Don't count your chickens before they've hatched

By Joe Mercer – Everton, Arsenal, and England.

During a temporary stoppage about 4 minutes from full time, with the score 2-0 in our favour in the 1950 Liverpool vs Arsenal FA Cup Final , my old friend Walley Barnes said to me,  "What does it feel like to win a Cup medal?" My words to Walley were unprintable but, in no uncertain manner, I informed him that the game was not over yet, and to get back on his job and wait for the final whistle.

I don't usually 'blow my top', that was not my way of captaining a team, and after the match, Walley said, "What went wrong with you? The match was in the bag, Billy Milne had told me there was only 4 minutes to go". 

I replied, "Yes, I knew that, but let me tell you about a game between Everton and Tottenham in a Cup-Tie replay at White Hart Lane in 1937, a game that  stopped me from counting my chickens before they hatched."

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Tottenham were in the Second Division, and when they were drawn to play at Goodison Park, I didn't think we would have much trouble in getting through to the next round. But, as usual, the FA Cup is a great leveller and we only scraped a draw in the last few seconds. The game had not been a great one, but we had enjoyed most of the territorial advantage, Tottenham's first goal was one of those freaks which always stick out in ones memory.

A long ball from the left had come across, Ted Sagar had come out but, instead of catching it in his usual immaculate manner, he decided to punch it. Tottenham's outside right McCormick had his back to goal, Ted punched the ball right on to his head and McCormick was the most surprised man on the field when the ball rebounded into the net.

But, with seconds to go, I suppose we were a bit lucky when Jackie Coulter, our Irish outside-left, scrambled the equalizer and so down to White Hart Lane for the replay, with no thoughts whatever that the game would turn out to be the most thrilling and memorable in all my career.

It was a Monday, and the ground was saturated with a weekend's rain. This was right up our street, because in those days on the right wing for Everton was Albert Geldard who, on a heavy ground with the brilliant Cliff Britton behind him, was almost unplayable. We had a few changes in the side, Torry Gillick coming in as outside-left to partner a boy playing his first game for The Toffees… the boy? Tommy Lawton.

Our side read: Sagar, Cook, T E Jones, Britton, Gee, Mercer, Geldard, Cunliffe, Dixie Dean, Tommy Lawton, and Gillick.

Right from the start the Everton side got on top, and in the mud, the plan of playing to Albert Geldard soon paid dividends, Albert created havoc in the Tottenham defence, and very soon we were two goals up, Jimmy Cunliffe getting the first and Tommy Lawton celebrating his debut with a brilliant left foot goal which rattled into the back of the net from 30 yards. Morrison reduced the lead, but at half-time with the score 3-1 thanks to some brilliant work and a goal by the one and only Dixie Dean.

The second half was a repetition of the first, in fact kicking down the slope towards the end where the teams come out, I think we were playing more easily than ever. Then with four minutes to go, the score 3-1 in Everton's favour, 'it happened'. I played a ball on the left wing, which I agree was over the line, but no whistle went, so I crossed it into the penalty area, Dixie fastened on to it and was in the act of shooting when Arthur Rowe, later to become Spurs manager, was adjudged to have fouled Dean. The referee, Dr Barton, pointed to the spot and there we were, 3-1 up, the ball on the spot for a penalty and 4 minutes to go, and if that game didn't appear to be won, then I have never heard of one that was.

But in the meantime the linesman was flagging, and after some arguing Dr  Barton was persuaded to consult him. The outcome of it was no penalty for Everton, but a throw-in for Tottenham, and no one knew better than me, how fair that decision was. Unfortunately the remainder of the side took a poor view of this and were still arguing when the throw-in was taken. Before we could bat our eyes the ball was whisked across the pitch to the left-wing, back into the centre and Morrison had headed a goal.

