Remembering the never-ending final: Everton, Aston Villa and the three games to decide the 1977 League Cup

Remembering the never-ending final: Everton, Aston Villa and the three games to decide the 1977 League Cup

I have just come out of a heated meeting with my tutor who insists that I cannot afford to miss his lecture this afternoon. He probably had a point: the finals for my degree were due to start in six weeks and there were still huge gaps in my knowledge. But I was subject to a higher calling: Everton were playing Aston Villa at Wembley in the final of the League Cup the following day and I needed to head back home to Liverpool that very afternoon where I would be part of a minibus setting off for Wembley the following morning at seven.

This unexpected cup run created a massive dent in my limited finances so there was no option but to introduce a nascent form of austerity into my lifestyle and hitchhike home to save on the train fare. Looking back, it is actually quite frightening to recall the number of times I used this method to convey me to Everton games, but every journey passed without incident or alarm. Thankfully, when I received my first ever pay packet, my thumbing days were over.

I picked up my first lift on the M62 in Morley, just outside Leeds, and two rides later I was deposited at the end of the M57, which was within walking distance of home. As per the never-ending student tradition, I arrived just in time for tea, scrounged some additional funds from my parents and then spent the rest of the evening in the pub with some mates. Those were the days.

On 12 March 1977, the minibus departed from outside my friend’s house, who lived a few doors away. Most of my 11 travelling companions were members of his family and his brother- in- law kindly agreed to undertake the driving. En route, most of the passengers were engrossed in reading the Liverpool Echo Special Edition, which charted Everton’s progress to the final. An air of anticipation and expectation enveloped us all

Everton’s form had plateaued during the 1976/77 campaign and, by January 1977, the team were adrift in 13th after a paltry return of just two wins in 11 matches, with attendances slumping as low as 21,000. The club decided to dispense with the services of manager Billy Bingham who was left to regret his remark on a recent edition of Football Focus when, after parading new signing Duncan MacKenzie, he joked: “The last manager who signed him got sacked.”

Despite the poor performances in the league, Everton made progress in the League Cup, the highlight a stunning 3-0 annihilation of Manchester United at Old Trafford in the quarter-finals in front of 57,738 supporters, which was arguably the best performance under Bingham’s reign. It is still the one Everton game that I regret not being able to see. My dad and my younger brother were privileged to have been there, although his teacher looked askance the following day when his reason for missing school was given as going Christmas shopping in Manchester.

In an unexpected development, Everton broke with tradition and didn’t appoint an ex-player as the new boss. Instead, Gordon Lee of Newcastle arrived, which came as somewhat of a shock to both fans and media alike who were confidently expecting Bobby Robson of Ipswich to assume the role.

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Lee immediately set about imposing a more disciplined playing style, with every player expected to adhere to his instructions. Bingham’s side conceded 12 goals in four games in December, and Lee would ensure that those defensive frailties were consigned to the past.

Before he could assume command, coach Steve Birkenshaw was in temporary charge for the first leg of the League Cup semi-final against Second Division Bolton. Over 55,000 crammed onto the terraces of Goodison Park hoping for an Everton victory. A goal from MacKenzie looked set to settle the game until, in typical Everton fashion, they were the victims of their own demise. With just two minutes remaining, goalkeeper David Lawson took too many steps with the ball – an act spotted by the referee – resulting in the award of an indirect free-kick. A sense of foreboding was palpable as Bolton duly equalised.

Lee was installed as manager on 30 January 1977 and his first game in charge saw Everton win a cup replay at Goodison against Third Division Swindon. Two weeks later, in front of Bolton’s biggest gate for years – 50,413 – Everton, despite missing a penalty, won 1-0 at Burnden Park to ensure their first journey to Wembley for nine years.

For Everton’s, Martin Dobson who was released by Bolton as a youngster with no apparent explanation, this victory was especially sweet. The editors of the Bolton Evening News were left to regret printing their special Wembley edition prior to the game.

Our minibus made remarkably good time and, hurtling down the M6 in what appeared to be a