This week… 40 years ago

David Hardman 17/03/2023 4comments  |  Jump to last

If you want to be petty, it’s actually 40 years and one week. But it’s FA Cup 6th Round weekend, so the appropriate time to look back on Everton’s near-miss that many believe sparked the beginning of their greatest era.

They travelled to Old Trafford at a time when Manchester United were riding high in the league and who had already booked their place in one final, looking to help make it two by getting past Everton.

Second half highlights are available here:

12 March 1983: Match Time ITV - Man Utd vs Everton - YouTube

It shows a pulsating end-to-end game. Manchester United seeming to have the better of the chances in the second half, but Everton looking dangerous on the break, and doing a good job of soaking up the United pressure and then counter-attacking, with many of their young players starting to come into their own and showing what good footballers they were, and the team as a whole looking more and more of a cohesive unit.

Jim Arnold played in goal, and made a series of good stops that Southall would have been happy with – one could argue he was lucky as virtually all of the shots were straight at him, but you could also say that was a result of good positioning on his part. Either way, both he and Everton’s defence were holding firm and looked like taking United to Goodison Park for a replay, and you can only imagine what the atmosphere would have been like had we faced them under the floodlights in the week.

Then Lou Macari came on in the 90th minute. While he failed to make anything happen from the corner he’d been brought on for, he certainly made an impact in the next passage of play. Ray Wilkins floated a ball over the top, and Macari nodded it down perfectly for Frank Stapleton to deliver a beautiful cushioned volley with the outside of his right foot, swerving into the inner-side netting and leaving Arnonld with no chance.

Decisive goals in added time were a lot more unusual back then. Injury time was just that – for injuries only, and usually only a minute or so, if at all, unlike the amount of stoppage time that we get now. And, prior to the backpass rule, it was a lot easier for the team that wanted to avoid conceding to cynically eat up the clock (see Lawrenson & Grobbelar throughout this decade).

From the footage, it’s interesting to see the two injured captains and then the managers being interviewed side by side after the game. Couldn’t imagine that happening with the personnel from today’s top teams.

It also shows what a big draw the FA Cup still was, even at a time when English sides were conquering Europe almost every season – the highest attendance anywhere that season so far was at Old Trafford that day. Contrast with now, when it’s almost seen as an inconvenient interruption to the Premier League campaign. It’s unimaginable nowadays that the gate for an FA Cup match at this stage would be higher than for any league fixture.

And 40 years on, Martin Tyler is still commentating on the big games, although sadly he’s now been reduced to a sideman as Neville and Carragher continually interrupt him or spend half the game talking among themselves.

United went on to lift the FA Cup that season, following a replay after the “and Smith must score” final. While the title continued to elude them, they were still one of the best cup sides of the '80s. So it was no small feat that Everton went to a packed Old Trafford that day and held their own, and would have fancied their chances in a replay, only to be denied the opportunity at the death.

While Kevin Brock’s back-pass 10 months later is commonly viewed as the turning point in Everton's fortunes, the fact that Everton showed they could compete with the best in this game gave belief that better times were ahead, and that a return to the top was not too far away. 

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Reader Comments (4)

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Karl Masters
1 Posted 19/03/2023 at 01:20:15
We took 17,000 fans to that match, and yet the attendance 3 days later for Southampton's league visit to Goodison? 15,002!!

The FA Cup was massive in those days.

Dave Carruthers
2 Posted 21/03/2023 at 07:03:25
Just watched the Match Time highlights. I was there and it remains one of the most disappointing ends to a game I have ever attended.

First signs we were developing a good young team with Sharp and Heath developing up front. Interesting the two talismen of that great team, Gray and Reid were not playing. Reid for Mcmahon, in hindsight, was a decent switch!

All blood and guts and a reminder what the FA cup was, and still should be, all about. Can you imagine the two managers being interviewed together after a game these days!!

John Raftery
3 Posted 23/03/2023 at 20:10:42
The referee Joe Worrall added a ridiculous amount of injury time as we used to call it.
Mark Hill
4 Posted 24/03/2023 at 08:58:03
It’s wonderful to think back to then, we were on the cusp of something wonderful, possibly being the best team in the land for an all but too brief period, something I was fortunate to witness.

Then it was gone!

Everton could have and should have been so much more, but the incompetence demonstrated by those whom occupy the seats at Goodison Park up to now have been terrible. It’s such a shame, very sad really. Will we ever recover?

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