It’s hard to imagine another Neville Southall in football today. In his 2012 book, the Binman Chronicles, we meet an honest, unvarnished man, all heart, and rough edges.

I reviewed the book with my co-host Al for our podcast, The Ademola Bookmen Podcast. It’s the 8th book we’ve done to date and certainly one of the better ones.

As someone whose football consciousness started around the mid-90s, I was familiar with later Southall; the heavy-set Southall, the one who looked like he was the last survivor from a bygone era of the football of handlebar moustaches and shorts that were barely perceptible to the human eye. And in many respects, he was that era’s last survivor, at least as a player.

But that is only one of the things that makes Southall an outlier.

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With 751 games under his belt, there is not a single Everton player who has come within 200 appearances of his record for the club. He managed that in a 17-year period that included two league championships, two FA Cups, and a European Cup-Winners Cup. And yet when he left the club, he did so under a cloud; sidelined by Joe Royle, he ended up going down two divisions to Southend.

The episode is, well, very-Neville Southall. Royle didn’t want him to leave shortly before when Chelsea came in for him. Frustrated by his lack of playing time, Southall just said “Fuck it, I’m off”, and he left for the first team he could as soon as Royle agreed to let him go. No Chelsea, fine; Southend is close enough, isn’t it?

Southall says in his book that, with the exception of Mike Walker and the Welsh FA, there was no one in football he didn’t like. Despite the fact that Royle ended his Everton career, Southall even liked him, calling in to radio phone-ins to defend Royle’s record as manager.

Unfortunately, that didn’t stop Royle, himself an Everton playing legend, from later devoting an entire chapter in his book to attacking Southall. The result, according to Southall, is that the two Everton giants end up sitting awkwardly at gala dinners, each of them looking the other way, with little to say to each other.

Southall’s book itself starts slowly, as so many football autobiographies do. In the early chapters, I feared the worst. But as I laboured through descriptions of games that were before my time, and references to players I hadn’t heard of, I couldn’t help but fall for Southall. What an unusual chap he is. An uncut diamond; a rough, gem of a man.

Southall’s first stint in English football was with Bury, where he was voted player of the year. His performances there bought him his ticket to the big leagues, to Everton and the First Division. But being Southall, he decided he’d just keep on living in Bury, because he and his wife liked it there.

He was initially able to cadge a lift off his new manager, Howard Kendall, who was commuting from Blackburn. He eventually realised that getting your manager to go miles out of his way to bring you to and from training wasn’t the done thing. Because he couldn’t drive, this meant public transport.

From the old Everton training ground, Bellefield, this was a bus to the local train station, a train to Liverpool, another to Manchester, and a third to Bury before another bus home. Ridiculous and unconventional. Classic Southall.

And it wasn’t youthful naivety either, when he left Everton almost two decades later to wander through the football wilderness, he went back to 4- and 5-hour commutes, albeit by this time he had learned to drive.

One of the most telling Southall stories was when he got a call from Alex Ferguson in the late '80s, as Everton’s heydays were getting smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror. Thinking it was his former team-mate Andy Gray having him on, he told Ferguson to fuck off and hung up.

When Ferguson called back, he realised it was a tap-up, not a wind-up. He told Ferguson to speak to his agent, but the exchange appears to have been enough to give Fergie second thoughts. He bought Schmeichel instead.

I’m sure Ferguson has no regrets. And maybe Southall doesn’t either, he doesn’t seem the sort. But I feel some regrets on his behalf.

That opportunity passed him by and although he beat Ferguson and Schmeichel a few years later in the ‘95 FA Cup Final, it was an up in a career that ended mostly with downs. By 1992, Everton were finishing 12th, the next year it was 13th, and by the time Southall was being frozen out, they were surviving in the Premier League just by the hairs on their chinny, chin, chins.

Everton’s problem was one of timing. They’d been good in the 80s, great even. The Heysel ban meant they missed out on Europe for the most part. The team broke up, with some going abroad for European football.

By the time the '90s rolled around and money started raining from the Sky, other teams were talking sports science while Everton were arguing with each other over Chinese takeaways, firing footballs at the faces of the YTS lads, and waiting for their 100-year-old Chairman John Moores to loosen the drawstrings on his penny purse.

