The term ‘legend’ is a much used, even over used, term for former sports stars, but in the case of former Everton and England midfielder Colin Harvey, the word legend doesn’t go far enough.
Realising that today was the 73rd birthday of Colin Harvey caused me to reflect on a couple of personal memories of a simply marvellous footballer.
I was seven when Colin Harvey made his Everton debut in a 1963 European Cup tie against Internazionale of Milan in the fabled San Siro stadium, ten when he scored an epic FA Cup semi-final winner against Manchester United on a mudbath of a pitch at Burnden Park, and then play a massive part in that glorious 1966 come-from-behind win over Sheffield Wednesday.
I was thirteen when I first set foot inside Goodison Park and saw him as part of that incredible midfield Holy Trinity with the now sadly departed Alan Ball and Howard Kendall in the majestic 69/70 League Championship winning side. If there’s ever been a better midfield trio, I’ve yet to hear of them. Together, they didn’t just control games, they dominated and owned games but did it with grace and style as well as industry and tenacity.
Harry Catterick, the manager who brought Harvey through the ranks at Everton once said when speaking of his Holy Trinity, “in terms of skill and ability, Colin was the best of the three.” No lesser player than the late, great George Best – part of the famed Best, Charlton and Law trio – said of the late 60s/early 70s Everton side, “they were a delight to watch and play against.”
One of my abiding memories of Colin Harvey was a game at Upton Park against West Ham United, August 1974. I’d endured a ridiculously complicated hitch-hike from my home in Salford to get to the Boleyn Ground at half time, to find the Blues leading two-nil courtesy of a Joe Royle penalty and a Bob Latchford strike. Just my luck then that Billy Bonds and John McDowell scored within a minute of each other to draw the Hammers level with just over a quarter of an our to play – had I come all this way for a draw… or worse?
I need not have feared the worst as with eight minutes to go, Everton moved forward with purpose and my favourite, Colin Harvey, smote a sublime winner from the edge of the box that Mervyn Day in the home goal could only wonder at the beauty of as that glorious shot flew past him into the top corner – 2-3 – Hurrah!!!!
When Alan Ball was sold to Arsenal in 1971, I like every Evertonian was distraught. Bally sold? It just wasn’t right, it just wasn’t right. But, barely three weeks after that game-winning goal at West Ham, when Colin Harvey was sold to Sheffield Wednesday, I felt my world was crumbling.
Bally had gone, Howard Kendall had moved to Bimingham City in the February 1974 deal that saw Bob Latchford join Everton, but now Colin Harvey, my favourite was leaving – the Holy Trinity was no more, this was too much.
My dear old mum let me have an old bedsheet and hanging it on the washing line, I took a blue paint spray and emblazoned it with “£70,000 is an insult to the White Pele.” I was determined that Colin would never be forgotten.
Together with my mate Gareth, another Salfordian Blue, we hitch-hiked down the East Lancs Road earlier than usual for the home game against Wolves, we wanted to be first into the ground so as to hang the sheet over the Park End electric scoreboard. We did and the rest as they say is history.
I’ll let Colin take up the story…
“It was when I made my debut for Sheffield Wednesday at Bolton. My dad had brought me back and I got a few phone calls asking how the game had gone, and someone told me that there was a banner at the Park End at Goodison saying something about me and the white Pele – it was a very proud moment for me! For someone to say that about you comparing you to probably the best player that ever played the game is really unbelievable. To think that people thought that much of me was hard to believe.”
A month later, Sheffield Wednesday played an England XI in a testimonial for Eric Taylor and Gareth and I decided we’d go, to take the banner to show Colin. But my hero was suffering with injury and was unlikely to play. We didn’t want to travel to Sheffield and not see him, so we cooked up a plan to ensure he’d be there.
Literally, every half hour through the day, one of us would ring Sheffield Wednesday to ask if he would be playing. Despite the repeated doubts, the switchboard operator at Hillsborough must have passed messages on that dozens of Everton fans had been phoning and by late afternoon, we got the reply we wanted… Colin had been contacted and despite not going to play, would be at the ground.
We travelled over and went to the players entrance and asked for the great man. The commissionaire went inside and a few moments later, Colin appeared patently expecting to see the whole of the Gwladys Street crowd waiting for him.
We introduced ourselves, told him what we’d done to make sure he was there and showed him the banner, and he laughed and said, “Only Evertonians would do this.” He was genuinely moved and being the gentleman he was and still is, gave us autographs and expressed his gratitude for the support we, and indeed every Evertonian, had given him through those illustrious eleven years in the Royal Blue.
Colin Harvey of course went on to become arguably our best ever coach, working with Howard Kendall to build and mould the glorious Everton sides of the mid 1980s. He eventually succeeded Kendall into the managers role, but sadly, this period of his Everton career didn’t match his playing or coaching successes.
Nevertheless, Colin Harvey 73 today, is every single inch of him an Everton legend – again, the word just doesn’t seem to be expressive enough.
Happy Birthday Colin and many more of them – Evertonian, gentleman and forever, our White Pele.