There are some things in life that money can’t buy and being treated like a Toffee Lady by Howard Kendall is one of them.
Shortly before she died, I was fortunate to spend time with my mother fulfilling her bucket list in the USA. Because ‘one more afternoon in the Top Balcony’ was at the top of her list, I took the liberty to enquire if there was anything that the club could do for an old Blue. We were in Texas when a member of staff invited us to meet him outside the main entrance at noon on the next Saturday. In a flash, we packed our bags and headed to the old country. My mother was thrilled at the idea of watching Everton again but didn’t know what to expect, possibly a brief tour of the ground and the then bulging trophy cabinet.
From the moment she crossed the Goodison threshold, the truly grand old club went out of its way to make her afternoon special. But more than anything, she was greeted with genuine kindness. After the stadium tour, we were invited into the home dressing room for what can only be described as a love-in.
Howard Kendall, a gentleman with impeccable manners and a lovely way with people, took charge of the proceedings. He re-assured me: ‘I’ll look after your mum’. I remember glancing at her wrapped up in a hand-knitted blue and white scarf holding his hand. For the first time in months her face beamed with happiness. They were like two old friends. The manager insisted on introducing every player to my mother. It was a demonstration of compassion way beyond the call of duty. I was more than a tad jealous of her perched on the bench between an injured Derek Mountfield and Kevin Richardson. She was so excited that it was hard to understand her Geordie words and Richardson acted as an interpreter.
Howard Kendall escorted the reigning champions towards her. One by one he introduced Ratcliffe, Stevens, Lineker, Steven, Heath, Reid, Bracewell et al. Predictably, Southall gave her a bear hug. So did Colin Harvey and Mick Heaton. Each and every one of them was a credit to the Everton family.
The atmosphere created by Howard Kendall was so relaxed that I found it hard to believe that his team was about to tangle with Arsenal. After 30 minutes of laughter and giggles, we started to make our way towards her favourite spec. We hadn’t gone 5 yards before Kendall and Kevin Sheedy approached her. Kendall prompted: “Go on, tell her.’ In response, Sheedy smiled: ‘I just want you to know that your name will be on the ball when I score today.’
I don’t need to remind you that they were fine footballers at the top of their game. That afternoon my mother along with 30,000 other Blues witnessed Howard Kendall’s team of gentlemen humble the Gunners by 6-1. Lineker netted a brace, so did Heath. I recall that Steven and Sharp added the others. Sadly Sheedy’s magic wand failed to propel the leather into the onion bag but my mother spoke about Kevin Sheedy and Howard Kendall in biblical terms until the day she died.
Later I was fortunate to get to know Howard as a friend and tell him just how much I admired him as a footballer – the finest player never to be capped by his country – in the best Everton team of all time and as a manager of the second best but most successful Everton team of all time. In response, he insisted that he was just one member of a good football team and a good management team. Always I told him the truth. Howard was such a courteous gentleman that he listened to my concerns that he should never ever have been allowed to leave for Bilbao and about his defection part way through the 1993-94 season as well as his alcohol consumption during the 1997-98 season.
Howard Kendall had an amazing life. He was adored by the Everton family and millions of other football enthusiasts across the world. It may be timely, possibly a bit premature, for my fellow Blues to propose ways to celebrate his haul of two League titles, an FA Cup triumph and European glory during his first term.
His legacy is something that we had chatted about at one of Ronny Goodlass’s dinners back in May. Some other friends proposed naming the Park End in his honour. I suggested a top-quality statue sited next to Dixie. Howard appeared flattered yet embarrassed. He asked: ‘Am I worthy?’ I smiled: ‘Well if the club won’t do it, we’ll organize the fans to raise the necessary funds to do it!’ Howard's final words on the subject: 'Just make sure the statue looks like me ... you know, with a bit more hair on my head and a bit more flesh on these old bones. And remember to place a wine glass in my right hand.'