Gordon Watson… One of Us

Something of a raconteur, Gwladys Street Hall of Famer Gordon Watson loved to share tales of his life at Goodison and he once spoke passionately about his team-mates from the side he regarded as ‘The Forgotten Champions of 1939’

Gordon Watson caricature

Gordon Watson

“Gordon Watson? Never heard of him.” Well, the Geordie (from the same neck of the woods as Howard Kendall) played alongside Dixie Dean in Everton’s Central League-winning side in 1938, helped Tommy Lawton and Joe Mercer capture the First Division title in 1939, made nearly 200 appearances in war-time football, coached first-teamers like Dave Hickson and Bobby Collins, developed youngsters including Colin Harvey and Joe Royle before winding down his 64 years at Goodison Park by working in the club’s promotions department, pulling pints in the matchday lounges (despite being a teetotaler) and serving as stadium tour guide.

A couple of years after Gordon’s retirement from Everton, my dear friend Brian Labone advised me that the hierarchy planned to sell the house that the club had rented to the wheel-chair bound veteran for almost four decades and evict him and his daughter/carer Hilary. I know… you couldn’t make it up.

Subsequently, after my short meeting with the club’s representatives (the individuals involved are no longer at the club and their names are not important) in 1997, Gordon was assured of his tenancy during his lifetime, presented with a mantel clock, and invited to the next home game as the guest of chairman Peter Johnson. More recognition was to follow.

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As a result of him spending 16 years as a player and 21 years as a coach under managers Cliff Britton, Johnny Carey and Harry Catterick, Gordon Watson was voted into Gwladys Street’s Hall of Fame alongside Paul Bracewell and Andy King in 1999. After being carried onto the Adelphi stage by Dave Watson, he promised to return the following year pain-free and without his wheel-chair. True to his word, after all 750 booted-and-suited guests had been seated, he marched into the banquet hall in 2000 carrying the FA Cup above his head to a memorable reception of cheers and tears.

How so? Well, I visited Gordon during my frequent trips from North America throughout 1998 and 1999 and, given that he was considered too old for NHS support, embraced him as the first old Blue to receive medical treatment from the newly established Everton Former-Players’ Foundation. Previously, we had helped Gordon West find his feet but that is a story for another time. The challenges associated with the 80-odd year old’s hip replacement procedure were significant – he had no ball in ball-and-socket joint – just jagged bone. Working with Gordon Taylor at the PFA, we helped him to walk again.

Everton's 'Forgotten Champions' of 1939

During his rehab, Gordon received regular visits from his former teammates, disciples and admirers. Something of a raconteur, he loved to share tales of his life at Goodison – the triumphs, the silverware, the defeats, the relegation woes and, of course, his eye-opening memories of Dixie Dean, Jock Dodds, Harry Catterick, Theo Kelly, Will Cuff, John Moores, etc. Some were documented in Gwladys Street’s Blue Book (published in 2002); others will remain confidential.

A lovey man, Gordon made 16 League appearances when Everton captured the title and believed that ‘The Forgotten Champions of 1939’ were as good as Howard’s men in 1984, but trailed a little behind Harry’s team of 1970 side. Remember the only three-man team to be crowned champions? In fact, he claimed that his 1939 teammates would have dominated English football for a few seasons if Germany had not invaded Poland. However, he considered them forgotten by Evertonians and other football fans.

Gordon noted: “Football moves on. It always has and no doubt always will. After our enforced absence which lasted seven First Division seasons, our big stars had departed and our line-up contained only Ted Sagar, Norman Greenhalgh, TG Jones, Wally Boyes, Alex Stevenson and yours truly from the championship side – and none of us were spring chickens. Memories of our 1939 success have been quashed by the war-time sacrifice and post-war austerity.”

While wading through his collection of team photographs he spoke passionately about all members of the Forgotten Champions. As always, I keep detailed notes …

Ted Sagar caricature

Ted Sagar

Ted Sagar: “All goalies are nutters and the Yorkshire miner was no exception when took up his position between the posts. As the commander of his penalty area, ‘The Boss’ would bark instructions at his defenders who were forbidden to make passes towards him. Not as tall or as agile as the typical Premier League Goliath, he was extremely brave and untroubled by combative shoulder charges. In fact, Ted was an expert at plucking crosses out of the air. Predictably, his performances declined as he got older which wasn’t surprising since he played until he was 50 (actually 41 years and 82 days). For most of his career, Ted wore the same green woollen sweater which was darned monthly by my wife Olive. I think he had only six new jerseys during his entire career.”

Billy Cook: “The right-back was a confident footballer with good ball control and was one of most battle-hardened members of our team. His reputation for being volatile with a short fuse preceded him and intimidated opponents as well as some of own team-mates. As his room-mate, I went out of my way not to upset him. The Irishman had made a name for himself at Celtic as well as at the Winslow Hotel. Guinness was his favourite beverage and its impact had many late-night curtains twitching in Goodison Avenue. After one infamous domestic dispute, he was ‘taught a lesson’ by Bill Dean and Tommy White. I can’t recall why but he took over 12-yard duties from Tommy Lawton and, even though he missed his first effort, no-one was brave enough to take the ball off him, went on to net five prefect spot-kicks.”

Norman Greenhalgh: “We nicknamed him ‘Rollicker’ – behind his back. Like other people from Bolton (namely Alan Ball), his ‘words of encouragement’ were as fierce as his tackles. The left-back served as Wally Boyes’s minder and opponents bruised the Everton winger at their own peril. Norman was an uncomplicated footballer who matured quickly to represent England in a wartime international fixture just 2 years after the joining us from non-League football. Very few opponents got past him. Stanley Matthews hated playing him and allegedly claimed that he would boot wingers into the air and wait patiently until they had landed before kicking them again. Of course that’s an exaggeration but, by his own admission, Norman did like to ‘squash’ them to prevent crosses into Ted’s box.”

