The questions that every football fan at some point in their life have pondered over and filled endless reams of scrap paper compiling their answers to.
“Who is the best player you’ve ever seen at <insert club>?”
“Who makes your first XI of all time?”
This Lifetime XI feature, that will be a regular focal point in the Capsule Social landscape hopefully goes to answering these questions, and sharing them with the world. For supporters of other teams to enjoy and educate themselves on, or for those of the same team to argue and dispute with the author.
Back in 2016, over a few jars post-football I put forward this idea, a project that I was putting together for a site I had set up called The Football Byline. This time the listening ears of this much versed pitch happened to be an Evertonian by the name of David Mason.
As you can guess, by the fact that you are about to delve into his work, David was keen. His meticulous/anal research and desire to the cause was admirable. However the time taken by such an approach meant that this masterpiece was left sitting in an inbox until a suitable platform once again paved way for airing the work for public enjoyment.
And that time has come now with Capsule Social adopting The Football Byline and bringing the world of engaging football content to the masses. So it is with great pleasure and without further ado, I bring to you an Everton Lifetime XI, in the words of David Mason (from 2017).
IN THE STICKS, NUMBER 1…
Selecting the suitable Neville Southall image for this article was a considerable task (ed; but ultimately useless due to copyright). Not a chore; a recommended Google Image search in fact. Would I go for A) a lean, virile moustached, trophy laden mid-80s version of the big man? Or B) the post salad days, early to mid-90s, when I had the pleasure of watching him every other week in possibly the worst era of Everton history? Temptation didn’t get the better of me, so I haven’t selected C) the retired Jake LaMotta version of Neville Southall; this would be disrespectful. Enough about his appearance already…Big Nev is probably the only true Everton legend that I’ve watched countless times.
Note, the last goalkeeper in the English top tier to be crowned Footballer of the Year. Something Peter ‘the Great Dane’ can’t boast. I went for option B.
A BACK FOUR CONSISTING OF…
Yes I’ve seen better right sided fullbacks at Everton. Saw one last week, but this isn’t simply a matter of who is the best footballer for a particular club over a specific timeframe. This, to me, is about what comes to mind when I hear the words “Everton”, “right back” and often “for f**k’s sake”. But before I further ridicule one of my selections, let’s remember he broke into the Everton first team alongside a player who went onto become England’s greatest goalscorer, so Hibbert’s impressive early career went somewhat unnoticed. Played first team football throughout Moyes’ 10 year tenure, never scored, barely assisted, but he was most definitely ours. An old-fashioned defender and a proper Evertonian.
Does this matter? A debate for another time, but there you go Tony, you’ve won probably your last start for Everton, albeit my fictional 11.
Andy Hinchcliffe will no doubt be tweeting me abuse over the next week, but it’s his contemporary that gets the coveted number 3 shirt. Statistics are naturally an amateur pundit’s best friend, so it will be no surprise that I reference Baines’ Fantasy Premier League point scoring performance over near enough a decade. Admittedly he takes pens, free-kicks, corners, but his overall play truly typified the modern-day full back… certainly defined it for Everton. And despite all of his lavish technique ‘Baino’ still finds time to strum his guitar, turn down Bayern Munich, write a music blog, turn down Man Utd, shape his hair like an Arctic Monkey (through each phase) and give hitch-hiking Evertonians a lift to the game.
Leighton, the mod, gets a start.
Started his career with Everton as a DMC, or at least made his debut in that role. It’s fair to say he had a stinker and then he moved to RB and wasn’t much better. When he finally got his preferred centre-half gig we really learned what quality he had. He’s probably the last of the ‘traditional’ skippers and he’s now finding out the hard way, being over-looked for his country after years of excellent service in a poor performing high profile team. As a final man for a last-ditch tackle there isn’t another I’d back ahead of Jags, but with the ball at his feet looking to start an attack against a rigid opponent I’d probably select most others.
Since his transfer from Sheffield United he’s been nothing less than a top pro, doing everything with class, enthusiasm and heart. Captained our best performing Premier League team for years and weighed in with a couple of important goals; the winning penalty in an FAC semi-final against Man Utd and a late equaliser at the Kop on the half volley from 30 yards (postage stamp).
