I had accepted I would not be going to the 1985 Cup Winners’ Cup final about halfway through the second leg of the semi-final, when a British Rail guard informed “anyone who’s interested” that Everton were 1-0 down to Bayern Munich. I was on a train to Lime Street and somewhere around Watford Junction at the time.
Luton had already been beaten in the FA Cup semi-final and a 0-0 at Bayern in the first leg had opened up the possibility of two finals in the same week – or more likely for me, one. If I was lucky. The problem was I had just finished my first two-week stint as a steward on a cross-Channel ferry, which involved working a fortnight on and and a fortnight off, and both finals were in the middle of my second stint.
I assumed the guard had a radio in his carriage but he did not come back with any news so thoughts drifted towards the Wembley option and I noticed some lads with blue and white colours as we rolled into Crewe a couple of hours later. I asked them the score and was shocked to be told Everton had won 3-1.
That was that then, and the good news was that my ferry line sailed to Vlissingen in the Netherlands, so I would be more than halfway to Rotterdam if I could get the time off. Two weeks of limbo followed, but when I got back to Kent I managed to persuade someone from the opposite shift to cover me for 48 hours. I bought a match ticket from an Everton fan in the passenger bar at cost price – Hfl20 (about £5) – and snatched a few hours’ sleep in my cabin.
In Rotterdam, 90 minutes or so north by train, the mood was positive but not overconfident as the Everton numbers built up steadily from mid-morning. In mid-afternoon a semi-serious game of football broke out between fans and the shirt-sleeved city police in one of the squares, handcuffs still hanging from their belts, and when I got to De Kuip – then a wonderful two-deck, open-topped steel stadium with a seated main stand on the fourth side – my match ticket could not have been better.
I was on the top deck behind the goal at the Everton end and, after a first half of few chances and a good goal by Andy Gray disallowed for offside, things livened up on 58 minutes when Gray stabbed in a volley after good work from Graeme Sharp. Fifteen minutes later Trevor Steven scored from close range at the back post after a corner and that seemed to be that. But then came the worrying bit.
There were only two Rapid players I was aware of but one was Hans Krankl, the Austria striker who had a great World Cup in 1978, and the other was Czech great Antonin Panenka, and he came on at 1-0. And with five minutes to go, a defensive error saw an offside-looking Krankl get free and score low past Neville Southall, the majority of the 38,000-plus crowd immediately fearing the worst.
This was a different Everton to what we had become accustomed to in the 1970s, however, and Sheedy – set up by Sharp – made it three within a minute and the team played out a 3-1 win with confidence.
Kevin Ratcliffe was handed our first European trophy and, after 10 minutes of the players celebrating with the cup it was back to Liverpool and/or off to Wembley for most of our number, and back to Rotterdam for the rest, as the party continued long into the night.
My next serious memory was being woken up after sunrise by a mate who spotted me among 100 or so bodies crashed out in front of the ticket office at Rotterdam station, awaiting the first trains out. What a day and what a game.