For any modern footballer to score 10 top flight goals in a season is an achievement, but for a central defender to reach that total is a once-in-a-generation occurrence. Yet when Everton won the League Championship in 1985, Derek Mountfield reached that magical number, also weighing in with crucial FA Cup goals. And yet, although he is often most remembered for his attacking prowess, it should in no way diminish excellent defensive credentials, which saw him on the verge of an England call up.
A native Merseysider and boyhood Evertonian, Mountfield began his career with Tranmere Rovers. Signed as a nineteen year old by Howard Kendall in June 1982, his £30,000 fee represents one of the great bargains in the club’s history. He made his debut against Birmingham City in April 1983, and injury to Mark Higgins by the end of the year allowed him to claim the number five shirt as his own. By then Everton were on the crest of a wave of honours and in May 1984 Mountfield was part of the team that beat Watford in the FA Cup Final.
Thin as a rake and somewhat gangly, Mountfield was a fine and fleet footed centre half who was always comfortable in possession and not averse to making long, raking passes up the field. With Kevin Ratcliffe he mastered Everton’s zonal marking trap, forming Everton’s finest central defensive partnership since the black and white days of Labone and Hurst.
And then there were the goals. The 1984/85 season represented Mountfield’s annus mirabilis, and not until Joleon Lescott’s prime, almost a quarter of a century later, would Everton possess such a dangerous defensive player. His ten league goals were an important contribution to Everton’s League Championship win, and included the strike against Queens Park Rangers that effectively sealed their ultimate victory. But it is the two that Mountfield scored in Everton’s run to the FA Cup Final, for which he is best remembered.
Losing 2-1 at home to Ipswich, Everton were heading for a quarter-final exit when in the final minute Mountfield slid in with a dramatic equaliser. After easing through the replay, in the semi final against Luton Mountfield headed home an extra time winner from Kevin Sheedy’s fee kick. His ecstatic celebration, open arms stretched to their full width, remains one of the most vivid and enduring images of the era. He would later say of the afternoon: ‘If you saw my celebration after scoring you'd understand how I felt. Really we had no right to be in the game at that stage. We didn't play well in the first half and went in 1-0 down, but we came out in the second half with a lot more steel. We equalised very, very late on to get extra time and to score that winner was a great feeling, especially as it got us to Wembley for the second year running.’
At 22, and with a trophy cabinet full enough to make seasoned professionals jealous, a glittering career seemed to beckon for Mountfield. And yet, it was to be cruelly cut short by injury. A torn cartilage wrecked his 1985/86 season and although he returned for its disappointing conclusion, his chances were severely limited the following campaign after Dave Watson became Everton’s record signing during the close season.
It seemed an unjust fate for an accomplished defender. Watson initially met a cool reception, with some fans calling for Mountfield’s reinstatement. Mountfield would recall: ‘Obviously when you sign somebody for £1 million, he's going to take preference over somebody else. Even when I got back into the team and played well, Howard would always put Dave back. I was very frustrated but these things happen in football and they'll happen to better players than me, so you've just got to accept it. At the time Howard thought Dave and Kevin Ratcliffe were the best two together.’
He made enough appearances to win a league title medal in 1987, but after playing just a handful of games during the 1987/88 season asked for a transfer. In June 1988 he joined Graham Taylor’s Aston Villa for £450,000. ‘Medals mean nothing and you can't live on memories,’ he said at the time. ‘The medals will be fine to look at in years to come when I've retired but for now I just want that special feeling of being involved again on a Saturday afternoon. Reserve football is just not the same.’
Villa narrowly missed out on the league title in 1990, and in 1991 Mountfield joined Wolves. There followed spells across the lower leagues and a stint at management before Mountfield slipped out of the game. A devoted Evertonian, Mountfield, who now works as a PE teacher on the Wirral and is shorn of his trademark moustache, remains a well recognised face at Goodison on matchdays.