Joe Merce caricature

Joe Mercer

Joe Mercer: “One of the most charming gentlemen I have ever met inside and outside of football. The versatile wing-half made the game look so easy. Respected as the rising star of English football, he was one of our most influential team leaders – of which we had a few. Since trainer Harry Cook was essentially the keeper of the magic sponge, it was left to Joe, former-captain Billy Cook, and captain Jock Thomson to make decisions about tactics. It was something that they were good at. Everyone liked Joe – except Theo Kelly. Following a post-war row with the club secretary turned manager, the life-long Blue bolted to Arsenal where he won two more League titles and another FA Cup. His wife Norah was so proud of his accomplishments that she wore his medals on a bracelet. Even though he was voted Footballer of the Year (in 1950), Joe and Norah ran a modest grocery shop in Wallasey. Can you imagine the current Footballer of the Year (Eric Cantona) even visiting a corner shop? The departures of Joe and Tommy Lawton to London sent Everton into a post-war decline.”

Tom Jones: “In my eyes, TG was a more polished defender than Bobby Moore. If he had been English and played for a London club, he would be a household name. Cultured, cool and composed and don’t forget confident, the young centre-half liked to dribble the ball out of his own box – much to the delight of the fans and the annoyance of Ted Sagar. Back then, the typical centre-half was all brawn – so Tom was a revelation who mastered adversaries with firm yet fair tackles, shrewd positional sense and uncanny anticipation. Having won the ball, he could stroke it with no little elegance to a well-placed team-mate. Some admirers called him the 'The Prince of Centre-Halves’ whereas I christened him ‘Cryogenic Jones’. He had just turned 21 during our League-winning season and the outbreak of the Second World War impacted his advancement more than most. After falling out of love with Everton, he left Merseyside in late-1949 to manage a semi-pro club as well as a hotel in Pwllheli, North Wales.”

Torry Gillick caricature

Torry Gillick

Jock Thomson: “We all respected Captain Jock who never failed to inspire those around him. He had done it all at Everton – relegation, promotion, First Division Champions twice and FA Cup winner. Whereas he played in only one fixture for Scotland – unfortunately, he put through his own goal against Wales and was never picked again. The left-half was a powerhouse similar in style to Ron Flowers (Wolves) and Dave McKay (Hearts and Spurs) who was not afraid to use his physique to his advantage. Though he wasn’t a bully, Merseyside folklore claims that he made one particular challenge on Brentford’s Dai Hopkins, during my first-team debut in early-1937, shook the earth around Griffin Park. Jock was dogged by injury during his last few seasons at Everton and, as a result of his absence, I was promoted from twelfth man/travelling reserve – remember there were no substitutes back then – to the first-team. Upon retiring, Jock turned to coaching and managed Manchester City for a while.”

Torry Gillick: “As a rule, every League-winning side had a Scotsman in its ranks. We were lucky because we had two. Equally as effective on either flank, Torry was a touchline winger who was not expected nor encouraged to defend. He was fast – but not an out-and-out sprinter like Albert Geldard, and goal savvy – similar to Alex Scott and Andrei Kanchelskis. Typically, he would knock the ball past his marker, explode to catch it up and dribble with it under his complete control before crossing or cutting inside towards goal. Like all wingers, he was subjected to heavy tackles and played with more than niggling injuries because he was fearful of losing his first-team place. Harry Cooke would strap his ankles and rub his infamous mixture of iodine and fag ash on the injured area. We became life-long friends and worked together at Harland & Wolff shipyards in Bootle after the start of the war. Sadly, my best pal never recovered from the severe burns to his hands and face when his garage in Aintree caught fire in late-1939 and returned to Rangers. Within no time, he became a successful scrap merchant in Glasgow.”

Stan Bentham caricature

Stan Bentham

Stan Bentham: “No doubt because we worked together for almost 30 years, Stan and I had much in common. Like me, he was signed from the obscurity of non-League football (Wigan Athletic), his first-team days spanned the war and included 200 war-time appearances, and he worked behind the scenes as a coach for donkey’s years. And like me, he was a baseball enthusiast. Also we worked together at Harland & Wolff shipyards during the war. At Goodison, Stan was an unsung footballer – similar in style to Dennis Stevens who toiled diligently in midfield without fanfare or praise. The inside-right was relentless in his efforts to win the ball and was constructive in possession – usually passing it to his right-winger who then won the applause of the crowd.”

Alex Stevenson: “The Irishman was a football virtuoso and entertainer. In my humble opinion, he was one of the best ball-players of his era. At 5 feet 3 inches tall, Alex was often targeted by opponents and credit should be given to Jock Thomson who protected him. The inside-forward’s criss-crossing with his left-wing partner ran defenders ragged and delighted the Goodison faithful. In addition, he scored some key League goals – netting 10 times during our glory season (for the record, Torry Gillick scored 14 goals and Stan Bentham added another 9). Alex was a Goodison favourite. He adored Everton and the crowd was happy to return his love. Despite serving in the RAF, he helped Norman, Stan, TG, yours truly and Theo Kelly keep Everton ticking during the war years.”

Tommy Lawton caricature

Tommy Lawton

Wally Bowes: “The left-winger was another midget at 5 feet 3 inches on his tip-toes. The England international had been recruited from West Brom for a tidy transfer fee (£6,000) during the previous season to fill the void created by Jackie Coulter’s horrific injury. Immediately, he formed a tremendous understanding with Alex Stevenson. ‘Curly’ was an expert dribbler and appeared unhampered by the fact that he had one peg much shorter than the other. His job was simple – to get to the bye line and cross with accuracy to towards Tommy Lawton. Nothing else was asked of him. The winger netted infrequently (4 League goals during the title-winning season) but again that wasn’t his job. However, I must admit to growing tired of hearing about the 17 goals, or was it 18, he scored in one game as a schoolboy.”

Tommy Lawton: “With Bill Dean in decline, the lad from Farnworth was a breath of fresh air. The teenage centre-forward was fast, two-footed and headed the ball with Dean-like power and accuracy. Even though he lived in the shadow of Dixie, he was prolific and scored goals for fun. So much so that Tommy topped the First Division’s chart with 28 in the 1937-38 season and again with 34 in the 1938-39 season. While he didn’t come close to Dixie’s 60, his statistics for Everton and England are incredible. (Peace time: 70 goals in 95 league and cup games for Everton, 21 goals in 23 appearances for England. Wartime: 152 goals in 113 games for Everton, 24 goals in 23 appearances for England). Tom was only 19 and perhaps a little cocky when we won the League title. (Agnes Ireland, my mother-in-law, went to school with him in Bolton and remembered him as a ‘big head’.) More than any other top footballer, his career was impacted by the outbreak of war.

