Friday 27 April 2018

True Blue Sheedy still feeling that derby magic

Kevin Sheedy celebrates with Tony Cottee and Pat Nevin during an Everton victory in 1983
Kevin Sheedy celebrates with Tony Cottee and Pat Nevin during an Everton victory in 1983
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Kevin Sheedy remembers a time when the Merseyside derby was a real blood and thunder affair.

Those were the days when the first order of business was a ferocious series of battles around the pitch, with the ball of secondary importance until the initial fire and fury tapered off – but only slightly!

The Reds were the dominant side through the '70s but in the mid-80s the Blues rose to prominence and brought glory to Goodison Park at domestic and European level.

Whatever their league positions in any decade, every meeting of Everton and Liverpool has been played with unbridled passion.

That's still the case, even in this modern era where players can give 'Dying Swan' performances when they feel the slightest touch.

Back in the '80s and '90s, it was all so different, so physically overpowering for any player unprepared for the intensity of the occasions.

Sheedy, now 54 and the youth coach at Everton's academy, is one of the few players to have worn the colours of Liverpool and Everton.

He joined the Reds from Hereford in 1978 for £80,000, and left for Goodison Park in 1982, having made only five first-team appearances, for a fee of £100,000.

"Liverpool had a great side. The team picked itself and it was very difficult to break into it, so I moved to Everton," he says.

"They had the tradition – they won the FA Cup and the league twice – but you don't think at the time that you're going to be part of Everton's most successful team."

Sheedy can't recall the finer detail of past battles with the Reds, but he remembers that there was no place to hide.

FIRST

"My first derby... it was a totally different game to any other one you played," he says. "The week of the derby, the expectations were so high, the media coverage was huge.

"The whole city was wrapped up in it. Both sets of supporters were really up for the game, but in my early days there was a lot of camaraderie between the supporters.

"For the Wembley finals between the clubs, Everton and Liverpool supporters would travel down in the same car, and it was a case of families being divided, but in a friendly way.

"The players were caught up in the atmosphere as much as any of the supporters, and there used to be real hard tackles and loads of yellow cards.

"Referees knew that in the first 15 to 20 minutes there were going to some very high tackles going in, and they used to just step back and let the players get on with it.

"And then after a certain period of time they'd start refereeing the game. It was that intense. When you had the likes of Steve McMahon, Peter Reid, Graeme Souness, Kevin Ratcliffe on the pitch, there were lots of, shall we say, high challenges."

Of course there was also oodles of skill on show, not least from Sheedy, whose cultured left foot was a deadly weapon, particularly from free-kicks.

But if you want a flavour of the need to mark out your territory in those days, Sheedy smiles as he recounts the following anecdote.

"One of my memories would be of Neil Pointon, who was making his Merseyside derby debut," he says.

"He was a bit nervous before the game, so I said to him 'for the first 15 or 20 minutes you need to look after yourself – there'll be a lot of high tackles going in, particularly if you're going for a 50-50 with Steve McMahon; my advice is to forget about the ball, because he will, and just go as high as you can go'.

"Well, they had a 50-50 challenge after 20 minutes. Neil went for the ball and Steve McMahon caught him from his knee up to his thigh. You can give people advice, but sometimes they don't heed it!"

Sheedy has some great memories of the derby, particularly of 1987, when he smashed home a superb free-kick at Anfield, leaving Liverpool goalkeeper Mike Hooper helpless and the Kop in despair.

It wasn't a winner, as the Reds won that joust 3-1, but it's a quality goal that is still fondly remembered by Blues fans.

The period from 1983-90 was the peak years of Sheedy's glittering career.

Welsh-born, but with a father from Co Clare, he declared for the Republic of Ireland and won the first of 46 caps against Holland at Dalymount Park as a late substitute in October 1983.

In 1984 he helped Everton to reach the FA Cup final, and though injury prevented him playing at Wembley, the win over Watford confirmed Howard Kendall's Goodison Park side as a rising power in the English game.

The Toffees won the league and the European Cup Winners Cup in 1985, and reached the FA Cup final only to lose to Manchester United.

BOUNCED

Everton were runners-up in the league and cup (both to Liverpool) in 1986, but bounced back to reclaim the 1987 league title.

And then came the Irish adventures in Euro 88 and Italia 90, with Sheedy's equalising goal against England in Palermo still a feature in highlight reels of 1990.

"I was really fortunate to play for Everton in that era, and the same with Ireland," he says.

"The Irish set-up was like Everton, in that we had great camaraderie and a great set of players.

"People sometimes overlook that we were all playing for top teams, and we gelled really well under the management of Jack (Charlton).

"Howard Kendall was the best manager I played under. Jack was a different type of manager to Howard, but his man-management skills were good. He was methodical. He knew what he wanted. The players knew what was expected of them, and '88 and '90 gave me some of the best memories of my career."

Fast-forward to the present day, and the 222nd meeting of Everton and Liverpool at Anfield tomorrow.

Their 3-3 draw at Goodison Park earlier in the season was a thriller and with both clubs riding high in the Premier League table and gunning for a Champions League place, this should be another memorable derby.

"Both the managers have a positive style of football now. They want their teams to play, and to pass the ball through midfield, and the two teams have top players," says Sheedy.

"Everton have got (Romelu) Lukaku, Liverpool have (Luis) Suarez and both clubs have got plenty of other top-quality players.

"The last derby was one of the best for many a year and hopefully it will be the same again. Both teams are going to play open football, which is what the supporters want to see. Hopefully it will be the same type of game as the last one, but obviously I hope the Blues come out on top."

Irish Independent

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