The European Cup Winners’ Cup was a competition staged for the winners of Europe’s domestic cup competitions. Founded in 1960, it ran until the end of the 1998/99 season, when it was merged with the UEFA Cup. It consisted of a straight knockout contest, with two-legged ties leading up to a final played at a neutral venue.

EVERTON APPEARED in the competition three times – in 1966/67, 1984/85 and 1995/96 – and were it not for the post-Heysel ban would probably have appeared a fourth time in 1986/87, after Liverpool claimed a First Division and FA Cup double the previous season. Of course, the European Cup Winners’ Cup saw Everton’s only triumph in European competition, when they won it in 1985.

GIVEN THE GLORIES that were to follow that season, it is perhaps surprising that Everton nearly fell at the very first hurdle, against the most inauspicious opponents. University College Dublin (UCD) was, quite literally, a student team, which had risen through the Irish football pyramid to play in the top flight of the League of Ireland. Former players included the Manchester United defender Kevin Moran, and the previous season they had stunned Irish football by beating Shamrock Rovers to lift the FAI Cup. Everton were expected to beat them easily – the previous season Spurs had beaten Drogheda United 14-0 on aggregate in the UEFA Cup, which was seen as indicative of Irish football’s standard during this time.

Yet no avalanche of goals followed. UCD defended obstinately in Dublin and held out for a 0-0 draw. At Goodison a fortnight later, on ten minutes neat interplay by Trevor Steven and Adrian Heath played in Graeme Sharp to put Everton 1-0 in front. Although the thin Goodison crowd expected more goals, the Irish team continued to defend stoutly – UCD’s goalkeeper, a civil servant called Alan O’Neill, was named man of the match in both legs – and was not breached again. Near the end, Ken O’Doherty skimmed the Everton bar with an effort that would have put the Blues out on away goals.

Next was a trip behind the Iron Curtain to Inter Bratislava. In Czechoslovakia, Paul Bracewell’s early headed goal at once settled nerves and was enough to secure victory. Everton won the return leg at a canter – leading 2-0 at half-time through Sharp and Sheedy goals, the tie was effectively over, and Adrian Heath made sure of their passage with a third goal on 63 minutes.

For the quarter-finals Everton were touched with fortune, avoiding AS Roma and Bayern Munich, and instead being handed a tie with Fortuna Sittard, a Dutch team whose ranks were replete with semi-professionals. They were, however, wily opponents and in the first leg at Goodison, held Everton to a first-half stalemate. The 26,000 crowd showed signs of restiveness at the interval, but Andy Gray soon took charge of proceedings. Shortly after the break he opened the scoring with a low stab after the Fortuna goalkeeper failed to hold on to Peter Reid’s shot. The game was still tightly balanced as the game entered its final quarter. But Gray put paid to Sittard’s hopes, first when he met Terry Curran’s cross with a diving header, then when he completed his hat-trick by hitting home Sheedy’s cross. In the return leg, Graeme Sharp killed the tie after just 15 minutes, scoring a crucial away goal. There was no collapse from the Dutch team, but Peter Reid’s late goal secured an emphatic 5-0 aggregate win.

In the semi-finals, Everton were drawn against the competition’s favourites, Bayern Munich. What followed became part of Everton folklore.

The away leg in Bavaria came first and promised Everton’s sternest test. Marshalled by Lothar Matthaus, Bayern were an outstanding team and packed with internationals, including Belgian goalkeeper, Jean-Marie Pfaff; the defenders Klaus Augenthaler and Wolfgang Dremmler; Danish winger, Soren Lerby; and the deadly forward pairing of Dieter Hoeness and Ludwig Kogl, who possessed a ferocious combination of power and pace. Everton’s task was made more difficult after Sheedy and Gray failed fitness tests on the morning of the match. Kevin Richardson and Alan Harper were brought in and neither let their team-mates down in a performance of iron resolve. With magnificent discipline and determination, the Everton team stuck to their task of withstanding the Bayern attack.

Only once did Bayern break through in a packed Olympic stadium: Michael Rummenigge, younger brother of the legendary Karl-Heinz, beating Southall with a shot only to see Richardson clear it off the line. It maintained a stalemate and gave Everton an excellent chance in the second leg.

