All-Time Premier League: Everton
Nil Satis Nisi Optimum
Now, our alphabetical journey takes us northwards, from the Blues of Middlesex to the Blues of Merseyside. Today, Bill Shankly’s joke about Everton being Liverpool’s second team seems to become truer every year; but it wasn’t always the case, and it certainly wasn’t true when he told it. In 1966, when Everton won the Cup and Liverpool the League, it was a joke between equals. For the last fifty years, Liverpool have been pulling further and further ahead, in public profile and in the honour roll, almost continuously; and every time Everton have threatened to emerge, the Reds have been present, on or off the pitch, to push the Blues back into their widening shadow.
Even before then, Everton’s history had been one of good-to-great teams thwarted in their prime by events beyond their control; and although the Toffeemen have rarely (until relatively recently) been far from the game’s greatest heights, staying at soccer’s summit long enough to build a dynasty has always eluded them. In eight of ten decades from the 1890’s to the 1990’s, they won at least one FA Cup or League Championship; but only twice did they win one or the other in consecutive seasons, and in no ten-year period have they won one of these honours more than thrice. Their roll of stars over the years has reflected this; and of all the teams in this series, the Everton all-time XI may be the hardest to pick. Few, if any clubs can claim to have had so many worthy players with such similar records at almost every position. Here’s my attempt to narrow it down to a combination of eleven that fulfils the motto emblazoned on the club’s crest: Nil satis nisi optimum.
1. Three goalkeepers present themselves for consideration, and we will deal with them in chronological order of time.
Ted Sagar was a safe pair of hands in the Goodison Park goalmouth for twenty-three years, although when he arrived in 1929 nobody could have expected him to last that long. At a time when the Laws of the Game offered far less protection to goalkeepers than they do now, the skinny Sagar survived on skill and courage, perfecting the arts of plucking crosses out of the air and evading the challenges of charging strikers - and when I say survived, I am speaking less metaphorically than you think. A week into the ’31-’32 season, Sagar’s first as Everton’s first-choice goalkeeper, Glasgow Celtic goalkeeper John Thomson was killed in a collision with the Rangers centre-forward Sam English. Sagar, undeterred by the news, carried on playing, and finished the season as a First Division Champion. He won the FA Cup the following year and another Championship in ’38-’39. An expert shot-stopper with a particular expertise at saving penalty kicks, he was granted four caps by the England selectors. In spite of having had seven seasons of League fixtures and six seasons of cup-ties taken from him by the Second World War, and having undergone three cartilage operations in his career, he retired as Everton’s record appearance-maker. Had it not been for the war, he might still hold the record today.
Gordon West, who played in the Catterick era, is not as well-remembered as Sagar, but their records are closer than one might think. A more robust figure than Sagar, West was not averse to intimidating attackers, and his long throws started many a counter-attack. He was bought from Blackpool in March 1962 and, unlike Sagar, locked down a first-team place immediately. Like Sagar, he earned a League Champion’s medal in his first full season as Everton’s first-choice goalkeeper; and like Sagar, he won another one seven years later. His second championship-winning season left the two tied in trophies, each having won an FA Cup and a Charity Shield between his two championships; and when Everton beat Chelsea in the curtain-raiser to the ’70-’71 season, West overtook him as the club’s most decorated goalkeeper. He might have overtaken him in appearances, for both club and country, as well, had his own decisions not precluded the possibility. He had already been capped three times when he turned down a place in Alf Ramsey’s 1970 World Cup squad, never to be picked for England again; and three years later, he stopped short of challenging Sagar on appearances at club level, retiring from first-class football at the age of 30.
He wasn’t replaced properly until the arrival of Neville Southall. Signed from Bury in 1981, the binman-turned goalkeeper would go on to surpass Sagar and West in every one of the aforementioned categories and a couple that haven’t been mentioned. Built like West but stylistically similar to Sagar, the sturdy Southall combined the size and strength of the former with the renowned penalty-saving skills of the latter; and a straightforward statistical summary of his career would leave one with the impression that he achieved almost as much as the two together. His eight major honours are only one fewer than the combined count of Sagar’s four and West’s five; his 269 clean sheets are only six fewer than the sum of West’s 155 and Sagar’s 120; and his 750 first-class appearances are 147 fewer than West’s 402 added to Sagar’s 495. All these numbers are currently club records, as were his 92 international caps for Wales until the American Tim Howard came along. It’s not as simple as that, of course. Context must be considered, particularly when one compares him with Sagar. But if his record is not as definitively better than those of his competitors as it might appear at first glance, it certainly isn’t noticeably worse. One thing that is certain is that there is much more visual evidence of his brilliance to enjoy. By the slimmest of margins, the 1985 FWA Footballer of the Year takes the green jersey, with Sagar second in line and West third.
