The signing of Peter Reid would be hailed by Howard Kendall as ‘Everton’s most important since the war.’ In a seven year long Goodison career, his contribution as the midfield enforcer more than justified his manager’s claims. But Reid was always more than just a great player. He was a snarling inspirer of his colleagues, a formidable opponent; the brave, vociferous heartbeat of the team whose tirelessness made Everton tick. He was, so the cliché goes, the sort of man you would want alongside you in the trenches. He was integral to Everton’s mid-1980s heyday.
Hailing from Huyton, Reid was overlooked by the two Mersey giants as a teenager and signed as a trainee with Bolton Wanderers in the early-1970s. After breaking through to the first team mid-decade he was part of the Bolton side that won the Second Division Championship in 1977/78. After experiencing relegation in 1979/80, Gordon Lee tried to sign Reid for Everton in a £600,000 deal that would have represented a club record transfer. But the transfer fell through and Reid remained at Burnden Park for 30 injury-plagued months.
When Howard Kendall moved for the midfielder in December 1982, Reid had been so ravaged by injury that he was by then valued at just one tenth of the fee Lee had tried to pay. Kendall was nevertheless desperate to get his man, and when Midland Bank refused to extend Everton’s overdraft to facilitate the purchase, the club changed banks to TSB who would.
And yet the move quickly threatened to be a disaster. Because of yet more injury Reid played just 10 times in remaining six months of the 1982/83 season. Kendall considered the move a mistake and Colin Harvey, who had scouted Reid, reputedly apologised for his part in the deal.
However, Reid returned to the Everton team in Autumn 1983, and, for the first time in years put in a run of appearances without succumbing to injury. Gradually he began to impart his influence upon the team, and by January 1984 Goodison had witnessed the genesis of the side that would dominate English football over the next 40 months.
Reid was never the most technically accomplished nor polished of players. By the time he was an Everton player, injuries had diminished his pace. He was neither potent in the air, nor in front of goal. In many ways he resembled a pub footballer – inelegant, stocky, prematurely balding. Evertonians sang, ‘He’s fat, he’s round, he’s worth a million pounds’ – but, as When Skies Are Grey would later point out, Reid was worth ‘much, much more than that to Everton.’
His technique was successful because of its simplicity. He rarely needed more than two touches: he would get it, give it, move into space and demand it back. His distribution was precise and effective; but he could also spray balls over long distances – as witness the 50 yard chipped pass that setup Gary Lineker’s goal in the 1986 FA Cup Final. He was a formidable and effective tackler whose perceptive reading of the game gave him an edge over more athletic opponents. The litany of injuries he had recovered from hinted at the intense willpower that seemed to drive him. This rubbed off on his team mates, who seemed invigorated by his very presence.
Without question, Reid played his finest football in the 1984/85 season when Everton swept virtually all comers. Reid added League Championship and European Cup Winners Cup medals to the FA Cup he had won a year earlier. He also became the first Everton player to win the PFA Player of the Year Award. Recording the fact Rothmans Football Annual paid the following tribute: ‘A few years ago injury and disputes seemed to have ruined the first class career of this midfield player. During one spell of almost five years at Bolton Wanderers he failed to make a score of appearances in any one season. Transfer to Everton proved the breakthrough he needed and last year he was the mainspring in the Goodison Park midfield machinery which churned out Championship and European success in impressive fashion. Then winning his first full international cap for England at last put his career in pole position.’ Reid said of his award: ‘When you talk about awards, you can’t be given a greater honour than one voted for by your own profession. Winning that is something I’ll never forget.’ In June 1985, on the eve of his twenty-ninth birthday, Reid was awarded the first of thirteen England caps, against Mexico.
Having barely missed a game in nearly two years, in September 1985 injury struck Reid again – this time his Achilles tendon and he underwent successive operations on his left and right sides. His return in February 1986 helped shore up Everton’s occasionally leaky rearguard, as they narrowly missed out to Liverpool in the race for the league Championship and FA Cup. But in total Reid made just 15 league appearances – who knows how Everton might have fared had he managed more.
With Gary Lineker, Trevor Steven and Gary Stevens, Reid was part of a strong Everton contingent at the 1986 World Cup Finals in Mexico. But on his return the injury curse struck again and Reid was missing at the start of the 1986/87 season and absent until February. His return to form that Spring coincided with a seven match-winning streak that propelled Everton to a second league title in three seasons.
When Howard Kendall left Everton for Spain at the end of that season, Reid, now aged 31, was appointed player-coach by his successor, Colin Harvey. Reid insisted: ‘I’m still more a player than a coach’ and during the 1987/88 season he played more league games than in the two preceding campaigns combined, many as captain in the injured Kevin Ratcliffe’s absence. But as Everton went into their late-1980s decline, an aging Reid was made a scapegoat by some supporters. He lost his place during the 1988/89 season and in February 1989 was granted a free transfer.
Yet Reid’s playing days were far from over. He joined Queens Park Rangers, but later on that year, when Howard Kendall became Manchester City manager, he returned north to be reunited with his former manager. In November 1990 Kendall returned to Everton and Reid succeeded him as Manchester City player-manager. He was arguably City’s most successful manager since Joe Mercer, twice leading them to fifth but was, to the surprise of the club’s fans, sacked early in the 1993/94 season by a chairman impatient for success. Reid subsequently put in brief playing stints with Southampton, Notts County and Bury.
In 1995 was appointed Sunderland manager. This would be Reid’s most successful managerial spell, spanning seven years. In 1999 he won the First Division title with a record number of points and the following year was briefly called upon to manage the England under-21 team. He was dismissed as Sunderland manager in October 2002, but returned to management with Leeds United in March 2003. After staving off relegation in his first months in charge, Reid was awarded the job on a permanent basis. But amid the serious financial crisis engulfing Elland Road, Reid struggled to maintain results in the first months of 2003/4 and was sacked. There followed an eight month spell in charge of Coventry City, which proved fruitless. In September 2008, Reid was the surprise choice to take charge of the Thai national team.
Through this lengthy playing and managerial career it has always been Reid’s insatiable hunger for success that has driven him forward – often in the face of adversity. While an Everton player this was, perhaps, best expressed on two occasions during the summer of 1986. The first incident followed Everton’s FA Cup Final defeat to Liverpool when Reid was so gripped with disappointment that he refused to take his place on the open topped bus shared by the two teams. The second came after England had lost to Argentina in the World Cup quarter final; in his diary of the season Everton Winter, Mexican Summer, Reid simply recorded: ‘We showed them too much respect.’ It wasn’t that he was bad loser, he simply wanted to win. ‘After all,’ he once said, ‘It’s only the winning that counts.’