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The Big Interview: Howard Kendall

As one newspaper put it at the time "They're not asking much from Howard Kendall at Everton – only a three-minute mile, a century before lunch and a successful assault on Everest".

Yet when Howard Kendall edged his car into the berth marked 'manager' under the Gwladys Street Stand on the final day of May in 1981, not even the most battle-hardened Evertonian dared to imagine this modest, articulate man, who had learned his craft as a rookie with Preston North End, could help restore pride to Goodison when living in Liverpool's shadow had become a way of life.

"Funnily enough, one of the first telephone calls I got that day was from a journalist, who just said 'Welcome to Everton – you'll get the sack you know'," recalled Kendall.

"Thankfully I never did, but it was a truly monumental task.

"Liverpool were the yardstick then, like Manchester United are now.

"They were probably the best club side in the world, and it didn't help having them across Stanley Park.

"I was sat at my desk at Goodison in those first few hours and my only thought was how could we overtake them – but we managed it.

"I'd come from Blackburn, where a couple of months earlier, I was in a board meeting and one director had suggested sending out second-class stamps instead of first to save money, or to order a pint less of milk to try and balance the books.

"That was the reality then, and when you look at how the game has changed in that time it does seem incredible."

It took Kendall three years before he could spark his remarkable transformation, and under intense pressure after a winter of falling attendances and repeated calls for his sacking, he returned home from training one day to find his garage daubed with the words 'Kendall Out'.

"People say don't buy papers when you're struggling. But I did and I'm glad because all the stories about how I was going to get sacked just motivated me all the more.

"Our gates had fallen – we were getting 10,000 for some games – and the media were on my back. But dealing with the pressure is part of the job.

"You want to do it for yourself, sure, but it's really for the fans, for all those people who love the club.

"Time was probably the biggest factor in my success at Everton. Billy Bingham and Gordon Lee each had three years as manager and I was into my third season when things turned around.

"Today, the demands of the modern job has made it a near-on impossible task compared to my years at Everton in the 1980s.

"Gerard Houllier was supposed to be under pressure at Liverpool after two games this season, but look how many trophies he's won.

"When we won the championship for the first time in 1985 we lost the first two games but still went on to win it.

"Today's situation is ludicrous. Now you have until the end of August."

There is still a warm affection for Kendall from a great many Evertonians, and that becomes quickly apparent as we sit and chat in Kendall's favourite Italian restaurant in Formby.

Perched in the window, people wave and shout encouragement as if Everton's most successful gaffer in history is still sat in the Goodison hot-seat and charting a course for another title, instead of enjoying a fruitful retirement.

One lad wanders in off the street and politely asks Kendall to sign a programme for his father who is not enjoying the best of health.

They discuss Everton past and present for 20 minutes and it is surely a measure of Kendall's generous spirit. Is it any wonder, though. Kendall's achievement was immense.

By the time he left to coach Athletico Bilbao in Spain six years later, Kendall had delivered the FA Cup, two championships in 1985 and 1987, and the 1985 Cup Winners' Cup, Everton's first European silverware.

Indeed, only Norman Whiteside's curling effort for Manchester United denied Everton the domestic double and European trophy Treble years before Old Trafford could dream of their first victory parade hangover.

He had dragged Everton from also-rans to being the best in the world – a fact acknowledged by World Soccer magazine, who named Everton their 'World Team of the Year' and Kendall the club manager of the year.

"It is lovely still to be recognised by people and thought of that way, very special indeed," he added.

"It was if we were unbeatable then. I got on the plane to the Cup Winners' Cup final in Rotterdam and I just knew we'd win that final.

"I sensed it, but I couldn't transmit it to the players. I had incredible confidence in characters like Peter Reid and Andy Gray who would make it happen for you.

"The press called us the team with no stars, but the players had a rare belief that they'd never be beaten. They also showed the same confidence in me and I just felt I could go on and on. It can be a formidable task to control strong men on and off the field, but I believed Everton were the best in Europe and they proved it.

"The CWC semi-final against Bayern Munich in Germany will live with me until my last day.

"Bayern were a side of tremendous quality – world-class footballers like Lothar Matthaus, Klaus Augenthaler, and up front they had a fearsome and aggressive striker called Dieter Hoeness.

"The Olympic Stadium was boiling with emotion, the whole of Bavaria expected them to win. But I'd studied Bayern for several weeks, watching their games and analysing their system.

"I devised a defensive and tactical plan that turned out to one of the proudest moments of my career because we kept the Germans to 0-0. There were 50,000 at Goodison for the second leg and we won 3-1. I don't think I've been overcome by so much noise as that night.

"The final in Rotterdam was an incredible day of emotion, yet, strangely, when I think back to that season I remember nearly going out in the first round to a part-time team of students from the University College of Dublin.

"We could only manage a 0-0 draw in Dublin and a young lad called Hanrahan missed a golden chance in the final seconds at Goodison that would have put UCD through on away goals. It could have been a very different story."