2. At right-back, the number of candidates increases to five. Billy Balmer, who formed a famous full-back partnership with his brother Bob in the Edwardian era; Warney Cresswell, a star of the inter-war years whom Ivan Sharpe described as “the most stylish full back Everton have sent afield;” and Tommy Wright, a stalwart of the late sixties and early seventies; all made more than 300 first-class appearances for Everton while winning major honours and international caps, with Wright’s 373 the highest tally. Two more fall slightly short of that mark, but merit consideration nonetheless. Willie Cook, an Irish international whose career was curtailed by World War II, scored 6 goals in precisely 250 competitive games for the Toffees before first-class football was suspended – only one fewer than Wright (4), Cook (1), Cresswell (1) and Balmer (1) managed combined. It’s worth noting, however, that most of those goals came from penalty kicks, a device not needed by Gary Stevens to equal in 294 games, from 1982 to 1988, the 13 goals scored by the other four in more than 1,200.
Stevens’ attacking output was far from limited to the goals he scored, his club-and-country partnership with his near-namesake Trevor Steven producing plenty of crosses for the strikers of Everton and England, and later of Glasgow Rangers. Yet defensively, he may have been the weakest of the five. He frequently came under criticism for his passing and positioning, particularly at international level, and his considerable pace couldn’t always compensate. Tommy Wright, described by George Best as his toughest opponent, was arguably a more rounded player. He was as strong a tackler as Stevens, and his raids down the wing were as important in ’69-’70 as Stevens’ would be fifteen years later. Although he carried less of a goal-scoring threat than Stevens, one could argue that his superior passing resulted in more goals overall. In 2003, when Evertonians elected their greatest-ever XI, it was Stevens who was voted in at right-back; but Wright’s induction into the club’s official pantheon of “Everton Giants” preceded his by four years. Yet for a tactically sophisticated, technically sound back who could balance attack and defence, I’m going to turn back the clock to the man in whose footsteps all Everton full-backs follow.
Cresswell, one of the first full-backs to make forward sallies, set the template for all who followed him at Goodison Park. Sunderland briefly made him the world’s most expensive footballer when they bought him from South Shields, and five of his seven international caps were won while he was a Rokerman; but it was after he transferred to Everton in 1927 that he achieved his greatest success at club level. By then, “The Prince of Full-Backs” was soon to enter his thirties, and the reduced price probably reflected his advancing age. However, Cresswell, a prototypical Paolo Maldini, defied the odds, playing for a further nine years. He relied more on positioning than on tackling to get the ball, and could pass it with great expertise. He would have agreed with the Italian master’s statement: “If I have to make a tackle, something’s wrong;” and his cerebral style paid dividends. The W-M formation was slowly developing, with full-backs being pushed out wide to accommodate the withdrawn centre-half. Still expected to cover the middle when needed, they were increasingly responsible for marking the opposing wing-forwards; and Cresswell seems to have adapted as well as anybody. In ’27-’28, his first full season as a Toffeeman, Everton won the League, conceding 24 goals fewer than they had the previous campaign. He won another Championship as a right-back in ’31-’32 before moving to the left the following year to accommodate Cook, who arrived mid-season. The two played together in the 1933 Cup Final, with Cresswell giving a man-of-the-match display.
Stevens and Wright may be more celebrated today, but it was in Cresswell’s mould that the overlapping full-back was made. Defensively, he is exactly the blend of wing-back and centre-back this team needs, his ability to perform both roles enabling the manager to commit more men to attack. If he has to move to the left, Wright will be ready in reserve.
3. With Cresswell established at right-back, the equally versatile Cook shifts to the left, making the audition queue there even longer than the one on the right. To fit the personnel at other positions, this team uses a flexible form of the W-M formation; and while creative play need not be neglected, defensive security from the full-backs is paramount. For this reason, the recently retired Leighton Baines, the club’s record appearance-maker among left-backs, finds his application rejected. “Psycho” Pat Van den Hauwe, the most un-Welsh of Welsh internationals, complemented Stevens expertly in the eighties; and the determined David Unsworth offered solidity to Joe Royle’s “Dogs of War” in the nineties. Each could play as a wing-back or a centre-back, and could probably play in the hybrid role that the W-M demands; but both fall short of the technical standard required. Cook, described in the Everton Encyclopedia website as the Stuart Pearce of his day, was famous for providing the brawn to Cresswell’s brains, but he this was a characterisation compounded by contrast. Next to Cresswell, almost any footballer would have seemed uncultured; and Cook, described by one team-mate as having “the ball control of any inside-forward” had constructive qualities of his own. His versatility, and his successful partnership with Cresswell, make him a tempting choice; and Ted Sagar, picking an ideal XI from all his team-mates down the years, chose precisely that combination.
But that was before the emergence of Ray Wilson, one of just two Toffeemen to win the World Cup and the only one to do so while registered as an Everton player. Although he missed out on both of Everton’s championship-winning seasons in the Catterick era, joining the club a year after the ’62-’63 triumph and leaving before ’69-’70, he is remembered more fondly at Goodison Park than either his predecessor, Mick Meagan, or his successor, Sandy Brown. His header at the feet of Helmut Haller at Wembley in 1966 may be the most famous moment of his career, analogous to Brown’s spectacular own goal against Liverpool; but it was far from representative his skill. The reported reaction of Nobby Stiles, the England right-half that day, sums up the moment. “In the 14 years I’ve been playing with you and against you, the first time you make a fucking mistake is in a World Cup Final!”
