(NOTE: This is the [revised and updated] paperback version, published in 2019, of the hardback edition which was published in 2016. 270pp)
To get the major (and perhaps only) criticism out of the way from the start, the book is written in the miniscule font 8! That is way too small for a comfortable read and it is great pity because the content is excellent. One can only conjecture that some financial constraint dictated the small font but, for whatever reason, it’s a shame!
Simon Hart’s book is a really enjoyable read and has an obvious audience of mature Evertonians who look back dewy-eyed at the successful years in the mid-80s. Its appeal is much wider, though, and ought to provide good reading for any (mature) football lover. It would be a waste of time trying for a younger audience, anyway, as few under 25 can probably be motivated to reading anything where you are required to actually turn pages.
The subtitle tells the necessary information about the book. It deals with Everton in the 1980s, told in a series of interviews with many but not all of the major players. Andy Gray, Graeme Sharp, Trevor Steven, Gary Stevens, John Bailey, Alan Harper and Kevin Sheedy are all absent. Their input would surely have added much. Part of the appeal of it covering the whole decade is that some very drossy years sandwiched some exceptional ones where Everton were the best team in the land – and the club was the major sufferer from the European football ban imposed on English teams following the Heysel tragedy.
There are many hidden gems which Simon Hart patiently and skilfully reveals that would almost certainly be missing in a book about a decade of remorseless success. For example, having played football in North Wales in the same era as Neville Southall, I tend to believe his claim that, amongst all the football pitches covered in sheep, cow, dog shit, there was one with a telegraph pole in the middle, which they, presumably, treated like a roundabout.
A recurring feature of the story is how many footballers missed many games and/or shortened their careers by playing despite being injured; Mark Higgins and Paul Bracewell being among the number. The sharp contrast is made between those days and the modern era where players are simply not risked in the same way. The sheer variety of different characters and backgrounds allows Hart to build up a layered picture where everyone featured has an observation or anecdote of their own to add.
Under Howard Kendall’s inspired management, Everton won the FA Cup (in 1984), the League Championship twice (in 1985 & 1987), plus the European Cup Winners’ Cup (in 1985) beating Bayern Munich in the Semi-Final on the way to victory. Their win at Goodison Park was, by common consent, THE performance of the decade, after Kendall told the team who were losing 1-0 at half time to get the ball forward and the Gwladys Street would ‘suck the ball into the net.’ They did, three times.
The various contributions build up an affectionate picture of the inspired management team of Kendall and Colin Harvey that brought out the best in such a diverse group of players and, having actually seen Pat Van den Hauwe play many times, after reading his contribution, I am drawn to the conclusion that his nickname ‘Psycho Pat’ is probably a little on the understated side.
There is so much to like about the book and the ones who might have been deemed bit-part players often make the most telling contributions. The key factor is the feeling they all had or found for the club, none more so than the much-loved Harvey. Yet players did not need to have been Evertonians born and bred. That was encapsulated by Adrian Heath’s words. The bond was so strong, he felt, that they became ‘blood brothers’ and there was a love of club and a love of each other.
The only one who does not show that affectionate feeling, and never felt it, is Gary Lineker. Everything he says is fine and at least he was good enough to contribute at length, but it comes across unmistakably that, uniquely in this book, the pull of Everton which made a special mark on so many, for once did not work.