My Everton #41: Evertonians' Acceptance All I Need – Neville Southall

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Of all the honours I won with Everton, do you know what meant more than every trophy put together?

The acceptance of the supporters.

Their approval mattered more to me than anything else, by a distance.

If you are accepted by Evertonians and the people of this city, you must be doing something right.

It is a hard city, a funny city and a kind and caring city.

The sort of city where brothers fight all the time, but if somebody else picks on one of them, they stand together. I love that.

Because of the way the people are, they don’t tolerate idiots or frauds.

When I joined Everton, I was coming from a smaller club in Bury. I am from a small town in North Wales.

My main concern was, ‘Will these people accept me, will I match their expectations of me?’

When did I feel completely accepted? Now, I suppose. Now I’ve retired.

Neville Southall
If the Evertonians took to you, you had won over a section of people who lived in an environment where they judged harshly. And why not? They expect the best.

But it is hard to know when you’ve definitively achieved acceptance. Nobody gives you a shiny medal, like when you win a league or a cup.

Gaining that acceptance is an ongoing process. 

When I played, I felt I needed to prove myself to the people every week.

It wasn’t that they weren’t good to me, it was because I thought that’s what I owed them. 

When I signed a contract, my job was to do my best for the Club.

And the Club isn’t the players or the boardroom, it is the people.

If you don’t give absolutely everything, you are cheating 40,000 people, and you don’t do that.

The supporters who come to the matches are the ones who make all the sacrifices.

They are your harshest critics but also those who give you most respect.

For me, it was all about them.

Players put themselves up for judgement every week. People aren’t interested in what you’ve done in the past. When you go on that stage, you have to be good. Otherwise, you are rubbish.

It gets easier when you feel the people are on your side.

But total acceptance? You only feel that when you’ve finished, because you’re no longer being judged.

I am never going to go on the pitch and play rubbish for Everton again, am I.

You can look back and realise, maybe, the people accepted you earlier than you recognised, but as a player, you’re always looking towards the next game, so don’t have time to think about it.

When you play for Everton, the expectation is to win trophies, to win every game.

That could feel like a burden, a weight of pressure you carry around every day. But let’s be honest, it’s not the case, is it? Not remotely. There's no pressure at all, not really.

I’d see 40,000 people in the ground and think, ‘They would all love to be in my position, I am so lucky to be here’.

I would sometimes look at the disabled section and think, ‘I have absolutely nothing to worry about playing for Everton.

‘I never have to show the courage and determination and humour those people need.

‘So how on earth can I worry about going onto a football pitch and making a mistake? It is impossible.

‘I might get loads of stick if I let in a goal – but I am never going to encounter those challenges.

‘And I am not going to have get up at ridiculous-o-clock the next day go to work because I follow my team’.

The sacrifices those fans make are quite incredible and not enough is made of them.

If the Evertonians took to you, you had won over a section of people who lived in an environment where they judged harshly.

And why not?

They expect the best.

That is why we have the motto, isn’t it? You are supposed to live up to our standard.

Howard Kendall and Colin Harvey embodied the Club’s values.

They demanded that you came in every day and pushed yourself to your limit to be the best you could.

When I think of Everton, I think of Colin Harvey. Colin, in my opinion, is the model of an Everton footballer.

He has passion and strength and determination and skill and class and he is humble and wants to win everything.

Colin had two plastic hips by the time he was Howard’s assistant, but he was as good as anyone in training.

His attitude was that he was never going to be beaten.

I can picture him now, on the static bike, sweat pouring off him, with two plastic hips. Going against medical advice and getting himself super fit.

You’d see him and think, ‘You’re mad’.

But the drive in the fella was incredible.

Why was he doing it? So he could be what he wanted to be and do the things he wanted to do.

He fixed in you as a younger player the desire to be the best, to be driven and to want to win and to succeed.

His attitude was infectious.

And Howard was class, he treated you like a grown-up, with respect and dignity, not as if you were a kid.

Mick Heaton was instrumental in our success, too. 

In the days before sports psychologists, Mick was as good as anybody at lifting the mood. He had a pastoral-cum-psychologist role and, without him, we wouldn’t have been the same team.

I understood from the start that everything at Everton had to be about winning.

Evertonians want passion and spirit and class and attacking football. They want a great attitude, people running and prepared to die for this club. There is your identity.

The fans give it everything they have – financially and emotionally – every week.

We have to match them in everything we do on the pitch.

If you have talent and don’t try, they hate it.

If you have no talent but try, they will bear it.

If you have bit of talent and try hard, they will love you.

How could you go to a club like Everton and settle for second best; not try to be the best you can.

People were all I cared about. The rest of it – whether someone in the boardroom or in your team loves you – doesn’t matter.

Players and the boardroom come and go.

The supporters are the only constant in a football club.

I always thought the measure of a player was how they’d been accepted by the fans.

You have to realise how fortunate you are and do your best for those people.

If they take you to their hearts, it is brilliant.

You don’t need anything else in your life other than their acceptance. It was the best thing I could get.

If the Evertonians accept you, you’ve done all right.

By Neville Southall, Everton Giant

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