Perhaps the most enduring image of Everton’s 1984 FA Cup Final victory over Watford was that of left back John Bailey celebrating victory. Squat and beaming, he danced in the sun, bedecked in an Everton-decorated top hat and comical blue sunglasses. The picture seemed to encapsulate Bailey, for he was always more than just a valued team-member. Fittingly for a man born on April Fool’s Day he was the dressing room prankster, the man who defused tension in a crisis and led the obligatory post-victory party. Read any account of Everton in this era, and tales of Bailey’s merry-making will invariably feature.
Yet Bailey was more than just a clown: he was a good player – good enough to win FA Cup and League winner’s medals, as well as a solitary England B cap. Were it not for the ruthlessness of Howard Kendall, who in 1985 believed the Everton defence needed hardening up, he may well also have added to the 219 appearances he made over seven years in an Everton shirt. And who could possibly forget the goal he scored from his own half against Luton Town, one week before Christmas 1982?
Although born in Liverpool the left back started out at Blackburn Rovers, clocking 120 appearances before Gordon Lee paid £300,000 for the highly rated 22-year-old in the summer of 1979. Diminutive and quick, Bailey was fine on the overlap, bursting into the opposition half to send in testing crosses. A solid defender, he sometimes lacked the physical presence necessary to challenge more daunting opponents. Perhaps it was this that led Howard Kendall to sign the more abrasive Pat Van den Hauwe – a hard man in every sense of the word – in September 1984. Bailey nevertheless made enough appearances to claim a title medal that season before his departure to Newcastle in an £80,000 deal in October 1985. He later played out his career with Bristol City.
Bailey briefly returned to Everton in the 1990s as a coach before drifting out of the game, although he still attends Goodison every week. Now in his fifties, he is able to reflect on an accomplished career and at least one unprecedented achievement. ‘Pele tried it once,’ he likes to say of his stupendous goal against Luton all those years ago, ‘but he missed!’