Thirty years on from Kevin Moran’s challenge on Peter Reid
18 May ~ “It was a desperate challenge there on Peter Reid and that produced the booking… Oh, he has sent him off! He has sent Moran off!” These were the words uttered 30 years ago today by a shocked ITV commentator Brian Moore at the sight of Kevin Moran, the Manchester United defender, being sent off during the 1985 FA Cup final against Everton.
No player had been dismissed in the annual showpiece before referee Peter Willis took action against Moran for his late lunge at Peter Reid. Three decades on, footage of the incident and the outrage it caused shows just how the game, and our sensibilities, have changed. To modern eyes, it seems a blatant sending-off offence. Reid intercepted a loose pass from Paul McGrath in the centre of pitch and then toed the ball past Moran as he slid in, the latter catching the Everton man’s left foot and flipping him into the air. Everton had a three-on-one breakaway and Moran was the last man.
Yet consider the reaction of Ian St John, Moore’s co-commentator, as the disbelieving Moran grabs hold of Willis, before eventually being led away by Frank Stapleton. “I really do find that incredible, Brian, because it was a badly timed tackle, a fraction of a second out, [with] nothing malicious about it at all. No wonder he’s upset. To be sent off in a Cup final for a tackle like that I just can’t believe it, I think the referee’s 100 per cent out of order.”
As it happened, that 78th-minute incident galvanised the ten men of United and Norman Whiteside’s brilliant extra-time strike ended the treble hopes of an Everton side feeling the exertions of their Cup-Winners Cup final triumph three days earlier. Even so, United’s success against the champions did nothing to assuage the criticism of Willis afterwards, as YouTube footage of the ITV studio panel reveals. “A scandalous decision” is Mick Channon’s verdict afterwards, while Jimmy Greaves declares: “That was the worst refereeing I have ever seen at a Cup final.” St John, reviewing the foul again, adds: “There is nothing in that at all.”
Football has altered in many ways since 1985 and when United manager Ron Atkinson tells Jim Rosenthal in his post-match interview that late challenges like Moran’s “happen a million times in a football game”, we have evidently seen one change for the better. There have been changes for the worse too, of course, and the response of the Everton players to the incident contrasts markedly with the imaginary card-waving cynicism so prevalent today. Reid, after picking himself up, goes over to Willis and pleads Moran’s case. Kevin Ratcliffe, the Everton captain, and Reid each offer Moran a consoling arm as he slowly leaves the field.
Reid may have regularly kicked lumps out of his opponents but in defeat at Wembley he showed some solidarity towards Moran, the man who booted him into the Wembley air, when joining Atkinson and the victorious United players and telling Rosenthal: “There is no way he should have gone. It is an injustice. It wasn’t a blatant one – it’s just that he was a wee bit late.” Sometimes the past really does seem a foreign country. Simon Hart