NOTE: Editor believes centre backs should wear 5 and 6, the author’s wishes were that Jagielka should wear the number 4 shirt in his team.
Waggy. That was the nickname that he, Dave Watson, didn’t shy away from. What did it mean? I don’t know, but it always seems like one that didn’t fit this no-nonsense centre-half. ‘ave it etc. Dave Watson was the skipper when I first invested in an Everton season ticket. What I know of him, is that he pulled up his shorts too high and was proper slow but was one of them with a yard in his head (not literally). In today’s game I think he’d get crucified but then, in the early to mid-90s, he could hold his own as he forged a partnership with the likes of Unsworth, Ablett (R.I.P.), Craig Short etc. Waggy, there said it again, never, or at most rarely, seemed to get caught out. Maybe this was because he was always partnered by a lesser centre-half, but whatever the reason, he lifted the FA Cup in 1995 regardless. The only trophy in my adult life (well, aged 14 then). And Dave, here’s the captain’s armband to go with your number five shirt.
AND IN THE MIDFIELD…
He wasn’t always a crab you know. There was a time, in the late naughties, when he could do it all. Tricky winger, playmaker, AMC, defensive midfield, set pieces, pens… the lot. And all this with seldom a hair out of place. He came in to replace Gravesen and by the time he left for Arsenal, he had delivered so much more than his predecessor. This two-time player of the season had a subtle and sophisticated technique that we, Evertonians of a certain age, hadn’t seen before. Thankfully his best days were at Everton despite two serious injuries, the final of which I believe he never really recovered from. That injection had gone. But probably a player who consistently performed at the highest level in that Moyes team for the longest period. And I haven’t even mentioned that we had a great song for him finishing… ‘cos there’s nobody better than Mikel Arteta, the best little Spaniard we know!! [to the tune of The Entertainer] Gracias Mikel.
Legend has it Mr Kanchelskis owed a considerable gambling debt to Russian gangsters and had to secure a number of transfer signing-on fees to cover the interest. For whatever reason Joe Royle got the opportunity to sign the flying Russian didn’t concern us Toffees in the summer of 1995. He completed only one full season at Goodison Park but in that time managed to squeeze 16 into the onion bag even with a dislocated shoulder keeping him out for the first months. Then the boys from The Wire (series 2) came knocking and he was off to Fiorentina for a sizeable transfer fee and no doubt signing-on fee. Best individual single season performance I think I’ve witnessed. Andrei goes straight in and thank you again for your Anfield brace.
Again like “Hibbo” before, Gravesen falls into the category of ‘one of those players who isn’t the best we’ve had in this position but he’s got something about him’. Few would argue if I put Gary Speed ahead of Thomas Gravesen for the attacking midfield spot, but flamboyant character nudges him ahead. A relatively unknown Hamburg (HSV) acquisition, with a slow career start, Gravesen developed into our most important player by 2004/05. Appearances can be deceptive, and this was certainly true of the man Real Madrid purchased as their hunt to replace Makelele continued.
Upon signing for Everton in the summer of 2000, he quickly gained a reputation of hard-man. The shaved head, the proud pumped-up chest and throbbing forehead veins were enough to convince us we had the Danish Roy Keane. This was not the case and Real Madrid did not buy the correct Everton Mitchell brother; Gravesen was our Zidane that season, not our ball-winning growler*. Everton finished 4th in 2004/05 and Gravesen transferred to the Bernabeu in January of that season. It’s no coincidence that our form in the second half of the season was nearer relegation than Champions League. What could have been? Retired at 32, he is now believed to be a very successful entrepreneur living in Las Vegas worth >€100m: Mad Dog Tommy G.
