was simply a mis-cued cross. If he meant it, then wow. Either way, Paul Gerrard was done and Leeds were level again.

Not for long. Don Hutchison, playing in a more advanced role as Francis Jeffers was serving a suspension (see my article from 4 weeks ago!), scuffed a shot in the area which deflected in. A couple of weeks earlier, England had been drawn to play Scotland in the Euro 2000 playoffs the following month. There was consequently more scrutiny on Everton in these weeks, with the Scottish internationals in their ranks. Much was made of John Collins beating David Seaman with a long range free kick the previous weekend (don’t get too excited, Arsenal still won 4-1!), and now Hutchison scored against England’s deputy Nigel Martyn. 3-2 it remained at half-time.

In the second half, Michael Bridges definitely got Leeds’ equaliser. From the edge of the box, in one movement he flicked up a low pass and then volleyed it into the roof of the net. He’d scored a near identical goal at Southampton earlier in the season, so this was no fluke. Bridges is on the long list of players who always seemed to score against Everton, but to be fair, this season he was scoring against practically everyone.

A high scoring draw was a fair result, given the way both teams played and attacked, but then Leeds took the lead for the first time, heading in from a corner (Woodgate I think), and it looked like that’s how it would finish. Then, deep into stoppage time, David Unsworth took a free kick from out wide. Rhino wasn’t exactly known for his crossing but this one was good, David Weir (another Scottish international) met the ball solidly and in it went, replays showing that Weir actually mistimed his leap slightly and the ball hit him in the face. He’d missed an easier chance to give Everton a late winner against Coventry earlier in the month, but we’ll take this. A kick in the teeth for Leeds, but, as stated earlier, a fair result.


I’m aware that this is the 2nd time I’ve written about the 1999/2000 season in the space of a month. I do have to wonder why I look back so affectionately on such a nondescript season. Well, putting aside my age and stage of life at the time, and being completely objective, I can think of a few valid reasons:

  1. After the snoozefest that was most of the 98/99 season, the early months of 99/00 were a rollercoaster by comparison. The highs so far including Jaap Stam’s last minute own goal, winning 4-1 and 4-0 in successive home games, and the win at Anfield. The lows being the sickening defeat at White Hart Lane (the 3rd one of the decade!), being on the wrong end of  heavy scorelines at Villa Park and Highbury, getting knocked out of the League Cup by a bankrupt and injury ravaged Oxford side, and of course, Esteban Fuertes, the most ‘typical Everton’ moment of the season to date. In fact, it might be the most typical Everton moment ever. From the same stage a year earlier, only a ridiculous number of 0-0 draws stand out.
  2. No trophies, no finals and the 13th place league finish don’t tell the full story. Everton were 6th in the table going into March and still in the top half going into the last game. I’m aware that, for a club of Everton’s size, finishing 10th isn’t good enough, and finishing 6th should be a stepping stone to bigger things. In the context of the club’s situation at the time though, after 3 consecutive relegation scraps, and after only finishing in the top half once in the previous 9 years, this represented significant positive progress.
  3. There was a belief that further progress could be made. Aston Villa, with minimal or even negative net spend, had challenged for the title for much of 98-99 before falling away to 6th. Previously struggling West Ham had finished 5th and were near the top of the table at this point, as were Peter Reid’s newly promoted Sunderland. By contrast, in 97-98 Newcastle went from title challengers to lower mid-table in the space of a year and were propping up the table in September 1999 until Bobby Robson took over. Big spending Chelsea (even in the pre-Abramovic days), who’d been up there the last couple of years, were way off the pace at this point. Most significantly of all, Blackburn, one of the richest clubs in the land at the time and champions just 4 years earlier, were relegated in 1999. All examples to show that football didn’t feel like the closed shop that it’s now become (Leicester aside). While money was needed, there was still a feeling that shrewd signings, and the starting eleven clicking, staying injury free, believing in themselves and being well coached, was enough for success, and that, along with a host of other clubs, Everton could just as easily be next.

With hindsight, it was the beginning of the end. Just like Villa the year before, Sunderland and West Ham would fall away to nothing more than top half respectability, while Manchester United and Arsenal would once again make up the top two. The Champions League had expanded so that the Premier League would now get three, soon to be four, entrants, and the fashionable clubs were enjoying the proceeds of media deals to help them compete for these places (in which TV companies would buy a stake in the club – tw contributors far more clued in to football’s finances than me can explain exactly how this worked, all I remember is Bill Kenwright’s phantom NTL deal in his first year as chairman – a sign of things to come). So football was well on its way to becoming a closed shop, I just didn’t realise it at the time.