The twilight of Southall’s career, he was a football nomad, to use his own description. Having been Everton’s longest-serving player, for his last years, he jumped from club to club: Southend, Stoke, Torquay.

After one more appearance in the Premier League for Bradford, after which he was widely berated for his weight, he turned to coaching, both as a goalkeeping coach with teams like Huddersfield, and then as a manager with much smaller teams, like Dover Athletic, if you’ve ever heard of them.

It was a strange end to a decorated career and for a man who appears to have been widely accepted to have been the best goalkeeper of his time.

Before he ever made it in England, he travelled to Germany with his local team in Wales. He was offered a place in the Dusseldorf academy but turned it down, saying he “couldn’t be arsed”. One can’t help but think that it was this side of Southall that sent his career in the direction it went in the end.

He applied twice for the position of Wales first team coach and, despite being told he did the best interview the second time around, he learned on the radio that his old team-mate, Mark Hughes, got the job.

He liked everyone in football, but it seems that everyone in football did not like him.

In our 8th episode, we reviewed Peter Crouch’s How to be a Footballer. The book itself is okay. The world Crouch describes – one of sleeve tattoos, camouflage Bentleys, and £800 Kashmir jumpers – is so far from the world described by Southall that I find it difficult to reconcile the two. The fact that their playing careers briefly overlapped makes it all the more mind-boggling.

Crouch describes a profession that is shallow, vapid, and ultimately just dumb. And although Southall appears to have been dismissed by people in football as such, he is anything but dumb.

If anything, Southall seems to be an oddity in football for the very fact that he is capable of thinking about things other than matches and money. He’s been in the news recently for engaging people on Twitter on issues he admits that he doesn’t understand, asking trans teenagers to explain things in a way that is open-minded and every bit as out of place on social media as he is in the world of football. In this, Southall is the anti-Barton. Sadly, in the Bizarro World of the internet, it’s the Bartons who get the attention.

Even Crouch, as likeable as he is, has managed to forge a stellar post-football career by leaning into his role as master of ceremonies of the bantz parade. Southall may have taken to the training pitch on a pre-season tour of Sweden in nothing other than his gloves and boots, but he was no bantz man.

He says one of the reasons he wrote his book was to show people that he wasn’t mad or stupid. He says he hoped that it might even open doors back into the game for him. But in the years since, I don’t think it did.

He remains a playing legend, but legends fade. Banished from the world of football, he ended up training underprivileged kids, eventually setting up a consultancy that aims to use football as a way of providing opportunities for people who have struggled in formal education. Happily, he says he finds joy in what he does today but it’s clear that he misses football. At least the game’s loss is to the benefit of others who are much more in need of help.

Southall is undoubtedly one of football’s good guys. Sadly, football doesn’t seem to have a place for him anymore, other than at gala dinners awkwardly ignoring Joe Royle.

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Reader Comments (24)

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Les Callan
1 Posted 16/03/2024 at 22:08:42
Number 1, Everton legend.
Paul Hewitt
2 Posted 16/03/2024 at 22:58:31
'Everton legend' is often banded about. Southall truly was one, best keeper I've ever seen. Better than anything we have today by a mile.
Danny O’Neill
3 Posted 17/03/2024 at 10:12:12
Firstly, thank you John. A great read.

Paul, the greatest Everton keeper I've seen in my lifetime. At his peak, the best in Europe.

I know some of an older generation than I reflect fondly of Gordon West.

Some can maybe go back further to others.

I have to give mention to "the one that got away"; Nigel Martyn. Although he performed great for us late in his career, we dithered and lost out to him in his prime.

Back to Neville. I've said it before, but the save away to Sheffield Wednesday was unbelievable. Better than the Tottenham one in my view.

The goal post protest in the first game of the season against the newly promoted Leeds.

I can't remember the match, but think it was that plastic competition they introduced at after the Heysels ban.

We played Liverpool at Anfield and I was in the Kop with friends on both sides, when it used to be acceptable to mix.

