“That pass is probably my biggest memory of playing with Tarky.”

James Tarkowski's former Oldham team-mate Robbie Simpson is recalling the defender's stunning vision which led to the Latics claiming a last-minute equaliser against Everton in the Fifth Round of the FA Cup at Boundary Park in February 2013.

“We were 2-1 down and he played a great ball over the top to me. He's picked me out from nowhere. I came on left wing and made a run in off the line, in behind the centre-backs, across Seamus Coleman and somehow, he spotted it from right-side centre-half and picked me out a peach!

“I've chested it down inside the box and Tim Howard's saved my shot but then we've had a few corners, Matt Smith's got the header and we've taken you to a replay.”

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Tarkowski, who was announced as a new Everton player on Saturday having signed a four-year deal after his contract at relegated Burnley came to an end, played in the reverse fixture for Oldham at Goodison Park ten days later.

Then just 20, the centre-back had the tough task of keeping Nikica Jelavic at bay and conceded a penalty Leighton Baines duly converted after hauling the Croatian striker down in the box. Despite Everton running out 3-1 winners, David Moyes is said to have liked what he saw in Tarkowski that day.

James Tarkowski challenges Leon Osman in an FA Cup replay at Goodison Park in 2013

While a move to Merseyside didn't materialise back then, ‘Tarky' is now a Toffee. However, spending six years at Turf Moor has led to some assumptions about the towering centre-back.

Standing at 6'1” and being a mainstay of the Clarets backline, some believe the 29-year-old is merely a no-nonsense defender who boots anything that moves and the fact he won more aerial duels and made more blocks than any other Premier League defender last season just boosts that notion.

Simpson though, speaking exclusively to ToffeeWeb days before Tarkowski's official unveiling, insists such preconceptions are wide of the mark and pointed to the defender's two-year spell in the capital with Brentford as real proof of his capabilities in possession.

“For a lad of his size, his actual technical ability was probably his biggest standout feature on the pitch when we played,” says Simpson. “You could tell he had quality on the ball. Me being a striker at the time, he used to pick me out with diagonal balls, even balls through the lines to feet.

“I've played with Scott Dann as well at Coventry and it's a very similar situation to him… because Scott Dann was so big and so good in the air and played in that Birmingham side that played quite a deep line where they invited crosses to head it away, he didn't really get the respect he deserved with his ability on the ball.

“At Coventry in the Championship he showed that ability which is how he got a move to the Premier League and it's the same with Tarky.

“When he went from Oldham to Brentford, Brentford were Total Football in League One, completely Total Football and Tarky was a massive part of that, getting the ball off the keeper and starting attacks.

“At Burnley, they played a different style. They go longer to big forwards and the defenders have to play a deep line rather than having space in behind they then have to recover but let's face it, he did very well for Burnley by keeping them up within that solid defence.

“He doesn't get the credit he deserves for how good he is on the ball. He is a ball-playing centre-half.”

After all, there is a reason Tarkowski was known as the ‘New Moston Beckenbauer' by Latics fans, so named after the district five miles north east of Manchester city centre he was born in, a ten-minute drive from Boundary Park, and legendary Germany sweeper Franz.

Tarkowski in his Oldham days when fans dubbed him the "New Moston Beckenbauer"

Tarkowski signed professional in 2011 after impressing during his Oldham scholarship and turned to Simpson, then 26, for advice on how to make it in the game.

“When I signed for Oldham, originally on loan, he was 18 so a first-year pro and it just so happened that we sat next to each other in the changing room. We sat next to each other for that whole season then.

“Tarky was a great kid. He'd made his debut for the first-team, but he wasn't a regular at that time, he was still only part of the squad.

“He was always asking me questions about my career and football in general, constantly like a sponge, determined to get as good as possible.

“You would often see him sitting next to someone just having a quiet word and I think he appreciated that.

“From the outset, you could tell he was a driven lad and you instantly knew he was a centre-half or a big strapping centre forward because he was a big lad with a massive head,” Simpson jokes, “I knew he could head the ball!”

Simpson, who is now player-manager at National League South side Chelmsford City, was happy to share his experiences with the youngster and soon Tarkwoski was a regular in a Latics side that knocked both Nottingham Forest and Liverpool out of the 2013 FA Cup before falling to Everton.

