Favourites aren't always the best, Part 6

John McFarlane Sr. 03/01/2018  26 Comments  [Jump to last]

Continuing the theme of my favourite players, my selection for the left-half position is Brian Harris.

Brian, born on 16 March 1935, was signed from Port Sunlight for the customary £10 signing-on fee; he was initially signed as a right winger but, in his 13 years with Everton he was to prove himself a versatile character, occupying almost every outfield position.

Some publications have him playing in every position but goalkeeper; however, I can find no evidence of him wearing the 5, 8, or 9 shirt. There is one thing that has bugged me for years and that is this: in my mind's eye, I can see Brian taking over the keeper's position when Andy Rankin was forced to play at outside left, in what used to be called 'nuisance value', and Stoke City also feature in my mental image. This was in the pre-substitute era – perhaps some of our older readers can shed some light on the matter.

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I was at Turf Moor on 27 August 1955 when Brian and Jimmy Harris (no relation) made their Football League debuts. Our coach driver lost his way and, when we arrived at the ground some five or six minutes late, Everton were already a goal to the good. Apparently, Harry Potts had been fouled in the penalty area, and Tommy Jones had converted the resulting spot kick. That remained the scoreline so it felt as though we had travelled to Burnley for a 0-0 draw.

Brian made 20 league appearances that season, playing on the right wing, and scoring two goals. His first goal for the club was against Birmingham City in a 2-0 win at St Andrews. He also featured in four FA Cup ties, scoring one goal against Port Vale (a 3-2 victory at Vale Park).

The following season, 1956-57, he played only 3 games; he returned to the side in the 1957-58 season at outside left, playing in 30 league games and scoring 6 goals, he also played in 3 FA Cup ties. By this time, I had been posted to Cyprus, serving with the Army.

It was at this time that Johnny Carey took over as manager of Everton, and Brian had been converted to left-half, where he remained until forced out by Tony Kay's arrival in January 1963. Other players may have demanded a transfer, but Brian buckled down and was back in the side after Kay was suspended, and subsequently jailed for his part in a betting scandal.

Brian won a League Championship medal in the 1962-63 season, and was in the team when Everton dramatically won the FA Cup Final, with victory over Sheffield Wednesday in 1966.

Brian played 358 games in domestic and European competitions for Everton, scoring 29 goals. He was transferred to Cardiff City in October 1966, and played in 149 games, he also reached the semi-final of the European Cup-Winners Cup with Cardiff City. He later moved to Newport County, and played 85 times; he managed the Welsh club from 1974 to 1975.

Sadly, Brian passed away in Chepstow on 17 February 2008. I have selected the following extracts from a lengthy obituary that was written by Ivan Ponting of The Independent: "Both as a versatile, high quality footballer and an irrepressible character bubbling with vitality and a wicked humour, Brian Harris became woven into the fabric of Everton, as that great sporting institution rose from its mid-1950s doldrums, to scale the game's loftiest pinnacles during the next decade.

So comprehensive were his professional abilities that, in the course of a 12-year first-team tenure at Goodison Park, in which he majored as an endlessly industrious wing-half, and played more than 350 games, Harris filled most outfield positions. Yet for many Toffees fans, the defining image of the loyal, locally born all-rounder, involved a policeman's helmet, perched jauntily above a grin as wide as the Mersey.

It happened during the 1966 FA Cup Final after an exuberant supporter celebrated Everton's equaliser against Sheffield Wednesday by dashing across the sacred Wembley turf. The forces of Law and Order set off in pursuit, and the sprinting interloper was felled by a flying rugby tackle, in the execution of which, the detaining officer lost his headgear. Unable to resist such an opportunity for a laugh, even with the fate of the famous old trophy still in the balance, Harris tried the helmet on for size – none of which is to suggest that the former England youth international was anything but deadly serious about his business.

Brian Harris left behind him at Goodison Park memories not only of a stalwart consistent performer, but also of a "player's player", never lauded by press and public, but valued enormously within the game, but also of a natural comedian who's predilection for banter and practical jokes, had been of immeasurable worth, maintaining dressing room morale."

James Corbett wrote in The Guardian: "Brian was a gregarious, fun loving character, popular with team-mates and fans, in his later years he was a popular guest at Everton reunion dinners. His heart lay with his first club, and it seemed appropriate that his funeral service was held at St Luke's Church at the corner of Goodison Park."

