Peter Reid: ‘I told Boris Johnson he was a fat, lying disgrace’

The air turns royally blue inside Peter Reid’s home while Boris Johnson is on TV for prime minister’s questions. The old Evertonian silences the Old Etonian – a feat he once achieved with a splenetic put-down rather than a mute button – and messages Adrian Heath about the Minnesota United coach’s impending visit from the United States. Everton’s title-winning team of 1984-85 are being reunited on Monday at a special presentation of a film about their successes under Howard Kendall. Reid’s mood – and his language – is transformed by the thought of catching up with old friends and toasting an absent one.

“It’s a word that doesn’t come out among players but it is a love,” says Reid of his former Everton teammates. “That is a nice part of it. There is a love there and you cannot beat love. Even now when we meet up it is something I look forward to and it was a long, long time ago. But it is still there. We all met in the Hilton before Howard’s funeral and it was emotional. But it was also warm. I was speaking at the funeral so I said I wouldn’t drink. Andy Gray insisted the gaffer would want me to, so of course I did. People go on about the party time but we were dedicated professionals. Nothing got in the way of the games but when we partied, we partied.”

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Everton had regular cause to celebrate from 1984-87 as two league titles, the FA Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup made their way to Goodison Park. The dramatic rise of Kendall’s young team, one that was in the doldrums and prompting calls for the manager’s dismissal months before reaching the League and FA Cup finals, is covered in Howard’s Way, a captivating film by Rob Sloman. The music and politics of the era feature heavily (including the Everton squad singing Here We Go on Wogan) but it is the bond between the club’s most successful manager and those who played or worked for him that lies at the heart of the film. The former Everton player, coach and manager Colin Harvey’s reflection on the sudden death of Kendall in 2015 is a deeply moving moment.

Reid, the PFA Player of the Year in 1985, recalls: “One of my best moments in football was seeing Howard’s smile as I came down the steps at Wembley with my FA Cup winner’s medal [in 1984]. It was the best smile and one of my abiding memories in football. Five months earlier cushions were getting thrown on the pitch at Goodison Park. Five months. I think he is revered in football history. His achievements as a manager are up there.

“People say he was one of the best players never to win an England cap. If you go to Bilbao he is still revered there. That is my favourite other European team, not because Howard managed it, although that is part of it, but because of the ethos of the club with its Basque-only players and the tradition that surrounds it. There is something about [Athletic] Bilbao and Howard was the ‘Mister’ there.

“I played in Bilbao in a pre-season game with Man City and it was an honour to play there. I’ve been lucky to travel the world and meet a lot of people through football. At my first club [Bolton] Jimmy Armfield was manager and Nat Lofthouse was his assistant. Howard once took me to lunch with Alfredo Di Stéfano. That was quite boozy and it was warm. It was always a warm occasion with Howard. But lunch with Alfredo Di Stéfano, wow. Football has given me a lot and this team, the era that the film captures, was the pinnacle of it. I played in a World Cup and for a Liverpool lad from Huyton that is fantastic, but that team was the pinnacle.”

Football provided a glorious release from mass unemployment and political turmoil for the city of Liverpool in the mid-1980s, as the film captures. Reid does not recall the Everton changing room being particularly politically active but several players who emerged from it are unmistakably so today. Neville Southall, “the best goalkeeper in the world at that time”, says Reid, and Gary Lineker are prominent voices on social media and the former midfielder himself last year addressed a People’s Vote rally where he was scathing of Vote Leave leaders.

I thought the referendum was corrupt. We didn’t know the facts or what we were voting for

“The way I look at it is there is enough in this world for everyone to be looked after,” he explains. “There are wealthy people in the world and I don’t have a problem with that. I made a few quid. Champagne socialist? There is nothing wrong with having champagne and being a socialist. I’m quite proud of it. We have enough resources to look after everyone in this country and, moreover, throughout the world. To me, looking after people is not bad politics. I can’t change it but I can voice an opinion on it and the people who can change it have not done a good job.

“I thought the referendum was corrupt. I voted remain and even now we are still discovering what it involves. A referendum is democracy, yes, but we didn’t know the facts or what we were voting for. Anyone who says they did is a liar or Einstein and I don’t see many Einsteins out there.