Two months earlier, he had been on the same ground with Everton, playing in the last three-man defence to win the FA Cup for three decades. When Harry Catterick followed Alf Ramsey’s lead and withdrew a wing-half to make a back four the following season, Wilson was well-placed to take advantage of the extra cover afforded him. In the words of Alex Young, he was blessed with “the acceleration of an E-Type Jag;” and even in a W-M formation, he had carried a strong overlapping threat to go with his world-class defensive skills, scoring six League goals for Second Division Huddersfield Town before his transfer to Everton. He carried that threat into Catterick’s 4-3-3 and Ramsey’s 4-4-2. He never scored a goal for Everton, and his 63 games for England without scoring were a record for an outfield player until surpassed by Gary Neville and Ashley Cole; but those very names illustrate his all-round ability. In 1968, he helped his club to another Cup Final and his country to the semi-finals of the European Championship before suffering a ruinous knew injury. After making just seven appearances in ’68-’69, he was given a free transfer to Oldham Athletic before he closed out his career with a handful of games for Bradford City.
His time at Goodison Park was short, and his appearances tally is correspondingly lower than those of his competitors for the position; but while it lasted, he was one of the greatest left-backs in the world. With Cresswell on the right, Wilson mirrors his role on the left. If a tougher tackler is required, Cook can come in on one side or the other.
4. Only twelve men have won full caps for England at both cricket and soccer; and during the early twentieth century, Everton had two of them at the same time. Between summers spent at the crease, Harry Makepeace made 336 official appearances for the Toffees from 1902 to 1915, many of them backing up his fellow Lancashire County batsman Jack Sharp, and scored 23 goals. A key component of the cup-winning team of 1906, he was still in the lineup when Everton won the League in the last season before the First World War stopped play.
Twenty-four years later, Cliff Britton would find himself halted by Hitler. He had missed out on a medal in both of Everton’s championship-winning seasons in the thirties, spending the entirety of ’31-’32 and most of ’38-’39 as a reserve; but in between, he had staked his own claim to the title of Everton’s greatest right-half. Although he scored only three goals in his 242 first-class appearances for the club, he was one of the prettiest playmakers of his generation, described by Dixie Dean as the best crosser of a ball he ever played with.
But both the double international Makepeace and the single international Britton find themselves side-lined by a man who never won international honours. Howard Kendall may have been a less talented player, but his skill-set fits the needs of the team better. Signed from Preston in 1967, Kendall had come to public prominence three years earlier as the youngest player to appear in an FA Cup Final for eighty-five years; but it was with Everton that he would come to be most closely associated, with Kendall eventually describing his relationship with the club as his “marriage.” He might have affairs with other clubs, but he would always return to the one he loved.
In spite of its ups and downs, it would prove to be a passionate and fruitful union. The combative yet creative Kendall struck up an almost telepathic understanding with Colin Harvey and Alan Ball Jr, with the three becoming known as Everton’s “Holy Trinity.” Roughly speaking, Kendall was the tackler, Harvey the passer and Ball the goal-scorer; and all three were runners. In their first full season together, Everton reached the FA Cup Final. In their second, they challenged for the championship, only to fall behind after Kendall was injured. In their third, they won the League.
After a decline in the early seventies, the club succumbed to a seven-year itch, selling Kendall to Birmingham City. Seven years later, he returned to Goodison Park as a coach, eventually spending three spells as manager. It was he who guided the team through the glorious years of the mid-eighties, winning more trophies than any Everton manager before or since.
Along with Harvey, now his assistant, he oversaw the emergence of Peter Reid, a player after his own heart whose contributions to the club on the pitch came to rival his own. In 1985, as Southall won the FWA’s Footballer of the Year award, it was Reid who picked up the PFA’s equivalent, giving his team a double of individual awards to go with the League Championship and Cup Winners’ Cup. In the same year, World Soccer magazine named the pudgy, prematurely balding ball-winner the fourth-best player on the planet – behind Michel Platini, Preben Elkjaer and Diego Maradona. “Fat, round, and worth a million pounds” in the Gwladys Street End’s estimation, he played for England 13 times, as many as Makepeace and Britton combined. His peak was probably better than Kendall’s, although it didn’t last as long; but for the sake of harmony in the XI, I’ve put Kendall in at right-half and relegated Reid to reserve status.
Kendall and the club parted ways for good in 1998, after his last season in charge had nearly ended in relegation; but those chaotic last few months are not what his fans will remember him for. Is a marriage a failure because it is not perfectly constant, or because it ends in divorce? Or are the good times one has had along the way vindication enough? In football terms, at least, Everton supporters surely know which answer they would give.
