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ASK any Evertonian who followed the club through the 1980s to name their hero, and the chances are you’ll get a misty-eyed, and rather lengthy, response.
There are plenty to choose from, after all.
But while Andy Gray and Graeme Sharp, Peter Reid and Kevin Sheedy, Kevin Ratcliffe and Neville Southall are, quite rightly, assured of their place in the pantheon of Goodison legends, there is one name from that era that is frequently overlooked.
Paul Bracewell was not the showiest of players, his goal-scoring record, for a central midfield player in an attack-minded team, was modest, and injury limited him to just two ‘peak’ seasons on Merseyside.
What a couple of seasons, though.
A classy, tough performer – think of the best bits of Scott Parker and Michael Carrick rolled into one – Heswall-born Bracewell was one of Howard Kendall’s most important signings, joining from Sunderland in May 1984.
Just 21 at the time, his £250,000 fee raised eyebrows.
They were soon lowered. Kendall had seen the teenage Bracewell at close quarters when in charge at Stoke City. He knew he was buying a cert.
His new signing made his debut at Wembley in a Charity Shield win over League champions Liverpool. It was to prove a lucky omen.
Dovetailing beautifully with Reid, who would win the PFA Player of the Year award, Bracewell added a new dimension, and a fresh impetus to Kendall’s burgeoning squad.
They romped to the title, their first for 15 years, 13 points clear of their Merseyside neighbours, and added the European Cup Winners’ Cup. Only Norman Whiteside’s FA Cup final winner for Manchester United denied them an unprecedented treble.
The following season should have brought more silverware. Everton had Gary Lineker on board, and looked well set to defend their title when they won 2-0 at Anfield in late February.
It wasn’t to be. Liverpool recovered from that setback, winning 11 of their 12 remaining league games to pinch the title by two points. They then compounded Everton’s misery by beating them 3-1 in the FA Cup final at Wembley.
Bracewell didn’t know it at the time, but his Goodison career had reached its peak. He had been hobbling through the final six months of the 85-86 season, having sustained an ankle injury in a challenge with Newcastle’s notorious Billy Whitehurst.
It was a problem that would ensure he played no part as Everton regained their league crown, improbably, in 1987. Bracewell would make just 35 further appearances, before returning to Sunderland in 1989. His last game for Everton, like his first, was against Liverpool at Wembley. This time he was replaced before the hour mark. His replacement, Stuart McCall, would score twice.
Bracewell would lead Sunderland to promotion from the old Second Division in his first season back on Wearside, and captained them to an FA Cup final in 1992 (losing, again, to Liverpool). He would then repeat the trick under Kevin Keegan at Newcastle, guiding them to the Premier League in 1993, and to third place in the top flight the following year.
Newcastle need a victory on Sunday to keep alive their Champions League chances; for Everton, victory would ensure they finish above Liverpool for only the third time since Bracewell was in his pomp in the mid-1980s.
“It should be a good game,” says Bracewell, now 49.
“I think a lot of people expected Newcastle to struggle this year, but they’ve been exceptional.
“A lot of players left, but they’ve coped brilliantly, and it’s incredible to think that they’re looking for the Champions League on Sunday.
“Everton have started slowly for the last few years, and it was the same this year. But they have been on a great run – coinciding with a great cup run – and have finished the season really strongly. They’ll want to finish on a high.”
Bracewell, who now helps run a chain of football academies in the north east, and aims to bring his project to Merseyside this year, believes Everton fans can be happy with their season, regardless of Sunday’s result. He is wholesome in his praise for Blues boss David Moyes.
“I think when you take into account the comings and goings, particularly at the start of the season, it’s been a fantastic season,” he says. “David has had ten years at Goodison, and rightly so. He has laid a lot of foundations, and stuck to a plan well.
“Newcastle, to me, seem to be heading down a similar route. They have had a lot of changes at the club over the last few years, but that has settled down. Alan Pardew has done a fantastic job, and added a real stability to the club, just like David Moyes has.”
Bracewell will be at Goodison this weekend.
He says: “It should be a good atmosphere, a good game with a lot at stake. There are few places like Goodison Park for a game of this size.”
BRACEWELL ON FELLAINI
“People forget how young he still is. It takes a while for players to adjust when they come from abroad, but he is settling into the side really well now. He has the size, the strength, he can score goals, he's a decent passer, and I think he has matured. He looks like he is really enjoying his football.”
THE NORTH EAST AND THE NORTH WEST
“They are two great places to play football, and to watch football. They are unique. I've experienced both, and they are hard to separate in terms of noise, passion and knowledge. Newcastle is jumping right now, just as Everton was when I was there in the 1980s. There is nothing like success to get fans going.”
“He has been a revelation since he's come back. I think it shows that when you leave Everton, you maybe don't appreciate how good a club it is. It is a real community club.
HE MAY be Everton captain and played for England 59 times but it was a close run thing as to which Old Trafford Phil Neville made his name.
Seen as a future Test cricketer by many of his junior coaches, Neville captained England Under-15s, played alongside Andrew Flintoff in the Lancashire Under-19 side, and at just 15 he became the youngest ever player to play for Lancashire’s 2nd XI.
Now Neville is returning to the Red Rose county as an ambassador for the club’s charity foundation which aims to support grassroots cricket in the North West.
As well as having a keen interest in cricket, Neville is also a firm supporter of a number of charities and is relishing the opportunity of being involved in cricket once again.
Speaking about his new Ambassadorial role, Neville said: “I’m really excited to be joining the LCCC Foundation as an Ambassador.
“I have always loved Cricket and I have a huge affinity towards the Club from my time playing here as a youngster.
“I’m looking forward to working with the Foundation to encourage more young kids to get involved in what is a great sport.”
Michelle Carney, LCCC Foundation director added: “I am genuinely delighted to welcome Phil as an Ambassador for the Foundation.
“There is a real fondness for Phil across the club, due to his connections here in his early sporting career.”
Phil Neville will join England fast bowler James Anderson and England goalkeeper Joe Hart as the LCCC Foundation’s ambassadors.
FOR the second day running there was no play at Hove yesterday in the LV= County Championship match between Sussex and Lancashire.
Howard Kendall: There have been so many close and tight decisions this season.
They cost clubs points and managers their jobs.
Offside decisions are of course some of the most scrutinised in football and Nikica Jelavic was wrongly denied a goal at Wolverhampton Wanderers last weekend.
But I will always remember what George Graham did when manager of Arsenal.
When his back four consisted of Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Nigel Winterburn, he worked them incredibly hard on defensive drills so that they were very hard to break down.
But what he also did, and what is important in the discussion of close offside calls, he coached them to never get into a position where decisions could potentially go against them.
Rarely were the Arsenal back four too tight or out of position.
I WAS asked this week which Everton players I would like to see in the England squad named next week.
But it is not a case of who I’d like to see, it is who deserves to be in there.
And, Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka deserve to be in the squad for Euro 2012.
Jagielka is a very consistent player and has returned from his injury well.
When your team concedes goals you always look at whose fault it was. Rarely can you say Jagielka has been culpable.