In closing, may I add that I have seen more talented players than Brian play for Everton, but what he may have lacked in skill, he made up for in effort."

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Reader Comments (26)

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Ian Burns
1 Posted 03/01/2018 at 20:43:28
Part 6 and enjoying every article John, always looking forward to the next choice. Brian wouldn't have been my choice but I can certainly see why he would be one of your favourites because he was a wonderful "left half" as would have been the term in those days.

Until I read your article I had forgotten he started as a winger. I remember when Tony Kay joined I was initially disappointed Brian lost his place but as you rightly said, he buckled down and got his place back, if under circumstances I am sure he wouldn't have chosen.

Thanks John, here's to number 7.

Tony Heron
2 Posted 03/01/2018 at 21:32:35
Another good choice for me John when I think of "favourite" over best. Regarding the game where Andy Rankin had to play on the left wing after getting injured (pre sub days). I may be completely wrong but I seem to remember an FA Cup replay at home v Hull City on a muddy pitch and Andy being just in front of me as he ran up and down the wing. Can't remember if it was Brian Harris who replaced him in goal, but he was considered a "utility" player in as much as he played wherever he was asked to.
Don Alexander
3 Posted 03/01/2018 at 22:03:25
I've mentioned it before John but Brian Harris in 1963 volunteered to drive my eight year-old cousin home from Goodison after he'd got separated from us on the way out of the ground and ended up lost. He'd wandered around the pitch way after we'd last seen him and then wandered down the tunnel where he was taken into the changing room. Cue Brian Harris, who lived close to my cousin's address in Maghull, and a never-to-be-forgotten meeting with a football god for the lost one.

Me? I'd had to spend two or three hours scouring the streets around the Old Lady looking for him with his Dad! Foot blisters was all I got, but that was zilch compared to the bollocking my uncle got off my auntie when, after reporting the lad missing to the police, we got home to break the awful news to her. She was NOT impressed but even she said "the bloke who'd driven him home (she knew nowt about football) was a really nice man!"

Rick Tarleton
4 Posted 03/01/2018 at 22:12:41
A brilliant choice, John. Brian Harris was in many ways the least gifted player of the early, mid sixties period, but what a trier. Every time he pulled on the shirt he gave his all. He ran, he chased, he tackled and he had the skill to create chances for Young and Vernon.

Not the best, but a very deserving favourite and one with which I totally agree.

Rick Tarleton
5 Posted 03/01/2018 at 22:16:21
By the way, it's totally irrelevant, but wasn't there at that time a professional footballers' golf championship and didn't Brian Harris always do very well in it and didn't he win it on a couple of occasions?
Peter Mills
6 Posted 03/01/2018 at 22:45:05
John, I was at the FA Cup tie at Swindon in 1977, in the stand amongst the home supporters, and noticed Brian a couple of rows in front of me before the match. Nobody else around him seemed to recognise him.

I went down and had a chat with him about that very incident in the 1966 Final. He was a very modest, unassuming man, but funny also. He told me how much he had enjoyed that day, and was delighted when I told him I'd had a pretty good day too at Wembley as a 10-year-old.

Ray Atherton
7 Posted 03/01/2018 at 23:18:59
John a very good choice for number six. Brian Harris
was a very versatile performer.

As you mentioned about him having a good personality, the Everton squad went to Australia for midsummer training after the 1963-64 season.

Apparently he was very good doing an MC spot and singing. The Aussies loved him and wanted him to stay down under.

Everton beat the Australian team 8-0. They didn't have our Tim Cahill then.

John McFarlane
8 Posted 03/01/2018 at 23:28:43
Hi posters 1 to 6, you have embraced the theme exactly as I'd hoped. It's not just about football memories, it's also about everyday events that are resurrected by the mere mention of one man's name.

As I have tried to convey, the players I have chosen are not necessarily the best in their respective positions, although one or two could come into that category, but they are my personal favourites.

I believe that if you were to list your own particular favourites, there could be no arguments, as it would be a case of each to his own.

Derek Thomas
9 Posted 04/01/2018 at 08:17:40
Top choice John, he was my favourite too. I remember seeing him thundering a header from near the edge of the box.