5. Talking of marriage, we turn to Brian Labone, who turned down a place in Alf Ramsey’s World Cup squad in 1966 on the grounds that playing in the tournament would have interfered with his wedding plans. Labone, the immovable object at the heart of Everton’s defence through the sixties, won five major honours and broke Ted Sagar’s club appearances record. He heads a list of five central defenders who each made more than 400 first-class appearances for the Toffees, forming an almost unbroken line of succession lasting half a century. A detailed discussion of all five is beyond the scope of this article; but T.E. Jones, Mick Lyons, Kevin Ratcliffe and Dave Watson each merit a mention. So too does Derek Mountfield, Ratcliffe’s central partner in ’84-’85, who that season scored 14 goals. Ratcliffe, the most decorated captain in the club’s history, was selected along with Labone in the club’s official all-time XI; but that was in a 4-4-2. In this team, with Wilson and Cresswell playing “corner-back” roles, only one extra defender is needed to play between them.
Jack Taylor, the long-serving centrepiece of the celebrated 1906 team; and Johnny Holt, the midfield spoiler of the 1891 League Champions and the smallest centre-half ever to play for England; make me question whether I need a stopper at all. Yet rather than pick a player who can be pigeonholed as an attacking centre-half or a defensive one, I’ve chosen a middle course between the two.
Before one Tommy Jones, there was another. T.G. Jones, no relation to his successor T.E., brought the playmaking skills of a pivot to what was then the new-fangled “policeman” position in the late thirties. Whereas White and Charlie Gee, the England internationals who had contested the centre-half spot before his arrival, were strictly no-frills players, the Welshman who arrived at Goodison Park in 1936 was something else entirely. When under pressure, he was the calmest person on the pitch; and so committed was he to constructive use of the ball that he would head corner kicks into his goalkeeper’s hands. Hard but fair, and dominant in the air, he could handle himself against the toughest centre-forwards and come off the pitch with his kit still clean. Keeping one eye on the striker and another on his full-backs, he could mark the one out of the game while covering for the other with perfect positioning and timing – a stopper and a sweeper in one. When his team had the ball, he moved up into the midfield and beyond. He could, and would, dribble his way out of trouble in his own penalty area. He would spray passes all around the pitch, and occasionally advance to unleash a shot that Joe Mercer described as the hardest in football. He scored 5 goals in 175 first-class appearances from 1936 to 1950; and although his appearances tally looks small when set next to those of Labone and Ratcliffe, it would almost certainly be in the same range had it not been for the Second World War and his ostracism by his own organisation – brought about by his refusal to play while injured in a Wartime League game, which one director interpreted as malingering. Given that Everton won the championship in the last season before the war with a young, promising-looking team, he might have rivalled their medal collections as well. He won 17 full caps for Wales and played in nine wartime internationals. Like Ratcliffe, he captained his country – even when he was reduced to playing as an amateur for Hawarden Grammar School Old Boys just to get a game. His reputation extended to Italy, where elements of his style would later be seen in liberi like Franco Baresi and Gaetano Scirea. AS Roma asked Everton’s directors, who had refused to sell their star centre-half to a domestic rival, to name their price for him; but when they did, the agreed fee would have fallen foul of foreign exchange laws.
That puts Harry Maguire into perspective, doesn’t it? With Ratcliffe and Labone looking on from the bench, T.G. takes the field. When defending, he’ll play between the backs, but he won’t have to stay there.
6. His understanding with his wing-halves was crucial to his upfield advances; and three of the very best battled for those two positions. To accommodate Cliff Britton on the right, the England selectors moved Joe Mercer to the left; and for a while the Everton directors did the same. Yet such was the skill of the Scottish Jock Thomson that he eventually compelled them to decide between the two. Either side of the Britton-Mercer years, it was Britton and Thomson who won the Cup in 1933 and Mercer and Thomson who won the League in 1939, the latter coming with Thomson as captain. A forceful tackler, he also provided excellent support to his wing-forward, giving his centre-half the space to run into while he did so.
Before Thomson, there had been Walter Abbott, the left side of the Makepeace-Taylor-Abbott line of 1906. A converted inside-forward, Abbott followed up behind the wing pair of Jimmy Settle and Harold Hardman with a fearsome shot of his own, scoring several more goals than Thomson in about as many games – 37 in 291 to Thomson’s 5 in 296. Like Thomson, he won only one international cap, but he was selected four times for the Football League XI.
