It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this for Daniel Amokachi.
He had burst to prominence in early 1994 after starring for the victorious ‘Super Eagles’ of Nigeria in the African Nations Cup. After strong performances at the 1994 World Cup, Amokachi made a $3 million move to Everton (this might not sound like a lot of money in today’s prices where $3 million buys you 8.6% of Andy Carroll, but to put it in perspective the largest transfer fee ever paid by a British club at the time was $5 million). Amokachi was expected to link up with Duncan Ferguson as part of the ‘Dogs of War’ frontline which Everton hoped would fire them to glory.
Then it all went wrong…
Amokachi arrived injured and out of shape. The manager who brought him to the club – Mike Walker – was sacked three months into the season with Everton bottom of the Premier League table. Joe Royle, Walker’s replacement, preferred to play journeyman Paul Rideout instead of Amokachi. Under the new manager, Everton’s form improved and by April they were safely out of the relegation zone and into the semi-final of the FA Cup. Amokachi was used sparingly during this renaissance and hadn’t scored since his debut seven months previously. He would be starting the biggest game of Everton’s season on the substitute’s bench as usual.
Everton went into the match as underdogs against an ultra-attacking Tottenham Hotspur side that featured England internationals Teddy Sheringham, Darren Anderton and Nick Barmby along with evergreen German striker Jurgen Klinsmann. Despite their opponent’s pedigree, Everton took an early lead and added a second goal just after halftime. This seemed to spark Spurs into life and they pulled the score back to 2-1 when Klinsmann scored from the penalty spot. Two minutes later, with Everton obviously reeling, Rideout aggravated a knee injury and was taken to the side of the pitch for treatment. The physio signaled over to the bench, Amokachi removed his tracksuit, the fourth official held up the substitute board and he ran on to the pitch.
The choice of substitute was surprising given the way the match was progressing – surely it made more sense to bring on a defensive player to protect Everton’s lead? Probably the most startled person in the stadium was Joe Royle, since the Everton manager was expecting Rideout to return and had not told Amokachi to go on. Amokachi would later admit that ‘the gaffer kept saying he wanted to give Rideout five minutes, but he wasn’t getting any better so I decided to bring myself on’. Let me repeat the last part of that quote – ‘I decided to bring myself on’. Baller.
What happened next should have its own chapter in the ‘either-this-succeeds-or-I-am-in-a-whole-heap-of-trouble’ record books.
Tottenham continued to pile on the pressure but left huge gaps at the back. After 82 minutes, Everton broke down the right and Amokachi finished the move with a header at the back post. Seven minutes later a completely unmarked Amokachi found the net again to make the score 4-1. Highlights of the game can be seen here:
Everton went on to beat Manchester United 1-0 in the FA Cup Final at Wembley. Amokachi came on as substitute in the second half – presumably with his manager’s permission this time. His most memorable contribution to the day was sporting a lovely blue beret during the team’s lap-of-honor:
Amokachi went on to play one more season for Everton before his career went in to free-fall. He played for teams in Turkey and France without much success. In 2001 he was signed by the Colorado Rapids as a Designated Player, but was released without playing a single game due to fitness and injury concerns. He retired soon after. In 2009 he was mobbed by adoring Everton fans before the FA Cup final at Wembley, showing he is still a cult hero to the blue half of Merseyside.
Daniel Amokachi, super-sub, we salute you.