“Carole Cadwalladr [the Observer and Guardian journalist] has got into Cambridge Analytica, Facebook and the financing of it from [US billionaire Robert] Mercer to [Steve] Bannon. She is a hero of mine. I’d love to meet her. There’s a certain Mr [Arron] Banks who is trying to sue her and I hope she has her day in court. I’ve given a few quid to her fundraising page and will continue to do so. She is telling the truth.”

Reid’s contempt for Johnson runs much deeper than Brexit. Their paths crossed in 2006 when Reid managed an England Legends team in a charity match at Reading that somehow included the future prime minister. Johnson was editor of the Spectator when it ran the notorious “Bigley’s fate” article that accused Liverpudlians of wallowing in “their victim status” and repeated the lie that drunken fans shared responsibility for the death of “more than 50” Liverpool supporters at Hillsborough. There was no charity in Reid’s pre-match team talk.

The former Manchester City and Sunderland manager recalls: “He’d had a go at my city, certain individuals and football fans, so I told him in no uncertain terms what I thought of him.” And that was? “I told him he was a fat, lying twat and a disgrace for what he wrote about my city. Cowardly, he shit himself. He didn’t write it, he sanctioned the piece by [Simon] Heffer, but that was the only part I got wrong. The man is a proven liar and he has refused to apologise in the House of Commons when various MPs have asked him to.”

Today Reid is technical director at Wigan Athletic. He admits missing day-to-day management but notes: “I’m glad to be involved. I’m just helping Paul Cook, who is a very good coach and manager. It is a really good club. Joe Royle is football director and his son [Darren] is chairman. We’ve got some good young players. We had Reece James on loan from Chelsea last season, an outstanding footballer. He will play for England. We’ve got some good young footballers at the club. I don’t want to put pressure on the lads by naming them but we have a few in the ranks.”

Related: How Howard Kendall saved his job at Everton and won the FA Cup in 1984

It is 30 years since Reid made the last of his 235 appearances for Everton but his passion for the club remains fierce. It explains why his grandson, Freddie Gilbert, is an Evertonian despite the nine-year-old’s dad supporting Manchester United and why photographs from the 1980s decorate one room in the family home. There is also a print of Reid as a young Bolton midfielder challenging George Best in his Fulham days.

“The best player I’ve seen or played against,” he says of Best. “I liked playing against Robson, Wilkins, Hoddle, Souness and Liam Brady. Outstanding footballers. Was it hard to play against them? Yes. Did I enjoy it? Some of the time. But it was great and I would give everything to be able to play against them lads again.”

As for Everton’s current malaise, Reid says: “It is a struggle. I was at the Man City game recently and some people were clapping. We got beat 3-1. Standards have slipped. Manchester City are an excellent side with a great manager but when people are happy with a 3-1 defeat at home it shows you where we are. It’s not good enough for a great football club. I’m not blaming anyone. It is a fact, and I want us to improve. We have to improve. The FA Cup we won in ’84 was the catalyst for us. We need some silverware. I would settle for a League Cup or FA Cup at this moment in time. We are not going to win the league but winning a cup might get us on that journey. We can get back to where we were. I wouldn’t live if I didn’t think it was possible.

“But you need a desire and a belief. Forget about it if you haven’t. Good players have to have that. If you’re in a team and the fans expect you to win, then you’re at a good football club. There is nothing wrong with expectation. Is it a heavy load? No. You should want that yourself.

“The modern game is different and the players are all wealthy boys. There is nothing wrong with that. It is more corporate now and the game is big business, big brands all over the world, but it still all comes down to winning football matches. These lads have to win them and show desire. I want to see more. I’ve played for and managed big clubs and Everton is the only place to be. Goodison is going to go but it will still be Everton football club and there will still be the desire to win things. If the new stadium is 50,000 or 60,000 it will be full because there is expectation, desire, hope and passion about Everton. You can never lose that.”

Howard Kendall lifts a manager of the year prize at Everton in 1985.
Howard Kendall lifts a manager of the year prize at Everton in 1985. Photograph: PA Archive/PA Images

Everton’s mediocrity in 2019 will be temporarily forgotten when Reid, Southall, Graeme Sharp and the rest of Kendall’s celebrated team gather at St George’s Hall in Liverpool for one more party. “If there was one word to describe Howard it would be class,” Reid considers. “And really it ends there.”

Everton: Howard’s Way, by Rob Sloman, is now on at FACT Liverpool cinema and is released on all home entertainment formats from Monday.