It’s only through storytelling that I have any real idea of the impact gods like Dean, Ball and Young had in the royal blue shirt but now my generation at last has its own story to tell of an Everton legend
I was lucky enough to see Neville Southall play at the back end of his career at Goodison Park. Dave Hickson conducted my first tour of the Grand Old Lady. I was fortunate to meet Howard Kendall and Brian Labone and I’ve interviewed Trevor Steven.
Legends of Toffees folklore, Dixie Dean, Alan Ball and Alex Young, they have all been at the forefront of my Everton education. However, it’s only through the storytelling of those lucky enough to have witnessed such greats and footage on the internet that I have any real idea of the impact these players, these gods, had in the royal blue shirt.
My knowledge isn’t as true as it would be had I been stood on the terraces watching our famous title triumphs and cup victories, both at home and on the continent.
For me, and those of a similar age in our Twenties, we’ve had some good times but nothing to compare to the glories of yesteryear.
Now though, after Leighton Baines pulled the curtain down on his playing career, my generation at last has its own story to tell of an Everton legend.
For years, I’ve heard the true majesty of the Holy Trinity. It’s been described to me how the Golden Vision hung in the air. Peter Reid’s tough tackling, Graeme Sharp’s volley and Andy Gray’s floored header, I’ve been told it all.
Finally, when I sit with my Grandkids and I’m grey and old, I now have my own personal recollections of an Everton Great to share. I can tell them how I was sat just yards away as Leighton Baines sauntered forward with the ball, playing triangles as the Blues marched their way up the pitch. I was there as he caressed, directed and arrowed the ball with that wand of a left foot.
I was present to witness his almost telepathic relationship with Steven Pienaar, sat on the edge of my seat, eagerly anticipating a chance as Baines stayed tight to the white line before playing it in to his partner’s boot, bombing on and getting the lay-off back with constant accuracy.
My generation, who have missed out on so much Everton, lived and breathed his 420 appearances, celebrated his 39 goals and witnessed his 67 assists. We were there when he arrived in 2007.
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard the story retold of Kevin Sheedy’s retaken free-kick against Ipswich. How amazing it was to see. Now Baines’s chapter has come to an end, I have my own set-piece tale of a former player.
I was there in 2013, in line with the top corner at Upton Park, now only a relic of one of the best away days in English football, when the left-back stuck the ball away to spark mad limbs in the visitors’ end. Soon after, from the same position, he stuck it in the opposite side. A famous brace in a memorable win.
I was around when he leathered it in up at Newcastle and celebrated with his arms aloft, taking the adulation of his team-mates with the least fuss possible before saluting the travelling Toffees. Stamford Bridge, Fratton Park, White Hart Lane, I remember it all, my own memories.
I’ll regale future Blues with talk of the times he was notching up more assists from defence than most of Europe’s top midfielders. His imperious penalty record, his zipped crosses and exquisite close control.
In my era, we’ve had quality players like Tim Cahill, Mikel Arteta and Romelu Lukaku but it is only Baines who makes a real case to be included in an all-time Everton XI. Discussed in the same breath as Ray Wilson and Pat Van Den Hauwe, for some, he’s the best No 3 in our history. We fans, born at the start of the 90s and so starved of success, now have our own piece of Toffees history and nostalgia, which we were around for, befitting the very best of Everton.
Like Dixie Dean, like Colin Harvey, like Brian Labone, there is a classiness and an aura about Leighton Baines. The attitude, his professionalism, how he holds himself and the grace with which he moved on the field, it feels he fits the bill and belongs with Everton royalty.
In many modern day teams, there can be cliques, but his standing in the Everton dressing room was clear when Richarlison, Lucas Digne and Yerry Mina were as quick to pay heartfelt tributes to ‘Bazza’ as his former team-mates from down the years. He’s respected by all.
With Baines, it was more than just being a footballer which endeared him to so many.
For me personally, Duncan Ferguson will always be my first and biggest hero, but with Leighton, he was the ultimate icon and idol. He was too cool for school.
While many Blues of a certain age fell in love with ‘little curly Alan Ball’ back in the day, it wasn’t just his ability which caught their imagination. It was the whole package, his painted white boots, the amber socks; he had a distinctive image.
