Steven Naismith Exclusive: 'Everton Was The Best Fit For Me, In Every Respect'

Steven Naismith harboured doubts over his capacity to succeed at Everton following the Scot's free transfer from Rangers in summer 2012.

Talking exclusively to evertonfc.com for a long-read feature, Naismith reveals how he banished those concerns to become a Goodison Park favourite.

The 33-year-old, currently with Heart of Midlothian, reveals how his dream move to Rangers nearly went belly-up and the episode which left him fearing he wouldn’t fulfil his potential at Ibrox.

Naismith explains how Roberto Martinez revitalised his career and details the upbringing which produced one of football’s most rounded and selfless personalities.


The date when Steven Naismith’s Everton career began picking up steam is a matter of public record.

David Moyes, the man who brought Naismith to Goodison Park in July 2012, was confirmed as Manchester United’s new manager on 9 May 2013.

Naismith had no issue with Moyes, quite the opposite, and this is not one of those stories of a footballer bemoaning his lot under a former boss.

“I loved him as a manager, his attention to detail and work ethic,” confirms Naismith.

“But, in all honesty, probably the best thing that happened for me at Everton, was Moyesy leaving.”

Naismith’s opinion on what allowed him to flourish with Everton is born of the player’s innate sense of self-awareness.

It is a trait which has followed the Scot since he “felt average” starting out in Kilmarnock’s youth sides.

Naismith was Scottish football’s latest big thing when he slumped in his hotel after the first day of a trial at Arsenal and concluded, ‘They could offer me any contract here and I wouldn’t sign it’.


Returning from a serious knee problem at the back end of his second season with Rangers, Naismith rated his performances as “rubbish” and harboured doubts over the direction of his career.

But this is an individual who took charge of the dyslexia which hampered him in the classroom and employed it in his favour on the football pitch.

Naismith is adept at bending events to his will and has a hinterland stretching deep beyond the confines of his day job.

The son of a social worker who grew up seeing “how tough other kids had it”, Naismith developed an acute social conscience.

Only six weeks ago he was headline news after volunteering to slash his Heart of Midlothian wages in half when the coronavirus pandemic stopped football in its tracks.
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Using Naismith’s instrument of measurement, he signed for Everton at the midpoint of his recovery from a second anterior cruciate ligament [ACL] injury.

He hurt his right knee in October 2011 on a day when Rangers beat Aberdeen to move nine points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership and 12 in front of Celtic.

By the time Naismith left Glasgow nine months later he’d seen Rangers fritter away their advantage and then some, trailing in a distant second to Celtic.

What “drained” Naismith in that period, though, was watching Rangers go to the wall. The club he grew up supporting and joined with one minute to spare on transfer deadline day following an interminable summer of brinkmanship five years earlier.


It is a matter of regret for Naismith – he doesn’t say as much but it’s there in his tone – that he’s not convinced his relationship with Rangers supporters has healed after he left for Everton on a free transfer.

We will come to the finer points of that move but when the turmoil at Rangers effectively left Naismith’s services up for grabs he had a queue of suitors.

“With Rangers’ results and performances dropping after I was injured my stock massively rose,” says Naismith.

“Part of that was a coincidence but it went in my favour regardless.”

If he’d chosen his next employers – from a bunch including West Ham United, West Bromwich Albion and FC Cologne – on managerial patter alone, Naismith would have gone to Wigan Athletic.

Roberto Martinez, who had formerly tried to get the player to Swansea City from Kilmarnock, “blew me away with his conversation and knowledge”.

Martinez, though, was swimming against the tide.

Naismith was due for his Everton medical the day after the pair spoke and his mind was made up.

He’d done his due diligence, sounding out former Rangers colleagues David Weir and Nikica Jelavic – respectively coaching and playing at Goodison in 2012 – studied Moyes’s diligent personality and capacity to improve players and assessed the size of the Club and its facilities.


“Everton didn’t offer me the most money but the Club was the best fit in every respect,” says Naismith.

That blasted knee was nagging him nevertheless.

Medical opinion pegs recovery from an ACL problem at nine months give or take.

Double that, reckons Naismith, to reach the stage where you’re fully operational in top-level football.

His view formed after being hurt deep into his first campaign at Rangers in April 2008. The forward ruptured the ACL in his left knee early in a Scottish Cup semi-final tie with St Johnstone.

Naismith got back for the final two months of the following season and was alarmed at what unfolded.

“In the games I was rubbish, I had no confidence and felt I didn’t want the ball,” says Naismith.

“If I had a chance, I’d miss the target.

“I’d sit at night and think, [exasperated voice] ‘I am doing nothing different’.

