It has been a hard few days being an Evertonian; hopefully this will prove a fun distraction for some.
Baines Labone TG Jones Cresswell
As my XI are all comfortable on the ball I’ve gone for a tribute to Barcelona’s current formation – with Baines and Cresswell attacking and galloping up the flanks as much as possible. This team has a cool head on its
shoulders. Some, like Southall and Young, are reluctant celebrities. Others, like Vernon and Ball, smile in front of fame’s intimidating stare.
This XI was selected to be a team of partnerships and complimentary temperaments. My defence is calm and collected, and highly skilled. TG Jones has been selected over Kevin Ratcliffe, a speedy and vigorous player, but not the elegant ball playing defender that Jones was. In midfield Ball and Harvey are inseparable, it’s just unfortunate
that I couldn’t make room for the third Grace, Howard Kendall, although he will be looking on as manager.
In the attacking third, Young is playing slightly out of position but he was always a rather deep lying forward. Just
ahead of him is Roy Vernon – recreating the glorious partnership of 1963 where they scored 46 goals between them and won the League. Vernon’s cohort up front is Dixie – our goalscorer laureate. This team is designed to play sparkling passing football, but it wouldn’t be scared to try a more direct approach either. Messrs Cresswell and Dean, both in
my XI, weren’t footballing snobs and wouldn’t regard a larrup or hoof as sacrilegious. Here’s a clip from a Daily Courier report for Dec 12th 1927:
“Cresswell placed a long lofty clearance kick down the centre, and Dean was
standing with his back to the Villa goal, he back headed over Jackson
into the net.”
I’ve allowed myself one extravagance and isn’t the ethereal Young who could drift in and out of games, nor is it TG Jones who loved to ease the ball out of defence, it’s the menacing Tony Kay. He is just a speck on Everton’s history because his involvement in a betting scandal led him to be banned from football – but a player who for a short time was Catterick’s pitbull.
I managed to whittle it down to three: Moyes, Catterick, Kendall. The first to be discounted was Catterick as I’m looking for a better man manager. Whilst Moyes is excellent at finding and honing talent I’m unsure as to how he would handle my XI’s talents. The Howard Kendall of the 1980’s – young passionate and hungry is who I’d choose. In his autobiography Andy Gray recalls a game away to Stoke City in the FA Cup. Kendall’s pre-match team talk consisted of simply opening the windows of the dressing room , not saying a word, letting his boys listen to the raucous noise of the 10,000 Evertonians at the Victoria Ground that day. Everton won 2-0.
“It was my first signing, and my best, in his prime, Neville was the best keeper in the world.” – Howard Kendall
I’d take the mid 80’s Nev, the best goalkeeper in the world – and a player who during his Everton career won more games than any other blue. With seemingly elastic limbs and a huge heart, you’d trust him to catch a bullet, let alone a football.
Great goalkeepers have an agility that enables them to get down quickly but Southall also had an underrated ability to leap high. Study footage of Big Nev, and you’ll see him leaping at crosses, tipping shots over the crossbar, making double, even triple saves. All the time Southall’s hands would frantically move like a waiter juggling plates but his face would stay neutral. In post match interviews, he seemed deadpan, the words reluctantly creeping out from underneath his moustache but between the sticks he was a exciting, eccentric genius.
My three favourite Southall moments:
- His comical TV duel with Michael Owen. Southall valiantly tries to coach a young scamp – he’s a fat mustachioed Jimminy Cricket whispering goalkeeping tips into the lad’s impressionable ears. Meanwhile, Owen, with a reptilian coldness scores and laughs in the boys face like the avaricious goal digger that he is. Bizarre TV.
- An anecdote. In training Southall would face shots with his hands tied behind his back. He would save the majority of them.
- The 1995 FA Cup Final. A bigger, older Nev repels wave after wave of Man Utd attacks and wins us the cup.
Off the pitch Baines likes to keep his head down, on it he would be a lively, bustling presence on the left . This modest southpaw can cross, tackle, attack, and by God – can he hit a free kick, The Baines that I would want in my side above all left backs is the one that played at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea in the FA Cup last season: scuttling over challenges, launching cross after delectable cross, even trying his luck with his lesser known right foot, and then scoring that 119th minute free kick…
“You cannot beat this side by charging; you can’t get near them to deliver your charge; you must apply brains, and if they beat you, well they are the better side.” – Warney Cresswell on losing to Arsenal in September 1931, showing his belief in brains over brawn.
