It is something of an Everton tradition for talented youngsters to be given a baptism of fire. In 1984 Howard Kendall gave Paul Bracewell his Everton debut in front of 100,000 at Wembley in the Charity Shield against Liverpool. A decade later, Francis Jeffers, Michael Branch and Jonathan O’Connor were blooded in front of 55,000-strong Old Trafford crowds. And yet this is nothing compared to Colin Harvey’s first senior game for Everton.
In September 1963, Harvey, an untried eighteen year old reserve (‘who fans of the club have scarcely heard of’ noted the Liverpool Echo), travelled with the Everton team for a European Cup tie with Internazionale. The youngster thought he was there merely to carry his colleagues’ bags, but no one was more surprised than Harvey himself when he was included in place of the injured Jimmy Gabriel. Having played before no more than a few thousand in the Central League, Harvey was pitched in front of 80,000 passionate Italians in the San Siro, one of European football’s great arenas. Harvey seemed unperturbed by the tumultuous atmosphere and the Liverpool Echo reported that he could ‘look back on his first senior game with some pride since he fought hard, played at times with a veteran coolness and could have been a scorer.’
It took those Evertonians unable to travel to the San Siro another six months before they saw Harvey pull on a first team shirt, when he made his league debut in a 2-1 win at Blackburn. But within little over a year of that memorable night in Italy, the inside forward had established himself in the first team.
An Evertonian since childhood, Harvey had stood in the Boy’s Pen through the dark days of the 1950s. A supremely fit and dedicated trainer, Harvey had all the attributes that came to define the modern midfielder: speed, close control, an impeccable first touch, stamina. He would be renowned for his lung-busting surges from box to box, but it was his imaginative and supremely accurate distribution that brought him renown as ‘the White Pele.’ ‘Colin was a very dedicated, hard working individual who got to the top because he was prepared to do that little bit extra,’ Terry Darracott recalled. ‘He would always put in that extra half hour after training, no matter what he had done in the morning.’
Alex Young later said that it was this dedication that was the difference between Harvey cutting at the highest level and ending up in a backwater, like Southport, as many of Everton’s young players did. He bulked up, said Young, and gained an extra yard of pace. ‘He matured into a buzz-bomb of a footballer – an expert at precise and imaginative passing,’ he recalled. ‘Play and run, play and run – that was Colin. He was unselfish, recklessly brave and incredibly skilful.’
Although he was never a prolific goalscorer, Harvey had a knack of scoring important goals. His first in an Everton shirt came in the 4-0 win over Liverpool in September 1964. ‘The ball came to me on the edge of the box,’ Harvey later recalled. ‘I chested it and as it bounced I just lobbed it into the top corner.’
And yet, perhaps surprisingly, some Evertonians did not immediately take to him. Despite the obvious poise and elegance he brought to the team, in the early stages of his career – derby goal notwithstanding – he was rash in front of goal and fluffed chances. Catterick persevered with the youngster, lessening his attacking responsibilities. Eventually he would wear the number six shirt, but his experience reflected the positional transition of football at this time: from inside forward to wing half to something resembling a modern midfielder by the late-1960s.
By the age of 21, Harvey was one of the most important members of the team, and was virtually ever present through the 1965/66 season. His crucial intervention that year came in the FA Cup semi final against Manchester United at Burnden Park. In a tight, nervous encounter, his bobbling shot twelve minutes from the end was enough to separate the two teams. ‘It was every supporter’s dream to score the goal that puts you through to the final,’ he would recall. Three weeks later, he was part of the team that beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-2 at Wembley.
Harvey’s ascent to greatness would be completed over the following season with the additions of Alan Ball and Howard Kendall to the Everton midfield. ‘They were both different types of players but were outstanding in their own right,’ said Harvey, ‘Alan would chip in with some tremendous goals, while Howard was a great tackler. He had a special talent at passing the ball.’ Through the latter part of the 1960s they emerged as one of the finest midfield triumvirates football has ever seen.
Harvey was already an England under-23 international when he was called up to England’s 1969 tour of South America. Full international recognition would not come for a further two years, when he won a solitary cap against Malta.
