Everton faithful bid final farewell to legendary manager Kendall
The applause began long before the referee had blown his whistle to mark its official start. With the two teams lining up round the Goodison Park centre circle, the public address announcer had begun to detail Howard Kendall's standing hereabouts.
"Everybody associated with Everton is devastated to learn of the passing of one of the finest players and the greatest manager ever in the history of our club," he said.
Never mind listing the cups and trophies, he had barely finished the word associated before the applause started. Within a moment, the cheers were ringing out around this venerable old ground that Kendall did so much to illuminate. Below funereal grey clouds, the Everton faithful belted out their tributes to the man whose death from a heart attack they had learned on their way to the game.
And no wonder there was such warmth in their response: this was a giant of Everton FC. As first a player and then manager Kendall was centrally associated with the last three occasions Everton won the title. It is no exaggeration to suggest without him this club, whose fans like to sing about their past being enough to make your heart go woo, would have little in its history worth shouting about.
Kendall joined the club in 1967 from Preston. Forming a magnificent midfield alongside Alan Ball and Colin Harvey, he drove the team to the championship in 1970. Incredibly, given the intelligence, panache and energy he displayed across half a dozen years, he was never rewarded with an international cap, making him easily the most distinguished footballer in history never to play for England.
After a short spell as player-manager at Blackburn, he took over in the Goodison dug-out in 1981.
Despite appointing his old midfield confrére Harvey as assistant manager, it took a while for his methods to bed in. Indeed there was a petition presented by supporters to the club board demanding he be sacked after an uninspiring start to the 1983-84 season. But an infamously misdirected backpass by Oxford United's Kevin Brock, that allowed Adrian Heath in to equalise during a League Cup quarter- final, seemed to change his luck. From there, Everton went on a roll, reaching the League Cup final and then going on to win the FA Cup, before landing the title the following season.
If Kendall was unlucky it was that his achievements came in an era when football was at its lowest ebb, uncelebrated and demonised. In 1985-86, his team dominated English football in a season when there was no televised matches of any sort until the January. Of more immediately debilitating consequence was that twice he was denied the opportunity to manage his club in the European Cup by the post-Heysel ban on English clubs playing in Europe.
It was partly the frustration of not being able to follow up the enjoyment of leading his side to victory in the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1985 that led him to try his hand in Spain at Athletic Bilbao in 1987. He returned twice to Everton, and had spells at Manchester City, Blackburn and Sheffield United, without ever repeating the returns of that first time on Merseyside.
It was that mid-Eighties heyday that was being celebrated yesterday. Before kick-off outside the stadium, dozens of scarves had been wrapped round the statue of Dixie Dean outside the stadium in his memory. Supporters of a certain age were being stopped by television reporters keen to solicit their views on what Kendall meant. And in the fan zone a chap with a microphone was asking supporters for their reaction.
"Terrible, terrible, really devastating," one man said. "It would be nice for the lads to wallop Man United in his memory." Much as he deserved it, almost 31 years since that day on October 24, 1984 when Kendall had presided over a coruscating 5-0 victory over United, however, there was to be no repeat of that in his memory.