163: Neville Southall, Everton, Merlin’s Premier League 97 Official Sticker Collection


Continuing our theme of excellent 90s goalkeepers we have my mate Emlyn Jones. I remember watching today’s subject win the man of the match award in a game that Wales lost 7-1 to the Netherlands. Just let that sink in before I pass you over to Emlyn.

There's no shortage of articles written about great football players who never graced a major international tournament with their talents. Best, Giggs, and Pelé's favourite, Di Stefano, are some of the more commonly referenced.

As a fan of the Welsh national team, it took until 2016 for me to witness the nation attend an international tournament, having narrowly missed seeing the impressive 1958 World Cup campaign by virtue of not having been born for another thirty years. Meredith, Hughes, Rush, and the aforementioned Giggs are among the world class players who unfortunately suffered from underfunded teams often containing players plucked from the lower leagues.



The moustachioed colossus framed above is another such great, who also suffered from never being able to ply his trade at the highest level of European competition, the Champions Cup; victim of the ban on English clubs following the Heysel disaster in his early career, and Bradford not being very good in the latter stages.

He also pioneered sitting on the pitch at half time a full 18 years before William Gallas' sulk for Arsenal, kept clean sheets against Brazil and Germany within a three month period and, reportedly, inadvertently led to Manchester United signing someone called Peter Schmeichel by offending Alex Ferguson with his telephone manner.

Southall's early career consisted of spells with various Welsh sides and unsuccessful trials at lower league sides in England. However, his first season after signing for Bury saw him keep 15 clean sheets for the mid-table club, and interest from the top level resulted in Everton signing him for £150,000 in the summer of 1981.

It is not for nothing that Southall was named Everton's all-time cult hero. He is the most decorated player in their history, winning both the First Division and the FA Cup twice, alongside the Cup Winners Cup. From 1981-1998 Southall was rarely treated as anything but first choice, unsurprisingly making him Everton's all-time appearance record holder. A genuine world-class goalkeeper, fearless and possessing reflexes that continued to defy his steadily increasing girth. In the late nineties, viewing Southall as ageing and overweight, various managers attempted to move on to others before returning to the spurned Southall, who, regardless, never played at anything below top effort.

He subsequently played for a number of lower league sides, before an unlikely Premier League swansong with Bradford at the age of 41. A number of short term coaching roles followed.

One word which was often levelled at Southall was 'outspoken'. Variously, he openly criticised his manager, Mike Walker, his employers, Stoke City, and the FAW while employed as caretaker manager. While this ‘outspokenness’ may have contributed to the view of him as a loose cannon, it also resulted in the most withering and deserved put-down in history, finally reacting to Michael Owen's rampant egotism as he netted goal after goal past a hapless adolescent. 

Neville Southall was perhaps a player ahead of his time - a teetotaller more concerned with finding the one thing he could change to improve his performance than marathon drinking sessions - reportedly being viewed as a loner as a result. Perhaps these views helped contribute to a stuttering coaching career that often ended before it really had a chance to be judged. It seems that coaching's loss is education's gain, with Big Nev subsequently going on to work as a teaching assistant in his native Wales, helping 'problem' children find employment. He also regularly hands over his Twitter account to charities and sex worker support groups to raise awareness. The moustache is gone, but the class remains.

Comments

  1. A fabulous story enjoyably told. Big Nev was a true great.

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