The Don had taken over
Our godfather, Don Howe had given us hope after Terry Neill. He had done well in the second half of the season bringing us from 16th when he took over to 6th at the end. In 1984-85 we could challenge, we could be Arsenal, again, surely? He was highly respected, a gentleman and true Arsenal. Terry Neill had just brought in Tommy Caton and Howe had brought in good players, Paul Mariner, and in the close season made Steve Williams and Viv Anderson offers they couldn’t refuse. Steve Williams was an Arsenal fan and he did well for us until he fell out of favour under George Graham.
I always liked Viv Anderson, he was class, an England fullback who had won the European cup for Forest twice. He was also the first ever black player to play for England. I was always up for the black players, they were the underdogs, and getting, yes, dogs abuse every time they played. It wasn’t right and it still isn’t.
Don Howe didn’t have that Bada Bing
But Don Howe was no Don Corleone. He was an English gentleman. There was no fear of him dispatching a horse’s head to Howard Kendall’s bed, the Everton manager who had his dream year in 1985. Nor would he ever send dead fishes to Joe Fagan, the Liverpool manager. Or send some concrete blocks to Peter Shreeves of the Spuds. Far too nice and maybe we were, too. We would have to win by playing better football than the rest. I wasn’t sure we could do that.
However, we had a good squad of England internationals now, with Woodcock and Mariner up front, Sansom and Anderson at full backs, Rix, Williams, and Talbot in midfield. Not to forget Tony Adams pushing for his place. Only O’Leary and Jennings were left of the Irish contingent, although there was a beanpole centre-forward trying to work his way through called Niall Quinn.
Nor did the players have it
So, looking at the players, surely we had a chance this season? We started well, 9 wins, 2 losses and a draw up to Oct 20th and we were up near the top. Then it fell apart, beaten 3-1 by West Ham and 4-2 by Man Utd and a draw with Villa. After that we never had a real run of form and we ended up 7th behind Chelsea and Spurs. Everton probably had their greatest ever season, winning the league and almost winning the double, being beaten by Man Utd in the FA Cup final. Plus winning the European Cup Winners Cup.
We were knocked out early in both cups although there was a highlight in beating Hereford 7-2 in a replay after a shocker at 1-1 in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. Then we were sent home crying by York 1-0 in the next round. The League Cup was no better. We were beaten in the 3rd round 3-2 by Oxford Utd.
Robson made him an offer he couldn’t refuse
Poor old Don Howe was not going to be the answer. We knew that long before the end of the season. He was a top class coach, but a consigliore, not a godfather. Most football people credited him for the double, rather than Bertie Mee, but he probably needed that steel beside him. Mee never cared about being popular with the players. And Howe was to go on to coach England successfully alongside Bobby Robson, who, despite his cordial image, had a tough side and could play mind games and physical battles with the best of them.
And where was Arsenal? 7th and mediocre. Incapable of taking to the mattresses. Surely we needed someone new to come in but Arsenal don’t sack managers. Don Howe would be given his chance but could he take it, next season 1985-86? Next week I will tell you how he got on.
And then football all went wrong
But I can’t mention this season without talking about the big event that overshadowed all else. And it had an Italian connection. Liverpool played Juventus in the Heysel Stadium in Brussels in the European Cup Final. It was the most shocking football event I had ever seen. I will try to report it as I remember it and not with hindsight knowledge which I will get to later. Fences and walls were broken allowing both sets of fans access to each other. They were fighting with whatever they could use, bricks and stones were being hurled and there were charges by fans and by police. It was mayhem. It was obvious people were badly hurt and most likely dead. I was certain that we not going to see a kick-off. Somehow, the decision was given to start and it went ahead in the weirdest atmosphere, a bit like these Covid matches now.
I couldn’t really take an interest in the football. I had been to many grounds, seen lots of incidents, but nothing like this. Juventus won 1-0.
As everyone knows by now, I guess, there was a multiple of factors, bad organisation by Belgian officials and police, a crumbling old stadium that fell apart creating plenty of weapons, and Liverpool fans were given the majority of the blame, with some of them receiving sentences for manslaughter.
English sides sent into exile
It led to a long ban on English football teams getting places in European competitions, a decline in the excitement of the seasons because of that, and English football dominance of such competitions suffered a hammer blow that to this day, has never really come back.
As for Arsenal, quite a few of the seasons in my fandom were without Europe anyway, and now, no matter what we won, we could not claim those trophies. It was a very sad time for football. And I feel I should mention Everton again. They had their dream season, winning the league and the Cup Winners Cup and almost winning the FA cup. They had a very good side under Howard Kendall. They would not be able to claim a European cup to rank with the greats. Nobody was talking about them.
It was the worst end to a season I can remember.