Exclusive Hibbo Interview
The man himself on the 10th anniversary of his Everton debut
While many aspects of Everton Football Club have altered dramatically in the past 10 years, its ethos will never change.
The manager, the faces and the ambition in the dressing room may all be different and the training ground now shiny and new.
But just like that ethos, the one player who has been there to see it all, hasn’t changed one bit.
He is the Blues’ longest-serving player, holds the record for European appearances, is the sole survivor of David Moyes’ first game in charge, is an FA Youth Cup winner, an FA Cup finalist, an unsung hero, the most ferocious slide-tackler in the North West, a former youth football goal-machine and, most importantly, an Evertonian.
No, Tony Hibbert hasn’t changed a bit.
Today is the 10th anniversary of his first team debut, a decade on from the first time the lad from Huyton trotted onto the pitch, head down, and produced the type of no thrills but wholehearted performance that has become his trademark.
Memorably, that first glimpse of Hibbo came in a 2-0 win at Upton Park, the pallid 20-year-old even winning a penalty after lifting the ball over Nigel Winterburn’s head only to be brutalised by a wild Stuart Pearce.
“He absolutely smashed me,” recalled Hibbert, feeling the top of his left thigh and grimacing. “I've still got the scar as well!
“The day was all over so quickly really,” he added during an extended evertontv interview which is available to view now.
“Me and Leon (Osman) had travelled with the first team a couple of times and it was mostly just to get experience. We got down there, the lads had a little training session and (Richard) Gough got injured. I didn't think anything of it and no-one said anything.
“But then on the day of the game Walter Smith pulled me in before the team meeting and asked me if I was okay, if I felt alright. I said ‘yeah’, not really having a clue what he was on about.
“That's when he said, 'I think I'm going to start you, so if you can get your mind on it’. That was it – it was that quick really. Playing the full 90 was unbelievable and a win and a clean sheet was a great start for me.”
That understated assessment of one of the biggest days of his life is the measure of the man. While success goes to the heads of so many, Hibbert took it all in his stride and that is probably one of the biggest factors behind his longevity.
Manager David Moyes knows just how vital he is to his Toffees mix, and has gone so far to state on record that ‘he will be here as long as I am’.
But to focus on Hibbert’s undoubted qualities as a human being is to undersell his ability as a footballer.
After all, this is a man who has played more than 250 times for a top Premier League club. A man to have played in both the FA Youth and FA Cup finals, to have racked up 40 games in a season where the Blues qualified for the Champions League and a player to have amassed 20 European appearances.
“It has all flown by,” continued the right-back, his every touch against Aston Villa on Saturday sure to be greeted with cries of SHOOT!
“It has gone so quickly that you don't realise it's been 10 years. It's just great for me to have been here for so long.
“The Club has changed an awful lot – the squad, the team, the league position and the facilities. I’ve seen a lot of changes and it is great the way things have improved.
“Looking round the changing room makes me feel a bit old. I'm one of the older guys now but if someone had told me back at the beginning I'd be here for 10 years, I'd have liked that.
“From day one, I've loved Everton – this is just the Club where I've always wanted to be. But to be here for 10 years is a big number for me and I'm really grateful for that.”
While he rates his debut as his standout career memory, the defender was a virtual ever-present as the Blues finished fourth in 2004/05 and Hibbert says he took great pride in helping restore the Club to more accustomed territory in the league table.
“It was a massive achievement,” he said. “Being up in the top five all season and finishing as we did was huge for myself, but also for the team. The majority of the lads had come in, some from the Championship, and for us to put the Club back where it should be was massive.”
Tim Cahill was one of those players to step up a division that season and the Aussie has famously said it was the likes of Hibbert who showed him what it meant to be an Evertonian.
“That’s nice to hear,” continued the full-back. “Tim knows all about it now and he loves the Club.
“But it is up to us local lads to let the new players, especially the foreign lads, know what it means to play here. You need to tell them as soon as possible to get it into them what Everton is about and how the city is.
“I've grown up with it really. It's in you and being here so long you know the ins and outs of everything and what it means to people at the Club. You want Everton to be the best and do the best so you're asking your people for their best.”
And nobody could ever dispute Hibbo has ever given anything but 100 per cent – whether it be in the near 20 years he has been associated with the Royal Blue shirt or the 10 years he has been playing in the first team.
“It's great to have been here this long,” he added. “I have never wanted to leave and I am just grateful to the Club for letting me stay all this time. It is my home.”