“Apparently, his life turned sour after he left Everton. I was disturbed to read of his much publicized family woes, financial troubles, spells of unemployment and skirmishes with the law. An early case of too much, too soon? Nonetheless, I was impressed that Everton - thanks mainly to Joe Mercer - organized a testimonial match to pay off his debts in 1972.

Neville Southall caricature

Neville Southall

“Football has been good to me. I have met some wonderful people. I have memories that nobody can take away. As a player, a coach and a fan, I have seen some terrific players in the royal blue of Everton. Here is my all-star XI …

“Neville Southall was simply the best. Every good team has a great goalie and Howard Kendall signed the best shot-stopper in the world. The Welshman’s contributions were immense. In my eyes, he was more reliable than Gordon Banks and Pat Jennings. Of course, he was a little odd – but I admired the fact that he was a teetotaler. Like many others, he stayed a little too long and lost his spring but never lost his pursuit for clean-sheets. Few world-class players have turned out for the club in my life-time. The others are Ray Wilson, Tommy Jones, Joe Mercer, Andrei Kanchelskis, Dixie Dean and possibly Alan Ball. (Note: Gordon died in April 2001, 15 months before Wayne Rooney made his senior debut against Tottenham Hotspur.)

“Coincidentally, both of my full-backs joined Everton in their twilight years. Coincidentally, both smoked Ogden’s St Bruno tobacco in their wooden pipes. Warney Cresswell was an intelligent and elegant defender possessing unlimited self-assurance. Whereas Ray Wilson was simply world-class. 

Warney Cresswell caricature

Warney Cresswell

“There aren’t enough adjectives to describe him. The lives of international footballers were different in the Sixties. For example, Alex Young worked down the pit on the day before turning out for Scotland at Hampden and Ray helped his father-in-law (an undertaker) embalm bodies the day after playing for England at Wembley.

“I have selected Cliff Britton over Joe Mercer at right-half. Cliff was considered by many to be the finest passer of the ball in the English game. I wasn’t too shabby in that department and, after training at Goodison; we would exchange 30-yard passes for an extra half-hour. Cliff made the same sweet noise as Arnold Palmer striking a golf ball. He was an excellent instructor and I adopted one of his routines. In the Sixties, all of our raw apprentices had represented either Liverpool, Lancashire or England schoolboys.

Cliff  Britton caricature

Cliff Britton

“Many were brash and far from impressed by the look of a 50-odd year old coach in an old grey tracksuit. Following Cliff’s example, I would instruct each of them to place a ball in the centre-circle at Bellefield and retreat to the touchlines. Next, I would clip the balls to their feet with pin-point accuracy, then ask them to return the balls to the centre-circle and repeat the exercise. They looked bewildered as I tottered away after telling them ‘when you can do that, you can call yourself a professional footballer.’ Though an excellent playmaker, Cliff was an unpopular manager. Despite taking us down to the Second Division, he sued the club and allegedly demanded his club house as compensation.

“My No 5 is TG Jones. As you know, I considered him to be a world-class defender. However in retirement, I found Tom to be a bitter old man who didn’t have a good word to say about Everton Football Club. Clearly, he never forgave them for preventing his move to Roma or dismissing his application for a coaching job in the Fifties.

Colin Harvey

Colin Harvey

“Moving on. Colin Harvey was the finest young footballer that I ever coached. Tongue-in-cheek, I tell everyone that I taught him how to master the ball. Colin was the complete midfielder – more combative and more skillful than Alan and Howard. While he was not confident in front of goal, he scored two crackers – the winner in the FA Cup semi-final against Man Utd at Burnden Park in 1966 and the League title clincher against West Brom at Goodison in 1970.

“On to the 5-man forward line in my 2-3-5 line-up: Andrei Kanchelskis is my preference on the right-wing. What a player. Fast and direct, he was a full-back’s nightmare. Whenever he received the ball, Goodison rose to its feet and held its collective breath. At inside-right, Alan Ball was an enlightened signing by Harry Catterick. A bargain. His perpetual motion changed our British football’s yardstick for midfielders. Alan possessed the finest first-touch of any player at Bellefield. Also he was a winner and demanded high standards of others even when he was not playing well himself. As for Harry’s decision to sell him? Emotion aside, Alan was no longer as influential and his goals had dried up but I don’t know how the manager expected to replace the ginger one.

Andrei Kanchelskis caricature

Andrei Kanchelskis

“My other inside-forward is Bobby Collins. His arrival revitalized the club. Only 5 feet 2 inches tall, he was a giant in size 3 boots. Hard and feisty, Bobby dominated games with his vision, skills and tackles and ruled the dressing room with his words. But after a heated exchange with Mr Moores, Harry seized the opportunity to off-load him. It was the worst decision that the boss ever made, far worse than selling Alan Ball. Bobby went on to excel at Leeds and was voted Footballer of the Year in 1965.

“At outside-left? I don’t hesitate to pick Jackie Coulter. Despite or possibly because of his massive plates of meat, he was the best dribbler of his era and a wonderful entertainer. During one purple patch in early-1935, he ripped defences to shreds. He was simply unplayable. Then 2 months later, he broke his tibia on international duty for Ireland against Wales. Although Jackie returned to first-team action, ‘The Jazz Winger’ was never the same player.

“With due respect to Alex Young and Tommy Lawton, my choice of spearhead has to be Dixie Dean. Single-handedly, Bill reinforced our standing as a leading club worldwide. I respect Tom Jones’s claims that Tommy Lawton was a better all-round footballer but Dixie was a football god.

Bobby Collins caricature

Bobby Collins

“I feel privileged to have played two games alongside him in the first-team and dozens more in the second-team. With Dixie leading the attack, it was no surprise that won the Central League in 1938. Though he was no longer at his peak and not in the best nick, everyone at Everton was in awe of him. When he congratulated me on a good performance or even a good pass, it made me feel 10 feet tall. It was like being blessed by The Almighty. I have never understood why the club did not engage him as an ambassador after the war. Like me, Dixie loved Everton and its supporters.”

Gordon Watson – a gentleman, a forgotten champion, and one of us.