But for maximum flexibility in the midfield, I’ve chosen to resurrect a different partnership. Colin Harvey combined with Kendall to great effect as both a player and a coach, and it’s hard to see how I could do better than to put them back together. Like Abbott, he was an inside-forward who became a wing-half; and when Harry Catterick turned John Hurst into a fourth defender, Harvey fulfilled in a 4-3-3 formation the functions that had been split between both in the W-M. A modern, multifunctional midfielder, he had the energy to run from one end to the other and an elegance in possession that earned him the nickname “The White Pele.” He lacked the Brazilian’s goal-scoring instinct, but he seems to have had a knack for scoring important goals, as if high-pressure situations served to calm rather than excite his nerves. He scored his first goal in his first Merseyside derby in ’64-’65; and the following season, he scored the winner in an FA Cup semi-final. Over the next two years, as first Ball and then Kendall arrived at Goodison Park to play alongside him, Harvey came into his own. His skills were more subtle than those of his fellow midfielders, but no less valuable, and Harry Catterick called him the most technically accomplished of the three. He wasn’t the white Pele, but “The British Gerson” would have suited him pretty well. Although more energetic than the chain-smoking Brazilian playmaker, he served in Everton’s ’69-’70 team a function similar to that which Gerson fulfilled in Brazil’s World Cup team the following summer; and his championship-winning goal against West Bromwich Albion was similar in style, skill and surprise value to Gerson’s twenty-yard drive against Italy. He won his first international cap the following year, playing for England against Malta; but, as it had been for Abbott and Thomson, his first would be his last. He started to struggle with injuries soon afterwards; and after making more than 35 appearances for Everton every season from ’64-’65 to ’70-’71, he failed to reach that mark in any of the following three. He was sold to Sheffield Wednesday in 1974, having played in 384 games, scored 24 goals, and played in every wing-half and inside-forward position.
With his energy, flexibility and creativity, he was the perfect complement to Kendall; and I’ve brought their partnership into the Everton all-time XI. Their understanding, with one holding the midfield as the other plays further forward, will be crucial to making the W-M formation work. Thomson takes the substitute’s spot, with Abbott left out. Stuart McCall and Mikel Arteta, more recent occupants of the Number 6 shirt, earn honourable mentions.
7. Sam Chedgzoy, best known in England for forcing a change in the Laws of the Game by dribbling from a corner kick, made exactly 300 appearances for Everton in first-class competition either side of the First World War, scoring 36 goals. An excellent crosser of the ball, he was a regular provider of goals to Bobby Parker, the First Division’s leading scorer in the championship-winning season of 1914-’15. After departing for North America in 1926, he continued his career into his fifties, and his contributions to the Montreal Carsteel club have made him the only Evertonian to earn entry into the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame – at least as an individual. Yet among Everton outside-rights, he is overshadowed by two similarly creative players with better goal-scoring records.
Jack Sharp, Harry Makepeace’s cricketing colleague, made 300 appearances in the League and another 42 in the FA Cup between his transfer to Everton in 1899 and his retirement from football in 1910. Gibson and Pickford (1906), the Edwardian soccer historians, described Sharp as everything one could want in a winger; and the long-serving referee J.T. Howcroft named him as the best outside-right he had ever seen. Quick, clever and accurate with his centres, he created several goals for his fellow forwards, including Sandy Young’s winner at the Crystal Palace in 1906; and when Young headed the First Division scoring list the following season, Sharp was as much to credit as Chedgzoy would be eight years later. He could also cut inside and shoot with deadly accuracy, and his 80 goals in 344 games for Everton make his strike-rate roughly double that of his eventual successor.
Sharp and Chedgzoy were two of the ten men inducted in the inaugural class of Everton Giants. “Tricky” Trevor Steven has yet to be inducted, but he was voted into the club’s official all-time XI in 2003. His career Goodison Park was shorter than Sharp’s or Chedgzoy’s, but he packed at least as much into it as they did into theirs. Playing like a reincarnation of Sharp, he scored 60 goals in 299 games for the Toffees between 1983 and 1989. Like Sharp, he could beat his man on either side; and like Sharp, he was first and foremost a team player, feeling no need to elaborate if he could get the ball over without doing so. His partnership with Gary Stevens, an almost impenetrable barrier in defence and a twin threat in attack, has its obvious parallel with Makepeace and Sharp; and for any Evertonians old enough to remember, his hanging cross to Andy Gray in the 1984 FA Cup Final must have brought flashbacks to 1906. In ’84-’85, he scored 16 goals in 61 games, including one in each of the semi-final and final rounds of the Cup Winners’ Cup. With Everton winning the League that year, he had, in his first two seasons as a Toffeeman, equalled Sharp and Chedgzoy’s combined total of trophies won in domestic competition; and his first full England cap meant that he had joined both of them in the ranks of internationals. He would go on to win 36, 26 while with Everton. Comparing international records across generations is tricky; but I would guess that Stevens’ 36 caps, including 9 in the World Cup and European Championship, are at least equal to Chedgzoy’s eight appearances in the British International Championship and superior to Sharp’s two.
Stevens and Everton continued to play well. In ’85-’86, he emulated another of Sharp and Chedgzoy’s achievements by being a provider to the First Division’s top goal-scorer (Gary Lineker). After that season’s near-miss double, he another League Championship in ’86-’87; but the ban on English clubs entering continental competition had already begun to break up a brilliant team, as players and manager alike looked elsewhere for opportunities to test themselves against Europe’s best. In 1989, Steven followed Stevens to Glasgow Rangers; but in six years, he had done enough to be ranked as one of Everton’s all-time greats.