Also as a stalwart for Cardiff in the ECWC along a 16 yr old John Toshack

Dave Abrahams
10 Posted 04/01/2018 at 09:13:21
I liked Brian Harris as a player but I wouldn't have guessed you would choose Brian as your number six, quickly adding I have no complaints with your choice, I was at that Burnley game when we got that victory, there was also an article in the Echo about Brian singing and playing a guitar coming back from a game, it could have been that game, not sure, anyway the song he was singing was a favourite at the time, a Lonnie Donagan hit " It takes a worried man to sing a worried song, we're worried now but we won't be worried long", it might have been a reference to Everton's state at the time, with the win easing the pressure on the Blues, " it was ever thus" as the late Joe Mercer was fond of saying.

Another good choice John, Brian was indeed a very popular Evertonian, not the best but certainly a favourite.

Tony Abrahams
11 Posted 04/01/2018 at 09:22:21
Great series this John, both a trip down memory lane, and a chance for us younger fella’s to learn more about the history of great players, who have played for our great club.

I know his name, never heard of him being revered though, but you explain why you have picked him, and for the reasons you give, I know many more will have Harris down, which is a great testament to the man, considering the great midfielders who have represented Everton, down the years.

All the best for the new year John, keep them coming, and hopefully the sun (TOSUN) will shine tomorrow night at Anfield!

Martin Nicholls
12 Posted 04/01/2018 at 10:09:08
Ray#7 - it was 8-2 I think and we also won a second game against the Aussies 5-1. I kept a scrapbook of newspaper reports of that tour which might well be in the loft (along with 1966 FA Cup Final ticket stub and Daily Express songsheet!) as we speak!
Good choice for No6 John - I loved Brian H as a player and on balance would probably also choose him as my favourite but only after being reminded of his qualities by your good self! Great series John - keep it up!
The 1960's were great days to be a teenager supporting EFC. A far cry from today - I was in my usual seat in GS4 on Monday and was appalled by the stream of foul mouthed abuse directed at pretty much every one of our players (including Bolasie who as early as 7th minute was being abused as a "lazy c**t) and our manager by the lout sitting behind me. Oh for a return to those halcyon days! Apologies for lowering the tone of this thread.
John McFarlane
13 Posted 04/01/2018 at 18:00:34
Hi Martin [12] thank you for your kind words regarding the article, as for the foul mouthed abuse directed at the players, it's just as bad where I sit in the Park End. I'm accompanied by my 13 year old grandson and I consider foul language in any public place offensive.

You are a few years behind me, [as my teenage years were between 1951 and 1959,] but I suspect that we share the same values. Unfortunately it appears that the mentality of todays supporter is, 'I've paid my entrance fee, I can shout what I like.'

Hopefully the players can't pick individual comments up, through the noise of the majority of supporters. Best wishes John.

John McFarlane
14 Posted 04/01/2018 at 18:15:48
Hi again Martin, [12] I was cheating a bit there, trying to gain two extra years as a teenager, my teenage years were actually between 1951 and 1957.
Terry White
15 Posted 04/01/2018 at 19:10:13
I can quite understand this selection. Brian brought some stability to the position after the barren years in the '50s. I recall him playing a few games at left back also.

I'm sure there will be others favouring Tony Kay (perhaps the "best" in that position?), while how can room be found for Peter Reid and Colin Harvey, both playing in different formations to the 1960s, thereby not really being true wing halves?

I am with you and Martin (#12) regarding the use of foul language. I would extend my distaste also to certain contributors on ToffeeWeb. I was not brought up to speak that way and it greatly offends me.

Terry White
16 Posted 04/01/2018 at 19:10:13
I can quite understand this selection. Brian brought some stability to the position after the barren years in the '50s. I recall him playing a few games at left back also.

I'm sure there will be others favouring Tony Kay (perhaps the "best" in that position?), while how can room be found for Peter Reid and Colin Harvey, both playing in different formations to the 1960s, thereby not really being true wing halves?

I am with you and Martin (#12) regarding the use of foul language. I would extend my distaste also to certain contributors on ToffeeWeb. I was not brought up to speak that way and it greatly offends me.

Chris Williams
18 Posted 05/01/2018 at 05:20:35
There is a very good biography of Brian, written by Chris Westcott, which gives some great background and insights into an unsung hero.

