My selection for centre-half is Brian Labone, and I don't imagine there will be many eyebrows raised over that decision! Brian Leslie Labone was born in Liverpool on 23 January 1940 and played his earlier football with Liverpool Collegiate School, joining Everton as an amateur in June 1955, signing professional forms in July 1957.
I was serving with the army in Cyprus when Brian made his bow, against Birmingham City on 21 February 1959 in a 2-1 defeat at St Andrews; he made three further appearances that season.
The following season, 1959-60, Brian featured in 31 league games and 1 cup match, sharing the centre-half position with Tommy Jones. Tommy eventually moving to left back to accommodate Brian. My first glimpse of Brian in a blue shirt, following my demob from the army, was on 5 September 1959 a 0-0 home draw against Fulham; by that time, Brian had established his position in the first team.
In season 1960-61, Brian played in all 42 league games, 1 FA Cup tie, and four League Cup games, he was well and truly on his way.
In season 1961/62 Brian missed only one league game, and appeared in 3 FA Cup games and 2 League games. In the 1963-64 campaign he missed 8 league matches, his place in the team being covered by George Heslop. Brian, however, played in 4 FA Cup ties, 2 European fixtures, and a Charity Shield game.
Season 1964-65 saw him once again play in all 42 league games, 4 FA Cup ties, and 6 European matches. The 1965-66 season was remarkable for Brian, he actually managed to score the only 2 goals of his career and, if memory serves me right, both of them were headers. The first was against Blackburn Rovers in a 2-2 draw at Goodison Park and the second came in a 1-1 draw against Burnley at Turf Moor. The season finished on a high note for Brian and Everton, culminating in the sensational FA Cup winning performance against Sheffield Wednesday, Everton coming from 2 goals down to win 3-2, leading to Brian receiving the trophy from Princess Margaret.
The number 2 figured prominently in Brian's footballing life: apart from his two goals, he was booked only twice, and he lived up to the title of "The last of the Corinthians" bestowed on him by his manager, Harry Catterick.
Brian's appearances for the next seven seasons were [league and cup competitions] 51, 48, 51, 39, 23, and 5, those statistics illustrating the fitness and performances, of a first class footballer. In total Brian made 534 appearances and scored 2 goals.
Brian represented England on 26 occasions, his first cap coming against Northern Ireland on 20 October 1962 in a 3-1 win at Windsor Park. He played in the next two matches, a 4-0 victory over Wales at Wembley 21 on November 1962, and a 5-2 defeat to France in Paris on 27 February 1963.
It would appear that Brian, along with Ron Springett, Ron Henry, John Connelly, and Bobby Tambling, bore the brunt of England manager Alf Ramsey's displeasure, because Gordon Banks, Gerry Byrne, Maurice Norman, Bryan Douglas, and Jimmy Melia were brought in to replace them. Brian didn't win his fourth cap until 24 May 1967 in a 2-0 win against Spain.
Brian may well have figured in England's 1966 World Cup winning squad, but he gave his imminent marriage priority; fortunately his success with Everton was some consolation to him. Brian captained Everton in the 1968 FA Cup final, a 1-0 defeat to West Bromwich Albion, he had announced his retirement from football, but the club managed to persuade him to change his mind, and he went on to win another League Championship medal in 1970.
Brian reached the high point of a fine career as central defender for England in the 1970 World Cup Finals. Before the England team left for Mexico, sports journalist Brian Glanville wrote "Brian Labone is a heavily built centre-half, who is however unusually mobile for his size, and as strong in the tackle as you would expect. Watch how quickly he anticipates danger on the right-hand side which, with the middle, is his 'beat' for England, and averts it with a sliding tackle."
Brian played in the opening games against Romania, Brazil and in the game against West Germany in the quarter final, when England lost 3-2 after holding a two-goal lead. Yet, for all his resilience, this would be the last game Brian played for his country.
Brian sadly passed away on 24 April 2006.
Reader Comments (52)
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1 Posted 25/12/2017 at 09:00:44
2 Posted 25/12/2017 at 10:10:57
Can you imagine it nowadays an England international, top class First Division (Premier League, for you youngsters) player, playing cricket and bowls in the local park and pub with a bunch of other lads?
I was an Evertonian and so were a few of the lads, but Brian was respected and liked by everyone.
A great centre-half, a great Evertonian and a thoroughly decent human-being. You can't get higher praise.
In this case the favourite is the best. Of my sixty plus years as an Everton fan, no other centre half is near to him as a player or a man.