“On top of that, at a club like Rangers, the fans expect you to win every game.

“If you take a bad touch or miss a chance, they’re on you.


“And there’s three or four players for every position, if I’m not doing it, someone will take my place.

“All that was building around me.

“I was really struggling.

“I never told anybody, just took it all on myself.

“I preferred for nobody to know and just dealt with it.

“I got to that summer and thought, [exasperated again] ‘Where am I going with my career, here?’

“I reverted back to how I was as a kid… thought, ‘I am going to be fitter than everyone else when I come back’.

“I outran everyone in pre-season.

“I stood out to the manager, scored goals in the friendlies, then started that season how I was playing before the injury.”

Naismith’s concern over beginning his Everton career around the same time post-injury he says he stunk the place out at Rangers added to worries over whether he could hack the football down south.

“The standard had jumped again,” says Naismith.

“I was in a much better squad of players, much more talented

“And I had to adapt to that.

“Which I probably struggled to do in my first season, if I am honest.”


Naismith convinced himself his “natural enthusiasm” and the “excitement of being at a new club” would counteract his restricted preparation for starting with Everton.

Sure enough, he scored a hat-trick in Tony Hibbert’s testimonial match shortly before the season was under way.

“Everybody was thinking, ‘Look what we’ve signed’,” begins Naismith, “but after that buzz, going back to everyday training, things inevitably got harder.

“It wasn’t just coming back from an injury, it was some of the guys in the squad and their quality.

“I was at that point where I was thinking, ‘Am I good enough for this level?’

“And I really felt that at the end of my opening season.”

Naismith’s first goal for the Club was an equaliser in a Goodison Merseyside derby, valuable currency if you want to buy the affections of Evertonians.

He scored only four times in his first campaign, though, after becoming accustomed to dealing in double figures.

“The derby one gains you a bit of respect and some time from the fans,” says Naismith.

“But after a while, if you are not performing, it is inevitably going to turn and the fans will be on you.”

This is where we reach the counterintuitive detail of Naismith being liberated by the exit of a manager about whom he can’t speak highly enough.

Naismith scored the final goal of Moyes’s reign, at Chelsea, but, he insists, “Over most of that first year I gave him an impression that wasn’t the true me.

“I think I would have turned it round – but I would have had to work really hard the next season to change that.

“When Roberto Martinez came it was a clean slate for everybody.”


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Naismith knew he had a fan in Martinez after the manager’s two aborted attempts to recruit him.

The Spaniard’s freewheeling methods nevertheless represented a departure for the player, whose previous club bosses were all fellow Scots and wedded to concepts far removed those employed by Martinez.

Jim Jefferies at Kilmarnock taught Naismith “the fundamentals and what’s at stake in man’s football”.

“He was one of the last old-fashioned managers and with his assistant Billy Brown it was a double act,” says Naismith.

“They were guys you wanted to impress.

“I rarely had the hairdryer treatment – but when I did, I took notice.”

Naismith embraces all styles and today bows to no one in his admiration for cunning Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone.

After Jefferies came Walter Smith, Ally McCoist and Moyes.

But he asserts: “My most enjoyable years were under Martinez.

“It was like going back to school and I loved it.

“Some of the stuff, I was thinking, ‘Wow, I didn’t see how you could do that’.

“I learned the most from him in terms of styles and ways of playing the game.

“How it is a chess game in terms of risk and reward.


“Leaving your forwards up and telling them to not defend.

“Some of the movements of players out of positions to turn them into different positions.

“Manipulating the other team when you have the ball.

“It was totally different from anything I’d done.”

Naismith admits going easy on defensive duties ran contrary to his instincts, this a player who eventually separated himself from his young Kilmarnock contemporaries by grafting the hardest.

Further back, every spare hour around junior school days was spent “kicking a ball off a wall or up the local football park with my friends”.

A central-midfielder playing seven-a-side football before reaching secondary school, he would “turn up all over the place – tackling, attacking and scoring goals”, before converting to striker on the full-size pitches.

“Even in Kilmarnock’s youth teams, I always felt I was fitter than everyone else… that better players thought they didn’t need to do the rubbish stuff in the game,” he says.

“I’d always do the rubbish stuff.”

What did come in useful under Martinez was Naismith’s football brain, an attribute first noted when he was a young pro.

“If a manager told me something, I’d pick it up straight away,” says Naismith.

“When I trained with the seniors, the coaches would explain something and I’d just do it.

“The other players would think, ‘He knows what he’s doing’.”

All told, Naismith reckons Martinez’s expressive football suited him down to the ground.