Other reading

Gwladys Street’s Blue Book by David France and David Prentice, 2002

The Prince of Centre-Halves - Life of Tommy 'T.G.' Jones, Rob Sawyer, 2017

Jack Coulter: From Whiteabbey to Goodison Park. By Rob Sawyer, 2022

The official team photograph of The Forgotten Champions courtesy of Lord John Grantchester and The Everton Collection

The caricatures by Peter King are extracted from the four-volume, 2,500-page book titled ‘Dr Everton’s Toffeemen’ which is over budget and behind schedule. Started in 1997, it may be completed before the new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock and at present profiles 2,205 players (first-teamers, second-teamers, wartime guests, amateurs, etc), coaches, managers and others associated with the club since the days of St Domingo.

Reader Comments (37)

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Peter Mills
1 Posted 19/07/2023 at 23:30:45
A nice article. Unfortunately something has gone awry in the presentation, possibly typographical, confusing Gordon Watson with Gordon West.

It doesn’t spoil the content, though.

Bill Watson
2 Posted 20/07/2023 at 02:22:07
Thanks, David, for giving us Gordon's fascinating pen pictures of Everton legends, some of which many of us will never have seen.

At the tail end of the 1969-70 season, I won a Promotions Department trip to the away game v Sheffield Wednesday. We'd just clinched the title v West Brom a few days earlier and this was the penultimate game of the season. Gordon, resplendent in club blazer and tie, was in charge of the coach.

In those pre-M62 days, the route was over the Pennines. About half way there, Gordon asked the driver to pull into a pub which had a large car park.

As we were getting off the coach the licensee came running out and said to Gordon, "Didn't you see the No Coaches sign? You lot can't come in here."

Gordon; "It's OK landlord. I'm Gordon Watson and we're from Everton Football Club".

Landlord; "I don't care if you're the Pope on a trip from the Vatican. No Coaches; you're not coming in".

At that, we all got back on the coach and Gordon said, "Well, that was telling us, wasn't it? I hope the team bus doesn't call in on the way home."

What I recall of the match was that Wednesday dominated with Whitham hitting the woodwork a few times but we won 0-1 courtesy of Morrissey. I think they were relegated!

Gordon was a lovely unassuming bloke and took the time to chat to some random young bloke (me) about some of the greats he'd played with.

Lyndon Lloyd
3 Posted 20/07/2023 at 05:42:04
That was my error, Peter. I was distracted, publishing the synopsis and captions in haste and my brain fixated on West as opposed to Watson. Changes are now reflected above and my apologies to the Good Doctor.

On another note, doesn't Gordon's caricature look like James Rodriguez?!

Mike Gaynes
4 Posted 20/07/2023 at 05:47:58
I love losing myself in Dr Everton's expeditions into the deep history of the club. I never heard of any of these players until I learned about them from reading two of David's books. What a joy.

Odd how many of the great players of past eras were 5'-3" or even shorter. Today, they'd never even make it into the academies and would be lost forever in the lower leagues.

Lyndon #3, I was going to say Bryan Oviedo, but you may be closer to accurate.

Danny O’Neill
5 Posted 20/07/2023 at 08:54:30
Randomly, Bill, your mention of the Pennines reminded me of countless trips to Hillsborough on the Amberline coach, crossing the Snake Pass in winter. Fortunately I slept most of it.

I remember travelling there at least 3 times in January 1988 when I think we played Sheffield Wednesday about 5 times in one month. Including an early kick-off on New Year's Day.

On the article, what a great story. It reminds us of what it means to be Everton. We shouldn't rest on our laurels or remain in the past and strive to build new history.

But our heritage reminds us of who we are and why we still have expectations for this club of ours, no matter how difficult recent times have been. We always will have expectation. That isn't getting beaten out of me. Never.

My Grandfather used to speak fondly about Joe Mercer. When you read his story, and if you believe the accounts of how the club apparently treated him, it is a shame. Apart from a certain generation, not really a name recounted amongst younger Evertonians and more revered by Manchester City.

I like the mention of 'keepers being "nutters". They are. Every good keeper is a shouter and a unique character. I've played and argued with many!!

Southall, Schmeichel, even our current incumbent Jordan Pickford. As a centre-back, I know what they're like!!

Leadership and shouting, what a great callout. Players should get annoyed with each other and point out mistakes. For the modern generation, watch the interviews with Kevin Ratcliffe and Peter Reid on Howard's Way. Colin Harvey giving both barrels. We fight together, lose together and win together. But if standards aren't met, we tell people, even our team mates.

The account of Tom Jones dribbling out of defence. Fast forward to John Stones. Whereas, by the report, Jones delighted the crowd, we collectively got on John Stones's back, wanting him to hit Row Z or Stanley Park. He has since proven how good he is and has the medals to demonstrate it. Pre-judgement springs to mind. Although I'll caveat that the knowledgeable Goodison crowd knew this was in the context of playing in a poor team as opposed to one on its way to a League title.

The comment of having too much too soon is as relevant now as it was then. Young players thrust into the limelight with high expectation. Built up to be knocked down.

I watched Southall and he was definitely World Class. The call on Ray Wilson intrigues me. Young, Ball, Kendall and Harvey stole the show of that generation and get the plaudits. I don't hear a lot about Ray Wilson, but he was a World Cup winner. Interested in views of those who watched him.

The bit on coaching and ability to demonstrate. You don't have to be the best player. The methodology I use is what I was taught. EDIP: Explain, Demonstrate, Imitate, Practice. You can add an R to that: Repeat.

Colin Harvey is simply the biggest Evertonian ever.

Kanchelskis was a coup and exciting to watch. That derby at Anfield when he scored twice. I was in amongst the cousins that day with my brother. It didn't bother me and I was giving as good as I was getting, but he was nervous. I guess that's a generational thing. I can always stand up to them and always will. I do at weddings, funerals, Christenings and Christmas!!

Another player mentioned. Bobby Collins. Again, another I know about but never really hear him revered like some of the previous players that have graced Goodison Park. Seems to be more linked in Leeds folklore than Everton. I'd be interested in views.

Finally, '39, '63, '70 or '85: Who were the best? I suppose that is down to generation and opinion. For me, it remains the 84-85 side.

The 86-87 side remain under-rated for their achievement in difficult circumstances. The other forgotten Champions?

