“Bobby Latchford walks on water”, echoed the cry from the Goodison terraces as they idolised their Everton number nine. Everton were renowned for their famous number nines and Bob was no different.
The Daily Express newspaper decided to offer a prize of £10,000 for a player to hit the back of the net thirty times in the 1977/78 season. The last time this feat had been achieved was back in 1972 when Francis Lee hit thirty three goals for Manchester City.
Manager Billy Bingham signed Bob in 1974, for what was then a massive record signing fee of £350,000, with two players going the other way to Birmingham City. Bob was described as a sprinter who could outmuscle his way through opponents, and was deadly in the six yard box.
Big Bob registered his first league goal that season at Leicester City’s Filbert Street on September 10th as Everton were in rampant mood hitting The Foxes for five. With Everton’s first attack of the game, Latchford and Dave Thomas conjured up the move with Latchford driving low past goalkeeper Wallington from twenty yards.
Evertonians had to wait until the first day of October to witness Bob scoring his second goal of the season as he cancelled out Asa Hartford’s Manchester City goal with an equaliser 13 minutes later at Goodison Park.
Everton had another home game three days later, as Latchford scored on the hour to defeat West Brom, convincingly winning 3-1.
The following game, and for the second time that season, Everton repeated the score line from their September trip to Leicester, hitting Queens Park Rangers 5-1.
Latchford scored his first on 8 minutes with Andy King providing the cross for Latchford to head home from six yards out. 10 minutes later Dave Thomas became provider as Latchford despatched another header from 6 yards to direct the ball into the opposite corner to double the Toffees lead. QPR reduced the deficit as the visitors led at the break 2-1.
The second half was only three minutes old when Latchford registered his hat trick, his first of the season. Andy King and Dave Thomas who provided the assists for the opening goals combined to oblige Bob with an easy tap in right in front of the travelling contingent from Merseyside.
Duncan McKenzie extended Everton’s advantage to 3 goals before Latchford made it 5 as TV commentator Brian Moore said” Not Latchford again, surely” as he coolly rounded what was a miserable day for the home side, as crowd favourite Stan Bowles was denied from the penalty spot with George Wood saving comfortably.
Latchford ended the month of October the way he started it, with a goal. Newcastle United was bottom of the league with Everton lying third. There was an interesting spectator in the main stand that day, not to see Latchford, but to view the form of goalkeeper George Wood. His performances attracted the Scotland manager Ally Macleod who was looking to build his team for the World Cup in Argentina the following summer. Unfortunately for Wood, it was not one of his better games as the Magpies took Everton all the way, with the home side having to come back three times. Bob scored a brace in 15 minutes to take his tally to nine in the tenth week of the campaign.
The clocks went back at the end of the month as British Summer Time came to an end. Bob had caught the eye of England manager Ron Greenwood, earning him an England call up in a World Cup qualifier at Wembley, winning 2-0 against Italy. Bob played 75 minutes of this encounter before getting replaced by Stuart Pearson of Manchester United.
It was mid-November when Bob struck again in the league when his former club Birmingham City came to Goodison. Keith Bertschin opened the scoring for the visitors on 13 minutes and Bob obliged with an equaliser 15 minutes later.
5 minutes after the interval the big man hit his second and what proved to be the winner, which kept The Toffees second in the league.
Everton recorded their biggest win to date as Gordon Milne brought his Coventry City side to Goodison on the last Saturday of November as the Sky Blues suffered what proved to be their heaviest defeat of the season. Dave Thomas who was Latchford’s partner in crime, created the first goal for Martin Dobson on 8 minutes. Latchford got his first of three on 42 minutes as Lyons chipped the ball into his path to despatch into the Gwladys Street net. On the stroke of half-time, “Tizer” Thomas delivered a beautiful free kick into the 6 yard box as Latchford, unmarked, headed home from close range to put the home side 3-0 up at the break.