He cites three matches which were significant in gaining the Catalan’s trust.

Naismith struck twice in an FA Cup fourth round game at Stevenage in January 2014 and seven days later came off the bench to score and prompt a turnaround victory over Aston Villa at Goodison.

When Naismith was introduced at half-time away against Fulham later in the season with the score 0-0 he contributed one goal and created another to inspire a 3-1 win.


The following week, Naismith started and was one of the chief architects as Everton went to town on Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal.

Martinez concocted a plan which saw Naismith operating at the tip of Everton’s attack and recognised centre-forward Romelu Lukaku on the wing.

Lukaku cut infield from his new position to slam in the second of Everton’s three goals.

Naismith scored the first, converting the rebound after goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny parried a shot from Lukaku.

Naismith credits his dyslexia for being in the perfect spot to pounce.

“Peripheral vision seems to be much sharper in people who have dyslexia,” he starts, “and that is a big attribute of mine on the pitch.

“I can see things happening and seem to be in the right place.

“I’ve watched that goal against Arsenal many times and it is a prime example of me having a decision to make in a split second.

“I can either stay to the left with the defender or run behind him and end up to his right.

“Something in my head made me see the way Rom was shooting and where the ball was likely to go if the goalie saved it.

“I definitely think there is something of my dyslexia in that.”

Naismith is a long-standing ambassador for Dyslexia Scotland.

The condition causes sufferers to struggle with reading, an issue Naismith has fought to overcome.

At school he would internally compute when it would be his turn to read aloud and jump ahead to get the passage down pat.

“As much as I suffered with dyslexia at school, I was good at football, which gains you a lot of street cred,” says Naismith.

“But I’d get support in exams, more time, your mates are finishing and you’re still there.


“It could be embarrassing.

“But I got involved with Dyslexia Scotland and learned much more about it.

“Don’t get me wrong, it is definitely harder work to read a book than for most.

“Getting the right colour of text and background helps, so do overlays.

“A couple of journalists gave me books, story books and fiction.

“I don’t know what made me want to read a book but I did it and my imagination ran wild with it.

“I got right immersed in it.

“I’d come home and say, ‘I’m going to read that book rather than watching TV’.

“Sometimes I would need to go back and read a page again.

“But I got a lot of enjoyment from it and that’s what fuelled the desire to keep doing it.

“I have just finished a book by Harlan Coben, Gone for Good.

“It was one of the first books I read and was amazing. I thought, ‘I am going to read that again’.”

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Steven Naismith never envisaged being paid for indulging his hobby.

When Rangers cut him loose as a schoolboy, then, he was pretty unperturbed, save for the dent to his pride.

“The prestige of being at Rangers and everybody knowing it – losing that was hard,” says Naismith.

No matter. He’d been training with the Ibrox team after being scouted aged 10 hammering in goals left, right and centre for Stewarton Annick – where he started training with the Under-8s as six-year-old and two years later was “the best player in the team”.

Naismith was the only boy from Ayrshire traipsing to Glasgow, knew nobody and would be asked to fill alien positions including left-back during ‘bounce games’.

He didn’t enjoy it and admits to a sense of relief when Rangers discovered he was also training with Kilmarnock and advised him to stick with his hometown team – who had been leaning on Naismith’s dad David wanting his boy to sign for the local club.

Going from 60-goal-a-season striker with your mates in a “right good” boys team to finding the going much harder in more talented company could have been a deflating experience.

But insists Naismith: “My enthusiasm never wavered, I just loved it being a bit more professional than the boys club.”


Naismith committed exclusively to Kilmarnock when he was 13 and the timing of the club’s offer to sign full-time on the eve of his first school exam two years later was, in his view, perfect.

Anything but, in his parents’ eyes, he laughs.

“I maybe did it [convinced Kilmarnock to sign him] not by being the best player but through working really hard and having a good attitude – then perhaps showing glimpses of quality and scoring some goals,” says Naismith.

“I felt much more comfortable at Kilmarnock than Rangers, I enjoyed it more, so I played better and trained better.

“It was the best decision to go there – even if it was made for me.

“The night before my first exam the academy director phoned and said I was being offered a two-year contract.

“At that point I realised I would be doing this as a job, which felt surreal.

“It wasn’t a lot of money at all but when my friends were still at school and never had a job, I felt I’d won the lottery.”

Liberated from any pressure Naismith did well in the exam hall, passing everything and blitzing PE. “I could enjoy the exams because I didn’t really care, to be honest,” he says.

Naismith’s progress at Kilmarnock charted a steep upwards trajectory.

“I wanted to get the most out of everything in football,” he says, explaining why he would continually pepper teammates for advice.