Right from the re-start away went Tottenham again, and in next to no time they had got the equalizer through a similar movement, Morrison again being the scorer. Then, with the game reaching the last few seconds, their inside-forward Meek fastened on to a ball in mid-field, and wormed his way towards the penalty area, all of sudden he hit a terrific shot which must have been from well outside the box, and to my terrible anguish it finished in the back of the net.

I was immediately behind him when he shot, and I saw the ball so very clearly every inch of the way, as the ball hit the net the referee blew the whistle for full-time, and for a fleeting second the majority of the players didn't know whether the goal had counted or not. I remember Billy Cook, our full-back saying, "Was that a goal, Ref? and Dr Barton said, "It certainly was."

Then the Tottenham lads realized the game was won, and of course their joy was quickly transferred to the spectators. The commotion and the cheering was deafening, I will never forget the sight of the programmes, hats, etc, floating down to earth from the double-decker stand. It resembled a snowstorm. 

It was a very dejected and heart-broken youth, who staggered off the field, knowing the result to be true, but scarcely realizing it had happened. However, when I look back over the years, it is nice to realize that this bitter lesson taught me through the light of practical experience, that it is always foolish to question a referee's decision, and a game is never lost until the final whistle.

Reader Comments (30)

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Peter Mills
1 Posted 18/08/2023 at 21:17:22
An excellent reminder, John Mc, that a game is rarely dead.

My Blades son-in-law and his Dad dine out on their story of watching the Brighton game on telly with me in a Devon pub, bewildered and amused that I was still anxious at 1-4 up with two minutes to go.

Hope to see you September.

Bill Watson
2 Posted 19/08/2023 at 05:14:56
Thanks, John, for a great read of a game I'd never before heard of.

I can remember many games which dramatically changed with virtually the last kick. One that stands out is an F A semi-final at Villa Park in 1969. Booth scored for City right at the death. They had a guy called Connor who man marked Alan Ball out of the game and we never really got going.

More recent was the 'Pickford' Derby when he clawed an aimless punt back into play and, of course, right into the path of a RS. We'd dominated the game with Gomes bossing the midfield.

Of course many have been in our favour but I tend to remember the ones that went against us.

Danny O’Neill
3 Posted 19/08/2023 at 06:36:21
We should know more than most. It made me think of some Everton examples.

I once bought the video (VHS, now long gone) of the 1966 Cup Final. Two nil down but we rallied and came back to lift the trophy. My first introduction to the "Everton the Gear" phrase.

The 1985 semi-final with the clock ticking. Free kick with minutes to go as we held our breath.

I remember thinking we were out against Middlesboro only for Trevor Steven to score a last gasp equaliser. That FA Cup run, which eventually saw us go out the them, was an epic. Several attempts against Sheffield Wednesday and a similar pattern against Middlesboro only to go out to the obvious.

Outside of the FA Cup, and more recent examples about it never being over until the blue lady sings.

Wimbledon 1994. 2-0 down and staring at the unthinkable.

3 - 1 down against Manchester United at Goodison only to go and score twice in extra time to get a point. Similarly that 4 - 4 at Old Trafford after being 4 - 2 down.

Let's get more recent. 2 - 0 against Palace and thinking we need to go to Arsenal on the last day of the season, which we all know how that usually turns out. But we came good.

Wolves away last season, which kept our fate in our own hands with 30 seconds on the referees watch.

As I write, what is it about us and turning a 2 - 0 deficit around in key games?!!

But to the point of the article John posted, a game of football, within reason, is never over until that final whistle goes. A game of fine margins, so never give in.

I'd like to know a bit more about Joe Mercer for those who watched him. He doesn't get much mention from Everton supporters and played more games for Arsenal. More of a Manchester City legend and has a memorial outside of their stadium.

Jim Lloyd
4 Posted 19/08/2023 at 07:43:51
Thanks John for a great read. It must have been a sickener alright when I look at some of the names in our team. I rememer y dad telling me how brilliant a winger Geldard was, the Dixie, Tommy Lawton, Joe Mercer, TE Jones. There's some great names there. I often wonder why Joe Mercer parted company with us! I must try and read up on him more. Am I daydreaming again, but did Joe Mercer manage us for a while?

