The last time Everton, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal made up the top four of England's premier division, at the end of the 1986-87 season, Margaret Thatcher lived in No10 Downing Street, Madonna was at No1 in the charts with La Isla Bonita and Coventry City were on their way to Wembley for the FA Cup final.

The quartet of clubs from north London and Merseyside go into this weekend's round of Premier League fixtures in the Champions League places, but the teams that finished below them in 1987 have not fared so well in the intervening years: Wimbledon, Luton Town, Nottingham Forest, Watford and Coventry City made up the top 10.

Back in 11th were Manchester United, who started the season with Ron Atkinson in charge but finished it under Alex Ferguson. The mighty were soon to fall from their perch but, before Ferguson dragged English football in Manchester's direction, Howard Kendall had time to win Everton's second league in three years in 1986 and Liverpool were able to pick up a couple more titles in 1988 and 1990.

As David Lacey noted in his review of the 1986-87 season, Everton were deserved champions. They survived Gary Lineker's move to Barcelona and finished well clear of Liverpool. Kendall went on to win the manager of the year award, but was frustrated by Everton's ban from European football so emigrated for the Athletic Bilbao job that summer. The move to the Basque Country didn't quite work out for Kendall and Everton haven't won the league since. For the blues of Liverpool, May 1987 was as good as it got.

Everton vintage worth unstinted praise

David Lacey takes an unhedged view of the champions, on 6 May 1987

No sooner had Everton won the League championship at Norwich on Monday than moves were afoot to damn them with the sort of faint praise that recalled Churchill's remark about Chamberlain being a good lord mayor of Birmingham in a bad year. In other words Everton were worthy winners of an indifferent tournament.

The facts hardly support this view. The 1986-7 season has seen one of the better contests, the only disappointment being that some of those who set the pace in the First Division did not have the depth of strength to sustain it.

Nottingham Forest played some superb football last autumn. Arsenal, who led the League from mid-November to late January, showed qualities of teamwork based on a traditional solidity in defence which might have prolonged their challenge but for injuries to key players, most notably Paul Davis.

Tottenham had the talent to win the title for the first time since 1961 but failed to put results together, as prospective champions must. Only twice this season have David Pleat's team won three successive League fixtures and on the second occasion the sequence came too late to have a significant bearing on the championship.

Everton took the prize for the second time in three years largely through two big offensives which saw them win six League matches in a row over Christmas and the New Year and another seven around Easter. Their closest and oldest rivals managed one big push; two were beyond them.

Between Boxing Day and March 19, when they lost at Spurs, Liverpool gained 32 points out of 36 with 10 victories and two draws. But during this period injuries mounted, the third round FA Cup defeat at Luton rankled, and the Littlewoods Cup run proved an additional strain on Kenny Dalglish's resources. In mid-March they held a nine-point lead over Everton at the top of the First Division. By early April Howard Kendall's team were back in front.

Kendall and his chief coach, Colin Harvey, have again shown that the art of good management is just that — making do and mending when the team are hit by injuries, filling the gaps with players who can do the jobs, buying the sort of spare parts that fit easily into the system and, above all, maintaining a high level of performance.

An indication of the consistency of Everton's teamwork this season is the evenness with which the goals have been spread around in the wake of Gary Lineker's departure to Barcelona. Kevin Sheedy leads their League scorers with 13, followed by Heath with 11 and Steven with 10, all but two of them penalties. Clarke has five; Sharp, Power, Stevens and Watson four apiece.

The ability to score goals from a variety of positions is a sign of lasting success and it is this Liverpool will need to recapture once Rush has gone. Thirty-three of Spurs' League goals have come from Clive Allen but their team total is still four fewer than Everton's 72.

Still, Tottenham are in the FA Cup final and Pleat's supporters will be disappointed if he is not named manager of the year by Bell's the day before Wembley. Of course Pleat is a strong contender. Spurs have played some marvellous football this season and their win at Anfield in October remains a vivid memory.

However, the fair-minded Pleat would be the first to concede that if you begin a season with your midfield shot away, have changes frequently thrust upon you by other injuries and still win the League in some style then that is outstanding management.

There is a school of opinion which believes that Dave Bassett of Wimbledon should be made manager of the year. After all they did lead the First Division within a fortnight of entering it, have gained famous victories at Anfield, White Hart Lane and Old Trafford, and reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.

Had Wimbledon not approached a number of their games in the manner of Quantrill's Raiders, Bassett would indeed be a good candidate. But how you win is still as important as why and and when you win. While Everton have players who can handle themselves, they have generally handled themselves correctly and for that the applause for the new champions should be unstinted.

From the vault: Everton, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal in top four