This week we take a closer look at former Goodison Park favourite Graham Stuart.
Ahead of each match, the focus will be on one specific player who made a name at Everton and the Blues' forthcoming opponents.
Stuart is the 'Club Connector' as we prepare for televised meeting with big-spending Chelsea this Saturday evening.
August 1993 – November 1997
June 1989 – August 1993
A BLUES HERO
Graham Stuart was a regular fixture in Everton’s midfield under three separate managers in the mid-1990s. Bought and sold by Howard Kendall, he saw out Mike Walker’s ill-fated tenure to eventually become part of Joe Royle’s revered FA Cup winning outfit.
‘Diamond’ was a key factor in the Club’s Wembley success in 1995. He scored in the 4-1 semi-final victory over Tottenham at Elland Road and was credited with an assist at the Twin Towers, when his shot rebounded off the crossbar and allowed Paul Rideout to head in the cup-winning goal.
“That semi-final gave us great confidence to go into the final and cause an upset,” Stuart recalled. “There is so much to lose in a semi-final. People never forget semi-finals. You’re within one step of Wembley and to lose would be a real kick in the teeth. If you lose in the final, at least you can say you had your big day out. But if you lose in a semi-final you might as well had got knocked out in the third round.
“At the time I was delighted that Paul [Rideout] scored at Wembley because I should really have put that one in myself! I wasn’t too bothered at the time - I’ve got a winner’s medal - but it would have been nice to have on the CV that I scored the winner in an FA Cup final.”
Stuart notched 14 goals for the Blues the following season and was considered an outside pick for Euro ’96, though the call from Terry Venables never came.
Fortunes changed at Goodison however, and after a period of struggle in 1996/97, Joe Royle lost his job in the March. Kendall returned for a third spell as boss and the Blues just about dragged themselves to safety.
Consequently, a rebuilding programme was required and Stuart left for Sheffield United in November 1997, with Carl Tiler and Mitch Ward moving in the opposite direction in a players-plus-cash deal.
There isn’t need for much discussion to determine the midfielder’s finest hour in an Everton shirt. His priceless brace against Wimbledon on 7 May 1994 ensured he will always receive the warmest of welcomes whenever a visitor to Goodison Park.
The Blues were staring down the barrel at relegation when they trailed the Dons 2-0 on the final day of the 1993/94 season. Champions seven years earlier, the Toffees’ top-flight stay looked almost certainly over.
Goodison Park had never been quieter following Dean Holdsworth’s early penalty and an own goal from Gary Ablett. But it was transformed into a cauldron of noise when Stuart inspired the greatest of all comebacks, capped with his match-winning strike nine minutes before the final whistle.
The midfielder’s penalty handed Mike Walker’s side a lifeline at the interval and there was further hope when Barry Horne slammed home a long-range screamer midway through the second period. Still, Everton needed a win to secure survival.
Step forward Stuart, who played a one-two on the edge of the box and somehow stabbed past Hans Segers in the 81st minute. Remarkably, a day that looked set for the bleakest of conclusions culminated in a Goodson Park pitch invasion as joyous Evertonians celebrated a truly extraordinary turnaround.
Speaking about his match-winning goal, Stuart remembered: “Anders [Limpar] played it across and played a one-two with Tony Cottee. I sort of half-tackled the bloke then I just heard the roar of the crowd. I don't know how it went in but I was made up it did.”
FAVOURITE EVERTON ANECDOTE
Stuart says his time at Goodison Park was littered with lots of humorous memories but one particular instance sticks at the forefront of his mind.
“Apart from some of the team bonding trips you go on, one of the funniest moments I can remember was the day after we won the FA Cup,” he said.
“We drove back from Wembley and stopped off at the Hilton Park service station. There was a half-drunk Everton squad ordering food from Burger King with the FA Cup trophy in their arms. It was hilarious to see the expression on all the people’s faces.”
FOR THE OTHER SIDE
Stuart had moved to Merseyside in 1993 for £850,000 having spent the first four years of his professional career with Chelsea.
Handed his debut as a teenager by Bobby Campbell, he became renowned for his industry in the centre of midfield and ability to chip in with important goals. Indeed, Chelsea fans will affectionately recall his superb solo strike against Sheffield Wednesday in the opening weeks of the inaugural Premier League season in August 1992 - one of the best of that campaign.
Glenn Hoddle took up the player-manager position at Stamford Bridge the following summer but Stuart did not feature in the new boss’ plans, paving the way for his transfer to Goodison.
Still, Stuart has pleasant memories of his time with this weekend's visitors, as he told evertontv three years ago.
“I was a kid there at 14 and I obviously left there at 22 to come up to Everton,” he said. “I had a good education there as a young player. It’s a fantastic football club but it was totally different to what it is now. They have gone from strength to strength and they're one of the top sides in Europe now."
Here's what you had to say about Graham Stuart on Facebook.
[FB] Diamond was a top player – and an even nicer person. – Glynn Davies [/FB]
[FB] I missed the Rideout goal in the1995 Cup final because I knocked my hat off when Stuart hit the bar and was bending down to pick it up!” – Kaz Rice [/FB]
[FB] I remember him playing for Charlton against us in the cup in the early 2000s and the place went mental when his name was announced. He went off after an hour or so and applauded the whole place except his own team’s fans!” – Michael McGugan [/FB]
[FB] The Gwladys Street End was awesome on the day of the Wimbledon game. There were grown men crying.” – Gareth Hibbs [/FB]
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Stuart spent a year-and-a-half at Bramall Lane before moving back into the Premier League with Charlton Athletic. The Addicks enjoyed a prolonged stay in the top flight after the turn of the Millennium with the Tooting-born man a trusted pick under Alan Curbishley.
After five years back in London, Stuart joined Norwich City in the twilight of his career in 2005 but injury forced his retirement after just eight matches for the Canaries at the age of 34.
Since his playing days ended, Stuart has worked in the media, occasionally appearing as a pundit on Sky Sports. He also works for a financial management group based in Liverpool, who look after the interests of numerous sporting personalities.
THOUGHTS ON SATURDAY’S GAME
Stuart has earmarked Saturday’s televised contest as the ‘game of the day’ and admits he is having difficulties picking a winner.
He said: “It’s an intriguing contest and it’s clearly going to be a tough game for both sides. Chelsea were the last team to beat Everton at Goodison Park in December last year, which shows how strong the Blues are at home.
“Now that Jose Mourinho is back, Chelsea will be so well organised and they will look to hit Everton on the counter-attack at every opportunity. It’s such a tough game to call.
“Romelu Lukaku is a massive signing for Everton. I know a lot of Chelsea fans were disappointed that he was allowed to go out on loan again. It will be a strange situation when he is paraded on the pitch before kick-off but I know the Evertonians will be delighted they have managed to acquire his services.”