It will be 40 years next May since Kendall became the youngest player then to play in an FA Cup final, when, at just 17 years and 345 days, he turned out for North End against West Ham United in the 1964 final at Wembley.

"I loved Preston, the club and the people. They were always very good to me. I would have liked to manage Preston.

"I was playing for England schoolboys at 14 and Newcastle, Sunderland and Arsenal wanted me.

"But a Preston scout called Reg Keating said come and have a look at Preston.

"When I went down to Deepdale the club put my mum and dad up in the County Hotel near the railway station and they looked after us as if we were royalty.

"I couldn't pick a fault with the club and Preston just felt right for me. I lived in digs on Lowthorpe Crescent and I was on 7-a-week as an apprentice.

"North End used to give me rail vouchers to go back to the North-East in the summer to play cricket and I still managed to save a 100 a week.

"It was a wonderful life and Preston always did right by me.

"I'd played a few games that cup final season, but the one tie that really sticks out is scoring an extra-time winner against Nottingham Forest in a fourth round replay.

"There were 29,000 there and the game finished with Deepdale under a couple of inches of snow.

"Preston had a smashing team – names like Alan Spavin, George Ross and Alex Dawson – and not for one second did I think I'd play in the cup final.

"There was little pre-match discussion then. I just walked in from one training and there was the cup final team pinned up on the notice board in the Deepdale reception.

"It just read: H Kendall, number six. It was a complete surprise. I was stunned.

"Strangely, though, I had no nerves. I was protected from the hype by the older players.

"The plan was to give me the first touch from the kick-off at Wembley to settle my nerves. Of course the ball ballooned about 20 yards past me and the West Ham lads had a laugh.

"We lost the final in injury time which was heartbreaking, especially as Leeds and Sunderland had pipped us to promotion to the First Division, but I just felt a great sense of pride.

"The cabaret afterwards was Des O'Connor and The Batchelors. It was if North End were saying 'We are at Wembley, and we're proud'.

"When we got back to Preston, the fans had painted the town blue and white and that bus journey from the railway station to the Market Square was very emotional.

"Everybody had a banner, rosette or flag of some kind and they were singing 'Glory, Glory, Howard Kendall' and 'We want North End'.

"I got a special cheer from the crowd outside the Guttridge Memorial Church, where I'd played the organ at Sunday school. It was a truly special time in my life.

"The team's fame had even reached the Rovers Return, because we received a special letter of support from Ena Sharples in Coronation Street!"

Kendall's transfer to Everton for 85,000 in 1967, began North End's steady decline, ultimately leading to relegation to the Third Division.

"It was another era, sure, and light years from the millionaires row of the Premiership, but you weren't spoiled then.

"Cleaning the tide mark off the players' bath and scrubbing boots brought you down to earth and gave you a sense of perspective as a young boy trying to make it in the professional game.

"I look at Wayne Rooney and he's got Robbie Williams and Atomic Kitten coming to his 18th birthday. A few years ago he'd have been painting the tea-hut or sweeping the Goodison terraces, but football has changed beyond all recognition.

"These boys are the new pop stars and it takes a lot of handling."

Kendall is a regular at Everton home games and pens a weekly column for the Liverpool Echo, but that is as far as his involvement goes these days. So would he step back into the cauldron of management?

"I'm happy as I am and I certainly wouldn't want to return as a number one, that's for sure.

"A lot of people need to be seen on television at games to show they wish to get back into the game. Not me, I am not that interested.

"I don't miss match-days, but what I do miss is putting on that tracksuit and having two hours a day with the players on the training pitch.

"I have to say, though, that by the end of my final spell at Everton (June 1997-July 1998) I'd stopped enjoying it. The way it was handled by the club at the end really hurt. It soured me.

"You get spoilt with success and if you're selecting a team you know deep down are not good enough, it's not enjoyable. It was very, very difficult to get motivated.

"We always had a bit of music on the team bus, and we were down at West Ham that season. We were a couple of miles from Upton Park and I said to the boys get the tape on loud.

"The track that blurted out was Tina Turner's 'Simply The Best' –none of them joined in and I didn't either because I knew we weren't. There wasn't a peep from the players and they just looked straight ahead.

"But football has given me so much to savour, from the cut and thrust of management in England to living and working in another country. To this day I'm still convinced I signed the greatest goalkeeper in the world in the1980s, Neville Southall.

"I bought Trevor Steven from Burnley for 325,000 and what amazed me was that John Bond had not had a single bid for the boy.

"Trevor had tremendous vision and was one of my finest signings, I suppose.

"A couple of weeks later I was sat in the directors' room at Goodison and Bob Paisley came in and said 'You were right about Steven, Howard. Every time I went to see him he never finished a game. He just seemed too weak. But I should have taken a risk on him'.

"Sometimes you just sense a player is the right one at the right time and Trevor was certainly that.

"When I left Everton for Athletico Bilbao I knew I had to test myself again because English clubs were banned from Europe and I needed that challenge.

"After six years something inside me just said go out and start again. Football is a roller-coaster of emotions but I'm glad I got on."

 
 
 

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