“I’d ask about anything and everything.

“I don’t know where it comes from, because if I’m in large groups or meeting new people I’m quite reserved.

“But we trained in Glasgow and I used to travel with a few players from the same area.

“Whether it would be about buying my first car, or what we should do in the build up to a game, I’d ask the boys in the car.


“In training, if we were doing a bit of shooting and one of the older strikers took a touch when I’d normally shoot first-time, I might ask, ’Why would you do that?’

“I just asked and asked and asked.

“I’d take it in and remember it.”

In addition to asking questions, Naismith kept his eyes and ears open and would draw motivation from what he saw and heard.

“When I was in the Under-18s,” starts Naismith, “a boy three years older than me – a wee left winger called Stevie Murray – got in the first team and played a few games.

“All the chat in the changing room was, ‘He’s signed a new contract, he’s on £500 a week’.

“I got obsessed with this, I was like, ‘I want that, I want 500 quid a week’.

“Before long that was me.

“At the time [Scotland international], Kris Boyd was the main striker.

“I used to clean his boots – and look and think, ‘Imagine coming in and knowing no matter how you train or act, you’re playing on Saturday’.

“That was the next thing that got me obsessed.

“I was like, ‘I want to be that guy’.

“I started to be that guy when I was winning awards and stuff.

“I’d go to training and know I’d be playing at the weekend.

“I never felt it at the time – but looking back the manager would never have dropped me.

“When I started doing well, the next thing wasn’t so much moving [to a bigger club], it was playing for Scotland.”

Naismith’s senior Kilmarnock debut came in the short-lived and unlamented West Sound Trophy against Ayrshire rivals Ayr United.

His first goal was in a Scottish Cup tie at Hearts in February 2005 and across the following two campaigns he totalled 32 goals and claimed a multitude of national young-player-of-the-season honours.

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Those prolific seasons sandwiched Naismith’s trial at Arsenal, which he wedged between two Scotland Under-21 games.

“I was playing every week for Kilmarnock, so could only go during an international break,” says Naismith.

“I was at Kilmarnock on £500 a week and half-thinking I’d be going down there to train with the reserves.

“I remember the kit man getting me from reception and and taking me to the dressing room.

“I walked through and there was Emmanuel Adebayor, Theo Walcott, Ashley Cole – and I am this wee guy from Kilmarnock.

“Not anywhere near that level or involved in that lifestyle.

“There were these players from around the world and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God’.

“I was staying in a hotel and sat there on the first night and thought, ‘They could offer me anything, here, and I wouldn’t take it’.

“I didn’t want to move away, I wasn’t ready.

“It was an eye opener in terms of facilities and quality of player.

“In one drill, Gilberto Silva stood in the centre circle, took a touch with his right foot and pinged the ball out to the winger

“Then [assistant manager] Pat Rice passed him another ball and he took a touch with his left and drilled it with that foot

“You could not tell which was his strongest foot.

“I was just amazed with it all.

“Kilmarnock did not have a training ground and Arsenal’s facilities were second to none.

“But I thought, ‘I am not moving away from home’.”
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Naismith’s first Scotland cap against Faroe Islands in June 2007 and debut Rangers appearance three months later bookended a period of the player living with his nerves on edge.

Rangers coveted Naismith’s goals as they concocted a plan to wrest the title from Celtic but engaged in a summer-long standoff with Kilmarnock as the clubs tried to strike a deal.

Celtic tried to exploit the impasse but, declares Naismith, “I wasn’t interested, I would never sign for Celtic”.

Martinez’s Swansea and Hibernian made approaches, too, but Naismith wanted Rangers. His future still up in the air, he refused to play pre-season games for Kilmarnock.

“It was the one time in my career I had to go against what I was feeling,” says Naismith.

“I wanted to play.

“But in football you have people in your ear.

“And the club was reluctant to play me anyway, I was going to make them a lot of money and they didn’t want to jeopardise that.”

Naismith was being privately reassured by Ibrox assistant and former Kilmarnock coach Ian Durrant that his transfer would be completed.

One hour before the midnight deadline on 31 August, however, Naismith gave up the ghost following rounds of phone calls and started readying himself for bed, conscious he was due to play for Kilmarnock the following day.

He takes up the story: “Just as I was going up my phone rang, my agent said, ‘It’s agreed, you need to go’.

“I had to get to Rangers’ training ground. It was 11pm, the window shut at midnight.

“I was driving like a maniac but I got there and did my medical and got everything sorted.

“I didn’t get home until about 3am.

“I was told to go in early the next day to see the manager [Walter Smith].