3 Posted 25/12/2017 at 11:14:27
4 Posted 25/12/2017 at 12:33:23
However, I would not argue about John Mac selecting Brian Labone, another thorough classy centre-half who played the game as it was meant to be played, in a hard but always, and I mean always, fair way, I saw him hundreds of times and he was always a credit to Everton FC as well as a credit to football.
He loved Everton and was passionate as a player and also as a supporter. I had many conversations with Brian and he would never criticise any player but always point out their good points, even if I thought they didn't have any.
I remember talking to him on the afternoon Liverpool lost the match and the Championship to Arsenal; Brian told me he had a tenner on Arsenal at 14/1... bet he had a cracking Friday night after the game.
It was always a pleasure to watch Brian play for the Blues and the same pleasure to chat to him after he retired.
Must mention TE Jones and Dave Watson two other very good centre-halves and sportsmen who turned out for our club.
5 Posted 25/12/2017 at 13:45:59
7 Posted 25/12/2017 at 14:36:56
Apart from fabulous centre-forwards, we've produced a series of fabulous centre-halves down the years and in addition to the three mentioned above, I'd include Mick Lyons, another who bled blue.
Roger Kenyon comes to mind too. As hard as nails Roger was, and I'd love to know who spotted him and Hursty as mere lads in Blackpool. Some scout he must have been!
8 Posted 25/12/2017 at 15:07:30
Labby was one of the greats as a player, a man and captain.
Would also mention Dave Watson as a close second ignoring TG as he was before my time
9 Posted 25/12/2017 at 17:29:33
10 Posted 25/12/2017 at 17:52:40
I just missed his very early years but my Uncle who was a regular remembered Tommy Jones telling him where to stand for corners... but I was there to see him do the same for a young Rover Kenyon.
I'd settle for both of them right now.
11 Posted 25/12/2017 at 18:22:09
It's a long time ago now, I know, but I can remember how he could not only win the ball in the air but also had the knack of being able to knock it sideways to one of the full backs.
I was only about 13 when we won the league in '63, but I was standing outside the players' entrance not long after the end of season when a car pulled up and who should get out but Labby. I ran up to him and with my Everton diary in hand, I asked him to sign a team picture. Obviously in a hurry he said "I'll be back in a minute I just need a wee wee!", and off he went inside.
I waited for a while and then started to move away. Then his head popped out from the doorway and he looked up and down the street. Spotting me he came straight over and signed my picture, he hadn't forgotten. Labby, great centre-half and a prince among men.
12 Posted 24/12/2017 at 20:00:12
"AS Roma successfully bid 㾻,000 for him, a large sum in those days, but foreign exchange regulations stopped the transfer. Everton were still short of cash and so transferred Tommy Lawton to Chelsea and Joe Mercer to Arsenal. These deals were not only blows to the Everton team, but to him personally, as he had been best man at both their weddings."
Wow if we had been able to keep that team together .
On Labone... the great Gerd Muller â€“ he of record goals and German centre-forward stalwart and part of their 70s domination â€“ said in his book: Labone was the hardest man he had ever played against .
He also thought that, if England in the heat had not taken Bobby et al out, that England were the best team in the tournament and would have won that World Cup against the brilliant Brazilians .
Love all this nostalgia; thank you, John â€“ such a pleasant relief from the arguing subjective hyperbole of some of the keyboard warriors.
Great to learn from great fellow Evertonians. Thank you!!
13 Posted 25/12/2017 at 20:02:26
Thanks again, John; looking forward to Part 6.
14 Posted 25/12/2017 at 20:02:26
15 Posted 25/12/2017 at 20:41:37
Our chant in the Street led by a Noddy Holder lookalike standing on the middle post was "Mickie Ly-onns, walks through Concrete la la la la la la la la La!"
The goal he scored against Leeds with Bremner and Hunter swinging at the ball on the goal line â€“ they went with a pencil to a gunfight as Mickie "walks through concrete" Lyons launched himself at the ball and took on their swinging boots at two foot high with his head and rifled into the net an amazing header that will live with me forever.
So, not the best but â€“ dear Mick Lyons â€“ one of my favourites at centre-half and an all-time favourite wearing the Everton shirt.
I believe he is in Oz now.
16 Posted 25/12/2017 at 20:48:52
I remember Noddy too! Great memories!!
17 Posted 25/12/2017 at 21:19:26
I think he was booked only once in his entire career. It was at an evening home game against Newcastle, about 1968, and Labone, in a bit of protest against a decision of the ref, bounced the ball in frustration. The ref booked him. The players surrounded the ref in protest against the booking, but what was remarkable was the number of Newcastle players protesting Labone's innocence. That was a measure of the esteem in which Labone was held.
I went to his testimonial in 1971, and I was accompanied by several mates, all Liverpool supporters. They also thought Labone a great player and a gentleman.
