Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.
Trevor Steven talks about reaching the pinnacle of football in terms that would describe a high-wire act.
Steven’s ascent was rapid. He represented England schoolboys and as a teenager played regularly for Burnley. At 21, after two years with Everton, he’d won the First Division and European Cup Winners’ Cup and played in two FA Cup finals, winning one.
“God, it was exciting,” says Steven.
“I tried to stay up there because I knew it was better at the top… you are experiencing the best the game can give you. You are programmed to winning and want more.
“You have to be obsessed, completely obsessed with the job and making it and winning and survival.
“Do what is necessary to not be in the heap.”
Steven is equally single-minded today, consumed by The People’s Place, Everton in the Community’s proposed facility close to Goodison Park to provide readily-accessible and tailored mental health support.
He cites the quote at the top of this page, attributed to Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle, to explain an inherent belief.
Steven didn’t indulge distractions as a footballer – he gladly existed on the bottom rung of Everton’s hierarchy of great socialisers – and thought only of the here and now.
Briefly, however, Steven bends his own rule to envisage a fully-functional People’s Place: “A rare and unique facility, displaying the Everton badge, where everybody is welcome and no one is stigmatised.
“The power of football, with the reach of clubs and people’s trust in the badge, is enormous.
“The People’s Place is another limb to the Football Club… you know you are going to get the best of everything.
“Nil Satis Nisi Optimum.
“Everton and EitC are a mirror to each other.
“The Club is trying to raise and set standards. And EitC are trying to do exactly the same on Spellow Lane.”
Artist impressions of The People's Place, Everton in the Community's proposed mental health facility close to Goodison Park
For Steven, concentrating on immediate concerns once “meant getting up at 6am and running on the beach in Berwick because I had an Under-14 trial”.
“I was ingrained with that determination,” he continues, “I didn’t switch it on when I went to Burnley or Everton.
“It doesn’t always follow that you’re resilient for life after football, but I was resilient in what I needed to do on that path.”
Steven describes Berwick-on-Tweed, his birthplace, as “a backwater of football… a backwater of pretty much everything”.
He emerged from this country's northernmost town to win 36 England caps and play at four major tournaments.
Steven was instantly besotted when he went to Burnley, aged 12, and signed professionally on turning 16.
“I was used to making steps and determined,” says Steven.
“If you ask any player at Everton, who was the best trainer? It was me.
“I didn’t want to be surprised by anything.
“If I was going to be playing against Stuart Pearce, for example, I’d be thinking, ‘Is he working harder than me?
“I don’t know, so I am going to prepare to my limit.
“I was always focused on the now.”
Same today, Steven fixated on a process to enable “the first spade in the ground on Spellow Lane”, where The People’s Place will spring up in the shadow of Goodison Park.
Steven’s hands-on involvement in the project stems from the film Howard’s Way, which enthrallingly chronicles Everton’s mid-1980s’ resurgence.
Tricky Trev, the Evertonians christened Steven, homage to a deft and imaginative footballer, always on the balls of his feet and effortlessly tiptoeing between defenders.
Steven could cross a ball as well as anyone and scored a lot of goals – 60 in 299 games for the Club.
His peerless right-sided partnership with full-back Gary Stevens was an irrepressible mix of youthful thrust, adventure and endeavour.
Reliving all this for Howard’s Way, Steven forged a friendship with the production’s financial backer, Phil Brown, an Evertonian who donated proceeds wholesale to The People’s Place.
Brown is chairman of Causeway Technologies, a software supplier to the construction industry, where male site workers are three times more likely to die from suicide than the average UK male.
“Phil asked me to become a mental health ambassador for Causeway, specifically in relation to its partnership with EitC and The People’s Place,” explains Steven.
“You reach a point when you want to do something for the greater good and help people.
“I am getting to the wrong end of my life but this has given me a new sense of purpose, which is important.
“I am in contact daily with the EitC people talking about plans and goals and what we want to achieve building this facility.
“I like communicating and finding solutions, imagining how we can make things happen.”
Steven matured “from a boy into a young student” at Burnley, from a “young student into a man”, with Everton.
“I didn’t develop and grow so much at my other clubs because I arrived as a man,” says Steven.
Two spells with Rangers, totalling seven years, sandwiched one season in France at Marseille.
In 18 years at the height of his profession, Steven “wasn’t aware of anybody having mental health issues”.
“It was that closed off,” he says of an age when footballers – in common with prevailing attitudes – would equate speaking up with exposing weakness.
“Obviously, people were suffering,” continues Steven.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are or what you have.
“It is about your psyche, how you are coping, how you deal with pressure, how you can get so bogged down with stress, you don’t know how to release it.”
Alcohol was a common crutch, but Steven resisted being swept along with the crowd.
He was 19 when he entered an Everton dressing room populated by “big characters” – who, in most cases, had more generous contracts.
“You are the little guy coming in the door, my way to survive was to play well on the field, then you don’t have to answer to anyone,” says Steven.
“There are things a footballer has to think to survive and thrive, you have to train your brain to succeed. If you have chinks in your head, the rest isn’t going to work for you.
“I was living in a bungalow in Tarleton, I couldn’t afford the houses in Ainsdale a lot of the others had.
“I’d go up the A59 and they’d go on the Crosby-Formby road.
“I occupied my own world, concentrating on what I was doing.
“I got good rest and wasn’t a big drinker.
“We had the A, B and C teams at Everton.
“I was happily in the C team; me, Derek Mountfield, Gary Stevens, the youngsters.
“I didn’t get involved in it [senior group].
“When the bus came back from a trip, I got in my car and went home.
“Listen, I was boring. But I was there to play football, I knew I had one chance.”
