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In the week where Tony Hibbert will celebrate ten years at Everton Football Club, I thought it appropriate to recall some of my favourite Hibbo memories from over the years.
On Thursday 29 March 2001 I was at the Adelphi Hotel for The Gwladys Street Hall of Fame dinner. That same night, Everton's reserve team defeated Manchester United 3-2 and playing was Tony Hibbert. 48 hours later, I was at Upton Park to see him make his first team debut.
I'd been aware of Hibbo as he was a part of the FA Youth Cup winning side of 1998, but I didn't know a great deal about him. That day against West Ham, he produced a performance that was typical of his early displays and he was pivotal in getting three vital points. His superb first half run was brought to an abrupt end by a crude Stuart Pearce challenge and the resulting penalty resulted in us taking the lead. It wasn't until the following season that he began to make the step up to a first team squad regular, but since David Moyes has taken over, he has been a regular and key member of the side.
Personally, I am a huge fan of Hibbert. For me, he is one of a dying breed of professional footballers in the modern game. He is the sort of player that is almost never given any recognition, but if you asked his team mates what they thought, then they would be full of praise for the job he does.
Defensively, he is one of the best out and out defenders I have seen at Everton. His timing when tackling is exceptional. If an opposition player is ever going through on goal, there is only ever one player I want to be there to make a last ditch tackle and it is Hibbert. Countless times down the years he has pulled a last ditch tackle out of nowhere to save us and you very rarely see a winger get the better of him.
I've been fortunate enough to meet Hibbo a couple of times and he comes across as a very grounded individual. You never hear a word from him in the press and if he could get away with not being in the limelight at all, then he would probably take it. When I met him in the hotel in Wolfsburg last year, he happily chatted and laughed as we asked if we should have money on him for first goal and I have never come across anyone who has met him that has a bad word to say.
He comes across as a superb professional, someone who is more concerned with the team than themselves. Before coming back into the side recently, he had not started for a couple of months. No complaints about this in public from him, just head down in training and being professional, yet when he came back into the side, it was like he had never been away. David Moyes said one of the reasons that he put him back in the team was because he felt he needed the players he feels he can rely on when the chips are down and this sums up what Tony Hibbert is to Everton Football Club. The fact that the manager recently said upon him signing a new contract that "as long as I am here then Hibbo will be too" says an awful lot about the type of character Tony Hibbert is!
On a personal note, the thing that sums Tony Hibbert up for me are two of his performances from last season. I was lucky enough to be in both Minsk and Athens for the BATE and AEK games in the Europa League. Due to injuries, Hibbo had to play both at centre half, not ideal for someone of his height and especially when he had less than 24 hours to prepare for the BATE one! Alongside Sylvain Distin that night in Minsk, he was exceptional and it proved how good his reading of the game actually is. Two months later in Athens it was slightly different as after Distin went off injured, he was partnered by Shane Duffy, who was making his first team debut. His performance for the last hour of that game alongside Duffy was sensational. You could see him talking the youngster through the game from the stands and his willingness to put his body on the line for the cause summed him up!
I'm sure when most people look at Tony Hibbert they think 'Hibbert scores we riot' - I know I do most of the time, but there is much more to him than that. He has been a superb player for Everton, whether it be in his performances on the pitch, his professionalism off it or just the way he is thought of by those in and around the Club itself. There are not many players now that will spend ten years in the first team of a Premier League club and even fewer will spend their entire career at one club, which it would appear Hibbert will most likely do. No matter what you think of him as a player, he should have your respect for that in this modern day era.
Oh and one more thing Tony, IF you do score and i'm not there to see it, I will probably cry, so no pressure.....
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