|Mark Pembridge - Midfielder|
Mark Pembridge began his professional career at Luton Town in 1989, joined Derby County for £1.25M in 1992, then moved on to Sheffield Wednesday in 1995 for £900k. The near £1M fee appeared to weigh heavily for a time until the honest play of Pembridge gained respect from supporters.
His dream move to Benfica, under Graham Souness, did not work out as anticipated, particularly with Souness having problems with the Portuguese club's President. Just over a year after the midfield man had left Sheffield Wednesday on a free transfer, under the Bosman ruling, he was back in England.
Mark joined Everton in August 1999 after somewhat protracted negotiations with Benfica. But Walter Smith was able to capture him in time for the 1999/2000 season. A left-sided player who has brought his own style of skill and Trojan-like work-rate, to wherever he has played.
With an obvious preference for playing wide on the left it was not always plain sailing during his time at Hillsborough. A certain section of the Wednesday fans criticised the hard-working player but he did prove a good striker of the ball, who got forward and scored some useful goals, not least a brace at Goodison Park against Everton in a 4-1 Wednesday win.
Upon arrival at Everton, he was not initially a first-choice player and many fans were unimpressed with his somewhat mediocre contributions in the Blues' beleaguered and moribund midfield. But unstinting effort and application was recognised early by Smith, and later by an increasing cadre of Everton fans who gave grudging acknowledgment of the little Welshman's incredible persistence.
By Christmas of 1999 "Bilbo" was an established first-choice player who continued to improve through sheer hard work and application – stout Gaelic qualities that Walter Smith no doubt admires. Pembridge went on to play in the majority of Everton matches for the 1999-2000 season.
After getting over a calf injury, he made his first start of 2000-01 against Southampton in October and figured regularly before injuring himself again in Everton's humiliating 3-0 FA Cup defeat by Tranmere. His displays hadn’t been special but his will to work for the team was vital. Subsequent returns to first team action haven't always been spectacular — no doubt hampered by the constant state of flux in the Blues' midfield under Walter Smith.
As the rest of the team improved markedly following the arrival of David Moyes in March 2002, it became more and more obvious that Everton's limitations lay in midfield, where creativity was sparse at best. And that is very much down to players like Pembridge who do a good job defensively but are found wanting when going forward. Injury again limited his contribution, and he suffered/benefited from the new Moyes policy of ensuring that players were completely fit before they returned to first-team action.
Pembridge started the 2003-04 season for Moyes but he became a surprise departure to Fulham before the transfer window closed in September. Pretty good business for Everton to charge £750k for him...
This message appeared from Mark Pembridge in the Everton Matchday Programme for the Manchester City game on Boxing Day, 2004:
Through the match programme I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all the Everton supporters and staff who made me feel so welcome when Fulham came to Goodison on November 20th.
I was so well received and it was a truly humbling experience. The fact that the fans cheered when my name was announced before the game and then the way they applauded when I took corners was sxomething I will never forget.
All the staff in the tunnel and dressing room area also went out of their way to say a friendly hello and shake my hand. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Everton. It was an honour and pleasure to play for the club and the fantastic fans.
Many thanks again for the reception last month and I hope to see you all again soon.
Updated by Michael Kenrick, May 2004