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Ecstasy and agony - Everton’s rollercoaster FA Cup finals of the 1980s

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Everton legend Graeme Sharp has spoken about how the Blues' rollercoaster experiences in FA Cup finals during the 1980s provided some of the highest and lowest moments of his career.

The Scot scored 159 goals in 426 games during an 11-year Goodison career to set a post war goalscoring record for Everton which has yet to be matched.

He played in all four FA Cup finals the Blues reached during that era, scoring the opening goal against Watford in the 1984 final which propelled Howard Kendall’s side on to the most successful period in the club’s history. 

On what should have been FA Cup weekend, BT Sport are showing a marathon of highlights from classic previous finals and Sharp told the ECHO being part of that breakthrough Blues win against Graham Taylor’s Hornets was a dream come true for him.

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“Even though I'm from Scotland the FA Cup final was always a huge deal, we would watch the Scottish Cup final and then turn the tv over to watch the English version”, he said.

“It always looked a fantastic occasion, 100,000 people at Wembley, all the pomp and ceremony that went with it so as a boy growing up in Scotland I wanted to be involved in that and was fortunate enough to be able to do so on a number of occasions.

“The first one against Watford in 84, to play in it, score the opening goal and win the trophy was the stuff dreams are made of. My folks were down from Scotland to watch me and it was a really proud moment for them as well.

Neville Southall and Graeme Sharp celebrate Everton's 1984 FA Cup triumph over Watford (Image: Getty Images)

“Growing up as a boy to score in a match of that importance was one of my goals and something I wanted to do. Not many people get the chance to achieve that so the fact that I came down from Scotland, played and scored in a final which we won is something I'll always remember.”

1984 was the first of three successive FA Cup final appearances for Everton and, after extra time defeat to Manchester United the following year, Sharp’s extra-time volley against Sheffield Wednesday at Villa Park secured the Blues’ place in the first ever all-Merseyside final against Liverpool.

Howard Kendall and Kenny Dalglish lead their sides out for the 1986 FA Cup final

The sides had been going neck-and-neck for the league title all season with Kendall’s side narrowly missing out on retaining their crown the week before after Liverpool player-manager Kenny Dalglish’s goal at Chelsea ended their Double hopes.

“The season before we had missed out on the Treble having won the league and the European Cup Winners Cup before losing the final to Manchester United and Norman Whiteside so, having been going for the Double, suddenly we were in danger of losing both in the space of a couple of weeks", Sharp explained

“We went into the final on the back of losing at Oxford which was a difficult result for us but I thought in the 86 final we were probably the better team, first half especially. We went 1-0 up and had a couple more chances but didn't take them, we always knew against Liverpool with the quality in the side they had it was never going to be easy. 

“With the equalising goal, Gary Stevens gave away possession to Jan Molby and Liverpool punished us, and once they got back on level terms there was only going to be one winner but certainly in the first half we thought we were going to be able to go on and win the Cup and deny Liverpool the Double.

Soccer - FA Cup Final - Everton v Liverpool 1986 Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar (c) outjumps Everton's Graeme Sharp (second r), watched by teammates Steve Nicol (l) and Ronnie Whelan (r), and Everton's Gary Lineker (second l)

“In those days the Double was a fantastic feat, everyone talked about the Tottenham and Arsenal teams who had been the only teams to do it so far in the 20th century so it was a big and rare achievement. We were so close to doing but we failed, Liverpool took advantage and won it so fair play to them.

“I felt we had a good shout for a penalty first half when Steve Nicol pulled me back in the box, there's hundreds of games where you can say if this or that had happened but I felt it was a pen, it was a ball in to the back post which I thought I was going to latch on to and Steve had a little bump into the back of me but that's football.

“Then there was the great save Bruce made from me at 1-1 which was a crucial moment in the match, he was always capable of doing something like that, we saw it most weeks at Liverpool. I was fortunate to get onto the header after Alan Hansen's clearance went straight to me and I thought I'd scored but Bruce showed a lot of athleticism as he always did and managed to tip it over the bar so all credit to him. I thought it was in.

“We did have opportunities and were the better side for a time but then there's a mistake and Liverpool get back into it and once they got ahead we knew it was going to be very tough for us.

Graeme Sharp, Everton.

“It wasn't to be for us and it was difficult, we had lost the Double in the space of ten days and it was really disappointing. A lot is said of Neville being missing but I think Rushy would still have scored as he always used to score against us anyway! Bobby Mimms was in goal and did well, were we a better team with Neville in the side yes I would say so but that's no disrespect to Bobby and I think on the day Liverpool won the game in the second half and that's the way it goes.

“I'd love to meet whoever had the idea of having a joint homecoming the day afterwards. FA Cup finals are about winning, if you win you're able to enjoy the occasion, if you lose which I've been unfortunate enough to do three times it's the worst feeling ever so whoever decided that was crazy. 

“We had to get on the same plane as Liverpool to fly home on the Sunday morning which was bad enough with them celebrating on the champagne and everything else and us just kind of sat there looking at the floor. 

“Don't get me wrong it was wonderful for the city to have both clubs in the spotlight like that but I do think making us go on the second bus behind Liverpool was ridiculous. I know Peter Reid just couldn't face it and took the fine, and we just did our best to try and drown our sorrows.”

Three years later, the Reds and Blues met again at Wembley but in very different circumstances.

A sea of tributes at Anfield in the aftermath of Hillsborough, April 1989 (Image: Steve Hale, Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Five weeks earlier, while Pat Nevin’s goal against Norwich City at Villa Park was securing Colin Harvey’s side a place in the final, 96 Liverpool fans were unlawfully killed in a lethal crush on Hillsborough’s Leppings Lane terrace ahead of their semi-final against Nottingham Forest.

After a period of mourning, the Reds won the replayed match at Old Trafford to set up another all-Merseyside occasion but Sharp says the feeling going into the match was in great contrast to their years previously.

“Whenever you go to a Cup Final you want to win it and that hadn't changed but obviously what had changed was the circumstances leading up to the match because of what happened at Hillsborough and how it affected the whole city”, he said.

“We were well aware of what the Liverpool players had gone through with attending funerals and so on, the outpouring of grief had an impact on the whole city so to change from that to suddenly going back to play football was really difficult. 

“Going into the game I wanted to play and believed I was going to but it was with some reservations thinking of all the people who'd been affected by what had happened. 

“For the final to go ahead gave a lot of people some hope but it was a sad occasion and I think the majority of the population in the UK probably got the right result as they understandably wanted Liverpool to win.

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“Losing a final is never easy but I would have to say that was a really difficult final to play in and it didn't feel the same as losing back in 86, it was tinged with sadness through the events that had happened at Hillsborough and hopefully Liverpool winning it gave a lift to the families who had lost loved ones.”

* Watch BT Sport’s marathon of highlights from classic FA Cup finals, from 6am today on BT Sport 3




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