It’s difficult to choose between two players with records so similar, but Stevens gets my vote – just. If nothing else, he won’t have to withdraw from the lineup because of his cricket commitments.
8. Inside-right, by contrast, is the one real no-brainer in the eleven. Bobby Collins, who later enjoyed greater success with Leeds United, rendered sterling service to Everton in the late fifties and early sixties; and Andy King’s clever playmaking livened up the late sentries and early eighties; but none stand as tall in the club’s history as the 5 ft. 6 in. Everton Giant, Alan Ball Jr.
After being rejected by Bolton Wanderers, his home-town club, he signed apprentice forms for Blackpool at the age of fifteen, promising his father than he would play for England before he was twenty. His self-confidence surfaced in a practice match, when he proved himself the only player at Blackpool (perhaps in England) who dared to tell off Stanley Matthews. As demanding of himself as he was of his colleagues, he propelled himself into Blackpool’s first team in 1962, aged seventeen. He won his first international cap in 1965, keeping his promise to his father with three days to go. When Alf Ramsey withdrew his wing-forwards and tucked them inside, he looked to players who played inside-forward for their clubs to fill those positions; and Ball’s boundless energy made him a perfect fit for the role on the right. His performances in the 1966 World Cup caught the eye of Harry Catterick, who broke the British transfer record to bring Ball to Goodison Park.
Upon his arrival, Catterick claimed that he had immediately improved his colleagues’ contributions “by ten per cent,” and his own contributions were plain for anybody to see. Playing like the Steven Gerrard or Kevin de Bruyne of his day, the diminutive dynamo charged up and down the inside-right channel with an intensity that complemented his considerable skill. When defending, he harried opponents constantly. When attacking, he surged forward into the penalty area to support his centre-forward. He scored the winning goal in his first game for Everton, and would go on to score 56 in 150 games over his first three seasons, including 20 in 40 in ’67-’68. His scoring slowed down subsequently, but he remained a driving force in the midfield, and ’69-’70 may have been his best season of all.
After finishing sixth, fifth and third in the League; and losing in the quarter-final, final and semi-final rounds of the Cup; Ball and Everton finally won major honours. His temper, always his biggest weakness, got him into trouble midway through the season, and he served a five-week suspension for poor discipline; but when he returned to the field of play, he was made the club’s acting captain in the absence of the injured Brian Labone. Permitted to politely ask questions of referees, he no longer felt the need to hurl abuse at them; and, staying out of trouble, he pulled his men over the line to beat Leeds United to the First Division Championship.
Still a fixture in the England XI, he represented his country in the World Cup the following summer, before picking up a winner’s medal in the Charity Shield. Although the Toffees’ defence of their title was disappointing, Ball was still considered one of the best players in the game in ’70-’71. When asked what it would take for him to sell his star player, Catterick claimed that he would consider it for a million pounds. Halfway through ’71-’72, however, he accepted an offer of £220,000 from Arsenal. It was another British record, and twice the price Everton had paid, and yet it could be considered a cut-price deal. Ball would serve Arsenal well for five years, and would later win promotion with Southampton; but he never enjoyed the same success that he had with Everton. It would take him until the end of the decade to win another championship, and then he was given not a medal but a ring – as a Soccer Bowl champion with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
With his ability to alternate between a withdrawn and an advanced inside-forward role, and his understanding with Kendall and Harvey, Ball is crucial to the elasticity of the midfield square. He starts at Number 8, with King on the bench.
9. Centre-forwards are celebrated perhaps more frequently than players at any other position, and Everton have had quite a collection over the years. Bobby Parker, Bob Latchford, Fred Geary, Sandy Young, Alex Young, Roy Vernon, Dave Hickson, Joe Royle, Graeme Sharp, Andy Gray, Gary Lineker, Adrian Heath, Duncan Ferguson…so many names, and so many stories to tell! Dominic Calvert-Lewin is the inheritor of a long and proud tradition. Yet of all this club’s great strikers, two men stand above the rest.
The 1933 FA Cup Final was the first in which the players wore numbers on their shirts, and William Ralph “Dixie” Dean was the original Number 9. One would be hard-pressed to think of a player who displayed more fully the attributes associated with that number in all the years since. The legend that a doctor had left a metal plate in his head after he suffered a motorcycling accident was false, but the power of his headers caused many to believe it. The rumour that one of his shots broke a goalkeeper’s arm may or may not be true; but it is true that one particularly violent tackle, suffered while he was playing in the Tranmere Rovers’ reserve team, led to the loss of – well, part of his tackle. A weaker or wiser man would have given up the game there and then, while he had what remained of his manhood; but Dean carried on playing, and went on to score 27 goals in 33 games for the Tranmere first team before Everton came calling in 1925.
He was, however, more than a “brainless bull at the gate” centre-forward. A skilful, intelligent ball-player in the best Everton tradition, he was a perfect fit for the club’s culture; and he couldn’t have arrived at a better time. The offside law changed that summer, causing chaos in defences throughout the Football League; and Dean was about to become the Babe Ruth of English soccer, taking advantage of changes in the game to achieve things that nobody had done before.
