It is Saturday, November 20, 2004. I am a six-year-old, already dyed-in-the-wool Evertonian, perched at the back of the Lower Bullens watching David Moyes’ plucky workhorses host Fulham. My sight is impaired by stone pillar and rocking roof, my ears corrupted by my neighbour labelling former Blue Tomasz Radzinski a ‘f***ing dirty rat’ at the sight of his every touch.
Yet none of that matters, because suddenly I have a new hero. His name is Duncan Ferguson, a battle-worn, burly old Scotsman who has just nodded home the first winning goal I saw at Goodison Park. Pandemonium ensues as the Gwladys Street net ripples. From then on, I am truly hooked.
Generations of Evertonians will share such spiritual experiences with other gods, be it the ‘force of nature’ that was Andy Gray, the ‘battering ram’ named Joe Royle, or the talismanic Dixie Dean, to name only three. But for those of us who crave that little bit more than just their on-pitch prowess, Jim Keoghan’s new book ‘Everton Number Nine: Nine Players, One Iconic Shirt’ offers a fascinating insight into the men behind the goals.
From Dean’s roaring ‘20s through to Ferguson’s salvaging of the austerity-ravaged ‘90s, ‘Everton Number Nine’ chronicles nine of the club’s best and most iconic players to have donned the hallowed number on the back of their royal blue shirts. It’s a short read at just 82 pages, but rather than bogging you down with goal-by-goal accounts of each striker, or the minutiae of their entire Everton careers, each chapter is filled with golden nuggets that even the most learned Evertonians can absorb new material from.
For instance, you might already know the story of how Bob Latchford’s goal glut one season bagged him £10,000. Or how Alex Young propelled Everton to their first post-war title in 1963. Or how Tommy Lawton dethroned a goalscoring behemoth in Dean. What you might not be aware of, without revealing too many spoilers, is that one of them then joined the Army as a training instructor, another ran a pub and an upholstery firm after retirement, and the third went on to manage a children’s clothes company as one of several wide-ranging business ventures.
Likewise, if you’ve ever wondered why William Ralph Dean was christened ‘Dixie’ by his adoring masses, why Alex Young was nicknamed ‘The Golden Vision’ and Dave Hickson the ‘Cannonball Kid’, or why Graeme Sharp deliberately scored an own goal as a devilish upstart at Boys Brigade in Scotland, you’ll find the answers to all of this and more in here.
It’s not just Keoghan who celebrates these greats of yesteryear, either. Each chapter is packed with testaments from elsewhere, too, be that from the players themselves, supporters who had the luxury of watching the genius of Young, Royle and co. first-hand, journalists who got to know these footballers as real people, or other celebrated Everton authors like Simon Hart and Brian Viner. Perhaps most enjoyably, though, are the recounting of letters pages in the Liverpool Echo, filled with Evertonians in disbelief at the signings of a number of these nine greats. To say they haven’t aged well would be putting it mildly.
At times, reading ‘Everton Number Nine’ may leave you feeling a tinge of remorse. There are, at least, several nods to the current incumbent, the divisive if increasingly prolific Dominic Calvert-Lewin. But that Ferguson - who retired in 2006 - is the ninth and final entry really highlights just how deprived of a number-nined hero for this generation Everton have been. Needless to say, this a fair distance away from the world of Arouna Konés and Sandros.
And while it’s heart-warming to see how each of these nine, whether born-and-bred Scousers like Royle or adopted Evertonians like Latchford and Gray, proudly see Everton as their own, it may leave you yearning for these simpler times, a time before the club became intoxicated with transition, upheaval and players merely passing through. That, and wishing that these archetypal number nines could have enjoyed the more sustained periods of tangible success they each deserved.
But ultimately, this is a celebration of nine of the most important players in Everton’s history, coloured by the lesser-known stories that travel with each of them.
From the modesty of Sharp to the majesty of Dean, from Hickson carrying the Blues back to the top-flight to Ferguson banishing the ghosts of Mike Walkers past and everything in-between, this is an essential read for any Evertonian, whether you were raised on a diet of Holy Trinities, Dogs of War or miserly Moyes outfits.
Jim’s other books include Everton Greatest Games: The Toffees’ Fifty Finest Matches and Highs, Lows and Bakayokos: Everton in the 1990s.
You can also listen to our interview with Jim on School of Science Radio below (or click here):