“When I got there he told me he was going to put me on the bench.

“I’m thinking, ‘You told me last night I wouldn’t be playing’.

“It was the professional side of me thinking, ‘I never got to my bed until 3.30am’.

“I’d had my worst sleep ever because I was so excited.

“But I never said that, I was like, ‘Aye, aye that’s brilliant’.

“By chance I had an old pair of boots in the back of my car, one of the security boys went to get them, and I ended up coming on towards the end of the game.”

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Naismith scored on his first start three weeks later and his opening eight months playing under Smith – Rangers manager when Naismith watched from the stands as a boy – were “like a dream”.

“I was loving everything about it, the brilliant training facilities, travelling to hotels before every game, going around Europe,” says Naismith.

“Walter being my manager was surreal – but amazing.

“Then in the Scottish Cup semi-final a player ran through the back of me and stood on the side of my knee and bent it backwards.

“I’d ruptured my ACL, which was a massive blow.”

Naismith emerged from his extended spell of inaction – and those concerns over being off the pace when he returned – to regain Smith’s confidence and have an influential hand in Rangers winning a second successive title in 2009/10.

They made it three in a row the following year, securing top spot with a crushing 5-1 final day win at Kilmarnock, with Naismith scoring at the climax of a campaign when he was one of Smith’s go-to men.

“I knew if I didn’t start well [in 2009/10] I’d be out the door in January or the summer, so it was arguably the biggest season I’ve had,” says Naismith.

“The next season I started well and thought I should be up with the high earners because I was contributing more than most.

“I signed a new contract and started being a big part of it.

“We’d won a cup and the league the previous season but I wasn’t the difference.

“I was thinking, ‘I want to be the difference’.

“And I started being that big player.

“I was scoring goals and being the difference in games and that was a big step for me.

“My international career was picking up, too, I was starting every game for Scotland.”

Naismith concedes Scotland’s play-off matches for next year’s European Championship – they will tackle Israel for the right to face Norway or Serbia in a qualification-deciding fixture – are the biggest of his national team career.

He has won 51 caps but never represented his country at a major tournament, an omission he is desperate to correct with what he acknowledges could be his last chance.

Should Scotland quality, their celebrations would have to go some to match Rangers’ title-winning shindig nine years ago.

Naismith’s side held a one-point advantage entering their last game at Kilmarnock and knew victory would make whatever Celtic did against Motherwell redundant.


“By chance, we kicked off two minutes before Celtic and were 1-0 up before they’d even taken their centre,” says Naismith.

“I scored after four minutes and we were 3-0 up on seven minutes.

“It was the perfect day.

“We paraded the trophy at Ibrox, which was full, then had a massive party.

“If we won trophies we would go back to the stadium and have a meal and free bar, everyone would have their families there.

“Then the majority of the squad would go to the city centre for a night out.

“The day we win the league, you know there’s not going to be a Celtic fan out in Glasgow.

“They were unbelievable nights, I’d have all my friends up and we’d be saying, ‘These are the best days of our lives’.”

The following 12 months for Naismith served as a salutary lesson in why it’s advisable to savour the good times.

He suffered his second ACL injury in October 2011 following a blistering start to the season and watched his Rangers career go down the plughole without being able to do a thing about it.

Rangers entered administration in February 2012 and four months later HMRC declared they would reject proposals for a company voluntary arrangement and force the club into liquidation.

Administrators sold Rangers’ assets to a new company and the team dropped to the fourth tier of domestic football for the following season.

Naismith had a choice between giving the nod to his contract being switched to the new company or leaving on a free transfer.

A lifelong fan, he was inevitably one of the lightning rods for supporters’ frustrations as a mammoth exodus unfolded.

“Our squad was full of Rangers fans who just wanted the best for the club,” says Naismith.

“We took 70 per cent wage cuts to try to save everybody’s jobs.


“We were coming up with solutions to a lot of the problems and getting them legally checked but they’d [new owners] say no every time.

“There was a lot of bad blood, fans thinking we’d left to make a quick buck.

“That wasn’t the case.

“There will always be people saying, ‘If he was a real Rangers fan, he wouldn’t have left’.

“But I was 25, was I going to spend the next four years in Scotland’s lower divisions playing against part-time teams?

“We’d had an insight into the guys who came into the club, I thought they were in it for themselves.

“We thought they would freeze us out, force us to leave and take the transfer money for themselves.

“That was the end for me at Rangers.

“You have to think about what is best for your family, whatever your own feelings as a fan.

“I had no intention of ever leaving Rangers when I signed there and had no desire to go to England.

“The whole experience was really draining.