Jim Pearson and Andy King added further goals as the match ball was taken home for the second time that season by guess who? Yes, Bob who rounded off his hat trick with a perfectly executed left foot shot before running in the direction of the Goodison Road paddock to celebrate. His third goal was his 13th of the season but not unlucky 13 for him.
“Bob Latchford walks on water”, Bob Latchford strikes faster than Fords”, “Jesus saves, Latchford nets the rebound” were badges that were pinned on to many a teenagers’ scarves and Wrangler denim jackets at that time.
I remember the day I travelled on the “Blue Streak”, the Everton travel service, to Stamford Bridge 3 days after dumping Sheffield Wednesday out of the League
Cup, in midweek. This was the first Saturday of December, lying second in the table. Chelsea was newly promoted as runners up to Wolverhampton Wanderers, and was finding the top flight difficult as they started the day in seventeenth position.
Latchford headed home right in front of the Everton fans on 53 minutes as the Blues were victorious that day, winning 1-0.
Bad news followed for English football as the national team failed to qualify for the World Cup for the second successive tournament.
The following Saturday Latchford added to his tally with a brace, scoring a goal in each half to see off Teesside’s Middlesbrough 3-0, and looked serious title contenders as they were now on an unbeaten run of 18 games.
Merry Christmas!! Not for Everton. The festive period was busy on the football calendar with 3 games to be played in 5 days. Morecambe and Wise entertained their TV Christmas special with an astonishing 28,000,000 million viewers, and their regular “Bring Me Sunshine”, theme, but the sunshine failed to shine at Goodison on Boxing Day as Manchester United were the visitors ending Everton’s run. Six attacks from United produced six goals as Everton could only manage two in reply. Dobson and Latchford found the net for the Blues on a miserable afternoon for the majority of the 48,335 spectators.
There was no rest for the wicked with another game at Leeds twenty-four hours later. Everton, possibly still hurting from their shock defeat the day before, unfortunately were the losers again, this time a more respectable 3-1.
New Years Eve of 1977 and back to winning ways with a 2-0 victory. Latchford was back to scoring form again netting on 16 minutes with Andy King scoring an hour later, to spoil any celebrations the Gunners had in mind on their trip back to North London.
HAPPY NEW YEAR 1978
Everton travelled to the City Ground, Nottingham on the first day of 1978, as leaders Forest met Everton, close on their tails in second place in this heavyweight contest. Trevor Ross converted a penalty with 5 minutes remaining to cancel out John Robertson’s opener also from the spot to share the spoils.
Aston Villa arrived at Everton for two consecutive Saturdays. One was for a 3rd round FA Cup tie with the Blues cruising into round 4 with Bob Latchford scoring on the hour and further goals from King, Ross (pen) and McKenzie.
Andy Gray, who seven years later became an Everton legend, gave the Villains a consolation goal. Latchford failed to find the net against the same opposition seven days later with a somewhat different score line. The Toffees triumphed 1-0 this time.
An interesting news headline in February that year was that Anna Ford became the first female newsreader for ITN. How times have changed since then.
In football news, Gordon McQueen was the first £500,000 transfer of a defender, being transferred from Leeds United to their bitter rivals Manchester United.
The first Saturday in February saw Latchford find his scoring boots once more. It was worth waiting for as he added a brace, which took his tally to 21 goals at that point. His first came on 28 minutes with his and Everton’s second 24 minutes later to move Everton back into 2nd place in the league breathing down the necks of Nottingham Forest, who also won by the same score against Wolves that day.
The next five games were played before Latchford found his striking form. Everton only won two of these games, drawing two, but losing to Manchester City.
Easter was early in this year, and with only ten league games remaining, Bob was stuck on 21, which in the card game pontoon, was enough to stick on and reap the “Kitty”
Bob’s shirt number, 9, was the goals required to reach his target and scoop his prize. Good Friday saw Everton travel to the North East to face relegation doomed Newcastle United, managed by Richard Dinnis. Everton won comfortably that day with Latchford and McKenzie sharing the goals winning 2-0. The game was described on the back page of the Daily Mirror the following day as “Bad Friday”, due to ugly crowd scenes that saw fans fighting on the pitch, which ended up with the game being stopped by the referee while order was restored.