It is the same with Baines. Tying his laces on the edge of the area while knelt on one knee, his no-look one arm salute before sticking the ball down next to the corner flag, his bottom lip covering the top of his mouth as sweat dripped down while he sized up the net, the pristine shirt and shorts. He was an Everton poster boy. He looked the part.
As well, he was me and he was you. He was the lads who sit in the Gwladys Street; sound and Blue. He’d get a 50p bus from Kirkby to sneak into Goodison Park as a kid. No airs and graces, just a normal bloke who liked watching the Toffees and just so happened to be an unbelievable footballer too.
He liked the same music as me, as well. Tame Impala and Arctic Monkeys. He hung out with Bill Ryder-Jones and Miles Kane. He dressed like my mates and played guitar. He was indie in a football era of mind-numbing similarity. Baines stood out from the crowd in a typically low-key way only he could pull off.
Leighton, it felt, was one of the lads, the only difference being he was good enough to be out on the pitch every Saturday.
He’s interesting. He likes photography. He could be seen on Bold Street and up by the Georgian Quarter in the week, a local enjoying his city.
He also has time for people. The naughtiest left-back around town gave fans a lift to the ground for a friendly and was a role model, a face regularly seen helping those in need through Everton initiatives.
It’s no wonder he is adored by every Blue, young and old. He’s just a top fella.
Baines is one of us and always will be.
Reader Comments (31)
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1 Posted 27/07/2020 at 16:46:53
That last sentence probably sums Leighton Baines up better than anything.
I always got the impression that his belonging to us was important to him as well. Just look at any clips of him celebrating one of his goals. Nothing over the top, he would just coolly make his way over to the fans and celebrate by saluting us almost like he was just waving to his mates.
Who knows, maybe he was?
Again, thank you Leighton.
2 Posted 27/07/2020 at 17:12:20
3 Posted 27/07/2020 at 17:24:15
I'd probably include Cahill as a legend also - Arteta and Pienaar less so because they moved on.
If only we had Cahill and Arteta now.
4 Posted 27/07/2020 at 17:31:43
Baines is certainly a legend!
5 Posted 27/07/2020 at 17:49:59
6 Posted 27/07/2020 at 18:12:29
When the fine folks of TW helped me make my Goodison pilgrimage in 2017, one of the great privileges provided by the club was the opportunity for us to walk on the hallowed turf after the game and meet a couple of the players -- Tom Davies, who had given me the thrill of a lifetime with the first goal I saw at Goodison, and Leighton Baines, who had given me so many thrills over the years.
It's legend now that Bainesy almost quit the game as a youth because of his shyness, and I saw that unassuming manner when we shook hands and talked. I was surprised how diminutive he was. He congratulated me on enjoying my debut trip so much (two wins), and I intended to thank him for being such a great role model for youngsters with his class and modesty, but I didn't actually say the words for fear of gushing and embarrassing both of us (I was pretty emotional). I wish now I'd gone ahead and said it. So I'll say it now... it's been an honor, Mr. Baines.
I have a photo of the two of us, Gaynesy and Bainesy -- not posed, just chatting -- taken by my extraordinary friend Kev Johnson, and it's a photo I cherish and enjoy whenever it pops up on my desktop background.
Ray #5, thanks. I'd never seen that before.
7 Posted 27/07/2020 at 20:23:47
Also, the best penalty kick taker and one of the best (obviously Kevin Sheedy was pretty good too) free-kick takers.
So let's cheer for Leighton and we'll be sorry to see him go. Lucas Digne is a fine player and he has scored some great goals too but there's a long way for him to go to achieve what Leighton did. I hope he will.
8 Posted 27/07/2020 at 21:49:51
9 Posted 27/07/2020 at 21:51:59
I don't blame him for not taking a 1-year contract; he bows out while Everton were still in the top flight. Maybe he knows that this bunch of gutless players will go down next season..
Just a shame Baines didn't win any honours for his scrap book but he did win the honour of being an Everton legend.