During the 1969/70 season Harvey’s career was put in real jeopardy when he lost the sight of his right eye following an infection. Specialist treatment and a complete break from football for two months followed and by mid-January, to the relief of the fans, he returned to the first team. His comeback was completed with the goal against West Bromwich Albion which secured Everton’s seventh League Championship on 1 April. Few titles have ever been secured with such spectacular efforts and the strike has gone down in the annals of club history as one of the greatest goals Goodison has witnessed. ‘First he moved towards goal, changed his mind and veered out, as though to bring Morrissey into play,’ Horace Yates recorded in the Daily Post. ‘Seeing Morrissey was covered he doubled back to the edge of the penalty area and while on the run sent a crashing drive soaring into the net with Osborne leaping spectacularly, but vainly across goal.’
With Harvey, Kendall and Ball still all only in their mid-twenties, many expected the revered trio to inspire Everton to further successes through the 1970s. They played more games together through the 1970/71 season than they had the previous year, but success was elusive. From 1971 injury started to haunt Harvey. Through the 1971/72 season, he started just 17 league games, 24 the next campaign and just 15 through the 1973/74 season. By now Billy Bingham was manager and, seeking to build on his own vision for the club, in September made Martin Dobson the most expensive midfielder in British football. Harvey was sold to Sheffield Wednesday for £70,000 in order to fund the deal.
In 2003, he told Bluekipper.com: ‘I cried when I went out of the gate, I’ll be honest with you – I thought it was the end. I thought the next time I come back it would be to watch a game. Billy Bingham was manager at the time, and I just didn’t seem to fit in with his plans. I was having trouble with my hip and the 2 seasons before I left I was missing training sessions and a few games...Because I wasn’t training as hard my form had dipped and Billy Bingham had just bought Martin Dobson who was a good player and I wasn’t getting a game. I don’t care what you say, if you’re a footballer, all you want to do is play football on a Saturday afternoon. That was the combination of things, and I just made a quick decision to move. The hip caused great difficulty over the next 2 years at Sheffield Wednesday, I used to train on a Friday, play on a Saturday then rest until the following Friday and Saturday. It became obvious at that time to call it a day from playing.’
But in 1976, after retiring, Harvey returned to Goodison as part of Bingham’s coaching staff. He trained Everton’s youngsters and oversaw the development of the likes of Gary Stevens, Kevin Ratcliffe and Kevin Richardson. In 1981, he was reunited with Kendall, who first made him reserve team manager, then in 1983 his assistant.
The switch coincided with a remarkable upturn in form. Goodison had been plagued with depression through the first stages of the 1983/84 season, with supporter-led campaigns calling for Kendall’s sacking, but by the season’s end the team had risen up the league and won the FA Cup. A glut of further honours awaited.
‘Howard’s strength was that he was very shrewd in judging a player I brought to him,’ Harvey told Bluekipper. ‘I was very passionate when it came to the training side of things, and was very passionate about video work as well. It was Howard who pulled it all together. It was certainly a great time to be at the club and for everyone connected with the club.’
Two league titles followed and when, in June 1987, Kendall left for Athletic Bilbao, Harvey was the natural successor. ‘Everyone at the club, and I really mean everyone, had the utmost respect for Colin,’ recalled Graeme Sharp. ‘Although he had no top level management experience, he did seem to be the logical choice because he’d had such an influence on the success we’d enjoyed under Howard.’
In keeping with this sense of continuity, there was little change to the Everton team through the 1987/88 season. But when Everton finished a distant fourth to record-breaking champions Liverpool, there was a feeling at the season’s end that the squad needed reconstruction.
In the summer of 1988 Harvey invested heavily on reinforcements, spending nearly £5 million on Pat Nevin, Neil McDonald, Stuart McCall and Tony Cottee – the latter a British transfer record signing. After a positive start to the 1988/89 season, Everton’s form fell apart. The new signings struggled with form and injuries, and there was talk of dressing room rifts between the new boys and the older generation of title-winning starsthat seemed to permeate on the pitch. Everton finished eighth, a position that was flattered by their late-season form, also reaching the FA Cup Final, which was lost to Liverpool.