Let's look forward to that 10th League Title. I like even numbers. And can we please win the League Cup?

Fascinating read. Thank you, David.

Howard Don
6 Posted 20/07/2023 at 08:54:59
As a kid, I saw Bobby Collins play a few times and later saw him as the midfield maestro in the emerging Leeds side of the ‘60s. Undoubtedly one of our biggest player sale errors.

Ball to Arsenal was heartbreaking at the time, but he was just over his peak; Colins was approaching his.

John Daley
7 Posted 20/07/2023 at 09:59:30
Another fantastically informative piece of historical Evertonia from the good Doctor.

From a personal point of view, it's most timely, as I'm currently putting the finishing touches to a long-gestating tale in which the ill-starred protagonist idolises the very same pre-war title-winning team. As such, it was interesting to compare my own far-removed description of long-gone heroes with the first-hand memories of a man lucky enough to have played alongside the real deal (and thus someone who actually knows what the hell he's talking about).

I have to admit my heart sank a little to see Torry Gillick described as ‘not an out-and-out sprinter', as he features a fair amount and I basically portray him as a light-speed-like cross between DC Comics ‘The Flash' and Frank Spencer clinging to the back of a double-decker bus while on roller skates.

A brief snippet if anyone is interested:

Whether the satanic hand of Lucifer, some lads he happened to know, or simple happenstance of locality lay behind his selection of club, it took nearly the span of a full decade for them to truly sink their claws in. The shiny allure of a Championship trophy, combined with the stylish aesthetic of an Everton side later described as the most ‘scientific' of the lot, ultimately sealed the deal. Basically, he was a bloody ‘silent generation' glory boy. Yet, who could blame him?

T G Jones striding forward from the back, slaloming past opposition players in his own box and spreading the ball about the pitch like a specialist playmaker. A proto-Franz Beckenbauer, or John Stones sans the costly slip-ups and jittery cries of “just sodding hoof it!!” coming from the stands. An obvious class figure in the days when defensive instruction mainly consisted of “go out and deck the fucker!”

Excellent in possession, unparalleled in the air, prolific in front of goal, and able to silently suffer a broken beak brought about by a tumble better than Emu after Rod Hull suggested the pair go take a proper look at that tatty old aerial; Tommy Lawton became the First Division's top scorer for the second season in a row.

The immense performances of the slight but brave Ted Sagar, putting his body in the way of shots, plucking balls off the head of ogre-like strikers and racking up eighteen clean sheets en route to the title.

The bow-legged brilliance of Joe Mercer, a tough-tackling trooper to whom no lost cause was beyond turning around. Getting his boot to balls that not even Mr Fantastic would bother stretching for and bursting forward before his challenger could figure out he was connecting with nothing but fresh air.

Then there was his first true favourite, Torry Gillick. Less heralded than others, but a rapid livewire capable of leaving defenders tearing their hair out on his day.

These were the players who first captured his youthful imagination. The swaggering, all-conquering side he snatched welcome second-half glances of on a matchday, when the crowd of skint kids gathering outside Goodison were gratefully ushered in for free…..

John Raftery
8 Posted 20/07/2023 at 10:02:24
Danny (5),

During the sixties, Ray Wilson was reckoned by many experts to be the best left-back in the world. It was a pity he enjoyed only four seasons with us before injury struck.

Until Leighton Baines arrived, Wilson was always first choice in our Greatest XI since the early sixties. The fact that we can now debate whether or not Baines was better than Wilson is testimony to Baines's impact as an attacking full-back in the modern era.

The emphasis in full-back play in the sixties was essentially on the defensive aspect of the game. The overlapping full-back only came to the fore after Wilson had retired, with Terry Cooper of Leeds arguably the first exponent at top level.

Wilson was a master of defensive play, calmness personified with incredible powers of recovery to catch wingers, win possession, and move the ball forward quickly and accurately. His crosses from deep positions were floated into danger areas, ideal for forwards with aerial ability like Joe Royle.

I remember he would often produce his party piece with a hooked overhead clearance inside his own penalty area. That always earned cheers from the Goodison faithful. Without doubt an all-time great, Ray was a player I consider privileged to have seen in the royal blue shirt.

Danny O’Neill
9 Posted 20/07/2023 at 10:29:09
Great insight, John R.

Despite being an '80s teenager, I always say Leighton Baines was the best Everton left-back I've seen.

Not a left-back, but left-sided player, I am optimistic about McNeil. Touching on your point, his delivery can be lethal if we get someone on the end of it and he also has goals in him.

Talking of left-footed Everton greats…

No, I best hadn't go there!!!!

Peter Mills
10 Posted 20/07/2023 at 10:32:50
Lyndon #3, yes, I suspected it would be your fault. 😉

It's interesting that Gordon thought his team of 38-39 was the equal of the 84-85 side, but not the Champions of 69-70. My Dad watched all three and thought the pre-war outfit was the best we've ever had. I always thought his stories about T G Jones dribbling along his own goal-line must be exaggerated; it seems not.

I was only aged 8-13 when Ramon Wilson played for us, but even then I loved watching him. Everything he did had class about it, he had great positional sense, he would jockey his opposing winger and then pounce with a lightning-fast hard but fair tackle. In those days when a goalie could pick up a back pass, Ramon would always chip the ball into their hands, he wouldn't have them having to bend down to pick it up. Like Danny's hero, Kevin Sheedy, he had no right foot – he didn't need one.

I had the good fortune to meet Mr Wilson (I wouldn't have dreamt of calling him “Ray”) a couple of times and he was a very humble gentleman.

Thank you for the article, Dr France.

John Burns
11 Posted 20/07/2023 at 12:05:36
I love articles like this. He made an interesting comment, “In fact, he claimed that his 1939 teammates would have dominated English football for a few seasons if Germany had not invaded Poland.”

The same thing happened to Everton in 1914 when they were Champions at the start of World War One. Then there was Heysel, when again we were Champions.

I read some time ago that Bobby Charlton observed as a football club, Everton had a tendency to be very unlucky.

Anyway, the article is superb.

Dave Abrahams
12 Posted 20/07/2023 at 12:26:53
Peter (10),

I was only a boy of 7 or 8 when I watched T G Jones but what a player! He was majestic or even immaculate in everything he did on those muddy pitches.