At the end, we all ran onto the pitch and I remember Neville swatting supporters away to get to the tunnel. I missed a slap by inches!

Straight talking and doesn't seem to like the limelight, but I wish there was some way we could get him involved in the club again.

Dave Abrahams
4 Posted 17/03/2024 at 11:41:50
I wouldn’t take sides between Neville and Royle, Royle might have done better without his back injury but before that with all the qualities he had and he had many, he still lacked that bit of devil that would have made him a great player.

Southall was a great player up there with the very best but when he left Everton his best days were far behind him and he wasn’t the best keeper on the books and although the other ‘keepers were not great they were better than Neville I witnessed many poor performances from near the end of his Everton career, ie Bradford City in the FA cup and that 3-2 win over Wimbledon that kept us up, how Wimbledon never scored more from the crosses that Neville failed to get near surprised me, the real Southall would have dealt with them no bother.

The beauty and strength of Neville was his downfall, he was always the same man, told the truth as he saw it, right or wrong, never the yes man, couldn’t be bought, if he had changed his attitude he would, I think, have got on a lot better financially, he couldn’t do that he was too honest and didn’t try to kid anyone, most of all himself, so I have a lot of time for him as a footballer and a man.

Larry O'Hara
5 Posted 17/03/2024 at 11:53:05
Yes the best keeper I ever saw, would be great to get him involved again.
Tony Abrahams
6 Posted 17/03/2024 at 11:58:44
Great last paragraph, Dave. I absolutely hated Southall, for coming out and sitting against the post, at halftime against Leeds, but some people are different, and deal with anger in different ways.

Southall was the greatest goalkeeper, I ever saw. I might be biased, but he's the only Everton player, I've watched, who I think I could put up a great argument, for selecting him in the best World eleven team, of all time, because he was that good.

Jeff Spiers
7 Posted 17/03/2024 at 13:56:09
Brilliant human being. 'nuff said.
John Raftery
8 Posted 17/03/2024 at 21:47:41
I may be missing something here but it was not Joe Royle who ended Neville's career with us. It was Howard Kendall after a 2-0 defeat versus Spurs in late November 1997. Thomas Myhre took over.

Neville was by some distance the best keeper I have ever seen. Without him we would have won nothing in the mid eighties. Although past his peak his saves were vital in the 1995 Cup Final win.

Danny O’Neill
9 Posted 18/03/2024 at 06:35:45
He was great that day John.

I think if my maths are correct, he was 37 and, like you say, past his peak, but vital to that win with the saves he made.

You never lose it as they say.

Get him back involved in some capacity I say, but fear the current regime would be afraid of his straight talking!!!

I share a birthdate (not year!) with the big man.

Ray Roche
10 Posted 18/03/2024 at 08:35:26
Danny, like most on here, I regard Southall as the finest keeper I have ever seen, and a great and compassionate human being. However, he's 65 now and hasn't looked after himself physically.

I can't think of any role at Everton that he could fill. That boat sailed years ago and I can't imagine him putting up with the crap that Kenwright spouted in those days!!

Martin Reppion
11 Posted 18/03/2024 at 08:38:35
Manchester fans, known for talking through the wrong orifice talk about their goalkeeper in the 90s being the best ever.

Nev was the best I've ever seen. My favourite save amongst many led to this exchange. The week after we beat Barnsley 1-0 in the cup I was driving to the match, I think at Nottingham, and stopped at the services on the M1.

The lad serving me saw my scarf. He was a Barnsley fan who'd been behind the goal at the far end when Nev pulled off a wonder save, tipping the ball over from a Paul Futcher shot.

He told me nobody at Barnsley could believe it had been saved. In fact, he went on, even though I knew we'd lost 1-0, when I saw it later on Match of The Day I thought it was going in!

SImply put, Nev is the best ever.

Michael Lynch
12 Posted 18/03/2024 at 08:56:06
The mark of a great goalie is when the team and the fans trust you completely. Whenever he took the field for us, I knew he'd save everything it was possible to save, so if we lost we probably deserved to lose.

That line in the article: "The world Crouch describes – one of sleeve tattoos, camouflage Bentleys, and £800 Kashmir jumpers – is so far from the world described by Southall that I find it difficult to reconcile the two" is so true, and so depressing for those of us of a certain age.

