14 May, 1966 is a date that will live long in the memory of Evertonians of a certain age. It was the day when we beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-2, after being 0-2 down with 30 minutes left, to win the FA Cup. This is my story of that unforgettable weekend, and it's not ALL about football but the bits that aren't are all relevant in a "Sliding Doors" kind of way.
Actually, my story begins a year earlier,: 1965, a year that saw Liverpool beat Dirty Leeds to win the FA Cup for the first time in their history. Fast-forward a couple of months and I was invited to join my best mate, John Bone, his parents and younger sister on their holiday to Maldon in Essex to stay in a caravan belonging to his Aunty. As an apprentice cabinet maker and consequently as poor as a church mouse that had been mugged going to Evensong, this was music to my ears, being virtually free.
So, in the last week in July, we all climbed into his Dad's Vauxhall Victor FA – you know the one; it pretended to be American with wrap-round windscreen and small fins at the rear and lots of chrome. Older ones could also rust away to nothing on a long journey, leaving you to get the train home. After a long, hot journey, we eventually found the caravan site overlooking an estuary and his Auntie's caravan handily placed next to the Gents...
I could say it was a bit on the small size but that would be doing it an injustice. It was tiny, a tourer that his Aunt could tow behind a Renault 4 which gives you an idea of its size. Okay, there was just about enough room to swing a cat but, believe me, the cat would suffer life-threatening injuries. Still, as I said, it was free. And very cosy.
John and I, like most lads, went on the pull on the first night and luckily enough, met two London girls, Anne and Sandra. In those days (and you might read that phrase several times in this missive), coming from Liverpool was an actual bonus. Liverpool was, after all, the centre of the popular music world with the plethora of local groups filling the pop charts, numerous comedians and, at this time, the BBC hadn't started to put "thieving" in front of "scouser" as a matter of course. On hearing our accent we were often asked, especially by girls, "Liverpool! Do you know the Beatles?" And, of course, we did... John and I were best mates... ahem!
After a week of hormone-filled caravans, steamed-up windows, and romantic walks along the shore, the time came for us to return home and, just like countless Spanish/Greek/Italian waiters have done for decades, we swapped addresses and promised to keep in touch.
(For the benefit of any younger fans "keeping in touch" in the days before Twatter, Faceplant and Is'nitgrim involved an envelope, Basildon Bond, and a pen. You wrote your message on the paper, put it in an envelope with a small stamp bearing the image of an old lady on it, and wrote the recipient's address on the front before handing it to a nice GPO man in shorts who, using magic and a Morris Minor van, delivered it to your required address the very next day! Marvelous, eh?)
John soon tired of it but Anne and I carried on writing... after all, Liverpool had won the cup that year and I'd promised her that we'd be going to London the next May because 1966 was going to be "Our Year", a phrase since purloined by the kopites...
January 1966 saw our cup run begin just weeks after the debacle that saw Everton lose 2-0 away at Blackpool. After the match, there was a demonstration against Harry Catterick by supporters unhappy that fans' favourite, Alex Young, had been dropped to allow a 16-year-old Joe Royle to make his debut. Catterick stumbled as he approached the team coach but the Press decided he'd been attacked and kicked to the ground. Complete and utter rubbish – but it sold papers and became a myth that survives in some people's minds to this day.
So, Sunderland it was who came to Goodison for the Third Round tie: Pickering, Temple and Young scored in a 3-0 win to take us to the Fourth Round and a draw against lowly Bedford Town. They too were despatched by the same score with Temple and Pickering again on the score sheet. Next came Coventry City and, they were also sent packing with the same 3-0 scoreline, and Young, Temple and Pickering once more were on the score sheet. The Fifth Round, and a trip to Maine Road beckoned against a handy Manchester City side. It ended scoreless, as did the Goodison replay 3 days later.
(Yes, three days. How come the Police didn't give a flying fuck about Health and Safety in those days? Why do we now need the consent of the Police and a letter from the Pope before we can play a replay 10 days after the first game...?)
Anyway, after a 0-0 draw in the first replay, we were off to neutral Molyneux for the second replay, where Pickering and Temple again were the scorers as City were put to the sword... One game away from Wembley! The draw for the semi-finals was made, Sheffield Wednesday were to play Chelsea but we had Manchester United.
Even without George Best, they still had Dennis Law and Bobby Charlton – and had already beaten us 3-0 at their place. Still, a daisy-cutter from Colin Harvey, the White Pele, saw us through to our first Cup Final for 33 years. And we were yet to concede a goal.
Now, the problem was getting a ticket. I'm happy to be corrected here but I think that teams were allocated 11,000 or 17,000 tickets for Wembley in those days. The remaining 80-odd thousand went to blazers and local Football Associations.
Each week, Everton printed a small triangular stub in the corner of a page in the matchday programme which you collected and could be used in the event of us reaching the Final. I was one short and memory tells me it was (I think) voucher 12 for the Fulham game. Whether this was because the gate was so low or too few programmes printed is anybody's guess, but loads of fans were short of voucher 12. After asking everyone I knew for a spare No 12, on the eve of the tickets going on sale, my mate gave me the news that one of our pals had managed to get a spare one and was keeping it for me to pick up. So, the next morning I was up early and with all the required vouchers, got the bus from Tarbock Road to the Rocket and then on to Walton.