The return leg, on 24 April 1985, perhaps saw Goodison’s greatest night. On a balmy evening, Bayern Munich were outfought on the pitch by the players and sung off the park by nearly 50,000 Evertonians. Gray and Reid were fit again, meaning Everton were at full strength.

IT WAS BAYERN who took the lead on 38 minutes, when Southall conceded his first goal in the competition to Dieter Hoeness. Yet Everton were unfortunate to go in at half-time a goal down. In the early moments of the game, Trevor Steven had flashed a shot wide and Kevin Sheedy had twice gone close, first being denied only by the onrushing Pfaff and again with a trademark free kick that left the Bayern goalkeeper scrambling to his far post. In the middle of the park, Reid and Bracewell were dominating their more experienced opponents as Everton took the game to the Germans.

At half-time Kendall told his players to maintain their tempo and continue to attack Bayern. They entered the second half to a wall of such noise from the Goodison crowd as had rarely been heard before. As Gray put it,

I don’t think I’ve ever been overcome by so much noise and you could see that Bayern was suffering.

Both players and fans were abundantly aware of the size of the task: that Everton needed two goals to overcome the Germans, who now had a crucial away goal.

WITHIN THREE minutes they got one back. Gray back-headed Stevens’ long throw in and Sharp glanced home his 29th goal of the season. The Goodison crowd roared the team on and on 73 minutes they got their reward in a reverse of the roles that had led to the first goal. Stevens’ launched another long throw into the Bayern area, this time Sharp flicked it on and with Pfluger inadvertently impeding his own goalkeeper, Gray was allowed to steal in with a header and make the score 2-1. All night long the physical presence of Gray had unsettled the Bayern Munich defence and one of their centre backs had had his nose broken after an overzealous challenge by the Scot. Now his strength and bravery had cost them again.

Everton’s third and final goal came late on. Paul Bracewell played a ball to the buccaneering Gray who found himself in space, just inside the Bayern half. He played the ball first time, without looking up, into the path of Trevor Steven. Steven raced clear of the straggling Bayern defence, held his nerve and calmly drew Pfaff out of his goal as he advanced unchallenged, then dispatched the ball past the exposed goalkeeper and into the bottom corner of the Gwladys Street net to secure Everton’s place in the final. ‘The noise from the fans behind the goal sent the roof of the Gwladys Street [stand] soaring into the air before miraculously falling back into place,’ recalled Mike Owen in his history of Everton
in Europe, Der Ball ist Rund. ‘Around the ground there were so many men kissing each other that it looked like a Gay Pride festival. The Germans looked at each other, crestfallen, as from the heavens came the sound of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, with cannons exploding.’

Given such excitement, the final in Rotterdam against Rapid Vienna might have seemed anticlimactic. As they would in later years in Villareal, Nuremburg and Liege, Evertonians invaded foreign soil, taking over Holland’s second city. It was a carnival atmosphere, with epic games of football played in the city’s main square against local policemen beforehand, and vast quantities of local beer consumed.

As to the game, Rapid Vienna seemed nervous and Everton were in control throughout. Perhaps surprisingly it took Everton 57 minutes to break the deadlock. Gray, who had already seen a goal disallowed, scored after Sharp intercepted Weinhofer’s back-pass and pulled the ball back for his fellow Scot to volley home. Fifteen minutes later Everton doubled their lead through Steven’s far post shot after Sheedy’s corner. With six minutes remaining Hans Krankl scored an unexpected goal, but any concerns were short-lived. A minute later Sheedy shimmied through the Rapid Vienna defence to score Everton’s third goal and seal the club’s first and, to date, only European trophy.

The richly deserved win was generously acknowledged by the Rapid Vienna manager, Otto Baric.

Everton were the better team and we could not cope with their speed and aggression,

he said. ‘We were without three important midfield players, but even on our best form we could not have lived with Everton tonight.’ Howard Kendall was genuinely thrilled by what he had seen. ‘It was something special tonight, a truly tremendous performance,’ he told reporters. ‘We showed everybody what a good side we are. In terms of possession football you will see nothing better. Everyone in the side was magnificent. We deserved every bit of our win.'