Steven won enough in his career to sustain a major club team; 10 league championships, two domestic cups and one European trophy.
He got his kicks from existing in a “forever challenging” environment. One eye was trained on the next target, the other looking over his shoulder.
“There were carrots everywhere you looked,” says Steven.
“I had England recognition during the first title season at Everton [1984/85], with a World Cup the next year.
“The challenge when you are there, with club and country, is to stay there.
“Managers need to refresh, you don’t want a player walking in who is better than you.”
Steven was 33 when he finally met an enemy he couldn’t defeat.
He’d spent 18 months in the footballer’s circle of hell, a tortuous cycle of injury and rehabilitation and fitness and relapse.
Steven was sat in the home dressing room at Ibrox with fellow walking-wounded Ally McCoist when Rangers’ club doctor popped his head round the door to ask for a word.
“Weird, eh?” says Steven, remembering McCoist’s offer to accompany him to the meeting.
“The doctor said, ‘You do realise, Trevor, every footballer has his Waterloo? This is your Waterloo, you are not going to beat this’.”
“Ally reached over and put his hand on my shoulder.”
Steven won seven league titles with Rangers – where he found another “heavy partying culture… you can get away with it when you’re winning” – after joining from Everton in 1989.
European football, the strong English contingent in Glasgow and – Steven openly admits – money, were all incentives to transfer.
“I was on the same contract at Everton as in 1985,” he says, estimating his weekly wage at “about £950-odd”.
There was another hike in 1991 when Steven signed for Marseille, where he flourished in a wonderful championship-winning side, featuring Jean-Pierre Papin, Didier Deschamps and Chris Waddle.
He’d have gladly stayed longer than 12 months but was “scooped up with Papin and Waddle in a changing of the guard”.
Steven typically avoids revisiting his clear memories of the desperately sad episode that unfolded when Marseille went to Bastia for a French Cup semi-final.
A temporary stand, erected to inflate capacity for the day, collapsed before kick-off.
“It was packed and the structure couldn’t take the weight,” says Steven.
“We heard the thundering noise of the stand collapsing from the dressing room.
“There were people and bodies everywhere, the top half of the stand had gone and people had fallen out of the stadium.
“For the next four or five hours we were on the pitch with drips, helicopters were landing.
“I had a few journalist friends who died and lots of friends injured.
“It was horrible, a huge tragedy.”
It is an event that places in sharper relief Steven’s revelation about seeing no mental health issues during nearly two decades in the game.
He has, however, witnessed “trauma” in retiring players.
“You miss the camaraderie and sense of belonging and everyday purpose and target setting and challenges,” says Steven.
“They come to you early in life as a footballer.
“You are skilled for one thing and by the time you are completely skilled for it, you have to stop.”
The humdrum ending to a glittering career stuck with Steven.
Collecting his boots – “no idea why I did that” – and saying goodbye to the Ibrox doorman.
“You get in your car, drive home like any other day, and that’s it,” he adds.
Media work enabled Steven to keep familiar company and qualified as a “Godsend”.
“But as you get older, you become less relevant,” he continues.
“Younger people come in and you are edged out.
“It is evolution, isn’t it?”
It is 40 years since Martin Dobson – Burnley’s captain and a former Everton midfielder – collared Steven at Burnley’s Gawthorpe training ground.
Steven was in the gym “pushing weights because I wasn’t going to sit and have banter with the lads”.
“Martin told me to stand up,” says Steven.
“He pulled up my socks and tucked my shirt into my shorts.
“He said: ‘Dress smart, think smart, play smart’.
“That is something I always remembered.
“My philosophy at Burnley was to have the shiniest boots for your pro, be the best at your chores, make yourself memorable for good reasons, not bad.”
Steven’s get-up-and-go formed an entrepreneurial spirit and following retirement he launched multiple businesses with varying degrees of success, in addition to work as a football agent and his media duties.
Participating in Howard’s Way, then reuniting with teammates for the film’s St George’s Hall premiere, invited buried memories to the surface.
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EVERTON'S 1985 HEROES REUNITED AT ST GEORGE'S HALL
“Howard’s Way helped rekindle my love for the Club,” says Steven.
“To really think about it again and how great it was, to reinforce the passion I had.
“Those feelings may have sunk but they were still there.
“The film and going to the city to share it with people brought us a lot of pride and pride is good for self-esteem.”
Following its first screening, the stars of Howard’s Way moved to The Dixie Dean Hotel to party into the small hours.
Footage of Steven, clutching a drink and singing Marc Cohn’s Walking in Memphis, filtered out via social media.
Steven can carry a tune but that’s not the point. He’d been promoted to the A team.
“This is how people change,” he says.
“You wouldn’t have got me singing in front of the others for love nor money when I was a player.
“They’d have had something to go at me about and it might have knocked my confidence in the group.
“Roll on 30 years and I am the life and soul of the karaoke because I have grown up.
“You change and try things in life.”
Steven will host a series of Official Everton podcasts in advance of The People’s Place build, speaking to various public figures about different strands of mental health.
One episode will focus on issues resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
“It has caused people to experience completely new things,” says Steven.
“This is the time to talk and change and we are not going to have a stronger springboard to go and make a noise.”
Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.
Caryle’s quote grabbed Steven, a voracious student of matters of the mind, when reading psychiatrist M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled.
It feels relevant again as he considers encouraging progress towards The People’s Place’s development, aided by Brown’s £200,000 donation.
“There is no sense of euphoria but it is starting and there is a realisation things have to change,” says Steven.
“The figures for suicide in the construction industry – and elsewhere – are awful… and so many people are suffering to different degrees.
“We have to try to stop these things happening, now.
“If the People’s Place saves one person’s life, it is all worthwhile.”