I think back to the Cup final in 66 when we were two nil down with around 20 minutes left. to our three quick goals and elation. We've had quite a few salvations, coming back from either getting beat or getting relegated. like the 4-4 game at Goodison against "that lot", after which, their manager didn't last long.Loved that game!

It's still key, that message. The game's never over till the final whistle blows.

Derek Thomas
5 Posted 19/08/2023 at 08:06:22
Danny @ 3; I know they had a very good side in 1939 but don't know if they had a stand out 'Holy Trinity'. But if they did it was probably Jones, Mercer and Lawton...but I stand to be corrected on that...and no doubt will be.
But he was 'Holy Trinity' good...and that's a high bar.

He played on at the top level to the - then and now - stupendous age of 39(?) and, like Howard Kendall in his latter player manager days, was probably Still the classiest player on the pitch and like Bobby Collins deep into his 30s, only a broken leg stopped him.

Danny O’Neill
6 Posted 19/08/2023 at 08:29:22
Thanks for that Derek. Without studying in too much detail, I wonder if the World War 2 Years impacted his Everton legacy? Just a thought.

I'd like to see some of these players given more recognition. Yes, we have the Holy Trinity and Dixie, but there are many as we think about moving them to Bramley Moore.

Joe Mercer (who my Grandad spoke fondly about), Brian Labone and Joe Royle. There are countless others who we could recognise.

The 80s team.

I don't like living in the past, but we should recognise it and our achievements as a reminder of who we are and what our expectations are.

I was able to watch Howard Kendall, the player manager, play for Everton. I remember one match, where he obviously got frustrated and brought himself on as a sub.

You could still see he had it and he was giving everyone a right earful!!!

Colin Harvey to cut the ribbon for me when we enter our future home.

Chris Williams
7 Posted 19/08/2023 at 08:48:45
Cliff Britton was a great player, at least according to my Dad, and part of a great wing half pair with Mercer. TG Jones was one of his favourite players(not TE), another Everton great. I think Albert Geldard first played for us as a gifted teenager.

Cliff Britton came back as a manager post war, and he was not so good.

Dave Abrahams
8 Posted 19/08/2023 at 09:58:55
Joe Mercer broke his leg, which finished his career, against Liverpool.

I think the end of Tommy Lawton, Joe Mercer and TG Jones's careers could be put down to Theo Kelly's managership of Everton, a no nonsense manager he demanded respect without giving much respect back to his players, going by reading of his leadership in charge of Everton, plus the fact after seven years fighting a war they wanted some financial security to end their careers with.

Chris (7), to be fair Chris to Cliff Britton he was manager of Everton whose directors spent very little during the time he was there, he relied on players bought for very little, some before he became manager, although Harry Potts cost a small fortune then £20,000, and he wasn't a success, other players I remember him signing were Jock Lindsay £7,000 from Glasgow Rangers and Ted Buckle from Man. Unt. for something like the same fee. It is a fact that the same squad who were relegated in 1951 were the same squad who got them promoted in 1954, not one player was bought during those three years, so maybe Cliff did quite well to bring us up.

Dave Abrahams
9 Posted 19/08/2023 at 10:03:49
To be clear, I meant the end of Lawton's, Mercer's and TG Jones's careers at Everton were the result of Theo Kelly's managership, not the end of their careers.
Danny O’Neill
10 Posted 19/08/2023 at 10:32:23
That is quite a daunting historical reference about Britton and the Board's spend or lack of. Let's hope there is no case of déjà vu. We've certainly flirted with fate on quite a few occasions.

As we're talking about former players, my older cousin's idol was Bob Latchford. He never really seems to get much of a mention. He is probably the first one I really remember.

Mick Lyons for being Mick Lyons.

I guess it's all subjective and we could all draw up a list of our own.

Bill Watson
11 Posted 19/08/2023 at 11:01:36
Joe Mercer was an Everton shareholder!

