February 27, 2024

New Everton stadium will have glaring oversight without overdue addition

Everton legend Neville Southall and (inset) the construction site of the club’s new stadium

Everton legend Neville Southall and (inset) the construction site of the club’s new stadium

Events on Friday with the club’s record-breaking 10-point deduction brought rather more immediate concerns but when only one former Everton goalkeeper has been honoured with a statue –and it’s not Neville Southall – isn’t it time such an oversight was corrected?


In the wake of the independent commission’s verdict, Southall subsequently took to Twitter to deliver a defiant message to the Premier League but a previous post he wrote on the platform on Thursday night remains poignant. The former Wales international insisted: “It’s lovely people want me to have a statue or moan when I’m not mentioned on different lists or surveys but I got the respect of the people I played in front of. Nothing can come close to that I need nothing else.”


Well, as Confucius said: “The superior man is modest in his speech but exceeds in his actions.” All of us who were privileged enough to watch Southall play would respectfully beg to differ with ‘Big Nev’ on this one in spite of the great humility contained in his words.


The Everton goalkeeper, who has been immortalised in bronze, was one of the game’s great custodians. He won a brace of FA Cups as well as a couple of other domestic honours plus a European trophy and when he finally hung up his gloves, he was his country’s most-capped player.


He was also one of just four individuals to be named the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year – does this all sound eerily familiar to Southall’s CV? – but unlike Llandudno’s greatest son who turned out a club record 751 times for Everton, this goalkeeper never actually got a game during his time with the Blues. The man in question, if you haven’t already guessed, is Pat Jennings who, when he was just shy of his 41st birthday and preparing for swansong in international football with Northern Ireland in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico under the management of former Everton title-winner and manager Billy Bingham, signed a short-term deal for Howard Kendall to act as cover for Bobby Mimms for the FA Cup final.


Jennings was recruited because Southall was out injured with twisted ankle ligaments suffered when his foot crashed into a pothole when claiming a routine cross on a quagmire of a pitch playing for Wales on March 26 at Dublin’s Landsdowne Road, which was shared with the Ireland rugby union team who had played their last Five Nations Championship game there against Scotland just 11 days earlier. Although Jennings came to Goodison Park at the very tail end of his long and illustrious career in which he made more than 1,000 top-level appearances, he preceded Southall – who over 38 years on remains the most-recent goalkeeper to be named FWA Footballer of the Year in 1985 – as the recipient of the prize back in 1973.


The Ulsterman, who was at Tottenham Hotspur at the time, actually succeeded England World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks, who had earned the gong turning out for Stoke City the previous year in 1972. Only one other goalkeeper makes up this exclusive quartet – and that’s Manchester City’s Bert Trautmann in 1956.


Earlier this month on November 8 – despite being rushed to hospital in London after collapsing ahead of Spurs’ game against Chelsea just 48 hours before – Jennings was back in his home city of Newry to unveil the sculpture of himself on Kildare Street. The 78-year-old said: “I have seen people who are getting statues unveiled of them and never thought it would ever happen to me.”


However, given that Jennings also acknowledged: “Having said that, I’ve had an unbelievable career in football,” the honour was surely well-deserved. What it does mean is that out of the four goalkeepers to have been recognised as the finest footballer in the land by the scribes who cover the game, Southall is now the anomaly in terms of being given a permanent tribute to his achievements.


Trautmann has a statue at the Etihad Stadium and Banks at the bet365 Stadium. As this correspondent wrote a couple of months ago on the occasion of Southall’s 65th birthday – surely Everton should honour him with such an accolade when they move to their new stadium.


Whoever might be running the club when they relocate from Goodison Park – where there are two existing statues of course of Dixie Dean and ‘The Holy Trinity’ of Colin Harvey, Kendall and Alan Ball – to their future 52,888 capacity home by the banks of the Mersey, whether that be 777 Partners or someone else, it would be an opportune moment to recognise Southall’s magnificent achievements and if the Premier League really are that concerned about Everton’s spending, perhaps the fans might even have a whip-round to fund it?


Not only does Southall hold the record for the most appearances for Everton – some 217 more than his nearest rival Brian Labone – but he is also the club’s most-decorated player and someone who was widely-regarded as being the best in the world in his position at the peak of his powers. I make no apologies for reiterating the following remarks published back on September 16…


“For sure, his outspoken nature and strong beliefs have ensured this individual who once made an infamous half-time sit-in gesture against a Goodison goal post has never been one to toe the party line when it comes to sugar-coating his thoughts about matters at Everton or any of the many other topics he feels passionate about, whether it’s politics or championing the rights of groups within society he wants to stand up for.


“But if a Tory government can dish out an MBE to ‘Big Nev’ in the 1996 Birthday Honours List then surely the Blues can erect a permanent tribute to the man who while wearing their badge with both unparalleled success and endurance was also for several years the best at his job among all those in the human race.”


Southall might brush off the clamour to build a statue of him with typical modesty, but others need to speak up on his behalf. After all, take his breath-taking save to deny Mark Falco of Tottenham Hotspur in 1985 as Everton closed in on the League Championship and their goalkeeper towards his Footballer of the Year gong.


Steve Curry in the Express proclaimed: “Not since the steamy afternoon when Gordon Banks kept out a header from Pele in the 1970 World Cup has a goalkeeper produced quite such an astonishing save as Southall conjured at White Hart Lane last night,” while Stuart Jones in the Times described it as “astonishing.”


Spurs boss Peter Shreeves revealed: “The talking point in my dressing room has been that world-class save,” while Falco admitted: “I thought it was in. So did our players and even Everton thought we had equalised. No-one on the pitch could believe it.”


At the time, Southall claimed: “It was a bit of a fluke – the ball just hit me,” while recalling the iconic moment years later in his autobiography The Binman Chronicles, he simply remarked: “What more can I say? It was straight at me and I’ve saved plenty like that on the training ground. I always knew I was going to get it.


“My team-mates certainly didn’t congratulate me. Ratcliffe yelled at me: ‘Why didn’t you catch it? Why are you f****** giving a corner away?’”

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