By Rodger Armstrong
When Gerald Ashby blew the whistle at the end of the FA Cup Final on 20th May 1995, we danced with delight and screamed our joy, and I am not afraid to say I cried tears, tears of both joy and sadness. Joy because we had won, Joe Royle had concluded an incredible turnaround with a team that had flirted far too seriously with relegation; sadness, because my Dad hadn’t been able to make it. I hadn’t been able to get him a ticket, like he had for me in 1984 & I felt guilty.
I did not know, of course, that nearly 22 years later, 1995 would be the last time we would lift a trophy! Maybe because of that, the memories are still vivid, but more likely it’s because of the amazingly lucky insight I got that day into the Club I love and the players and staff. I thought it was time to share it. It happened of course in the days before we all had camera phones and before Twitter allowed us to spread news instantly.
Only an FA Cup Final could make you want to drink warm Castlemaine XXXX on the station platform at 7:30am: no option, as the powers that be had declared the train “dry”, and we didn’t want to waste them. “All Together Now”, our Cup Final song, blared out all the way to Euston “Kendall’s boys in 84, now big Joe Royle is coming back for more!”. I was travelling down with my Top Balcony mate, Ian, who I first met outside the chippy before Mike Walker’s last game in charge, along with Mark and Pete. Mark and Pete were smart and, whilst I’d arranged for me and Ian to stay overnight in a mate’s flat, they had booked into the Royal Lancaster Hotel. That was, of course, in those days, an offcial FA Cup Final hotel, and it was where Everton were staying.
On arriving in London we all four went to the Royal Lancaster so Mark and Pete could check in and dump their bags. Whilst Ian & I waited for them in the hotel bar (obviously) at about 11am, the first of many weird things that day happened. In came Peter Johnson (remember him?), the Everton owner, with Big Dunc and they ordered drinks, Duncan specifically having a pint of lager. Like a fool, or in search of some early team news, I took it upon myself to point out to the big man that he was having a bevvy and ask what it might mean. Dunc happily advised me that he was indeed having a pint and that he has was “only a fxxking sub”.
Off we went to Wembley, the old one with the twin towers, via a boozer or two filled with hope, the type of hope that normally flatters to deceive, Everton hope you might call it. That day we were big underdogs against Man U, probably without the support of the great British public having beaten Spurs in the semi and spoilt the media plan of “Klinsmann’s Final”. But that day Everton’s hopes and dreams came true, Diamond Graham Stuart hit the bar when it was easier to score, but Paul Rideout was on hand to head home after 30 minutes. We held on, very few scares, as I remember, and beat Fergie’s team 1-0.
Fast forward a few hours and the four of us are in a pub round the corner from the Royal Lancaster, beaming from ear to ear, scarcely believing what we had witnessed. It dawned on us that very close by our heroes were celebrating and surely we had to at least try and join them? After some debate we bought a bottle of champagne over the bar, took four glasses and walked out across the road to the Hotel. We found out where the Everton party was going on, arrived outside the door to the large function room where there were are couple of security guards.
After a bit of negotiating, I forget the detail of our “story”, we persuaded them to let us in. It must have been about 9:30 by now and we stumbled in just as Bobby Davro (Spurs fan and mate of impresario Bill) was doing the post-dinner entertainment, still sore from the semi defeat. Players and officials with wives, girlfriend & family were sat at a number of round tables as we stared wide-eyed around the room.
The next thing we saw was Paul Rideout, goalscoring hero, carrying Andres Limpar out in a fireman’s lift. Turns out Anders didn’t drink, this was the first trophy he’d won, apparently, and he’d had a bottle of wine with dinner.
One of our gang had met Andy Hinchliffe before, and he spotted him. Andy motioned for us to go over, there were a few spaces at his table, as people had got up to go to the bar, so we sat down. Then Bill himself got up to speak: he was full of praise for Peter Johnson who had “saved Everton” and presented him with a framed Dave Watson shirt, bloody quick work, I remember thinking, if it was from today’s game. Bill’s speech was the end of the formalities, and we went up to the bar with Hinchliffe, Graham Stuart, Barry Horne, Gary Ablett (RIP) and others. Big Nev, of course, and sadly wasn’t there, he’d gone back home.
It was obvious that a few other “gatecrashers” , excluding celebrity fans like John Parrott (Duncan’s brother-in-law), had smooth talked their way past the security guys, but nobody cared. We were all together now, as the song said, and we had a ball, the time of our lives, chatting to our heroes, sharing in their triumph like brothers. It was truly surreal. If only we’d had the ability to record it, but, if we had had, maybe the memories would now be more faint. And maybe we would never have got inside in the present “technology-rich” age, the Club might have been more fearful & less trusting of fans.
Joe Royle was still sat down with Peter Johnson and another man at their table with the FA Cup in front of them. I went over and shook Joe’s hand to thank him. He was just brilliant; he asked my name and then introduced me to the third man on the table “Dad” he said “This is Rodger”. Incredible, the Everton Manager who had just won the FA Cup introduced me, an average Evertonian, to his Dad. Maybe not incredible just “EvertonThat”.
At some point a disco started. For some reason, Duncan had taken his top off, as I recall he had a kilt on. He was up dancing on the tables, at one point one collapsed; no problem, he jumped up and onto the next one and carried on dancing. Duncan was about to start his stretch (44 days) in Barlinnie prison for his headbutt when playing for Rangers the previous year. You sensed he was making the most of his freedom. Some more gatecrashers had made it in by now, several girls who had from somewhere brought a lifesize cardboard cut out of big Dunc with them, amazingly and coincidentally topless with just his white Everton shorts on.
The party carried on until what must have been the early hours. The following morning heads were thick but our hearts were still full and bursting with pride. As always after a heavy night there was some disbelief in what had and hadn’t happened, but the four of us were able to convince each other it had actually all taken place. As we sat on the train, about to pull out of Euston on the Sunday morning half a dozen girls came running down the platform, desperate not to miss the train. Under the arm of one of them was the same lifesize cardboard cut out of Duncan from the night before!
“All Together Now” rang out all the way back home, and I can honestly say I have never felt closer to the Club than I did on that magical weekend. Hope doesn’t always have to disappoint. Let’s hope that some day soon we get another day in the sun.