John; slightly off topic but I'm sure you'll have the answer. Back in the late 1950s, unlike most other clubs, we kicked off at 3.15pm but when we played a London club the KO was moved to 3pm and I think this was to allow them time to get the London train home.

Have you any idea why it was usually 3.15pm?

Danny # 10

Bob Latchford was everything we haven't had since Lukaku. He was signed from Birmingham City with Howard Kendall and Archie Styles, a classy local left back, as makeweights in a British record deal valued at £350,000.

Bill Watson
12 Posted 19/08/2023 at 11:16:07
Dave #8

Back in the 1970s I worked with Ted Buckle at the Standard-Triumph car factory, in Speke. Jimmy Tansey, who played left back in the 1950s side, also worked there.

How times have changed! They'd both have been millionaires, today!

John McFarlane Snr
13 Posted 19/08/2023 at 12:50:43
Hi Peter[1] although I was serving in the army from 1957 to 1959, a game has stuck in my memory, it was a Second Division game between Charlton and Huddersfield.

I've just looked up the details and they are as follows, "Johnny Summers was a journeyman forward and Charlton were his fourth club. Aged 30 he was entering the twilight of his career, and on December 21st it became apparent that he was saving his best until the end.

Charlton lost Derek Ufton after 15 minutes when he broke his collar bone, they were only 2-0 down at half time, but 7 minutes after the interval they trailed 5-1.

Then Summers, who was wearing a new pair of boots that he had not even broken in, went to work, he scored a hat-trick in 6 minutes and the hit another 2 goals, all this with his weaker right foot, to give Charlton a 6-5 lead.

Even then the drama wasn't over, Huddersfield equalised with 2 minutes left, but Summers was not going to be beaten. With the last move of the game he set up John Ryan for the winner in an almost unbelievable 7-6 match.

Hi Bill [11] as far as I can remember that Everton kicked off at 3:15 for all fixtures in the early weeks of the season, irrespective of their opponents. I know that as the weeks went by and the daylight quickly faded, the kick-off time was earlier, and I know for certain that they were played as early as 2:15 but I have a feeling that it was sometimes as early 2 o'clock.

Bill Watson
14 Posted 19/08/2023 at 13:02:20
John #13

I made my debut in 1958 and I think the floodlights were erected the previous year so I have no experience of the earlier kick-offs. It was all 3:15, 3 pm or floodlit matches at 7.30 pm when I started.

Dave Abrahams
15 Posted 19/08/2023 at 13:11:15
John (13) I remember that game very well and wrote about it to the Echo a good few years ago and at the end of my letter I said it was never recorded what the Huddersfield manager had to say about the game, the manager was the usual very loquacious Bill Shankly.

My memories of those kick-off times reminded me of when Chairman Bill gave a speech at Anfield before one the Hillsborough Memorial days, he said he remembered coming to Anfield with about 10,000 other Evertonians to watch Dave Hickson's debut for Liverpool v Aston Villa on a cold winter night, the match was played on a Saturday afternoon, maybe Bill just forgot the time or maybe he wasn't bleedin' there, I'd go for the second option!

John McFarlane Snr
16 Posted 19/08/2023 at 14:31:43
HI Dave [15] something else I can remember from my time in Cyprus, is that Lincoln City were 5 points adrift of safety in Division Two with six games to play, they actually won their last six league games and finished one point above the relegation drop.

I think that things like that, prove my belief that 'anything can happen in football'.

Dave Abrahams
17 Posted 19/08/2023 at 15:21:08
John (16), Well John here's one you might remember from the 1955-56 season, I think, Everton we're losing 2-0 to Charlton with about ten minutes to go and they won 3-2 with goals from, if my memory is correct, Jimmy Harris, Wally Fielding one of your favourites and Cyril Lello.