Brian Harrison
14 Posted 18/03/2024 at 09:43:44
Certainly Southall was the best keeper I have seen play for us, he gave us that feeling that even if someone got past our defenders Nev would save it. I don't think he got the recognition he deserved, I think Nev, Gordon Banks, Peter Shilton and Schmeichel were on the same level, yet whenever any pundits start talking about goalkeepers it always the others on the list they talk about more than Nev.

But my one criticism of Nev was the day he came out very quickly at half time and sat with his back to the post for the remainder of half time. Colin Harvey one of the Everton greats was our manager and he didnt need one of his senior players to show so much disrespect. Colin for me was the best coach this club ever had and in some ways saved Kendalls career, just that he didnt seem to transfer those skills to management.

Rob Dolby
15 Posted 18/03/2024 at 10:33:17
Ray 10. Age wouldn't prevent Southall from roles at the club.

Vaughan is a newly appointed loans manager – that's a non-playing, non-coaching role.

Who looks after the kids that fall off the reject merry-go-round? Would it not make sense to have a role to protect kids' mental health once rejection comes calling?

At our club, we need as many quality people as possible. Southall is a selfless hero to many, I don't see any reason we can't bring his qualities back into the club.

A few home truths wouldn't go amiss either.

Ray Roche
16 Posted 18/03/2024 at 12:50:49
Rob, I’m not being ageist, I just can’t imagine a role for him, anymore than I could imagine Hodgson as our manager.
Can you think of a role? Not being sarcastic or argumentative, I just wouldn’t want him tarnishing his image at the club.
Danny O’Neill
17 Posted 18/03/2024 at 13:02:26
I think despite his age and appearance Ray, his connection with the supporters would not tarnish him as much as Graham Sharp did by siding with a board that criticised its own and abandoned us.

That still really upsets me.

Brent Stephens
18 Posted 18/03/2024 at 13:12:40
Danny, that sounds more like an ambassadorial role in relation to the fans. I'd be looking for a more substantive impact internally, on the playing / development side.
Danny O’Neill
19 Posted 18/03/2024 at 13:26:57
Goalkeeping coach Brent?

I'd just like to see him back at the club in some capacity.

Jay Harris
20 Posted 18/03/2024 at 14:10:44
True legend and the best GK in the world for a period of time and one of the best human beings all the time.

He gave me nmy greatest memories in 65 years of watching Everton.

As many have said even if the opposition were in one on one you would back big Nev to save it.

Unfortunately his honesty and bluntness is out of place in a corrupt and politically correct society.

Paul Tran
21 Posted 18/03/2024 at 14:12:18
I was right behind that goal when he saved Falco's header at WHL. Never seen a better save since.

The best keeper I have seen. The fact that Everton can't/won't find a role for a serial winner says more about the club than Nev.

I'd pay plenty of money to see him deal with the Big Hard Men of social media if they called him a 'woke snowflake' to his face.

Jack Convery
22 Posted 18/03/2024 at 14:18:27
Legend. Best in the world at his peak. Great man too.
Charles Ward
23 Posted 18/03/2024 at 18:53:57
Definitely one of the best keepers to have played in our lifetimes — although my granddad would often mutter about that, their Elisha Scott thwarting Dixie Dean.

Nev has been out of football too long to take up a coaching role and, unfortunately, his desire to speak truth to power doesn't fit in with the pipsqueaks running the club.

Jon Harding
24 Posted 19/03/2024 at 11:26:41
There have been loads of brilliant books written about football over the years but player and manager autobiographies are very rarely that entertaining or insightful.

Big Nev's is an exception to that rule and should be compulsory reading for all Evertonians.

But maybe I'm just biased because I hail from the same part of North Wales as the big man and am old enough to have seen him in the flesh.

I'd also recommend Tim Cahill's "Legend".

John Coughlan
25 Posted 20/03/2024 at 09:05:17
Thanks for reading the article and commenting, folks. Below are links to our podcast episode reviewing the book.




Quite a fella, that Neville Southall. Are all Everton players this nice?!

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