He would come off the field at the end of the game with his white shorts still clean. He never went to ground but got his tackles in at the right time, then came away with the ball and seemed to rarely waste his passes. I've never forgotten him because he was unforgettable, to me, as an outstanding footballer.

Lyndon, you might change the spelling of Wally Boyes instead of Wally Bowes. He was a player I saw for Everton reserves after the war. His nickname by Gordon Watson made me laugh: “Curly” – he hardly had a hair on his head.

I think Gordon was a bit hard on Cliff Britton as a manager, just mentioning him as the manager when Everton got relegated. He could have added that Cliff was the same manager who got them promoted 3 years later with exactly the same squad who were relegated. He never signed a player, or wasn't allowed to, during the time we were in the Second Division, although I acknowledge that Gordon had Cliff in his all-time great Everton team.

Bill Watson
13 Posted 20/07/2023 at 13:19:51
Danny # 5 and John #8,

Baines was undoubtedly the best left-back in the Premier League era and I'd put him ahead of Ashley Cole but maybe that's my Blue bias. Neither can be compared to Ray Wilson who was, quite simply, the best left-back in the world, in his own era and since then. Truly world class and, unbelievably, he played most of his football in the old Division 2

John #11,

Going on our past record, I half expected Britain to be dragged into the Vietnam conflict after we won the League in 1963!!

Huddersfield Town must have had some great scouts as they also had Denis Law and their fans must have been gutted to lose both Law and later, Wilson. How times have changed in that we're now in a similar situation where we have difficulty hanging on to our best players.

Well done, Bill!

Paul Birmingham
14 Posted 22/07/2023 at 00:25:37
Thanks for a first-class history, of Everton, Dr France. These reviews of Everton's past stir the mind and the great history of Everton. Another boost for this pre-season.

Tomorrow hopefully a win v Wigan and the romance of this season's Wheel of Fortune begins.

100% mentally more confident, YOY, in that Everton have a manager and team this season who connect to players and put practice to theory to practice.

If, and Bournemouth, the bad week away last season, but that is history. Frank should have resigned, imho.

A good turn up and salute tomorrow, Sean Dyche deserves it but Evertonians deserve it!

UTFTs! “What's Our Name?”

Brian Denton
15 Posted 22/07/2023 at 15:17:54
Firstly, I defy anybody to guess that that caricature is Andrei Kanchelskis!

More seriously, I was interested to note that, in the 'all-time greats' musings, no mention is made of Tony Kay. He was just before my time, but older relatives and my late brother said he was something special.

Mike Hanlon
16 Posted 22/07/2023 at 23:35:44
Fantastic article!

I remember meeting Gordon Watson in the late ‘80s when he gave tours of Goodison. Nothing formal or structured like the tours of today, but when you could go for a meal in one of the conference suites during the week (eg, to celebrate a special occasion such as a birthday), then receive an informal tour of the ‘Grand Old Lady' with Gordon as the host.

As an aside, the food was always excellent and not expensive. It wasn't ‘prawn sandwich brigade' but delicious at a fair price. A look around the main, but small, souvenir shop on Goodison Road, next to the ticket office would always follow.

Gordon played for Everton well before my time, or my parents', but filled us and our family with stories of players past & then present. His love of Everton shone through and he came across as a gentleman.

Some great and interesting comments from other ToffeeWebbers on this article too (thanks for sharing).

In terms of ‘best team from which era', I've only been lucky or old enough to witness those of the '80s onwards. Like Danny, Sheedy is up there for me too in terms of favourite ever players and that wand of a left foot. That ‘85 team was absolutely brilliant. Skill, Pace, Fight, Power and Passion. Here's hoping we get to see another side like that in Royal Blue soon.

Philip King
17 Posted 23/07/2023 at 05:51:07
Brian 15 – why so negative? Celebrate being an Evertonian.

Andrei approved the Kanchelskis likeness. Remember, they are caricatures. All have been approved by the living subjects.

Only three were redrawn: Billy Bingham, Peter Johnson and you-know-who.

Yes, Tony Kay – who was coached by Watson – was a terrific Everton footballer for about 18 months until banned. But seriously, his contributions don't compare with those of Harvey, Mercer or Reid.

Michael Kenrick
18 Posted 23/07/2023 at 09:05:14
I believe that Dr France adopted the use of caricatures, rather than photographs to depict the players, in order to solve a practical problem he had when devising Gwladys Street's Hall of Fame. There were simply no photographs for some of the players he wanted to include.

I think he modelled the idea of a Hall of Fame celebrating Everton players (and others) on numerous American institutions that had sprung up by the end of the 20th Century, but I don't know if they used the same device.

Perhaps the caricatures look a little cartoonish and somewhat anachronistic to the modern eye. But it's interesting to note that some of the old cigarette cards catalogued in the Good Doctor's first (?) Everton book, Toffee Cards, are indeed caricatures with the same oddly exaggerated head size.

Indeed, glancing through the illustrations at Gwladys Street's Hall of Fame website, the intensified emphasis on ears, nose, teeth, complexion and other visual idiosyncrasies makes most of them look rather comical. I don't know if that was the intention.

Brian Denton
19 Posted 23/07/2023 at 10:15:55
Michael, yes I've seen lots of those 'huge heads on small bodies' cigarette cards (and also newspaper cartoon illustrations). They were obviously a stylistic feature of the time.

The very definition of a caricature is an illustration which takes an aspect of a character and exaggerates it, eg, Tony Blair's teeth or Gary Lineker's ears. Unfortunately, I don't think Andrei had any such features, other than perhaps his Slavonic high cheekbones.

It's a style which has gone a bit out of fashion now, presumably because we live in a more sensitive age. Apart from politicians (they are always fair game).

I apologise if anyone was offended, and certainly I have nothing but admiration for the work of the good Doctor, and the other custodians of our club's history.

John Daley
20 Posted 23/07/2023 at 10:19:24
Most caricatures – which are by definition intended to distort or exaggerate familiar features of the subject, quite often for satirical purposes – have always tended to focus on the face, hence the oversized, out-of-proportion head.