In the autumn of 1927, as the Sultan of Swat chased down and broke his own Major League record of 59 home runs in a season, Dean started a similar campaign of his own. Middlesbrough’s George Camsell had set the Football League record the previous season with 59 goals; and by the time the Babe slugged his sixtieth four-baser on 30 September, Dean had scored 10 times in his first 7 League games, including at least once in each. If he maintained his pace, he would beat Camsell’s record exactly, and he did just that. The following day, he scored two goals in a 3-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur. A week later, he scored five against Manchester United. On the last day of the season, with the championship already won, Everton hosted Arsenal. Dean, starting the game on 57 goals, capped off the celebrations by scoring a hat-trick.
Ruth’s single-season record has since been beaten; Dean’s never has. Both would retire with career records as well, Ruth with 714 Major League home runs and Dean with 379 Football League goals. Dean’s career record would be surpassed in the sixties and Ruth’s in the seventies; but the Babe’s 659 home runs for the Yankees and Dixie’s 349 League goals for the Toffees still stand as records for a single team.
Tommy Lawton, who succeeded Dean at centre-forward, might have broken the latter had it not been for the Second World War and his transfer to Chelsea thereafter. He finished the last two seasons before the war, his first two full seasons in the club’s colours, as the First Division’s top goal-scorer; and he continued to bang in the goals in wartime competitions, counting his 400th in 1945. He had Dean’s skill-set, and the choice between the two is the toughest the selection of this team presents; but in a photo-finish, the verdict goes to Dean, with Lawton coming in second. Sharp, who holds the club’s post-war goal-scoring record, takes the twenty-fifth spot on the roster, the backup to the backup.
10. When William Gallas was given the Number 10 jersey after his transfer to Arsenal, the moment acquired an infamy among those who care for the significance of such things; but such anomalies are not unique to the Premier League age. John Hurst, a converted inside-forward, frequently found himself bearing the number on his back even after he had become a fourth defender, spending the entire ’69-’70 season in the same shirt in which he had made his first start for the Toffees four years previously. But there will be none of that nonsense here. Hurst, an ever-present in that title-winning team, is relegated to the bench; and if he breaks into the first XI, he will wear whatever number best fits his position. Three of his contemporaries have taken the first three corners of the midfield square, but it’s a man from another time who completes it.
Edgar Chadwick, nicknamed “Hooky” for his trick of dribbling across the goal-mouth in one direction and shooting in the other, was one of Everton’s first great stars and the first man to score a hundred goals for the Toffees in first-class competition. He scored 110 in exactly 300 games for the club between 1888 and 1899, and 3 in 7 internationals for England. Jimmy Settle, who arrived at Goodison Park as Chadwick departed, finished slightly shy of a century, notching 97 goals in his 269 first-class appearances for the Toffees. He also played for England 7 times, scoring 7 goals in those games, although he is officially credited with only 6 caps and 6 international goals. (His appearance against Scotland at Ibrox Park in 1902 was expunged from the record after a stand collapsed, killing several spectators.) Both men won major honours with Everton, Chadwick playing in the Toffees’ first title-winning team in 1890-’91 and Settle in their first cup-winning XI fifteen years later. Each has his place in the club’s history, but each is omitted from my all-time Everton team in favour of Alex Stevenson.
Standing at 5 ft. 5 in. and weighing not much more than 10 stone, Stevenson demonstrated the veracity of the old maxim “the player who is good enough is big enough.” Born in Dublin in 1912, he began his career with the Dolphin Football Club before being bought by Glasgow Rangers; and by the time of his transfer to Everton in 1934, the twenty-one-year-old inside-forward had already won international honours under two banners. Between 1924 and 1950, both the Belfast-based Irish Football Association and the Dublin-based Football Association of Ireland claimed the right to represent the entire island; and in the thirties, both wanted Stevenson. Over the next fifteen years, he showed the Everton supporters why.
An expert-ball juggler with brilliant balance, he dodged the challenges of bigger men without resorting to dirty tricks, before playing a penetrating pass to one of his fellow forwards or going for goal himself. Known as a great provider of goals, first to Dean and then to Lawton, he scored 90 in 271 first-class appearances for the Toffees either side of the Second World War, including two in the Easter Weekend triple-header of 1939. The first of these, a decisive and very rare header against Chelsea on Easter Saturday, was named “The Miracle of Stamford Bridge” by Tommy Lawton, who appreciated Stevenson’s service as much as anyone but was astonished that he had headed the ball at all. According to Lawton, Stevenson headed the ball less frequently than even Stanley Matthews, but was “a wizard at the through pass which ripped open the defence” and could “roll the ball across to me like we were playing on a billiard table.” In a title-winning team that included Lawton, Sagar, Jones and Mercer, Stevenson was singled out by the utility man Gordon Watson as its most consistent performer.