Little did I also know that this would be one of the last seasons in which almost all matches would be played on Saturday at 3pm. With the odd exception, Sky would only show 2 live PL games (Sunday at 4 and Monday night). Even the match I’ve just covered was only moved to Sunday because of Leeds’ participation in the UEFA Cup, and, as far as I remember, it still kicked off at 3pm.

Sometimes when Manchester United were playing either Arsenal, Liverpool, or Leeds, it would be televised on Saturday lunchtime (under the guise of police advice or crowd safety concerns etc), and because there were only a handful of Saturday lunchtime matches each season, it felt like a special occasion. A live Premier League game on a Saturday at 5:15 was unheard of, as was crowbaring in a second game earlier on Sunday afternoon. And yet, from 2001 that’s what started to happen as pay-per-view matches became a thing (Prem Plus, I believe it was called), and then from 2004, Saturday lunchtime, teatime and Sunday lunchtime games happened every weekend.  

I think the reason I remember those games from 23rd October 1999 so well is because they all took place at the same time – nowadays, all 3 of the matches I mentioned would have been moved around for live TV coverage.

Back to Everton (finally!), and the opponents that day, Leeds, seemed to be the blueprint for the progress the blues could make. When George Graham took over in 1996, the team proceeded to grind out enough 0-0 draws and 1-0 wins to stay out of trouble – Smith’s Everton took a similar path in 1998.

The following season, the defence remained solid but Graham bolstered their attack – they still came unstuck away from home sometimes (including at Goodison, in that vital 2-0 win over them during the Easter weekend of 1998), but on the whole the improvement was undeniable and they finished 5th in the league. With more firepower in 1999, Everton now looked to be heading this way. In other words, Everton seemed to be 2 years behind Leeds.

Early on in the 1998-99 campaign, Graham amazingly joined Tottenham, but when David O’Leary took over, the team got even better, as a talented crop of youngsters made their mark. Leeds finished 98/99 in 4th, and in this early part of 1999-2000, they were looking like serious title contenders.

Everton had some talented youngsters of their own - they won the Youth Cup in 1998 - I've got a feeling Leeds won it in 1996 - if so, it's further validation of my notion of being 2 years behind them! Anyway, the likes of Ball, Dunne, Jeffers and Cadamateri had already shown what they could do, so there was the prospect that a couple of years down the line, these youngsters would develop further, and, backed up by more astute signings (provided the club could get the ownership issue sorted), could challenge for the top honours just as Leeds were doing now. 

It was a nice idea. Oh, I was so young and naive and idealistic back then.


Leeds managed to pip Liverpool to the 3rd Champions League spot that season, and, 18 months after this game, they competed in the semi-finals of Europe’s top competition. 2 years later, their Premier League status was only secured on the penultimate weekend of the season. Another year and they succumbed to relegation. They only returned to the top flight in 2020.

As for Everton, progress under Walter Smith stalled in 2000. Actually, forget stalled. The team regressed big time. They didn't finish in the top 6 as Leeds had done two years earlier, and within a year of this game, the cracks were already beginning to show, and, after a lower points return and league placing in 2001, Smith was dismissed in March 2002 with the team once again in the wrong half of the table and on an alarmingly bad run.

In October 1999, though, the future looked so bright for Walter Smith’s Everton and for Leeds United.

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Reader Comments (5)

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Martin Reppion
1 Posted 24/10/2022 at 10:12:17
Given that I was undoubtedly at this game, I can't remember it at all. So if you'd said a spaceship landed on the pitch at half time, I wouldn't have been able to argue.

I do remember that the young players you mention were all looking like a team we could build around. Oh how it kicks you in the teeth sometimes.

Andy Crooks
2 Posted 24/10/2022 at 23:40:04
Great stuff, David.

My God, where did that 23 years ago? I had forgotten about the lamentable O'Leary.

I recall that fans of many teams resisted calling for their manager to be sacked in the terrifying knowledge that O'Leary was unemployed and had the Toshack-like quality of persuading chairmen that he was not utterly shit.

Don Alexander
3 Posted 25/10/2022 at 02:19:29
23 years ago we were shite – period.

But that's me as a 67-year-old, with cherished memories of half a dozen seasons in my adult ("ish" re the 1969-70 seasons admittedly) life.

Those seasons aside, we've been shite, the current chairman (in the boardroom in that allegedly "glorious" season 23 years ago) finding the deepest depths of shite ever since – period.

Give yer 'ed a wobble, folks.

Phil (Kelsall) Roberts
4 Posted 25/10/2022 at 16:30:49
Yeah Don, we could have had Peter Johnson.

Brian Murray
5 Posted 25/10/2022 at 19:15:07

Are you saying we should be grateful for all these good times under this fraud of a man?

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