18 Posted 25/12/2017 at 21:40:38
Would he have replaced Jack Charlton in 66 had he made himself available? Certainly he more than proved his class in 70.
Great player, man and Evertonian.
19 Posted 25/12/2017 at 21:54:40
I know we are all entitled to our opinions, but what I can't understand is the venom directed by some to fellow Evertonians, regarding something over which we have no control. We all presumably want the same thing, a successful football club.
Thank you all once again for your kind words. Seasons Greetings and Best Wishes.
20 Posted 25/12/2017 at 22:07:24
Still, thanks again and please keep them coming.
All the best.
21 Posted 25/12/2017 at 22:22:28
If Peter Reid doesn't get a shirt, I will be gutted, but what about Richard Gough? He maybe never played long enough to be in with a shout, but what a classy centre-half this fella was! If only he would have stayed fit!
22 Posted 25/12/2017 at 22:30:03
Often when Labone was injured, Roger Kenyon would step in. He was also a favourite of mine, extremely skillful in every aspect of the game. Reflected our quality in depth at that time.
23 Posted 25/12/2017 at 22:39:06
As you say, there was a concerted effort from both teams to protest against the booking, but the ref had his moment of glory.
24 Posted 25/12/2017 at 23:51:56
I clearly remember being in awe of him but also jealous. I can remember saying to another mate of mine, "Oh No, Cunnie has brought that dead greedy guy with the hard shot". That "dead greedy guy" happened to be Brian Labone.
That same guy was a true Evertonian and I was, without a doubt, one of his greatest admirers. He was easily the best centre fullback I have ever seen in an Everton shirt. I readily admit that I was so glad that I had been able to play with him, even if I had been jealous of his ability. I never really got to know him all that well and I am sure there are many who played with or against him at a more serious level.
It was sad to lose him at a relatively young age. He represented Everton and England so well at football as well as being a fine human being. However, most important to me is that he gave me my finest memories as a "pick-up footballer". Obviously, John, you have great taste to have picked him as Everton's best. I speak regularly to his friend Peter and I will let him know how your article helped to bring back special Sundays that I will never forget.
25 Posted 26/12/2017 at 10:36:10
I have had to rule two other players out, because of their short careers with Everton, I will reveal their identities in due time. The team I have selected have each made over 100 appearances, and to tell the truth, it hasn't been an easy undertaking.
I notice on another thread that people are expressing their preferences for today's team selection... at least I have complete control over my selection, and I don't have to worry about results.
It's easy, this football management, isn't it?
26 Posted 26/12/2017 at 12:38:42
More recently I have been a fan of both Dave Watson and Phil Jagielka but Brian Labone was the man.
27 Posted 27/12/2017 at 09:33:00
I know someone will say that he could never deal with Rush, but Radcliffe and Mountfield were the best pairing I ever saw (just slightly too young for Labone). But for the Indian sign that the RS had over us, and the Heysel ban, that team would have had a bigger say in Europe as well as domestically. Radcliffe's part in what actually happened was enormous.
28 Posted 27/12/2017 at 11:55:10
I agree that Kevin Ratcliffe was an excellent centre half, and I'm sure that he was someone's favourite player, and I'm equally sure that Derek Mountfield will get a mention.
29 Posted 27/12/2017 at 20:36:49
He was the rock at the heart of our defence for a decade until wear and tear finally took it's toll. Losing Brian at half-time in the 1971 FA Cup semi-final at Old Trafford was a pivotal moment in a match we eventually lost, after leading at half-time.
A true gent and, in later years, always willing to have a chat if you bumped into him before or after a match.
30 Posted 27/12/2017 at 20:51:35
I was serving with the army in Cyprus when Brian made his debut at St Andrews, and you're spot on regarding the injury he sustained in the Old Trafford semi-final; Everton were in control until his departure.
31 Posted 27/12/2017 at 21:07:58
32 Posted 27/12/2017 at 21:11:50
33 Posted 27/12/2017 at 22:48:27
34 Posted 28/12/2017 at 17:13:11
Going to away matches in the early sixties , Brian"s Dad was always at the matches. We had a chat with him at Lime Street Station, a gentleman like Brian.
I think his Dad had a central heating business in Aintree or Maghull. I thought Brian went into Insurance after retirement.
35 Posted 28/12/2017 at 19:20:31
I believe that Brian's Dad did have a central heating business in the Maghull, Lydiate area, and that Brian had a spell working with his Dad.
You may well be right about him working in insurance, I'll see what I can dig up.
36 Posted 28/12/2017 at 19:30:42
Brian was indeed an insurance salesman.
