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Fans Comment
Rick Tarleton

Those Icons: Our Great Centre-Forwards
15 September 2005

The incomparable Alex Young: rising above Mckay to score against Spurs 

Sandy Young, Bobby Parker, the Golden age of Dean and Lawton and then after the war Dave Hickson, my own first hero of Goodison Park, the incomparable Alex Young, Fred Pickering, Joe Royle, Bob Latchford. Graeme Sharp, Andy Gray, Gary Lineker, Tony Cottee, Duncan Ferguson in his first spell with us and, of course, our lost genius, Wayne Rooney. These are the men whom we've adored and the men whose glorious ability has enabled successive Everton teams to win so many trophies.

If Liverpool's telegram address was "goalkeeper", then ours should surely have been "centre-forward" . I use that rather old fashioned term rather than the modern term "striker". Roy Vernon and John-Willie Parker were strikers; Vernon, the best finisher I've ever seen at Goodison Park, but they were never centre-forwards.

Our success over the last century has been built around these men.It is our club, not Newcastle, who have had the most great and brilliant number nines. It was such men, who gave us our glory, it was such men who we on the terraces adored. They weren't necessarily our best players (the greatest I've seen in over 50 years of watching Everton were Colin Harvey and Bobby Collins) but it is the great centre-forwards whom we remember and who gave those moments we can never forget. Hickson returning to the field, blood pouring from a head wound, to score the winner in that cup-tie against Man United; Young's soaring header against Spurs; Gray bundling Sherwood into the Wembley goal, and Rooney's strike against Arsenal.

When I was a lad, England, who were then selected by a group of FA blazers, swopped between four centre-forwards: Lofthouse, a hard and whole-hearted player; Tommy Taylor, a great header of the ball with speed and an eye for goal; Ronnie Allen, little and skilful; and Roy Bentley who just knew how to score goals. The Everton centre-forwards of my lifetime fall into one of those categories. The Lions: inspirational strong men, Hickson, Gray,Sharp; the great headers: Ferguson and Royle; the artists and speed merchants: Young above all, Cottee, Lineker; and the goal machines: Latchford and Pickering.

None of these players were perfect. I worshipped Alex Young; I can still see him now drifting in from the left wing and somehow beating two or theree men in a slow run which seemed to mesmerise his opponents. But look at Young's record in Derby matches: I don't think he ever scored against Liverpool. He needed Roy Vernon, they were the perfect strike force and in many ways Vernon was the better player. Without Vernon, Young was a shadow and, once Vernon left, Young was only half the player. Yet it was Young we adored; Young who excited the boys and old men on the terraces; Young about whom Gordon Honeycombe wrote a BBC play "The Golden Vision" celebrating Young's almost religious status amongst Evertonians.

In modern-day football, the successful teams have great centre-forwards. Thierry Henry is very similar to Alex Young, and like Young, he's possibly at his best against the Portsmouths of this world. Van Nistelroy is a more mobile version of Latchford. I look at our present team and I wonder: Where's our centre-forward? No-one deserves to succeed more than Marcus Bent. He's fast, whole-hearted and never gives up, but in front of goal, he's like a rabbit trapped in the headlights. Beattie may well get fit and prove us wrong. He needs a run of games to understand the patterns and the passes of his colleagues, he needs to be match-fit. After all he was an England centre-forward, so there must be hope that he could be our new icon, mustn't there? Vaughan has pace and could develop into something special, he needs to be given a chance when he's fit again.

But to be honest I'm not hopeful. Good centre-forwards are the goaldust. They are the ones for whom the G14 clubs spend 25M plus. I believe that we will not return to our rightful position as one of the top English teams until we have (as we have always had in the past) a great centre-forward, an icon for us to adore.

Rick  Tarleton


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