“It was my first signing, and my best, in his prime, Neville was the best keeper in the world.” – Howard Kendall
The bulky Nev of later years (although as a former hod-carrier, he was always a big man) repelled wave after wave from Manchester United in the 1995 FA Cup Final and the earlier, supremely elastic ‘keeper of the mid 1980s was the world’s best. Such was Everton’s domestic supremacy in 1985 that they gobbled up 60 per cent of all votes for the writers’ footballer of the year, with a deserving Nev eventually winning the award. Southall is the best Everton ‘keeper of all time, and won two Championship medals, two FA Cups and a Cup Winners’ Cup, made a staggering 578 appearances for Everton (easily a Blue record), and has won more games than any other Toffee. After winning his second FA Cup, this footballing perfectionist will be remembered for leaving to be with his wife and kids rather than join the celebrations.
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:
1.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.
2.An anecdote. In training Southall would face shots with his hands tied behind his back. He would save the majority of them.
3.The 1995 FA Cup Final. A bigger, older Nev repels wave after wave of Man Utd attacks and wins us the cup.
Premier League: Saturday 11 March (15:00); West Bromwich Albion at Goodison
Saturday 18 March (15:00); Hull City at Goodison