On March 9, 1985, in an FA Cup quarter final tie with Ipswich Town, Kevin Sheedy was involved in one of the most remarkable pieces of skill Goodison has ever witnessed. Called upon to take an early free kick, Sheedy took his time and curled a shot around the wall and into the right hand corner of Paul Cooper’s goal. As the crowd roared his opening goal, the referee, deciding Sheedy had taken too long with his effort, called play back and order him to retake it. Sheedy kept his cool, and indolently curled the ball to Copper’s left and into the Ipswich net. This time the goal stood. ‘I still fancied it,’ said Sheedy, later. ‘I think after putting the first one in that Paul Cooper had over-compensated to stop me doing the same again. It was a good feeling.’
Such effortless composure and technical excellence epitomised Sheedy, who wowed Goodison throughout the 1980s. Never a physical or hardworking player, who sometimes seemed out of place in an era when modern midfielders raced around as if their very lives depend upon doing so, Sheedy possessed something which set him apart from his contemporaries: the finest left foot in football.
Born the son of a publican in Builth Wells in the Welsh borders, Sheedy began his career with Hereford United in the mid-1970s. Always a delicate player, his precise, imaginative passing soon attracted a score of top-flight scouts to this footballing backwater. In 1978, Sheedy travelled north to complete a move to Merseyside – but not to Goodison. Bob Paisley, always a man with an astute eye for lower league talent, had seen the promise Sheedy so emphatically possessed and paid Hereford £80,000 for the teenager.
If the cloud created by Liverpool’s domestic and European domination had a silver lining, it was that Sheedy could not break into the Liverpool machine. Faced with competition from the likes of Graeme Souness, Terry McDermott and Ray Kennedy, chances were always going to be difficult to come by. In four years at Anfield Sheedy started just three games for Liverpool. Frustrated at the lack of opportunities in the summer of 1982 he asked for a transfer. Paisley was determined to keep him, but the promise of first team football was too alluring and he joined Everton in August that year after a tribunal fixed a fee of £100,000. In making the switch to Everton he was the first player to cross Stanley Park since Johnny Morrissey twenty years previously.
Sheedy was an instant success at Goodison, belying the initial scepticism of some Evertonians. During the 1982/83 season he scored eleven league goals and also played more games than any other Everton player. A delicate player of grace and élan, he defied the notion that football was becoming a mere athlete’s game. His precise passing over long distances gave an additional dimension to Everton’s play, allowing them to break quickly and penetrate opponent’s rearguards. His crossing from set pieces and the wing allowed Graeme Sharp to prosper, while he started to weigh in with his own contribution of goals from set pieces. In many ways he was a hark back to the old fashioned footballers that preceded the game’s tactical and physical changes in the 1960s, a modern day Johnny Haynes or Danny Blanchflower.
In October 1983, Sheedy was called up to the Republic Of Ireland squad, for which he qualified through his parents, and made his international debut in a 3-2 defeat to Holland. He was ever present through Everton’s Milk Cup run, but limped out of the final against Liverpool with the recurrence of an old injury, missing the replay and the rest of the 1983/84 season, including the FA Cup final.
Sheedy made up for such disappointment by becoming a vital figure during Everton's all conquering 1984/85 season. When the midfielder wasn't taking teams apart with his pinpoint passing from open play, he did so with the dead ball. Derek Mountfield, scored 14 goals – an unprecedented total for a central defender – that season, many of which came from corners or free kicks and corners taken by Sheedy. When he wasn't providing goals Sheedy scored them, his tally of 17 goals in all competitions a remarkable figure for a midfielder. Howard Kendall said of Sheedy: ‘In terms of a provider of goals and scorer of goals Kevin will always be up there with the best. He is one of the best left footed players I have ever seen. Kevin was never a tackler or a player you'd look to chase back defensively, but when he was on the ball he really was something special.’ Indeed Sheedy truly prospered after the arrival of Pat Van Den Hauwe in September 1984, who took on many of his defensive responsibilities.
During the 1985/86 season, Sheedy’s penetrating through balls were keenly exploited by Gary Lineker and his formidable runs from deep. Although beset by niggling injuries, he was again Everton’s creative ace as they narrowly missed out on a league and FA Cup double to Liverpool. The following season he suffered again because of injury, but put in a season’s best tally of league goals: 13 from 28 starts – a tally of which many a striker would have been proud. Few were more memorably celebrated than his strike against Liverpool in the Anfield derby, which he celebrated by waving a V-sign at the Kop.
During the 1987/88 season Sheedy completed just 10 of the 17 games he played, as injuries again took hold. Colin Harvey bought Ian Wilson from Leicester City to deputise in his absence, but he was a pale imitation of the Everton great. After starting the 1988/89 season on the substitutes bench, as the season progressed Evertonians saw more of the Sheedy of old. Often dropping into a more central position to accommodate Pat Nevin and Trevor Steven on the flanks, he impressed in flourishes with the vision and penetration of old. He scored in each of Everton’s first four FA Cup ties as they made a fourth FA Cup Final in five years. But Sheedy was substituted late in the final as Everton slumped to a 3-2 defeat to Liverpool: it was his third defeat in an FA Cup Final.
Now entering the veteran stage of his career, Sheedy was promoted to chief penalty taker after Trevor Steven’s departure to Rangers. Finally, it seemed, during the 1989/90 season he had overcome the injuries that had so undermined his career. However, his pace – never one of his greatest facets – had diminished further with age. Allied to this, during English clubs’ exile from Europe many teams had sacrificed a slower build up for a faster, more powerful style of football less suited to the likes of Sheedy. Benfica once expressed an interest in him and maybe he should have taken his talents to the continent as players like Liam Brady, Glenn Hoddle, and Ray Wilkins had done with success. But by the age of thirty such a move was increasingly unlikely.
Sheedy was included in the Republic of Ireland squad for the 1990 World Cup Finals in Italy, and attained footballing immortality in his adopted country after scoring the equalising goal in Ireland’s group match with England. On his return to Goodison he found his chances restricted by Colin Harvey, but was given another run in the team with the return of Howard Kendall that November. Eventually he lost his place to Peter Beagrie, and in February 1992, Kendall brought a close to an Everton career that had spanned almost a decade, allowing Sheedy to join Newcastle on a free transfer.
At St James’s Park he was an important part of the first stages of the Kevin Keegan-led renaissance, helping stave off relegation to the old Third Division during the 1991/92 season and win promotion to the Premier League the next year. In summer 1993 he joined Blackpool and played one final season before his retirement. John Aldridge brought Sheedy back to Merseyside in June 1996 as his assistant at Tranmere Rovers, and he held a similar position at Hartlepool early the following decade, where he was reunited with Mike Newell. In August 2006 Sheedy returned to Everton as an academy coach – a move he described as ‘like coming home’.