Yesterday in soccer history

On May 15, 1985, Everton defeated Rapid Vienna 3-1 to win the European Cup Winners Cup. The competition featured the winners of the top domestic cup in all European football leagues. It no longer exists — the cup winners now play in the Europa League.

Most Everton fans viewed the final as almost anti-climactic. We thought the hard work had been done in the semi-final against German giants Bayern Munich. I commemorated that brilliant semi-final here.

However, the Austrian club did not roll over in the final. Sitting back and soaking up Everton’s pressure, Rapid Vienna managed to go into half time level at 0-0.

Everton broke through just before the hour mark. Confusion in the Rapid Vienna defense, coupled with a beautiful chipped cross by Graeme Sharp, left the Andy Gray free in front of goal with the goalkeeper stranded. The Scotsman kept his composure and volleyed it home.

Everton scored again in the 72nd minute. Tricky Trevor Steven smashed in a close range shot after the Rapid Vienna defense failed to clear a Kevin Sheedy corner.

It looked like smooth sailing. However, in the 84th minute, Hans Krankl, probably the greatest Austrian footballer since World War II, scored to make it 2-1.

But a minute later, Everton put the match away. It was Route 1 football at its best. Our legendary keeper Neville Southall punted the ball well upfield. Gray laid it off for Sharp, who laid it off for Sheedy, who finished with that sweet left foot from about 25 yards.

You can see the goals, plus the world’s scruffiest celebration and cup hoisting, at the end of this post.

Everton had already won the English First Division (as the Premier League was known then) championship. A few days later, we would play for a “triple” at Wembley Stadium in the FA Cup final. Unfortunately, Manchester United upset a tired Everton team, 1-0.

Even without the triple, Everton was generally considered the best team in Europe in 1985. Hans Krankl certainly was impressed. After the Cup Winners Cup final, he stated:

Everton were just too good for us. It’s been a long time since we played against anyone of their class. They are possibly the best side in the whole of Europe.

Everton hoped to prove this in the 1986 European Cup — the forerunner of what’s now called the Champions League. Unfortunately, we never got the chance.

Rioting by Liverpool fans at the 1985 European Cup final in Brussels, during which 39 people died, led to a ban on English teams from all European competitions. (There had been no fan trouble at the Everton-Rapid Vienna match in Rotterdam two weeks earlier).

The ban, which lasted until 1990, was a massive blow to English football. English clubs had dominated European competitions in the preceding ten years. By contrast, major success has been fairly rare in the past 25. No English side even reached the knockout stage of Europe’s top competition until 1996-97.

Everton hasn’t been the same since 1985. And, though their decline was far less dramatic, neither has Liverpool.