Napoleon Bonaparte, for example, is still generally thought of as being so small he would struggle to come out on top in an aerial battle with Neil Maupay (he wasn't), but this is largely due to the many, many caricatures that proliferated over the years and portrayed him with a tiny body, massive head and humongous hat.

David France
21 Posted 23/07/2023 at 22:21:00
Michael, Brian and John

By design, the PAK caricatures are meant to be old-fashioned and unique in order to create the occasional smile as well as stand the test of time. They allow all players from St Domingo to the Premier League to be presented in colour and in the same format. Believe me, the comprehensive portfolio is almost as amazing as the research involved. There are first-teamers, reserves, trialists, loanees, youth players, managers, coaches and directors from pre-League, League and war-time eras. Only three League players are missing plus some one-game wonders from the pre-league era. Also new director John Spellman appears to be elusive.

You were correct that they were introduced in the days of the Hall of Fame and over the past 25 years have exploded to include 2,205 images and counting. Other clubs have tackled similar initiatives to the Former-Players’ Foundation, Hall of Fame, Everton Collection, Heritage Society, War memorials and library of books (sadly Gwladys Street’s Blue Book is the least impressive of the 19), but I doubt if any will be as ambitious or daft enough to commit the resources towards creating a family album like The Toffeemen. The style has been fine-tuned by Peter King over the years - less exaggeration and more detail. Not all meet David’s standards. About 60 caricatures have been rejected by him and three by the subjects – the latter requiring hair transplants or body sculpturing.

A different display of the article is presented on the Heritage Society website. That said, I regret that the caricatures have deflected from the words of Gordon Watson. I find his insights fascinating. But fear not, I am aware that similar interview material exists for Brian Labone, Gordon West, Alex Young and others. Sandy Brown included himself in his top XI - at goalkeeper, left back, centre-half, centre-forward and ‘impact’ substitute.

Michael, while I have your attention, what happened to ToffeeWeb’s sense of humour – it could be relied on in good times and not so good times? Parts of today’s TW community come across as misanthropic and cynical as well as rude and occasionally vulgar when addressing each other. It may be a generational thing, but the lack of respect is shameful and takes away from meaningful debate of all things Everton.

Many of the cynics are ill-informed. For example, the criticism of David’s article in Echo prior to the start of the 2022/23 season – remember the exit of Carlo Ancelotti “left a trail of betrayal and bitterness” – was misguided. Didn’t they realize that it was the Italian via his representatives who contacted Real Madrid not vice versa about employment after the exit of Zinedine Zidane? Yes, we were all double-crossed by Don Carlo.

In contrast, I am in awe of the 3,000-plus Blues who travel to our away games. Their support is deafeningly passionate. These loyal fans are the heartbeat of our beloved club and we wouldn't be where we are without them. As my husband’s grandfather would say – Everton Football Club is nothing without Evertonians. No doubt to his embarrassment, I would like to salute a special Blue. Neither David nor I I have never met Danny O’Neill but consider him a brother. Earlier this year, my husband encouraged him via late-night emails to maintain his faith and express unwavering positivity in all of his TW contributions. As a result, Danny provided hope. Also, he kept me company during my infusion therapy at Cottonwood Hospital. Forget the pharmaceuticals, there was nothing like the wonderful words of Danny to cheer me up. After David read them to me, tears rolled, hugs were exchanged, and voices choked with emotion.

Of course, there are 3,000 other travelling Evertonians – many young and starved of the success that oldies like me have witnessed – who deserve equal salutations. I expand my heart-felt feelings to everyone one of them.

Although David’s trips to the old country are down to three or four fixtures per year - I must confess that after the Bournemouth escape, he 'bragged' about being kissed on one cheek by Mike Lyons and on the other by Derek Hatton at full-time - we host one travelling Evertonian per month in Sedona – mostly previously unknown. Within minutes, however, they are like long-lost brothers and sisters and confirm that Evertonians are special.

Finally, I must report the demise of my car registration plate (H8 LFC). Please no flowers. Afterall, it served its purpose and resulted in smiles and provided selfies to thousands of informed football/soccer fans before being withdrawn by the Arizona DOT due to complaints from you-know-who.

Elizabeth France

Danny O’Neill
22 Posted 24/07/2023 at 08:17:41
I am humbled by your words Elizabeth.

I'm no better or bigger than all of those Evertonians who follow this club religiously wherever they are. Yourself obviously included.

Thank you for the kind words and, as I said in the personal response, hopefully one day I get Kevin Sheedy to kiss me on the cheek when we win our next trophy.

I hope to meet David on his next trip to the homeland.

Spirit. Forever.

We do it because we care deeply.

Mike Owen
23 Posted 24/07/2023 at 10:47:21
There is so much we don't know about the Everton of previous decades, certainly pre-1960, and now never will, following the passing of so many people. Accordingly, the recollections and views of someone as pivotal in club history as Gordon Watson are "gold dust".

So, thank you very much, David, for recording and sharing all that. (I appreciate Rob Sawyer's work too)

Bearing in mind that Gordon was at one time facing eviction from his club house, the unfortunate departure of Joe Mercer, that TG Jones should fall out of love with Everton, the arguably premature departure of Bobby Collins, the failure to retain Bill "Dixie" Dean as an ambassador (I'd add Brian Labone too), the thought comes to me once again that Everton has a long history of boardroom mistakes.

Of course, that might be said of all clubs. But, in my experience, some people won't have a word said against their club. There is nothing wrong with constructive criticism. We can learn from mistakes.

Dave Abrahams
24 Posted 24/07/2023 at 11:22:45
Elizabeth throws a new light on Ancelotti's departure from Everton by stating the Italian got in touch with Real Madrid and thus got the manager's job there.

It begs the question why did we pay him compensation when he left and a bonus further down the line, was it in his contract that allowed this to happen?

Brendan McLaughlin
25 Posted 24/07/2023 at 11:56:32
Dave #24,

I thought it was pretty well known that it was Carlo who initiated the contact that led to his departure to Madrid.

First time, however, I've seen anyone claim that we paid Carlo compensation when he left. Where did you get that from?

The further payment was contract-related. It was speculated that it was somehow performance-related.

Eric Myles
26 Posted 24/07/2023 at 12:00:01
Michael #18, much like Spitting Image.
Dave Abrahams
27 Posted 24/07/2023 at 12:50:23
Brendan @25, yes, there were pieces and rumours that Ancelotti had been in touch with Madrid about going back there but now it seems it was true going by someone in the know.