“He was a starter in my second season and you could just tell, he took to it so easily,” Simpson remembers of his team-mate protege. “To give a young 19-year-old a starting berth week in week out at League One level, it could have been quite daunting. Giving him that chance, that young, was probably going to make or break him and he just took to it like a duck to water.”

While Tarkowski has proved himself as a top defender in the Premier League, Simpson believes another of his main attributes is to correctly assess different situations to get the best out of those around him and thinks ‘Tarky' could skipper Everton in time.

“I think the good thing about him is he's so adaptable and he reads the room quite well,” Simpson tells ToffeeWeb. “Even as a young lad at Oldham, he'd very much know the vibe of the room and whether it would be a place for him to say something motivational.

“You could always tell Tarky had a captain's drive and could read people very well. He's very much adaptable to scenarios and I think he's captain material really.

“As a bloke, he can be quiet but when things need to be said, he'll say them and he'll say them in the right way; whether he's pulling someone one to one or in a group setting.

“He's not one of those in the dressing room where you say ‘Oh, he's loud' or ‘He's a joker' but he's not frightened of saying something. He can do a bit of everything. He can have a laugh when the group is in a good place and there is a good vibe or, if he feels things need calming down, he'll say something sensible.”

Robbie Simpson celebrating scoring for Oldham (Laurence Griffiths)

Tarkowski was born in November 1992 and at that time, Oldham were in the newly-formed Premiership. A month before his birth, a Latics side with a heavy Everton influence defeated the Toffees 1-0 at Boundary Park. Managed by Joe Royle, former Blues Graeme Sharp, Neil McDonald, Neil Pointon, Mike Millgan and Ian Marshall were all in the Oldham matchday squad.

Then, when Tarkowski was just two days old, the Latics lost 3-0 at Old Trafford. David Beckham and Paul Scholes were yet to play a league game but the Class of ‘92 would influence the new Everton defender. Playing for Maine Road Football Club at the age of 16, it was the Red Devils he followed growing up.

Today, Oldham are set to embark on a new campaign outside of the Football League for the first time in 115 years. It's been a sharp drop for those aged 40 and over who vividly remember their team in the top-flight.

During such a demise over 30 years, comes pressure. At Everton, fans too are desperate for the Toffees to return to former glories and win silverware.

The Goodison stands are demanding for those wearing the royal blue shirt.

Simpson thinks Tarkowski will thrive in such an environment, playing in front of such a passionate fanbase.

“Yeah, he'll be absolutely fine, he can handle that (pressure) brilliantly,” Simpson insists. “Tarky isn't one to feel pressure at all, he's very calm when he needs to be and like I said, he can read the room really well and use it to his advantage.”

Tarkowski revealed discussions with Frank Lampard played a part in convincing him to sign for the Toffees this summer and Simpson believes his former team-mate will relish working closely with the former Chelsea star and first-team coach Ashley Cole who boast 213 England caps between them.

“With everything Lampard has achieved in the game, he'll absolutely love that,” says Simpson. “Tarky will thrive off working with them and it's something he'll be really looking forward to, especially with Ashley Cole being a defender.”

Tarkowski himself will be hoping to add to the two England caps he earned in 2018 and Simpson was there when his former team-mate started against Switzerland at Leicester's King Power Stadium.

The duo have kept in touch over the years and Simpson took great pride in watching Tarkowski line up for the Three Lions.

“I send him a message every now and again saying well done and I was buzzing that I was there to see him start for England. I told him it was crazy that when he was 19, we were sitting next to each other and he was asking me about making it as a pro and staying in the game.

“We have nice moments like that and I'll probably message him after this interview and say, ‘I've just had an Everton journalist ask me about you, he said you've got a move there?'.

“If I was to call him now we'd probably pick up again like we've been speaking to each other regularly. That's the kind of guy he is and if I ever ask for anything, he'll always do it. He's just a lovely kid, a lovely bloke.”

Despite his fame and success, Tarkowski has remained grounded and has always been down to earth.