Although mostly an inside-left, he could also play inside-right, switching between the two to devastating effect in a League match against Sunderland in 1936. His ability to do so will contribute to the team’s flexibility in attack; and his ability to move wide and cross the ball, a perfect complement to Dean’s headwork, will facilitate the stretching of opposing defences.
11. How many Everton players have won a world international championship – before, during or after their time at the club? Almost every Evertonian knows that Ray Wilson and Alan Ball won the World Cup in 1966; and if, during the half-time interval at Goodison Park, you pose this question to your neighbour, it’s a fair bet that he’ll answer “two.” Yet depending on how the question is phrased and interpreted, someone in the surrounding seats may interject with a correction. Before the World Cup, the closest thing there was to an equivalent was the football tournament staged at the all-amateur Olympiad; and in 1908, a solicitor called Harold Hardman played outside-left for England as she beat Denmark 2-0 to claim the gold medal. (The bronze, incidentally, was won by the Netherlands, whose players were coached by Edgar Chadwick.) A slightly-built, speedy trickster who could play on either wing, the somewhat ill-named Hardman made 156 appearances for the Toffees between 1903 and 1908, scoring 29 goals; and in the Cup-winning team of 1906, he was a near-constant supply of scoring chances to strikers Settle and Young. He also scored the winning goal in the semi-final against Liverpool.
Derek Temple had Hardman’s versatility, Jack Sharp’s eye for goal, and pace to compete with either of them. He broke into the first team in 1957 as an inside-right, and played all five forward positions over the next decade. He missed out on a League Championship medal in ’62-’63, having missed most of the season with an injury; but three years later, he had his moment, scoring the goal that won the FA Cup Final. An arrowed drive, just past a goalkeeper’s reach, after an upfield dash, it was a goal that encapsulated his playing style as completely as any of the 83 he scored in 272 appearances for Everton. He would be dropped from the first team in favour of Johnny Morrissey, who had filled in for him in ’62-’63, the following season, and sold to Preston North End the season after. Morrissey, unlike Hardman, was known to be a hard man, who gave back the rough treatment he received from opponents. He would win another League Championship medal in ’69-’70, and ended up making more appearances (314) for Everton than Temple; but it was Temple who would eventually be named among the Everton Giants.
While there may be some slight doubt about who was the better outside-left of the Catterick era, Kevin Sheedy leaves one in doubt when it comes to Kendall and Harvey’s years in charge. Bought from Liverpool in 1982, the Welsh-born future Ireland international was the first man to transfer between the great Merseyside rivals since Morrisey himself had made the same journey twenty years earlier. Like Morrissey, he had struggled to break into the first team at Anfield, but would achieve great things the other side of Stanley Park. In the decade that followed, he was the principal creative outlet for the most successful team in Everton’s history. In terms of trophies, he matched both Morrissey’s two First Division Championship medals and Temple’s FA Cup winner’s medal, with the European Cup Winners’ Cup thrown in as well. He didn’t track back and tackle as well as Steven did on the opposite flank, and he certainly wasn’t a hard nut as Morrissey had been; but he was a prolific provider of goals to Graeme Sharp and his assortment of striking partners, and he scored several himself – 95 in 386 first-class appearances for the Toffees. Set plays were his speciality, and his dead-ball deliveries were one of the biggest reasons for Derek Mountfield’s remarkable 14 goals in ’84-’85. In the same season, he scored a double goal from a free kick in an FA Cup tie against Ipswich. After he had shot into the right-hand corner of the net, the referee ordered the kick to be retaken, whereupon he promptly placed the ball in the left-hand corner.
With Jones, Ball and Steven in the side, this team is not short of right-footed dead-ball kickers; but it’s nice to have a left-footed alternative, and Sheedy’s expertise in this department wins him the Number 11 shirt. Temple is left on the bench.
As you can see, the team is lined up in a W-M formation, which has the potential to turn into a 2-3-5 in attack. This is considered a somewhat antiquated formation today; but with the W-W having been reintroduced, I would not be surprised to see its original successor make a comeback in the near future, albeit in a more modern form. Indeed, one could argue that this process has already begun. Josep Guardiola, one of the first of today’s coaches to bring back the W-W and a man who always appears to be one step ahead of the competition, seems to have made moves in that direction; and the A-M formation, also known as 3-4-3, often employed by Gareth Southgate’s England team can be considered a more defensive version of the W-M, with both wing-forwards playing back. In any case, the built-in understanding between Kendall, Harvey and Ball, and the tactical intelligence of Alex Stevenson, mean that this W-M need not appear in that form for more than an instant. At any one time, the midfield square can be skewed to one side to make a Dutch-style diamond formation; and the flexibility of its members means that it can be skewed to either side, adjusting as and when needed.
And who better to manage the team than Harry Catterick, who knew the strengths and weaknesses of the W-M inside-out, winning the First Division Championship and the FA Cup with that formation before turning it into a 4-3-3? Reunited with Kendall, Harvey and Ball, he would be just the man to bring the best out of them and their team-mates.
Next: Huddersfield Town