*see Lee Carsley
Throughout David Moyes’ tenure we became synonymous with giving talented footballers whose career had gone off the rails a second chance. The man who Dortmund bought to replace Rosicky was acquired for relative pocket change after his big move to Germany didn’t work out. Once he settled into the team, secured his full transfer after a successful loan, he made the Everton left midfield role his own. Forging an unforgettable relationship with Baines, Evertonians enjoyed probably the most artistic football in the league. Their double- improvisation-act was the footballing equivalent of Coltrane and Davis; modal. Being British and the antidote to Ashley Cole, Baines acquired most of the headlines, but Pienaar was every bit as important and maybe more of a joy to watch. Whilst his stats will show he neither scored many or assisted many, those who were there will tell you of an excellent one touch visionary whose expansive football was also coupled with high ball retention. I was also lucky enough to be at the Emirates when he broke away from the Arsenal defence passing the halfway line and wondered towards the goal. Whilst being chased down, Pienaar pulled out the most casual slow motion lob – the ball trickling over the line for what should have been a winner.
He no doubt regrets his 12 months away at Spurs, so I won’t hold that against him (too much).
AND A TOP TWO PAIRING OF…
Probably let down Everton as often as he dragged us up. An embarrassing number of times he let his short fuse blow when his team needed him, but without the sour, the sweet rarely tastes as sweet. Big Dunc really was the cliché cult hero. He could do no wrong. I was present when he got off the mark for his then loan club. It was a winter’s evening under the floodlights, we were bottom of the league and it was the moment we turned the corner and escaped the drop. And because it was against a Roy Evans led Liverpool team, he provided me with a year’s worth of secondary school ammunition with that header, whilst appearing to care as much as us. Now I deplore violence, but some of his ‘moments’ were just comedy; the Stefan Fraund throttle at Filbert Street is late 90s Everton iconography and we’ve all heard the one about the two burglars who picked the wrong house (his house) to name but two. His sweet moments had us believing he’d be one of the best and sometimes that’s all that matters.
Anyone reading these words will already know everything they want to know about the Duke, as we used to call him. The name of his first born and his penchant for the more mature lady for example. However, what you’ve probably forgotten, now that we take his talent for granted, is that he, with Ronaldinho, was a genuine shout for World Player of the Year (if only for his performances in the white of England) 2004. Messi was too young, Ronaldo hadn’t yet developed and Zidane was finishing off his Galactico days. During the Euro, almost 12 years ago, there was no-one who came close. England were a one-man team. The raw power, pace, technique, vision and aggression was a sight to behold. Ok he only did this every so often in an Everton shirt, but I still can’t believe the confidence that he displayed as 16 and 17-year-old in the Premier League. He makes this team for talent and talent alone. He jumped-ship aged 18 and, in my opinion, didn’t fulfil his career promise, despite the variety of records he broke, but the anticipation of the crowd when he was played-in is still memorable today.
AND ON THE BENCH…
The editor of this wonderful publication didn’t specify the requirement for a bench*, however he’s getting one. The make-believe, your favourite 11 scenario, doesn’t usually call upon substitutes as most fan’s make-believe scenarios don’t include injuries (or suspensions). But as this select 11 is mainly made up of players with curious injury records and Big Dunc, I’d say it’s better safe than sorry.
12. Nigel Martyn; only played 2 seasons but was excellent.
13. Andy Hinchcliffe; not the most mobile, but a left peg to make even Bainesy jealous.
14. Joseph Yobo; immense debut season… pacey, composed, strong… not sure what really happened after that.
15. Seamus Coleman; cost £60k you know? ‘Nuff said.
16. Gary Speed (R.I.P.); notable captain for a number of seasons, dragged us through a rotten period.
17. Aiyegbeni Yakubu; most composed finisher I’ve ever seen at Everton. Trotted around like the king he was. Super Eagle goal celebration too. 6’ wide.
18. Romelu Lukaku; our EPL record goalscorer (with change) and our most complete striker for 30 years… but’s he’s off in the summer, so fck him.
19. Tim Cahill; can I have 8 subs? Definitely deserves a shout for his obscene midfield goal return and corner flag punching antics.
20. Left Blank**
* Editor specifically stated that a bench should not be included.
** NOTE from Author: “Removed all references to Ross Barkley”