Paul Wilson of The Observer interviewed Tarkowski in 2014 and wrote: “...a 21-year-old who not only still lives with his parents but can be seen escorting his mum around Morrisons in Chadderton most Friday nights is about as grounded a character as can be found in professional football.”

Simpson backs up that claim, adding: “He's still really good friends with his mates from home which says a lot about someone who has made it and played for England, he's still really close with them.”

Despite joining Everton, Tarkowski will remain close with his former Burnley team-mates too. Simpson tells us ‘Tarky' and members of the Clarets squad are involved in horseracing.

Jack Cork and Chris Wood are partners in syndicate More Turf Racing, Lancs Live reported in 2019, with Matt Lowton, Nick Pope and Tarkowski also having a stake.

The quintet have a shared passion for racing and decided to start the syndicate in order to keep the lads together long after they leave Turf Moor, Lowton revealed.

One member of the Everton team who will appreciate such a pursuit is Duncan Ferguson, who famously kept racing pigeons throughout his playing career.

Ferguson plays darts too, at least during downtime at Finch Farm, and confidently claimed he was the number one darts player at the training ground

in a Happy Birthday message to a fan last season: “We've got the dartboard…I'm the best at that.”

However, now Tarkowski has joined the club, Duncan may have some competition for his crown.

Tarkowski and his mates in the Oldham squad would play more darts than football some days after making a makeshift darts room in a secret attic at Boundary Park, Simpson recalls.

“Me, Tarky and a few others would always get together before training and have a coffee - we used to get in early and just chill a bit,” he said.

“We used to play darts a lot after training too.

“In the Oldham stadium, you had to walk through the toilets and there was a hidden door you went through… it was like an attic room that we put a dartboard in and we'd play for hours. We'd finish training sometimes at midday and we'd still be there at 5pm playing darts.”

So, was Tarkowski a decent darts player and good enough to rival Big Dunc?

“Yeah he was quite good, we all got pretty good actually!” laughs Simpson.

Evertonians will be hoping Tarkowski can help the Toffees hit the target this season, arrowing attacks from the back.

Reader Comments (18)

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Robert Williams
1 Posted 03/07/2022 at
Excellent piece about our future skipper.

What's all this about Dunc? I thought we were shot of him or bis he still happy to sit there and take the money!

Peter Mills
2 Posted 03/07/2022 at
We need some good characters, James sounds like one.
Niall McIlhone
3 Posted 03/07/2022 at
I think Tarkowski will do just fine.

This article reminded me of Joe Royle's majestic time with Latics in the early '90s, when they were ultra competitive in the English top flight.

My slight disappointment is that James opted for the bright lights of supporting Man Utd when, as a Chadderton lad, Oldham were his local team. Anyway, he seems like a really good guy, welcome to the madness that is Everton FC!

Derek Knox
4 Posted 03/07/2022 at
Robert @ 1, " What's all this about Dunc? I thought we were shot of him or is he still happy to sit there and take the money ?"

Like his homing pigeons, he keeps coming back where it is familiar territory, and an endless supply of corn ! :-)

Can only see Tarky's signing as a good one, and yes, I believe he could make a good skipper. If we can still clear a few out, and get either free or loan signings, and maybe a star if the coffers aren't empty, I think we could be a different, possibly top half of the Table side.

Neil Tyrrell
5 Posted 03/07/2022 at
So he's a United fan? Swerve!!

Kidding, he sounds like a good character and this article was a really good read. Thanks for posting it and to Robbie Simpson for doing the interview. Fun to get a little peek behind the curtain. Sad stuff about Oldham in recent years though, there but for the grace of god...

Peter Moore
6 Posted 04/07/2022 at
I really think Tarky will be a great addition. His voice can be Barky, his attitude Narky. He can provide a much needed Sparky. Apologies for being a bit Larky. Off to bed, it's very Darky. I know it's not very funny, no need to be Sarky.
George Stuart
7 Posted 04/07/2022 at
Watched his YouTube reel. Looks like a dive in, clear the ball, boot it up field sort of defender. That'll do for me.

Won't win the Champions League but that's not our goal next season. A comfortable 10th will do for now. Honestly, that is the least ambitious I have been in 35 years.

Mark Andersson
8 Posted 04/07/2022 at
George 7... your ambitious a 10th place finish haha..