“It was sickening for all of us.

“The players chatted more about what was happening than the football.

“I am not glad I went through it but I definitely learned a lot from it.

“In some respects, it forced my hand to move south.

“And sitting here now that is something I am delighted I did.”
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Naismith was a fixture in Martinez’s Everton team following the April 2014 dismantling of Arsenal, a game the player ranks as one of the “most enjoyable” of his career.

He reflects on his third Goodison season in 2014/15 when he scored nine times in 39 appearances as “my longest sustained period of playing and doing well” for the Club.

Everton were nevertheless unable to repeat the intoxicating football of Martinez’s first campaign and drifted back into the Premier League pack.

There is a lengthy period of dead air as Naismith searches for the words to explain his team’s drop off.


“I’m not sure… there were a few changes in the team and he [Martinez] maybe tried to promote more of the younger boys,” says Naismith.

“The young players we had, their talents were unbelievable: Stonesy [John Stones], Ross Barkley, Gerard Deulofeu, their natural ability was incredible.

“But maybe, at times, the manager was stubborn in the way he wanted to play and kept them in the team. In some games he could have thought, ‘No, let’s just get the result and get out of here’.

“He was adamant on how he played.

“You get to a stage in a match where it might be best to take a point or fight the other team at their own game.

“But he had no interest in that whatsoever.

“I admired that in him, though.

“That is why I liked it under him so much.

“There was a certain way and style of play and it was everything to him.

“You could see that in the way he took us in training and prepared – it was all directed to a definitive way of playing.”

Naismith was moved to the fringes in Martinez’s third season in 2015/16.

His first meaningful involvement came in Everton’s fifth game when he came on as an early substitute against Chelsea and scored a hat-trick in a 3-1 win.

That contribution banked Naismith his place for the next four games but after being hooked at half-time in a defeat by Manchester United he played only once more for the Club – 25 minutes against Stoke City – before leaving with a heavy heart in January 2016.

“I would need to be 8/10 every week to stay in the team,” says Naismith.

“The younger boys round about me would have more lives.


“But that is football and I understand it.

“It was hard to deal with at the time.

“It took a while to get playing and when I did, I felt I contributed.

“By that point in my career I was very confident in what I could bring.

“If I knew I wasn’t good enough I could have happily accepted it and moved on but that wasn’t the case.

“That game against Chelsea was just unbelievable.

“I was disappointed not to start but Mo Besic went off early and it was probably in my head, ‘I will show you’.

“And that’s what happened.

“But I had an unbelievable time at Everton.

“It was the best club I’ve been at in terms of the way they treat their players and staff.

“Everything about the Club is built on foundations of hard work and treating people properly.

“You have that many good people in the Club who live by those morals, which makes it such a special place.”


Naismith is remembered as warmly on Merseyside for proactively throwing his weight behind countless meaningful initiatives as for his footballing accomplishments.

Already an enthusiastic supporter of movements for the homeless, he became involved with the city’s Whitechapel Centre, a housing and homeless charity.

Naismith purchased four Goodison season tickets for use by people actively seeking employment.

Back in Glasgow, he had devised a scheme designed to help ex-service personnel back into work.

“The city is very similar to Glasgow and I found that good connection,” says Naismith.

“I was an established player, social media was building up, and it was important for me to give back as much as I could to causes I believed in.

“My dad is a social worker, he worked in a residential school for less fortunate kids, whose parents had maybe been abusive, or had anger issues.

“He let me tag along on the camps and seeing how tough these people had it made me appreciate what I had.

“I was fortunate enough to become a professional footballer and effectively have a hobby as a career and make a good living from it.

“Nothing I’ve done [away from the game] has been a hassle for me.

“It is such a small thing for me to give up and do but it can help loads of people.

“Speaking directly to the people it’s affected, hearing their stories and knowing it’s helped them in whatever way, is better than anything else I could get from it.”


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Naismith needed to have his arm twisted to join Norwich City from Everton and wonders if he should have trusted his gut.

He doesn’t believe he gave Norwich value for money and he regrets that.

“They tried to sign me in the summer [2015] and it never happened,” says Naismith.

“January came and the manager was maybe trying to force the issue with me a bit.

“Norwich came back but my wife and I were really unsure.

“But I was stubborn and thought, ‘I want to play football, not sit about here’.

“I initially agreed to go, then woke up the next day and thought, ‘I don’t know if this is the right thing’.

“I said no. But for the next week or so Norwich were desperate for it to happen.

“They pushed the boat out and it got to the point where it would have been daft to turn it down.”