Bill (12), Yes I remember Ted Buckle and Jimmy Tansey, Buckle always looked very frail but what a shot he had in either foot, I remember watching him play for Man. Unt. reserves at GoodisonPark, the next week he was playing for Everton versus Goodison in a first division game, both games finished 0-0 ifI'm correct.

I mentioned Cyril Lello above and I worked with him in Fords on a shut down, we were both Sparks mates, he was good company and easy to talk just one of the lads.

Jimmy Tansey came from a sporting family from St. Sylvesters in Scotland Road, his brother Gerry played in a famous schoolboys English FA final at Anfield in 1948 versus Stockport Boys in a 3-3 draw watched by over 40,000 fans including me. His older brother was a well-known Royal Navy boxer and later a boxing coach at St. Theresa's among others.

As you say good genuine humble people who were born too soon as far money is concerned but respect is everything and they gave it and got it back with the people they mixed with.

Ken Kneale
18 Posted 19/08/2023 at 15:38:46
Danny - Bob Latchford was a very fine centre forward - as Bill says, we could certainly do with his like now. A lot of us were aghast at Howard K being part of the deal, but then, as now, we needed goals and he supplied plenty. He deserved to win something and a shame he did not.

In a perverse way, the move generated the seed in Howard towards coaching and management from which we ultimately benefitted so in the round, it all worked out by happy coincidence.

Then, of course, the disaster of Heysel. We seem to remember it better than our red neighbours!!

Bill Watson
19 Posted 19/08/2023 at 21:03:09
Ken #18

Bob was from a footballing family. Brothers Dave and Peter were top class goalkeepers; Dave with Birmingham City and Peter with WBA and Celtic.

Rick Tarleton
20 Posted 20/08/2023 at 08:03:16
Apart from 1966 and the greatest FA Cup Final, my favourite Everton comeback occurred at the old Baseball Ground when I saw Duncan McKenzie inspire Everton to come back from 0-2 down and win 3-2. On that day, he destroyed one of England's finest players, and later Everton player, Colin Todd.

By that time in my life, I was living in Rutland, where I still live, and the fixtures I could travel to were Leicester City, Nottingham Forest, Derby County and Coventry City, so the Derby fixture, as they were a top team, was a must for me.

McKenzie in the second half was simply magnificent on a surface that was totally unsuited to his silky skills.

Later in life, I spoke with McKenzie at a fancy hospitality occasion after a fan day and told him about that day. He was not only superb company, but very revealing about his role at Leeds under Brian Clough.

He was a mercurial talent, inconsistent but at his best he gave me the kind of pleasure that only Alex Young has given me in my 70 years as an Everton fan.

Michael Kenrick
21 Posted 20/08/2023 at 08:40:13

Great recollections there about the sometimes mercurial, often frustrating Duncan McKenzie.

I'd completely forgotten that Brian Clough only lasted 44 days at Leeds Utd in 1974:

Clough left Brighton less than a year after his appointment, in July 1974, to become manager of Leeds United, following Don Revie's departure to become manager of England. Clough's move was very surprising given his previous outspoken criticism of both Revie, for whom Clough made no secret of his deep disdain, and the successful Leeds team's playing style, which Clough had publicly branded "dirty" and "cheating". Furthermore, he had called for Leeds to be demoted to the Second Division as a punishment for their poor disciplinary record.

He lasted in the job only 44 days before he was sacked by the Leeds directors on 12 September 1974, after alienating many of Leeds's star players. During one of the first training sessions he took for Leeds United, he reportedly said "You can all throw your medals in the bin because they were not won fairly."

He had the unenviable record of being Leeds United's least successful permanent manager, winning only one match from six games. Leeds were fourth from bottom in 19th position with only 4 points from a possible 12, their worst start since their last relegation campaign 15 years earlier. His pay-off was estimated at £98,000, a huge amount at the time.

On the evening of his dismissal, Clough discussed his short reign at Elland Road with Yorkshire Television's Calendar news programme. Revie also participated in the live broadcast, the two ex-managers spent as much time debating management practice with each other as with the host Austin Mitchell. Describing this televised interview as the culmination of the bitter rivalry between the two men, journalist Roger Hermiston stated: "It was like watching a bickering couple about to get a divorce."