10 Posted 28/07/2020 at 01:15:13
11 Posted 28/07/2020 at 05:56:40
12 Posted 28/07/2020 at 12:49:00
13 Posted 28/07/2020 at 12:59:31
14 Posted 28/07/2020 at 13:07:43
15 Posted 28/07/2020 at 16:03:19
Absolutely brilliant left-back; between 2009 and 2014, he was one of the best in Europe.
I miss seeing that "Bainaar" combo. I miss those laser guided freekicks and those cool as you like penalties.
Gutted he never won a trophy with us and for me seeing Leighton end it means there's only Seamus Coleman left now from that little crop of players that came together under Moyes that fans really care about or connected with.
I look at Everton now and it just feels like an alien place. The rest are just not good enough or just go through the motions most of the time
Good luck Leighton, it was a pleasure!
16 Posted 28/07/2020 at 18:59:21
A great shame he won no trophies but his free kicks, penalties and sportsmanship, make him up there with the best players at Goodison Park, and in the Premiership era, arguably the best along with Tim Cahill, Arteta, Peanuts, Carsley, Barry, and Lukaku, Seamus and Gana, and I'd say Tim Howard.
There's been a few others, but compared to the demeanour of the current squad there's barely a handful of players you'd say yes, stay based on merit.
On a positive hopefully it's an awaking call to the club, of the reality of the scale of the rebuilding of the squad.
It won't be easy and I'd take three thoroughbreds than seven potentials, and hopefully no has-beens.
Farewell, Bainesy, and good luck in the next job.
17 Posted 28/07/2020 at 19:26:24
18 Posted 30/07/2020 at 00:45:44
19 Posted 30/07/2020 at 03:39:47
If there is anything I can add to the numerous accolades already written... Bainaar was certainly a special partnership and a joy to watch.
Though we all know of players, who performed brilliantly, become a lot less effective, once the partnership they have is gone.
I think, the partnership helped Baines bloom into the player that he is. And one tribute that I can pay to him, is how he continues to flourish, even when the partnership was no longer what it was.
I thought he became a lot more surer of himself, and held his own, regardless of who played in front of him.
The two seasons which I thought he was at his peak, is 2012-13 and 2013-14. Then, Pienaar has returned for his second stint, and in the latter season, Pienaar was in and out of the team.
Yet Baines continued to flourish.
That's my tribute to the man.
20 Posted 30/07/2020 at 08:39:47
21 Posted 31/07/2020 at 12:01:51
Good luck for the future, Leighton, whatever you decide to do.
22 Posted 01/08/2020 at 02:48:42
23 Posted 01/08/2020 at 10:49:17
24 Posted 01/08/2020 at 10:55:58
And he even reads books and has interests.
25 Posted 01/08/2020 at 11:46:17
I think that game was on 2 January, the season had been great up to then, but it slowly fizzled out. This was the last time Everton won away in the league under Moyes, which doesn't surprise me really, because winning away was never one of Moyes's strong points, even though the rot had already set in before he joined us.
26 Posted 01/08/2020 at 12:34:22
27 Posted 01/08/2020 at 13:08:44
I like Digne, he's also scored a couple of cracking free-kicks, but it just shows you how important it is for a team to win because people still bring up Sheedy's twice-taken free-kick from years ago, a lot more than Baines at West Ham, or maybe I'm just getting old?
28 Posted 01/08/2020 at 13:39:26
His humility is to be admired. It will stand him in good stead in retirement as he will not miss the adoration which leaves such a gap in the lives of other players when they hang them up. For that, I love him.
But there is part of me who wishes he would have just said to Mirallas, Lukaku, various England players and even Digne, "Fuck off out of my way. I take the free-kicks and penalties around here!"
29 Posted 02/08/2020 at 10:03:52
30 Posted 04/08/2020 at 08:47:44
Superb ability and class. And he was genuinely good.
31 Posted 04/08/2020 at 00:15:06
Baines is my favourite player in almost 30 years of watching the Blues.
I haven't had any kids yet, mainly due to the price of housing, but the name Leighton will be on the shortlist, if I'm ever blessed with a son.
I'll hope he can grow up to be half the man. A class-act.
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