Laid back, almost to the point of excess in his early days at Goodison, Cresswell oozed such class that he became known as “the prince of full backs”. Cresswell was both an attacking force for Everton and an impeccable defender. For a time the world’s most expensive footballer, it took a lot, one reporter observed to “stand up to a man of the arts and classes of Cresswell”. Reports at the time breathlessly talk of a player who didn’t tackle, but rather performed a “nonchalant robbery of the ball” and was praised for both “his calm judgement and his delicious football.”
“The last of the great Corinthians” – Harry Catterick
Deemed good enough for England’s ’66 World Cup squad, Labone was an unflappable, cut glass footballer. Just as importantly, he was a vigorous protector of his defensive teammates. Willing to dish out sharp tongued taunts in the dressing room, he would react with prickly unease when anyone teased a member of his defensive unit.
Labone was in a monogamous relationship with Everton and he was booked just twice in his 530 games for the blues; it would be easy to portray Labone as an annoyingly prim head boy, with squeaky clean shoes and a shiny school blazer. Labone was more than that, he was hard but fair – he’d bring class to the defence, and he would pull my back four together.
“Tommy had everything. No coach could ever coach him or teach him anything. He was neater than John Charles, for instance, and could get himself out of trouble just by running towards the ball and then letting it run between his legs, knowing his team-mate would be in a position to make it.” – Dixie Dean
Another smooth operator at the back, this gracile defender is the perfect partner for Brian Labone. Many would choose Ratcliffe instead, but Jones and Labone would be better suited to my team’s stylish School of Science credo. This technically advanced defender, who was the only player given special dispensation to head the ball back to ‘keeper Ted Sagar, would fit seamlessly into my team.
This noble Welsh centre half was bought for £3,000 from Wrexham, and was a key part of Everton’s resurgence, culminating in the 1939 League Championship. Stalked by Roma in the 1940′s, Jones instead stayed at Goodison after a £15,000 move collapsed. Known as the “Prince of Wales”, this calm footballing scientist played 178 times for Everton.
“Some would say that he could be aggressive, I would say downright nasty” – Alex Young on Tony Kay.
A snarl amongst the smiles, Tony Kay was Britain’s most expensive footballer when Catterick swooped for him in 1962. Kay was on his way to becoming a fully formed talent when he was implicated in a betting scandal during his time at Sheffield Wednesday, his subsequent ban from football is one of Everton’s biggest tragedies. Kay would be a minder
for this team, a bouncer in front of our defence, growling “You’re name’s not down, you’re not coming in.”
A cocky enforcer with an excellent first touch, Kay was an Orwellian nightmare, popping up all over the pitch dishing out ferociously doupleplusungood tackles. In Joey Barton’s febrile imaginary world, he is as good as Tony Kay.
“No one was greater than their club, but you came pretty close.” – Tribute sent to Goodison after Ball’s death.
Perpetual motion. I’d have the young Alan Ball just after the ‘66 World Cup. A terrier ready to chase the ball as if it was his own tail (or surname). When Catterick made Ball an Everton player; he became Britain’s first six-figure signing., a 21 year old squeaky ginger drill-sergeant with the world at his feet.
Ball led his Everton to their 1970 league win; they finished on 66 points – a heady nine clear of Leeds United – very impressive for a time when two points were given for a win. Catterick’s sale of Ball was controversial, but Everton had him in his pomp. He left Goodison in body but not spirit, he was to remain an Evertonian for the rest of his life. The 5ft
6inch Lancastrian with the high-pitched voice would be the beating heart of my team.
Harvey was wonderfully consistent force in midfield for Everton. This home-grown talent made his debut at 18 years of age, playing against Inter in the San Siro in 1963, and he’s also one of the few to both manage and play for Everton. Even when he became Kendall’s number two in the mid-80′s he would leap into tackles, ignoring the pain of his hip injury to show the way for his young charges during training sessions.