Norwich were embroiled in a battle against the drop they would end up losing and after pursuing Naismith so relentlessly were eager to clear him off the books following relegation.


Not bowled over by any of his alternatives, Naismith remained at Carrow Road for a season in the Championship.

“I was getting older, they’d paid £8m and were trying to recoup some money, which probably put a lot of people off,” says Naismith.

“I was 31 and we’d just been relegated, so I was never going to be commanding a decent fee.

“I found it [Championship] tough and didn’t enjoy it.

“It was less about quality and more about individuals, I found.

“I felt there were a lot of players in the division with great quality but who would maybe do it once or twice a month and be happy with that.

“The fans loved them but they were comfortable.

“And, in all honesty, in my time at Norwich, I underperformed, too.

“Which was partly the reason I didn’t enjoy it.

“I wasn’t a successful signing and it never worked.

“It was probably one of the saddest situations of my career, because similar to Everton there’s loads of really good people at the club.”

Naismith reached his Norwich high-water mark with a goal against Everton at Goodison in a League Cup win for his new employers in September 2016.

His strike was greeted by a thunderous ovation from every corner of the stadium.


“It was really surreal, actually, really surreal,” says Naismith.

“But when I left Everton I knew I had a good relationship with everyone at the Club: the squad, the fans and the staff.

“I loved Everton, it was one of my favourite periods in my career.

“I knew I was a liked figure in the squad, I got on well with everybody.

“To this day I speak to a lot of the boys and coaches.

“The Chairman every so often.

“You are not just an employee and workmate and you move on.

“These are people who are friends for life.”
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Naismith made good on a personal vow to ultimately return to Scottish football when he joined Hearts on loan in January 2018.

The motivating factors when choosing his next destination after Norwich were unrecognisable from the single-minded considerations which informed Naismith’s decision-making earlier in his career.

“When you are younger, you are trying to get to the highest level and make the most money you can,” says Naismith.

“When you get older, there are so many more things in the equation.

“It is more about enjoyment, still having the drive to win something but also family life and the next step after football.

“My wife and I and our two daughters were definitely ready to come back to Scotland.

“My oldest daughter was starting school.

“And, in my opinion, Hearts should be the third-biggest club in Scotland.


“I felt that growing up.

“The infrastructure and budget and facilities all drive towards the top end of the table, challenging for Europe and beyond.

“That has to be the aim.

“Even now that is what is driving me to keep playing.

“I want to make the club as successful as it can be.”

Naismith agreed to stay another season on loan in Edinburgh in summer 2018 and admits he was taking a chance with his Norwich contract set to expire at the end of the 2018/19 campaign.

“But I’d made a decent impression with the fans and the standards I was bringing around the training ground didn’t go unnoticed,” says Naismith.

The professional tightrope he was walking looked ever more precarious when he twice had his season interrupted for knee surgery.

Naismith would have been forgiven a sense of déjà vu when his first layoff coincided with Hearts tumbling down the table after being top following eight wins in their opening 10 games.

He scored seven goals in that period.

By the time he struck his eighth on Boxing Day Hearts had slipped to fifth position, summoning memories of Rangers’ slide following Naismith’s injury seven years earlier.

“That period at Hearts was the toughest It’s been having to watch games,” says Naismith.

“We dropped like a stone.

“That start showed the potential we have but, to be honest, it’s gone from bad to worse – which massively frustrates me.”

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03:21 Sun 26 Apr 2020

THE PEOPLE'S GRUB – LEARN THE SECRET TO A PERFECT PIZZA

Latest episode with Everton Head of Nutrition.


Naismith captains Hearts and the opportunity to adopt a senior and influential role was a factor last summer when the forward declined more lucrative offers – including from MLS in America – to sign for four years at Tynecastle.

“Even when I was at Kilmarnock asking all those questions, if I was on the pitch and someone wasn’t doing what they should, I wasn’t shy telling them,” says Naismith.

“If I think someone is not doing what the manager wants or is not helping the team, I will tell them.

“A prime example at Everton was when Kev Mirallas picked up the penalty [in a game against West Bromwich Albion when Leighton Baines was designated taker] and I was saying, ‘It should be Bainesy hitting it’.

“If I feel something is not right and not for the team, I will definitely speak my mind.

“From where I’ve been, going to Hearts is the biggest jump I’ve had.

“The salaries are much smaller and there is a big gap in quality.

“But if I can pass on what it is like to be at the top, or the mentality you need, then I am giving something back to the guys in the position I was 15 years ago.”

Naismith was very aware of Hearts’ wage bill when he took a 50-per-cent pay drop little more than one week after a halt was called to this campaign following the coronavirus outbreak.