Everton repeated the score line 24 hours later, this time against Leeds United who suffered at the hands of Latchford and McKenzie, who repeated their old pals act netting one each.
Easter Monday and a short trip to Manchester with Old Trafford the venue. Everton were looking not to suffer an embarrassing defeat similar to the one United had inflicted on them only 91 days earlier. Bob Latchford continued in good form as he scored both goals this time, to keep his side in second place in the league.
Tommy Docherty’s Derby County descended on Goodison the following Saturday, 1st April. There were seven games remaining with Bob requiring five goals to reach the thirty. Bob continued his form by netting on 40 minutes after Martin Dobson had put the home side in front. The Blues won the game 2-1, making April fools of their visitors.
Everton lost their next game to neighbours Liverpool with Latchford firing a blank. An interesting fact was that Latchford never scored in a Merseyside Derby.
Two more goals came for Bob in consecutive matches as Everton lost to Coventry at Highfield Road, but conquered Ipswich Town seven days later as Bob hammered home from the spot with his first penalty of the season.
Nottingham Forest was crowned League champions for the first time in their history in this month.
The season was drawing to a close with Evertonians far and wide anxious to see if Bob Latchford could reap his rewards with two goals required. By achieving this, he was eligible to claim his prize by hitting the 30 goal target that was set out eight months earlier.
Everton went to Ayresome Park for the third time that season having played there in a League Cup replay which they won and an FA cup game in round 3, losing 3-1. The league game was probably the dullest of the three, with an end of the season 0-0 bore draw.
Everton travelled to the Hawthorns three days later for a rearranged fixture, where they were outdone by Ron Atkinson’s Baggies 3-1. Unfortunately Latchford drew another blank which meant with 1 game remaining on the last day of the season with Chelsea the visitors; Bob needed his scoring boots on with thousands of blues painfully hoping that they could witness the unlikely, but not the impossible.
Saturday 29th April was a fine dry day from what I remember. Everton were looking to do the double on their visitors from Stamford Bridge. It was also the last game in an Everton shirt for Mick Buckley.
39,504 fans crammed into the Grand Old Lady that day which had once hosted Dixie Dean’s 60th goal, making history which Evertonians boast about to this day. Bob Latchford was hoping to score two, to complete his thirty, which was only half of what the great Dixie Dean achieved 50 years and 5 days previous.
Everton started the game attacking the Stanley Park End hoping not to disappoint the fans, and got off to a fine start on seven minutes as Martin Dobson opened the scoring. A rare Billy Wright goal on 14 minutes and a first of the season from Neil Robinson on 54 minutes made the game safe. The game lit up as Latchford netted his 29th strike of the season on 72 minutes as he outjumped defender Steve Wickes and the ball sailed beyond the sprawling keeper Peter Bonetti with18 minutes left to play, to leave the fans anticipating.
Skipper Mike Lyons added number five on 75 minutes. With the clock ticking away Everton were awarded a penalty, as match referee Peter Willis pointed to the spot, sending the fans behind the Gwladys Street goal delirious. There was only one player on the minds of the fans that could take the penalty. Bob Latchford would have been odds on favourite amongst his followers and no doubt his team mates.
Latchford places the ball down onto the spot. He runs calmly up to the ball and strikes it like thunder past a despairing Peter Bonetti. The scenes were wild as fans ran onto the pitch to share their emotions with their idol. “King” Bob, who was chaired on top of fans shoulders and carried off the turf which had seen so many glorious moments,.
Bob Latchford hit his 30, and collected his prize from the Daily Express. He shared out the money amongst his team mates and also had a request from the Inland Revenue too, who requested a slice. I think in the end Bob was out of pocket.
I was lucky enough to see all of his 30 goals. I often reminisce as I look at the poster which was brought out the following season to commemorate this wonderful feat.
Bobby Latchford walks on water indeed.