37 Posted 28/12/2017 at 19:32:36
He also had an uncle who had two or cafes around the Dock Road, Harry Leyton's (or Leighton's). Harry had a marvellous memory when taking orders at rush times, take six or seven at a time and was never wrong.
Brian did his business at a more leisurely pace while drinking his pints of bitter!!!
38 Posted 28/12/2017 at 19:48:58
I was in Harry Layton's cafÃ© on Great Howard Street every working day, when I worked for Pelling, Stanley, Green (the John West salmon firm) on Walter Street. The girls used to give you a free mug of tea if you carried the tea urn up from the basement.
Harry himself was what you may call a larger-than-life character. As I mentioned to Ray, I find it puzzling that so few have visited Brian's story, while Jock Lindsay's attracted over a hundred posts.
I know that there are other issues to address, but I thought a look back on yesteryear would have proved a welcome diversion.
39 Posted 28/12/2017 at 21:33:31
There is plenty of debate to come, particularly with the advanced midfielders, inside forwards and strikers or centre forwards.
40 Posted 28/12/2017 at 21:47:15
I had also hoped that others would have taken the opportunity to advance their favourites, which in turn would have given the thread a more interesting read.
41 Posted 28/12/2017 at 22:11:45
Don't be disappointed, Brian Labone, like Peter Mills points out, provokes little argument to the centre half position, he is universally accepted not only as the best but proving your headline wrong for once, sometimes the favourites are the best,
John, carry on mate, don't be disheartened you have done great with this thread and created a great deal of interest and fans have reacted really well bringing their many memories of great players and brilliant games from long ago.
No 6, John? Tony Kay, Colin Harvey, Peter Reid, Cyril Lello... I think you will get close to a hundred replies.
42 Posted 28/12/2017 at 22:18:11
As for the rest, argument was perhaps a poor choice of word on my part. Debate, banter, chat, room of nonsense, and many other expressions might have been better. Anyway, there are plenty of us waiting for your remaining selections.
43 Posted 28/12/2017 at 22:49:43
Also, John, perhaps the Christmas holiday has something to do with the subdued response. I have loved the debate so far well done, Sir, and all the very best.
44 Posted 29/12/2017 at 10:19:23
'Ball of Fire' by Alan Ball,
'Playing for Everton' by Howard Kendall, and
'Defence at the Top' by Brian Labone.
Of course, all three players were top of their game, and for me the title of Labone's book sums up the status of these players and Everton at that time. Not many folks would deny that Labone was the best centre half in the country, and one of the best in the world, or that his gentlemanly nature made him a favourite as well. As the other lads have said, that's probably why there's a smaller number of posts in this thread.
45 Posted 29/12/2017 at 14:35:15
Stan I've still got autographed copy of Ball of Fire. I remember queuing up (WH Smith on Lord St?) to have it signed by the man himself. A treasured piece of EFC memorabilia that's still in great nick!
46 Posted 29/12/2017 at 14:46:29
It's a cracking series though, John, and having the chance to wallow in some misty eyed memories always brings a response. Number 6? Kay will take some shifting...
47 Posted 29/12/2017 at 14:55:30
I doubt that the players of today will be held in the same esteem, as they are far removed from everyday life, unlike Brian Labone and his contemporaries, who were ordinary working class boys who made good.
48 Posted 29/12/2017 at 15:10:20
49 Posted 29/12/2017 at 20:21:25
On 26th March 1970 I bagged Howard Kendall, Keith Newton, Alan Whittle, John Hurst, Joe Royle and Brian Labone outside Bellefield, sagging off for the day.
Precious mementoes, alongside Colin Harvey and Alan Ball on 11 November 2002. (I was still star struck then, at the age of 46!)
Not to mention the undated autograph of Johnny Cash.
50 Posted 29/12/2017 at 21:30:50
51 Posted 31/12/2017 at 12:50:28
I mean in particular how Brian tried to help when Eddie Kavanagh ran onto the pitch and was being dragged off by 2 policemen. He was concerned that Eddie was being treated roughly and simply wanted to see that a fan was looked after.
A different age when we (fans) actually mattered to the players.
52 Posted 31/12/2017 at 14:22:59
Incidentally it took the police quite awhile to get Eddie off the pitch and out of the stadium, according to Eddie it took him about five minutes to get back in.
53 Posted 01/01/2018 at 12:26:18
This thread appears to be dormant now, so I'll wait a couple of days before I submit part 6, it's prepared and ready to go.
I'm just getting myself psyched up for today's game, Josh and I have to travel to Maghull, because there is work in progress between Ormskirk and Maghull, apparently a new station is being built in the near future.
Best wishes for the New Year, to you and your family.
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