Club Connector: Adrian Heath
We take a look at the path of former Everton and Stoke man.
This week's club connector is a former Goodison favourite who also graced the field for Saturday's opponents, Stoke City...
Adrian Heath signed his first professional contract at Stoke City when he was 17 years old. Having grown up in Staffordshire, the opportunity to play for the Potters was the realisation of a boyhood ambition.
An attack-minded midfielder with an eye for goal, Heath made two appearances in their promotion winning season of 1979/80 before establishing himself a regular as Stoke developed into a top-flight force.
‘Inchy’ soon became one of the most coveted young talents in the country and it came as no surprise when Everton parted with £750,000 to take him to Merseyside in January 1982.
Recently, Heath told evertonfc.com: “Stoke was my hometown team. I grew up there and was a season ticket holder from the age of four. Me, my dad and grandfather used to go to all of the games. Luckily I was the kid that fulfilled the dream of playing for the team I supported as a boy.
“I managed to get into the Stoke team, kept my place and by the time I had got to England Under-21s, one or two clubs became interested in me. I turned down Coventry and Aston Villa in the hope that Everton would come because Howard Kendall had got the manager’s job.
“The Villa move was difficult to reject because they are a big club and it’s just down the road but I set my heart on moving to Goodison.
“When I was an apprentice at Stoke and I had to look after Howard’s boots. He used to wax lyrical about his time playing for Everton so it didn’t surprise me that when he took the job here I was one of his early signings.”
In his first full season at Goodison Park, Heath finished as the Club’s top scorer with 18 goals in all competitions. He continued to provide a source of consistency in the final third, netting double figures in every campaign up until 1987/88.
His goal rate – at an average of better than one every three-and-a-half games – contributed vastly as the Blues went trophy-crazy in the mid-eighties.
“Signing for Everton was the best thing I ever did but Howard didn’t really have to sell it to me because I knew what I was coming to,” recalled Heath.
“He told me so much; about what a magnificent club it was and the fans. Bellefield, at that time, was like a state-of-the-art training ground – other clubs didn’t have what we did.
“The first league title was special and winning the FA Cup was something else. More importantly, I played with some really good people. My teammates – Reidy, Sheeds, Sharpy, Nev, Rats, Brace and the others – we all stayed pretty close throughout the years. I like to call them my friends.
“I still say to this day that I feel proud and humbled to play in the most successful period in the Club’s history. I will take that to my grave with me.”
ON THE MOVE – AND A RETURN TO STOKE
Heath left Everton in 1988, signing for Barcelona-based outfit Espanyol. He only spent a single season in Spain before returning to England with an even shorter spell at Aston Villa. In 1990 he was off to Manchester City where he was reunited again with mentor Kendall.
Kendall’s tenure at Maine Road lasted less than a year but Heath enjoyed more success, forging an effective partnership with Niall Quinn in the Citizens forward line.
Towards the end of the 1991/92 campaign, Heath lost his place to Mike Sheron which prompted a return to Stoke. His spell back at Victoria Ground lasted just 10 matches - but it did reap silverware, as Heath remembers fondly.
“The game had changed incredibly but when I went back Stoke were in the old Third Division and Lou Macari was the boss,” said the 52-year-old. “Lou was a different type of manager than I had been used to before. He put a lot of emphasis on the physical side of the game.
“But I enjoyed my little time back and I managed to play for the club at Wembley in the Autoglass Trophy, which we won with a 1-0 victory over Stockport County. It was great for my family to see me play at Wembley for Stoke after I had done it for Everton.”
STEP INTO COACHING
Pastures new called again for Heath ahead of the 1992/93 season, Turf Moor being the exact destination next up on the forward's travels.
Four seasons with Burnley would see plenty of goals as the Clarets experienced promotion to and relegation from Division One in the Premier League era.
Games would be hard to come by for Heath as he neared the end of his playing career and a brief spell at Sheffield United was followed by a Burnley return in a player-manager role.
It was there that he developed the coaching bug and, after becoming assistant manager to Kendall at Everton in 1997, he enjoyed a short period in charge of Sheffield United in 1999.
He was reunited with another familiar face in later posts - acting as assistant to former teammate Peter Reid at Sunderland, Leeds United and Coventry City. Heath also served as caretaker boss on two ocassions for the latter.
Heath moved across the Atlantic to the United States in 2008, taking up a coaching position with Austin Aztex. Two years later, the Club relocated to Florida where they evolved into Orlando City, playing in the USL Pro Division - America’s third tier.
Orlando have recently been approved for an MLS franchise and will take their place at the top table in US soccer in 2015. Exciting times certainly lie ahead for Heath.
“It’s coming up to my sixth year and in that time I have seen an unbelievable upturn in the growth of the game,” Heath said.
“We have just had a brand new 21,000 all-seater stadium approved and we are moving into the MLS in 2015.
“We’ve got one more season to go, but the sport is really taking off in the US. The game is getting bigger and better, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Tickets for Saturday's game against the Potters are still on sale and available to buy online here.
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