Alfie Harland was one of a succession of talented goalkeepers whose Everton careers were sandwiched between those of two giants of the club, Billy Scott and Ted Sagar. Like many such players his career suffered by comparison to his great royal blue compatriots in the Everton goal.
He came to Goodison in 1922 having won the Irish League Championship with Linfield, represented the Irish League and won his first Ireland caps. Everton’s directors were suitably impressed by his performances for the Irish League to spend £1500 on his signature and he replaced the injured Tom Fern in goal to make his debut on 4 November 1922 in a 1-0 victory over Arsenal.
‘Interest centred in the debut of Harland, the Irish International goalkeeper recently signed by Everton,’ reported the Liverpool Daily Post and Mercury. ‘The test was by no means a severe one but Harland gave sufficient evidence of his ability to justify the excellent opinion formed of his skill on previous occasions. The stiffest task came when Dr [James] Patterson sent in a high shot that almost went under the bar, and Harland showed resource in the way he got the ball over the bar after appearing to misjudge the fight of the ball. From a spectators’ point of view, the contest was well nigh featureless, because the forward work of both sides was extremely poor… The goalkeeper certainly had little to do in the first half, but afterwards there was more liveliness, and with Arsenal always threatening to rob Everton of their small lead, interest was maintained.’
Harland gained the respect of his fellow players and fans, who quickly considered him a safe pair of hands. ‘Harland was at his best in goal, the Irishman saving several fine shots when Chelsea were at their best in the first half, and his safe catching and prompt clearances inspired confidence,’ recorded FMN in the Liverpool Courier of one match against the London club.
But this was an era in which goalkeepers were battered around by opposing forwards and thus exceedingly vulnerable to injury. Having made a string of appearances in place of the injured Fern, in February 1923 Harland was himself injured and Fern regained his place, holding it for a year. Harland regained the green jersey for the second half of the 1923/24 campaign but then lost it to another goalkeeper – Jack Kendall – for the first half of 1924/25 before regaining it once more. Kendall was seen off but when Everton signed Harry Hardy in 1925 it spelt the end for Harland.
He suffered from a series of injuries through his final year at Goodison and a dispute over his medical bills was discussed at boardroom level. In August 1926 it was decided to grant the player a free transfer and he joined Runcorn.