SCORING the winning goal in a Merseyside derby left Everton striker Imre Varadi licking his lips – and that was only to remove the meat and potato pie flung at his face by an irate Liverpool supporter.
In the days of what he calls “proper” football, when Kopites chucked pies not mobile phones at opposition goalscorers, Varadi, was a cult hero at many of the dozen professional clubs he turned out for.
An unpredictable frontman whose maverick skills and blistering pace led him on a nomadic career around the league, Varadi was born in Paddington, London on July 8 1959, to Hungarian stock.
He started his career with non-League Letchworth before catching the eye of Sheffield United and was at Bramall Lane for less than a year, netting four times in just 10 appearances before Everton manager Gordon Lee, impressed by his raw talents, prised the teenager to Goodison for £80,000.
Although he went on to make just 28 starts and six substitute appearances with Everton, he will always be remembered with great affection in the blue half of the city for the most important of his seven goals – the winner against Liverpool in a 2-1 FA Cup fourth round victory at Goodison Park on January 24, 1981.
The game came at a time when Liverpool were dominant both at home and abroad.
They went into the match as League Champions and would go on to lift their third European Cup in four years just four months later.
Indeed, Bob Paisley’s side’s superiority was such, Everton had only won one of the previous 20 derby encounters so few must have expected them to upset their neighbours on this occasion.
However, buoyed by a 2-0 success over Arsenal in the third round and playing in front of a bumper 53,084 crowd at Goodison – more than double their average attendance at the time – Everton and Varadi pulled off one of the great Merseyside derby shocks.
Varadi said: “Liverpool were so dominant at the time, they were such a big team and it wasn’t often that we turned them over.
“We won 2-1 after Peter Eastoe had scored our first goal and I remember it well because it was my first derby. The game itself was what I’d call proper football and it was watched by proper supporters.
“There was a massive crowd at Goodison that day and the excitement could be felt all over the ground.”
When Varadi recalls his winning goal, the sights, sounds, emotions and even tastes of the day come flooding back to him.
He said: “I think Trevor Ross won the ball for us and played it out to Eamonn O’Keefe on the left-hand side. Eamonn was about 20 yards out and crossed the ball in – it bounced and I managed to get to it on the way up and squeeze it into the corner of the goal.
“I was so excited I ran around the back of the goal (at the Park End) not realising it was full of away supporters and I incurred the wrath of an angry Liverpool fan who chucked a meat and potato pie straight into my face – I can still taste it now!”
Although Varadi himself relied more on his twinkling toes, he recalls Merseyside derbies at the time as being blood and thunder affairs and no certainly no place for the faint hearted.
He said: “I’ve still got the video of the game and I watch it every now and again. Some of the tackles in the game were GBH – there was such passion and it was played at a great tempo.
“If the game had been played now, I reckon there’d have been five or six sendings off but it was part and parcel of the game in those days.
“Liverpool had their hard men like Graeme Souness and Jimmy Case while we had the likes of Trevor Ross and Mike Lyons who were also very competitive.
Varadi added: “I remember it was a real rough and tumble affair. There was a ruckus when Souness tried to upend our goalkeeper while Steve McMahon, who went on to play for Liverpool, upset them with a couple of late challenges.”
Varadi’s goal made it 2-0 at the time and despite Case pulling a goal back for Liverpool – who had lost Kenny Dalglish at half-time – Everton held out for victory with Varadi himself going close on another couple of occasions.
After overcoming his close encounter of the pastry kind – supporters were obviously better aims back then when compared with the fan who flung his phone at Wayne Rooney in a 21st century fit of pique and missed, Varadi revelled in being the toast of the blue half of Merseyside.
He said: “It was unbelievable, we all went out celebrating that night and I signed so many photos of that goal in the weeks after.”
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