Likewise, it has been stated that Everton paid Ancelotti and his staff compensation when they left. In various posts on here and elsewhere, a bit like the speculation that his bonus was somehow performance-related that you mention.

John Daley
28 Posted 24/07/2023 at 13:19:17
Dave @24,

I don't think it was the case that Everton had to pay Ancelotti compensation on his departure, rather that the compensation the club received from Madrid (reportedly £5m, when he was being paid £11m a year) was derisory, due to a convenient (or clever, depending on which side of the fence you're on) clause in his contract.

Any money owed to Ancelotti would have been ‘contingent payments' such as bonuses for targets met, commercial deals, intellectual property related to merchandising etc, which is what he ended up suing for.

Kevin O'Regan
29 Posted 24/07/2023 at 13:20:52
Dear David,

I have only read the first 2 paragraphs so far and my eyes are welling up. You should be immensely proud of the work you have done with the Everton family over the years and stories like this are really what puts so much into perspective

Such integrity is hard to find these days – anywhere, let alone in the mad world of 'football'. It is wonderfully humbling and makes this Toffee very proud. Thank you.

Dave Abrahams
30 Posted 24/07/2023 at 13:56:12
John (28), thanks for your reply.

Honestly, that's the first I've ever read that Everton received compensation for Ancelotti when he left for Madrid, although obviously we were the innocent party when he decided to move on.

The £5M we received was certainly derisory and the initial contract was maybe ‘an offer we couldn't refuse' or someone finished up swimming with the fishes… thank God it wasn't Chairman Bill!

Tony Abrahams
31 Posted 24/07/2023 at 14:18:17
Sometimes, I feel like strangling you because you have that much positivity with regards Everton, Danny, but I'm sure it's helped you out throughout your life in some very difficult circumstances and some horrible environments, so it was lovely to read those very nice words from Elizabeth, singing your praises, mate.

Show them to the Villa fan, Danny, and tell her, whilst Bill Kenwright remains at Everton, you won't have any problems getting a seat at Goodison Park!!

Michael Kenrick
32 Posted 24/07/2023 at 17:06:37
I must say I was puzzled by the reference to an article in the Echo from Dr France, for which our good and faithful ToffeeWeb correspondents are accused of maligning him unjustly.

I rooted around in our archives for articles posted ahead of the 2022-23 season but found nothing that would fit the bill.

Next, using the Echo's own search facility – powered by something ironically called MyNewsAssistant – in my quest for the wisdom of "David France", I got nothing, nada, diddly squat:

Your search - David France - did not match any articles.

"How can that be?" – I wondered…

Not to be thwarted, I returned to the far more productive realm of Google but instead with the conveniently quoted phrase “left a trail of betrayal and bitterness” – and, lo and behold, said article popped up. Third time lucky, as is the rule in the Good Doctor's adopted homeland.

Rafa Benitez can revive Everton after Ancelotti 'betrayal' and 'inebriated lottery winner spending'

Ah… so it wasn't before the 2022-23 season at all – but a year earlier!

I must admit the comments from ToffeeWebbers on that thread don't seem too abrasive to me but perhaps I've become hardened to the snide sarcasm and deeply cutting rhetoric that passes for comment from some of our valued contributors.

But it does seem strange in retrospect to read the Good Doctor telling us all: “I believe we have a decent squad and honourable manager and am confident that Rafa Benitez will find the right blend and balance over time."

Hmmm... not so good with the prophecy there, but the next but carries extraordinary irony:

"I'm optimistic that the team will start well and pick up the vast majority of the points in the first six fixtures."

Indeed: 13 points out of 18 was a tremendous return as Rafa got us off to a flier and up to the heady heights of 4th place. Hands up if you remember that glorious moment!

But it wasn't to last: just 2 points from the next 6 fixtures and the dreadful slide to near oblivion had begun. So, was the Doctor's efforts to "polish the turd" in the face massive fan opposition to Rafa's appointment as engineered as some suggested?

"The cynic in me says the Club got the biggest off-field name they could find (I mean, who don't like Dr David?) but still a non-official Club source to put out a puff piece."


Lyndon Lloyd
33 Posted 24/07/2023 at 22:17:10
"...perhaps I've become hardened to the snide sarcasm and deeply cutting rhetoric that passes for comment from some of our valued contributors"

I almost spat my tea all over the keyboard when I read that. Deliciously ironic and poetic in its lack of self-awareness! Dismaying, though, under an article that pays such wonderful homage to an Everton great.

Michael Kenrick
34 Posted 24/07/2023 at 22:35:49
Funny, I never thought for an instant that would resonate, Lyndon.
Tony Abrahams
39 Posted 25/07/2023 at 07:57:20
I didn’t quite grasp what you had fully written until I read it again Michael, and to be fair to you, at least you have come out in a very open way.

I think it was injuries that killed Benitez, even if it was obvious that 99.9% of Evertonians, didn’t want the man at their club.

I thought this was the move that was finally going to oust Bill Kenwright, but no such luck, he’s still here unfortunately. Very unfortunately imo, because his “survival” has always been based on splitting the fanbase, and “surviving in the premier league”, has now become objective number one, for a once truly historical football club.

Danny O’Neill
40 Posted 25/07/2023 at 08:45:45
Tony, you know me well enough by now mate.

I can't help it. I guess it's through experience of life and Everton!!! Can you hug me rather that strangle me?!!!!

I do however understand people's frustration and I have them myself (believe it or not).

Hopefully see you soon.

Tony Abrahams
42 Posted 25/07/2023 at 09:15:45
Because of your positivity, Danny, I'm gonna save the hugs for Wembley, mate, and I'm also aware of your frustration with the way the club is currently being run. I've finally reached the point of no return and have now become too sickened by the lies to carry on watching Everton whilst Kenwright remains.

My decision is going to cause me a lot of pain, but it's a decision that has been made and will lead to a few people who otherwise not be able to get a ticket, now having the chance to sit in my seat.

I think Andy Crooks & Brendan are having it for the Wolves game, but give us a shout when you're struggling Danny, and just get me a cup final ticket in return, once the jinx finally leaves us for good!!

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