First thing Lampard needs to sort out is why we get so many injuries – only then can we dream of 10th place.

It's gonna be another long road to nowhere... Carlo left for good reasons coz he knew he was dealing with idiots running the asylum.

Raffa took the job knowing he was gonna get another payday and Frankie boy naively took the job thinking he can turn it all around...

Marc Hints
9 Posted 04/07/2022 at
What I am worried about is we now seem to be close to signing another defender in Rodrigo Becão. So that's two at the back which is great and Dennis will be a good signing too.

But we need at least two or three midfielders surely as we are so weak and awful with the players we have.

Danny O’Neill
10 Posted 04/07/2022 at
George, Mark,

I don't know what you're both talking about.

7th and Europe and win the League Cup is where I'm at.

On a serious note, the more I read about this player, despite initially being underwhelmed, I'm hoping he is the leader we desperately need in that defence.

Forget the New Moston Beckenbauer. Hopefully he can become the Kounty Road Kaiser.

Kaisers, World Cups or Copa Mondials? Mouldies only.

Dave Abrahams
11 Posted 04/07/2022 at
George (7),

I don't know if it's the same reel you saw but the one I saw was one where he wins plenty of tackles but uses the ball very well when he does, searching for the right pass before he releases the ball.

I know highlights can be very deceiving but he looked like a very good footballer to me, a solid defender like Jagielka but much better with his use of the ball, also a leader and director of his defence.

Time will tell but I think we have made a good start to bringing new players into the club, here's to the next four or five.

Mark Ryan
12 Posted 04/07/2022 at
The more defenders, the better. Holgate, Coleman and Keane are not quality defenders anymore, in fact I'd argue only Seamus has ever been good enough really.
Jay Harris
13 Posted 04/07/2022 at
Proof of the pudding is in the eating but I always felt this was a very good signing on a free.

I think this reduces our goals conceded by at least 10 per season – it's just the loss of Richarlison and the weakness of midfield that remains the problem.

I see Eriksen has elected to join Man Utd and it looks likely that Adams will go to dirty Leeds, so I just hope we have similar calibre lined up.

Bobby Mallon
14 Posted 05/07/2022 at
Look, we need another central defender to go with Tarkowski. Mina (and I love him) can't stay fit enough for long enough and I think he may be sold.
Tom Bowers
15 Posted 05/07/2022 at
Very few clubs have outstanding central defenders.

Man City, Man Utd, Liverpool and Chelsea not to mention Spurs all have average central defenders but these clubs have all-round strengths especially offensively and that's what makes the difference in today's game.

The defensive side of things is based on which teams have players who can get behind the ball quickly once they lose possession.

Yes, it's good to have central defenders who are decent in the air, especially from corners and free-kicks, but on the ground having speed is not that prevalent in big defenders.

In what Everton now have, they should be able to dominate the box in the air but what is also important is a really good sweeper with speed who can help with the occasional errors.

Mina is a beast in the air and, if fit, should start with Tarkowski. If that is the case, then I am not sure how Lampard will utilize Godfrey, Holgate and Keane.

None of those three are good full-backs or wingbacks but on occasions depending on the opposition, he will play three at the back (something I don't like).

It goes without saying we would like a settled back line but injuries will always kick in and changes will be made.

They had some horror shows defending last season, none worse than the Watford home game. When you lose an early home game like that to a team like Watford, you know it's going to be a long season – and it was painfully long.

Jay Harris
16 Posted 05/07/2022 at

I don't know how you can say that.

Man City have Stones, Laporte, Dias and Ake let alone Kyle Walker.

Liverpool have Vqn Dijk, Gomez, Matip, Konate.

Chelsea have Chaloba, Silva, Rudiger (just gone).

Any of these players would walk into our team.

Joe McMahon
17 Posted 05/07/2022 at
Jay, I was stunned thinking exactly the same.
Paul Kossoff
18 Posted 06/07/2022 at
The new Beckenbauer? Yes, sure, okay lol.

Everton's new bang average, over-paid over-contracted Ashley Williams more like. The fact is that our scouts are so poor at recruiting young skilled footballers means we have to buy blokes like this.

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