Drawn-out manager searches, hungover defence and turning down a Liverpool legend – story of how Everton emerged from ‘bleak’ decade to be champions again

You know exactly how it ends.

But don’t for a second think that an absence of dramatic tension spoils Gavin Buckland’s latest book, the enormously entertaining ‘Boys From The Blue Stuff’.

In fact the knowledge that a happy ending looms, simply encourages the reader to gallop faster and faster through a colourful, eye-opening and informative 400-page analysis of an era wrongly saddled with the tag ‘bleak’.

Gavin’s follow up to the wonderful, ‘Money Can’t Buy Us Love – the story of Everton in the 1960s’, picks up where his sixties chronicle ends, with Harry Catterick stepping down as boss after one of the most memorable eras in the club’s history and Billy Bingham stepping in.

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The analysis of Everton’s efforts to replace Catterick is typical of the decade.

Bobby Robson was courted, and discounted, in strange circumstances which Gavin analyses forensically. Don Revie and Jimmy Armfield were interviewed at John Moores’ Formby home. A promising young Grimsby manager called Lawrie McMenemy was considered, while legendary Italian boss Enzo Bearzot put forward his own claims for the job – before the Everton chairman eventually settled on a man who was at least fourth choice on the Blues’ list.

Gavin has researched the era intensively to produce many more nuggets like that.

Billy Bingham enjoyed one productive season – the 1974/75 campaign, but like the decade it wasn’t productive enough. As the run-in for a suffocatingly tight league title race loomed, Bingham wrote in his programme notes: “At all costs we want to avoid doing a Devon Loch to coin a racing analogy. And so I am looking for five points from our Easter programme against Carlisle, Coventry here today, and Burnley on Friday.”

Everton saw an imaginary jump and collapsed spectacularly. They won just one of the three matches – collected only three points – and the status of champions with the lowest points tally in a 42-match season since Chelsea 20 years earlier went to Derby County.

Gavin has used the same research tools that created ‘Money Can’t Buy Us Love’ – contemporary newspaper reports, local and national, archive footage of matches, contemporary interviews and the autobiographies of many of the players who were involved.

Dai Davies’ 1986 autobiography was particularly productive.

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“I was secretly glad that Billy Bingham did not receive the accolade of winning the First Division Championship in 1975,” he wrote. “From my knowledge of him he was not a man who deserved that honour. He was a selfish man who had little thought of anything except how to promote himself, and he was not particularly talented either.” Brutal!

Then there was the bombshell explanation behind a dreadful 5-0 defeat at Newcastle United, which took place on this day (January 10) in 1976, described by the Echo’s Michael Charters as: “One of the poorest displays for years, hardly a kind word can be said about a dismal show in which an ordinary Newcastle team were made to look very good.”

“The real truth was I was paying the price for a piece of pure foolishness by two members of the team the previous night,” explained Dai. “In their immense wisdom a midfield player and a defender managed to consume a full bottle of whisky and a bottle of brandy between them. Because of their complete lack of effectiveness I was completely defenceless.”

Despite his obvious Everton leanings, Gavin is admirably balanced and dispassionate in his analysis of the 70s and the period building up to the most successful season in the club’s long history.

And then there’s the array of footnotes which sprinkle every page and are a treat.

Like, Everton were favourites to land a certain Kenny Dalglish in the summer of 1975, until Billy Bingham changed the club’s transfer strategy and decided that a strikeforce of Bob Latchford, Jim Pearson and David Smallman was good enough to challenge for the title once again.

And Liverpool players receiving various electronic goods from their first shirt sponsors Hitachi, while Everton players got to visit the Jaka Foods processing plant on the Wirral.

Gavin also explodes some urban myths – like the night University College Dublin came the width of the crossbar from ending Everton’s glorious European Cup Winners’ Cup campaign almost before it had even begun. Quite simply they didn’t.

Boys from the Blue Stuff author Gavin Buckland makes a point animatedly (left) during a Royal Blue Podcast recorded at the Bramley Moore Pub, opposite the site of Everton's new stadium. Pictured (left-right) Phil Kirkbride, Gavin, Greg O'Keeffe, Tony Scott
Boys from the Blue Stuff author Gavin Buckland makes a point animatedly (left) during a Royal Blue Podcast recorded at the Bramley Moore Pub, opposite the site of Everton’s new stadium. Pictured (left-right) Phil Kirkbride, Gavin, Greg O’Keeffe, Tony Scott

“Joe Hanrahan was the one UCD player of note and the story goes that in the final minutes he struck the bar (or post) and that fine margin kept Everton in the competition,” wrote Gavin. “That is simply not true. Keith Lambert had the visitors’ only shot in the game, midway through the second half, which skied way over Neville Southall’s crossbar.”

After the frustration of the 70s, and the genuine bleakness of much of 1982 and 1983, the book ends on a meteoric ride through two of the most amazing years in the club’s history.

The ‘Kendall and Carter out’ leaflet campaign at the Chesterfield League Cup tie was followed by a 3-0 derby defeat when Anfield legend Ian St John declared: “It was men against boys.” Reds boss Joe Fagan later added: “It was too easy for us. There was no excitement.”

Even after the pivotal promotion of Colin Harvey and the signing of the influential Andy Gray, bruised Blues fans had to endure a 3-0 defeat at bottom-of-the-table Wolves following which Howard Kendall formally offered to resign.

Philip Carter’s faith in his young manager Howard Kendall is analysed and explored – especially the time when the manager himself appeared to have lost faith in himself.

The book ends heart stirringly. The final line? “History had repeated itself in the most glorious and satisfying manner imaginable.”

Gavin explains that the most difficult element of his book was knowing where to end.

He chose the halcyon summer of 1985, despite there being another title triumph to follow just two years later. But that’s another story…

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