The shutters are down on the pizza restaurant Naismith opened with friends in Stewarton last year to provide a “nice wee space” for the town’s young folk.

He is personally acquainted, then, with the economic hit administered by this pandemic.


But Naismith had no reservations over slicing his wages in half and in a considered statement insisted it was a unilateral decision and his teammates have “unique circumstances with their finances, homes and families… they are all doing what they can”.

“It was an easy decision,” says Naismith.

“I understand from when I was at Rangers, some of the young boys, or boys on not a lot of money, won’t be able to just chop their wages.

“It would be unfair to ask them.

“If I’d just come out and said, ‘I am taking a pay cut’, the amount of pressure that puts on players… I was very conscious to not let that happen.

“The dressing room is full of good guys who want to help and make a contribution if they can.

“But they need to be sensible and consider themselves.

“As you go down the leagues, footballers don’t earn fortunes and their jobs last until their mid-30s, 40 at best.

“I have tried to be sensible throughout my career.

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04:31

ASK A BLUE...WITH GABBY GEORGE

Blues star answers variety of questions from Evertonians.


“I was fortunate I didn’t move away until I was 25, I grew up with my family and my wife’s family, all my friends about me.

“It gave me a right good grounding to make me understand what it is for people going out and doing a really hard graft for relatively low pay.

“My lifestyle from when I was at Kilmarnock hasn’t drastically changed.

“I’ve bought nice things and stay in a bigger house and go on nicer holidays.

“But when I was at Rangers, Everton and Norwich, I saved 90 per cent of my wages every month.

“I have always wanted to be able to pick and choose whether I work when I retire.

“That has driven me for the past 15 years – to be able to make that choice rather than being forced to go and do something I don’t enjoy.”

Naismith has already made his choice, opportunity permitting.

He wants to manage, to engage in “the tactical battle between two managers, having a dressing room of 20-30 guys and trying to keep them all happy and understanding they will have individual needs”.

Naismith “loves” watching Simeone’s Atletico Madrid and insists the Argentine’s methods are far more nuanced than the often-regurgitated idea he sits 10 men behind the ball and crosses his fingers.


“There is no right or wrong style,” says Naismith. “You use what works best for you and your squad of players.

“But there is not one manager you can pick and go, ‘I want to be him’.

“You have to take bits from everybody you’ve worked with.”

Those considerations, however, are for the future.

When football resumes, Naismith will be juggling twin objectives.

He is an important player for Scotland again and captained his country when reaching his half-century of caps in Cyprus last November.

Naismith being heavily leaned on by manager Steve Clarke – who tried to get the player to West Bromwich when he joined Everton – is a far cry from the uncomfortable situation he encountered when as a Norwich player he’d join up with Scotland knowing he was making up the numbers.

“I was somebody close to the Hall of Fame but going away and having no chance of playing,” says Naismith.

“It did feel slightly embarrassing.

“But I have been fortunate in recent times. There is not much experience in the group and nobody has nailed down the striking position.

“When I got in Steve’s squad I knew I needed to make a point and show what I could bring.

“I did well and scored a few goals and have stayed in since.”


Hearts, meanwhile, are anchored at the foot of the Scottish Premiership but were showing intermittent signs of stirring before this hiatus.

New manager Daniel Stendel’s side beat Rangers in a Scottish Cup quarter-final tie and were excellent in winning 3-1 at Edinburgh rivals Hibernian.

Those notable victories however, were sandwiched between a home draw with Hamilton Academical and a dismal 1-0 defeat at St Mirren.

“This is the conundrum,” says Naismith.

“We have good players with a lot of natural ability.

“We beat Rangers the last two times we played them and won against Hibs.

“But the teams around us know how to deal with the pressure and stay up.

“Our squads needs to understand it quickly or it will be a big problem when we get back playing.”

It remains unclear whether Hearts’ position on the Scottish football ladder next season will be determined on the field or through a round of conference calls between various stakeholders.

Come what may, it should serve as a tonic for those at Tynecastle that Naismith has pledged to Hearts his brand of tenacity, endeavour, subtlety, inspiration and humanity for the next three years at least.


Moyes sized up Naismith’s qualities when taking him to Goodison Park and concluded aloud he was recruiting a ‘proper Everton player’.

“At the time, somebody sent me quotes from the manager saying the reason he signed me was I just fitted and had the attributes of an Everton-type player,” says Naismith.

“And I would agree with that.

“It shows you how good Moyesy’s decision making is that he could see that before it happened.

“I have only great things to say about Everton. I am so pleased I had the chance to play for the Club and I loved everything about it.”

 

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