I can relate to the experience of both teams from my playing days at Everton, where we won the Division One title in 1985, lost it on the last day the following season, and then regained our crown in 1987.
The turning point of the 1984-85 campaign was a trip to Spurs who, much like now, were chasing the leaders – us, in this case – hard. Both teams knew they had to win. We did, 2-1, and I scored our second goal.
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We were an inexperienced group in terms of titles but always kept our focus on the next game. The Tottenham result gave us momentum and a four-point lead at the top, and it shook Spurs. In the end we won the title by 13 points.
Bolstered by the signing of Gary Lineker, we powered through the following season and were five points clear of Liverpool with a game in hand by mid-March. We could almost touch the title again.
Did we bottle it?
The decisive cracks appeared in a midweek trip to Oxford, where we lost 1-0. We were all culpable and had become very reliant on Gary’s goals, so when he missed a couple of chances we lost our edge.
It meant that we needed Liverpool to lose their final game, away to Chelsea. We won our two remaining fixtures, but Kenny Dalglish’s goal at Stamford Bridge took the trophy to Anfield.
For the life of me I’m still not sure how we lost the league that year. You could say we bottled it and to some degree that’s true. The fact that we’d been up there the previous year created a subconscious pressure.
The next season we were free of that pressure but fired by the pain of having seen it slip. This time we were the chasing team and trailed Liverpool by three points, with two games in hand at the start of April.
We weren’t as good as the 84-85 side but that drove some players to contribute more than before – I was top scorer in the league with 14. We drew on our collective experience and ran away nine-point winners.
Leicester losing their thread
If we lost our thread in 85-86 then the question has to be whether Leicester are now seeing theirs start to fray, while Tottenham pull themselves up on a chunky rope.
For the Foxes, who like Spurs are new to this situation, the vital thing will be focusing only on themselves. Nothing else matters: if they win their games, they’ll complete the most incredible achievement.
In 1986 we paid the price for looking back on previous years. Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri doesn’t have to worry about that; instead, he should make them feel, as we did in 1985, that this is their chance of a lifetime.