Everton Great Labone Remembered On 80th Birthday

Remembering Everton Giant Brian Labone on what have been his 80th birthday...

Persuading Brian Labone to shelve the idea of studying at university in favour of playing football for Everton unquestionably counts as one of the Club’s shrewdest pieces of business.

An elegant and formidable centre-half Labone, who would have turned 80 today, won two league titles with Everton.

He captained Harry Catterick’s team to the 1966 FA Cup and his 534 Everton appearances is a record for an outfield player.

Labone joined Everton aged 17 in July 1957 and after making his debut in a match at Birmingham City seven months later played four times before the season was finished.

He appeared in the same number of games the following season before establishing himself in Johnny Carey’s side in 1959/60.

Labone’s poise and immaculate tackling, in an era renowned for physicality teetering towards all out war, were reflected in him being booked only twice in his 13-year career.

A dyed-in-the-wool Evertonian, Labone played all-bar-two matches of the Blues' 1962/63 championship-wining campaign.

Appointed captain in 1964, Labone lifted the FA Cup following Everton’s come-from-behind 3-2 win over Sheffield Wednesday two years later.

He would conceivably have had another Wembley date in summer 1966 only for Labone to excuse himself from England’s World Cup squad on account of his wedding already being in the diary.

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By the time he went to the 1970 tournament in Mexico – where Labone won the last of his 26 caps in England’s quarter-final defeat by West Germany – the defender had made a U-turn on retirement plans and led Everton to their second title in seven years.

Catterick, who replaced Carey as Everton boss in April 1961, started the charm offensive almost immediately after Labone’s bolt-from-the-blue announcement he would quit playing to work for his father’s central heating company.

‘It is typical of Brian’s top-class character that he has told me 18 months before the end of his contract he is going to leave the game,’ said Catterick following Labone’s shock revelation in September 1967.

“Many a player would not have told his club until the last possible minute. Brian is one of the greatest club men I have ever known ... and we shall be sorry to see him go.”

Labone didn’t go, of course, eventually signing a fresh two-year deal in January 1969 following a consistently fabulous run of form.

He was a mainstay of the spellbinding 1969/70 Everton team which won the Club’s seventh English title, finishing with a nine-point advantage over nearest challengers Leeds United at a time of the two-point win.

Labone remained an ardent Evertonian after an Achilles problem forced his retirement in 1971.

He would later work as an insurance salesman but renewed his official ties with the Club through a matchday role entertaining guests in Goodison’s corporate hospitality suites.

Labone's final act on this planet was to present awards at an Everton supporters’ player-of-the-year event, hosted at The Winslow Hotel, a hop across the road from the stadium's Main Stand.

Catterick bestowed on Labone his enduring last of the Corinthians title.

It was referenced by Chairman Bill Kenwright in a heartfelt tribute following Labone’s death aged 66 in April 2006.

“‘Brian was quite rightly known as the last of the Corinthians,” said Everton’s Chairman.

“Brian Labone was not only a truly great footballer and a marvellous leader of men, he was – both on the football pitch and away from it – a true gentleman, something which is underscored by the fact he was only ever booked twice in a lengthy career.

“I will always remember his nobility. When I arrived at Goodison Park for a game, he was always the first to greet me – when I left… he was always there to say, ‘Goodnight, safe home’.

“He did that not because I am the Chairman of the Club he always loved but because he was my friend; he was also my idol.

"Everything that is good and wonderful about Everton Football Club can be summed up in two words: Brian Labone.”