Harvey would bring a stinging tackle, speed, and voracious – truly “box to box” – style, to my team, but he also had other – somewhat ignored - parts to his game. Because he played alongside Ball and Kendall people tend to forget his fluid attacking distribution and an ability to exert as much control over the ball as a stern Victorian dad over his children.
“I’d have loved to have had you in my team at Anfield. The Spion Kop will
smile on the day you hang up your boots but I’ll weep.” – Bill Shankly to Young.
A unique player who was never liked or trusted by manager Harry Catterick, Young bewitched the fans with his rare skill and it soon became fluorescently obvious to Evertonians that they had someone truly special.
Alex Young was the beatific poster boy for the School of Science. Bought for £42,000 from Hearts, “The Golden Vision” with his vicar’s collar and blonde locks was an elegant forward, even Bill Shankly was an admirer. It might not sound like it but Young was a fighter. He fought his manager’s icy glare, crippling lack of self belief, horrendous blisters on his feet, and deafness to be one of the most expressive, exciting, and aware attackers this Isle has ever seen.
By his own admission he faded in games, and he lacked confidence in his abilities; very little film of the Scot is out there but it makes him all the more fascinating, and the tales of a blonde god holding court at Goodison are more than mere rumour. The romantic’s choice, sit down with some on Merseyside and you’ll leave believing that the tongue on
Young’s boots was as expressive as the one in Oscar Wilde’s mouth.
Young was at the peak of his powers during the 1962/63 Championship season - scoring 22 and helping Vernon hit 24. It’s a tragedy that there isn’t more footage of Young, as it is we can only look at his talents through the grubby window of grainy reports and hazy memories.
“There’s Denis Law, there’s Jimmy Greaves, and there’s me…” – Vernon, on being asked to name the top goalscorers of his generation.
The original fox in the box. An arrogant goal-getter with a twitchy trigger finger, Vernon was fiery, fast and skillful; finishing top-scorer for Everton in four consecutive campaigns. Captain of the 1963 League Championship side (a Catterick masterstroke, calculated to tame the wild Welshman), Vernon scored 24 goals with his strike partner, Alex Young (also part of this XI) scoring 22. Vernon would also be my penalty-taker, he missed only one out of twenty spot-kicks.
Stories are legion about Vernon and his cigarettes, he even managed to smoke whilst taking a shower. Young joked about his telepathic relationship with Vernon that “I could find him in the dark by the glow of his cigarette.” and Labone said that the lightweight Welshman looked “about as athletic as Pinocchio.” His nicotine addled, cartoonish appearance
may sound like a joke, but goals were Vernon’s punchline.
At this point people will probably be yelping for the inclusion of Tommy Lawton or even Graeme Sharp, but Vernon was compulsive goalscorer, firing magic bullets from multiple grassy knolls and his relationship with Young would be priceless. Footage of Young and Vernon’s goalscoring partnership is almost non existent, but should be poured over and
studied like the Zapruder film.
“There was an atmosphere wherever Dixie went; there was excitement. I’ve seen around 2,000 people following him around in places like Switzerland, Germany and France. He was bigger and better than life.” – Joe Mercer
I could tell you about great sportsmen, and how they usually begin with the gigantic cliche, practice makes perfect. Their success is whittled from sheer effort – whether it’s Rooney pummelling balls along the Streets of Croxteth, Siniša Mihajlović decimating his father’s fences with his free kicks, or Dixie Dean bouncing the ball of his church roof for heading practice. I could tell you about Dixie and his nickname, his meeting with Babe Ruth, the stories of how he scored from the half way line with his head, but it wouldn’t do him justice.
Ultimately, where William Ralph Dean is concerned, numbers speak far louder than words:
- Everton Appearances: 399
- Everton Goals: 349
- England caps: 16
- England goals: 18
- First Division Championship winner 1927/28 and 1931/32
- Second Division Championship winner: 1930/31
- FA Cup Winner: 1933
- Charity Shield winner: 1928 and 1932
- 15 major operations in his career
- 1927/1928 Season: 39 League Games. £8 a week. 60 goals.
- 100 league goals before he turned 21
- 37 true hat-tricks in his career