I'm pretty sure that period must be covered in Duncan McKenzie's autobiography, One Step Ahead – but perhaps not with the disclosures you heard first-hand from the mouth of the Maestro!

Danny O’Neill
22 Posted 20/08/2023 at 08:46:42
I think it was about 1977, but I remember being sat on one of the crush barriers in the Enclosure under the Main Stand.

I was only about 5 or 6 years old, and somehow didn't fall off.

I can't recall who we played, but remember the "we all agree that Duncan McKenzie is Magic" chant.

I had a bad hair cut back then. And clothes. I guess it's what my parents could afford. But why was everything in the 70s brown, orange or beige?

Michael Kenrick
23 Posted 20/08/2023 at 09:05:47
Tracked down that interview – I'd never seen it before...

Just brilliant to see these two icons of English football management – along with the very bright Austin Mitchell – going over such a tumultuous moment in the history of what was at the time one of England's biggest clubs:

Austin Mitchell: The famous Brian Clough and Don Revie interview

[Scroll down to the second video panel for the full interview – the first one near the top of the page is obliterated by cringe-worthy voice-over.]

Just love listening to both of them. No bullshit meaningless managerspeak that we get incessantly in interviews nowadays. Clough's honesty and directness is astounding.

Barry Thompson
24 Posted 20/08/2023 at 09:06:33
You never had a pair of electric blues then, eh, Danny?
Ken Kneale
25 Posted 20/08/2023 at 10:42:04
Thanks Bill. I knew about Dave but not Peter. Obviously a talented footballing family. We could certainly do with Bob in the present team.

Peter Mills
26 Posted 20/08/2023 at 11:59:28
I agree with everything Ken #18 says – Bob was a cracking centre-forward.

He was criticised by many for being slow outside the box, but inside it, over 2 yards, he was like lightning.

So many great memories – the day he scored 4 at Loftus Road, his header at Burnden Park to take us to the League Cup Final in 1977, his last-minute equaliser in the first replay of the final at Hillsborough, his bullet header in the 1980 FA Cup Semi-Final Replay at Elland Road and, of course, his 30 League goals in 1977-78.

I've heard him talk a couple of times since his retirement; on both occasions, he expressed his surprise and gratitude at how revered he is by Everton fans – a very decent, modest man.

Alan McGuffog
27 Posted 20/08/2023 at 12:22:33
A proper goal scorer, Peter. I seem to recall many were quite "scruffy"...of the shin, or bobbling across the line. But they all counted and he certainly got his share.
Strangely the only times he seemed to rough up keepers was when they were his brothers
Peter Mills
28 Posted 21/08/2023 at 11:39:00
Michael #23,

Thanks for posting that interview. As you say, it's it's rather different to the anodyne utterings we get served these days.

I'm sure many on here will have read “The Damned United” by David Peace, and seen the subsequent film of the same name – if not, I can recommend both.

Andy Crooks
29 Posted 21/08/2023 at 23:28:12
Did Duncan make his debut the same day as Bruce Rioch (one of my favourite players, not necessarily for Everton)?

Were we wearing gold shirts and blue shorts? Did Billy Bingham sign them? Was Billy Bingham vastly underrated?

Did I dream this stuff?

Dave Abrahams
30 Posted 22/08/2023 at 09:23:46
Andy (29),

Yes, McKenzie made his debut with Bruce Rioch at Coventry City, we got battered 4-2. Not sure what colour the kit was that day.

Yes, Billy Bingham signed them. I don't think Billy was vastly underrated as a manager but he was as a player, he had Everton playing a very defensive and dull game and threw away a good chance of winning the title one season because he wasn't adventurous enough.

As a player, he was a very good attacking player with a few clubs after he came over from Northern Ireland and had a good career with them as well as being a constant selection for his country.

Gone but not forgotten!

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