October 1962: Roy Vernon stands inside a deserted Goodison Park, attired in his Everton kit and pristine Puma boots. With the Gwladys Street stand as his back-drop, the Everton captain repeatedly volleys the orange Slazenger Zig-Zag ball for the benefit of a photographer. The resultant iconic image, which appeared on the cover of World Sports magazine, captured the mercurial Welshman at the height of his powers.
Sixth months later, on a glorious, sunny afternoon in Liverpool 4, the stage was set for ‘Taffy’, as he was known to his teammates, to give the most memorable display of his life. At the final whistle, he was the hat-trick hero. Fulham had been swept away 4-1 and Everton’s first post-war League title had been secured. A lap of honour and a champagne toast from the Directors Box followed. This would be the zenith of the Flintshire-born inside-forward’s 15-year career with Blackburn Rovers, Everton, Stoke City and Wales.
As a teenager, Roy had slipped through Everton’s grasp but blossomed at Ewood Park under the tutelage of Johnny Carey. On the international stage, he helped Wales to reach the 1958 World Cup Finals, staged in Sweden. He’d follow Carey to Merseyside in 1960 – one of the first big-money purchases made with the financial backing of John Moores. His comment upon joining the Toffees was typical of his sardonic humour:
“Some folk say the Goodison crowd are bad lads.
Some have said I’m a bad lad.
We should get on well together.”
With a strike rate of better than a goal every other game, the sinewy Number 10 went on to become the Toffees' leading scorer in each of his four full seasons at the club. With a devastating burst of speed from a standing start, a keen sense of anticipation, and rapier shooting, he dovetailed beautifully with the graceful Alex Young. Those that saw the pair in tandem insist that no more intuitive forward partnership has graced Goodison Park.
A chain-smoker, a joker, ultra-confident, and no respecter of authority, Roy would test the mettle of his club managers. Yet the uncompromising Harry Catterick was able to channel his energies positively, for a period at least. Awarded the captaincy, his match-winning goals and infectious personality drove the team to Championship glory. By 1965, he was out of favour at Everton and a parting of the ways suited both parties - if not the Goodison faithful.
At Stoke City, he thrived in the laissez-fare atmosphere engendered by Tony Waddington until injury and disciplinary issues saw him become a peripheral figure at the Victoria Ground. In 1972, he walked away from football, never to return – his love for the game dissipated. A lifetime of puffing on Senior Service cigarettes took its toll and, in 1993, he succumbed to lung cancer, aged just 56.
Although one the Blues’ most important players in a golden area, Roy has been over-shadowed by Alex Young and other stars in our consciousness and affections. Had he still been alive to be lauded at the Gwladys Street Hall of Fame dinners, maybe things would have been different...
Now, David France and I have teamed up to bring Roy’s colourful story to a wider audience and give him the credit he so richly merits. Drawing on first-hand recollections from teammates and supporters, archive material, and Roy’s own unpublished memoir notes, we have been proud to chronicle the life of a unique talent and a true Everton great.
With deCoubertin Books, we have recently launched a Kickstarter initiative in anticipation of publication this autumn. Click this link to see a video about the book project and to learn how you can become involved and also enjoy exclusive benefits:
If you remember Roy, it’s not too late to contribute your memories via firstname.lastname@example.org
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