It’s a while since I read it and I’ll probably revisit it having read John’s excellent article and the subsequent posts.

I think he was a talented athlete as a youngster, played golf to a high standard, and in the days when I seem to recall, Everton played an annual cricket match against Bootle CC, he was also a decent cricketer. ( I could be mistaken here)

The only time he may have worn the number 9 shirt, was before a Cup replay against Leeds, when Catterick sent him out of the dressing room before kick off to confuse the Leeds players. Jimmy Gabriel played centre forward that night and scored.

Peter Mills
19 Posted 05/01/2018 at 10:56:48
John, I truly hope this post will not offend you, but your comments, and those of Terry White, bring to mind the FA Cup tie at Bramhall Lane in 1970.

Terry’s father and my dad, together with other men from St Peter & Paul’s, Crosby, including the parish priest, took us to the game. You will recall our prospective champions struggled in the match, much to the annoyance of one particular supporter in front of us, who resorted to profanities. Our ‘Uncle Jack’ Fleming, as ever, took command of the situation and shouted “Hey mate, watch the language will you, we’ve got a f**king priest here”.

John Boon
20 Posted 06/01/2018 at 00:35:35
Hi John and Evertonians,

I didn't want to post until after we had won the derby. It just wasn't to be.

I agree with you about Brian Harris. He was a great Blue and deserves to be in your team. However, without mentioning names we have had more skillful mid fielders. Few had as much heart..

I was also at the Burnley game, August 1955. I remember it so well because I was a fit 16 year old back then, fit enough and stupid enough to ride there on my bike. I was with two friends. Going was relatively easy because we had all day. Riding home was HELL. My memory is not totally clear, but I think it was a night game. Could anyone help me in regards to the time of the game.

ps: We could have used a Brian Harris tonight.

Dave Abrahams
21 Posted 06/01/2018 at 09:31:06
John (20), you've got me doubting myself here but I'm sure (almost) it was an afternoon kick off on a lovely sunny day. John Mac will put us straight, I think; over to you John Mac.

As to last night, very good effort from the team. We needed just a little dose of luck to push us home, but when did we ever get that in a Derby game!!!!!

John McFarlane
22 Posted 06/01/2018 at 12:42:13
Hi John, [20] it was, as Dave [21] says in his post, a Saturday afternoon game, and it was a gloriously sunny day in more ways than one, although, as I wrote in my article, some of the shine was taken away from me, by virtue of the fact that I missed the goal. I was 17 years old at that time, so it's safe to say that being in the same age bracket, we've seen our fair share of ups and downs.

Hi Dave [21], I agree with you regarding last nights game. I too was pleased with the effort and general play of the team, in particular that of Phil Jagielka.

I had seen every derby game home and away from 1955 to 1994, but I haven't stepped foot in that ground since, and you're right In suggesting that we don't get much luck there, but then we don't get much luck against them anywhere do we?

As you're probably aware, I tend not to get involved in the main threads, because of some of the ultra negative views expressed; however I feel I must respond today, because I feel that a great deal of the criticism is uncalled for.

John Boon
23 Posted 06/01/2018 at 13:49:22
Hi John and Dave,

Thanks for helping me to defog my memory. I now realise that it must have been during the day, particularly on a Saturday. However, whenever I think of that ride home, I still get tired. It was easier because we won.

More ups and downs on that long ride. Much like spending your life watching the Blues. I think it gives you patience. But it isn't all downhill. Some of our younger supporters need to bear that in mind. Never give up, just like Brian Harris.

Steve Carter
24 Posted 06/01/2018 at 22:23:10
Ray [7] and Martin [12], the record crowd for an association football match at the SCG remains that of NSW v Everton during that tour.

(Regrettably, the RS got about 90k at Stadium Australia last year. Made me sick that, seeing all those red-decked try-hards bellowing out that satanic anthem.)

Steve Carter
25 Posted 06/01/2018 at 22:32:45
Here are the stats from that game:

http://www.ozfootball.net/ark/MiscGames/1964SR/64S6.html

Martin Nicholls
26 Posted 06/01/2018 at 22:55:45
Thanks, Steve.
Ray Atherton
27 Posted 07/01/2018 at 19:02:46
Thank you, Steve.

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