The queues were already round the ground and we waited for hours and hours, shuffling slowly to the turnstile. I seem to remember using the ones in Bullens Road, towards the Street End. You went in through the turnstiyle, presented your vouchers and 10 shillings (50p) and left through the big gates. I remember being offered Â£10 by a bloke as I came out – and Â£10 was much more than two weeks wages for a young apprentice cabinet-maker like I was then – but I wouldn't have sold it for anything.
Wembley. Getting to Wembley was more of an achievement then, not like now when the experience of playing there has been diluted with crap like the Zenith Sports Super Cup, Rumbelow Cup, Charity/Community Shield, lower league playoffs, even semi-finals being played there... a player would name a Wembley appearance as the highlight of his career.
Eventually, three of us would be making the journey, another Ray, myself and Alec who, although a ticketless Kopite, fancied a weekend in London. He also had a 1953 Morris Minor which was to be our transport. We set off on the Friday night before the game, cruising around Liverpool along with, it seemed, thousands of other blue-covered cars before setting off.
As there was no motorway system like there is now and with a top speed of about 40 mph, you can see why it took all night. The roads seemed full of cars decked out in blue and white and most seemed to us to be Evertonians. At last, we arrived and, after breakfast in Covent Garden, met up with the girls who took us round London to see the sights. Downing St,"Eee Aye Adio, Harold's Still In Bed", Buckingham Palace, Guardsmen's red tunics...
Alec, the driver, was paying too much attention to these sights and ran into the back of and old Austin Cambridge on London Bridge, smashing the radiator. We were stuffed. Radiator fluid poured on to the road and the Morris was going nowhere, at least, not under its own steam. But the driver of the other vehicle was a top bloke and, after helping us get the car to a garage, where it was to remain for another week, ran Ray and I to Wembley well in time for the game. Can you believe that? I'll never forget his kindness.
The game was unbelievable, 0-2 down with 30 mins to go and winning 3-2? You couldn't write it. I remember when the third went in... pandemonium. Those plastic straw boater hats thrown in the air, a big bloke behind me lifting me up and the noise was deafening. We must have gone 20 feet down the terracing in the crush. I have never experienced noise, passion or emotion like it, before or since. Grown men crying tears of joy, hugging complete strangers... you had to be there.
(Some years later, at a dinner party, one girl tried the old "What was the best day of your life" crap. My spineless mate agreed with the girls that it was his wedding day. All eyes on me... "Hell, no, Wembley 1966!" A hoar frost emanated from Mrs Roche, spreading slowly across the table like in a Disney cartoon, sod it... in for a penny!)
But the match was only part of it.
After a great night out, we went the next day to Euston Station to see if we could get a train home... We stood in a short queue and eventually bought tickets. Then a commotion behind us... the Everton team and officials had arrived! We plucked up courage and spoke to some of them, old Joe Mercer was an absolute gent and asked us if we'd had a good time, the late Alex Scott saw us and let us hold his medal, we couldn't believe our luck, I mean, holding a Cup Winners medal the day after he'd won it!
And things were about to get better. The train we had tickets for was jam-packed and when we saw a senior guard we gave him the sob-story about the car crash... ok, we ladled it on a bit... I mean, no-one actually WENT to hospital... and Alec's limp kept going from right leg to left leg... but we were basically decent lads, definitely not scallies. He said that if we behaved ourselves we could go back on "That train there" and pointed to the team's train.
We were put in a carriage with three middle-aged, suited gents who could have been directors for all we knew, but they were very kind and chatted away to us for some time, but we felt a bit overawed and uncomfortable and, after a while, went and stood in the corridor. Brian Harris came out on his way for a slash and asked what we were doing on the train? When we told him our story – which by now involved Alec having open-heart surgery – after he'd had his slash, he took us to meet the players in their coach.
They all signed our song sheets and our ticket stubs, including the surviving members of the 1933 Cup Winning team who were there as guests of the club: Dixie Dean, Jimmy Dunn etc.. He then he led us to a smaller coach containing Gordon West, John Moores and Harry Catterick who reached up into the old rope type luggage rack, got the FA Cup down, and let each of us hold it in turn. Remember... NO-ONE got to hold the FA Cup then, unless you'd won it. Nowadays you can pay a tenner and have your photo taken with the Cup or a copy all over the place, but then? No way.
After we got to Allerton, on the outskirts of Liverpool, the team got off and went on the open top coach through the streets. We stayed on until the train got to Lime Street where we stood for hours with tens of thousands of others to see them arrive at St Georges Hall – with the Cup we'd just been holding.
Sliding Doors? Well, if we hadn't gone to Maldon, I'd never have met the Anne, wouldn't have gone to London for the weekend, wouldn't have crashed the car, wouldn't have got the train...