By the start of the 1989/90 season, such mid-eighties stalwarts as Gary Stevens, Pat Van Den Hauwe, Trevor Steven, Peter Reid, Adrian Heath and Paul Bracewell had moved on. Harvey invested heavily again, signing Mike Newell, Norman Whiteside, Martin Keown and Stefan Rehn during the summer of 1989. Each, in their way, was an astute signing, but with the exception of the formidable Whiteside Harvey derived little benefit from them: Newell had his best years at Blackburn, Keown at Arsenal, and Rehn, whose time at Goodison was farcical, in Sweden. Everton started the new season well, and neared the top by November. But a 6-2 hammering at Aston Villa saw confidence ebb away and the dressing room splits became public. A team building night out in a Chinese restaurant ended up in a well-publicised brawl between Keown and Kevin Sheedy. Everton showed signs of progress, but only finished the season sixth after winning just one of their last five games. But discontent was the prevailing mood within the club and on the terraces.
In the summer of 1990 Harvey signed just two players – Manchester City’s left back, Andy Hinchcliffe, and Oldham’s promising midfielder, Mike Milligan. But it would take more than four years for Goodison to see the best of the former, while Milligan was an acquisition doomed to failure. Harvey managed to hold on to Neville Southall, who, in his unhappiness at the new order had requested a transfer, but on the opening day of the 1990/91 season, staged a one man sit down protest.
By the start of November, a disjointed Everton team had won just a single league game and sat in eighteenth place A 2-1 League Cup defeat to Sheffield United proved the final straw, and Harvey was sacked. One newspaper likened his departure to the death of a terminally ill friend: ‘The sense of loss at the demise of a manager they idolised as a player and respected as a person was tempered by acceptance that the departure was the only way to end the suffering.’
Years later, Harvey was candid about the responsibility for his failings. ‘I’m a believer that your fate is in your own hands,’ he said. ‘If players don’t play as well as they should do, or they don’t turn out as you thought they were going to, that’s your fault isn’t it? I’m a great believer in that you are responsible for everything that you did yourself so if we didn’t win anything, I was the only one to blame.’ There was acknowledgement too, that being Everton manager was ‘probably the most frustrating time of my career.’ He added: ‘Every other period during my Everton career we had always won things, I’ve always been involved with winning teams. I wasn’t then – even though we finished fourth, eighth, sixth and we got to the final of the F.A. Cup, the final of the Simod Cup, the semi final of the Worthington [sic.] Cup. I really didn’t enjoy being manager… I have got to consider that time as a failure due to the simple fact that we didn’t win anything.’
After more than 25 years with the club, it looked like a sad ending for Harvey. But just days later he was reunited with Kendall, returning as his assistant manager. It was a move welcomed by many Evertonians, but the magic did not return. Following Kendall’s resignation in December 1993, and Mike Walker’s arrival a month later, Harvey left the club.
In November 1994 Harvey joined Oldham as assistant manager to Graeme Sharp. But the duo’s time at Boundary Park ended in disappointment and Harvey left with Sharp in March 1997.
Four months later, Harvey returned to Everton, where he was reunited with Kendall yet again, this time as Director of Youth Coaching. It was a similar position to that which he held in the late-1970s and was similarly productive. Within a year of his return to Goodison he again sampled success when he managed the youth team to victory in the FA Youth Cup Final with what he described as ‘the best footballing side I have ever worked with.’ Included in that crop of outstanding youngsters were Francis Jeffers, Richard Dunne, Danny Cadamarteri, Leon Osman and Tony Hibbert.
A few years later Harvey would be credited with the emergence of Wayne Rooney through Everton’s youth set up: it was Harvey who had first played Rooney in an Everton shirt, picking him for the under-19s, when he was aged just fourteen.
Rooney’s emergence during the 2002/03 season would be Harvey’s final achievement at Everton. At the end of that campaign he announced his retirement from football on account of a longstanding hip ailment dating back to his playing days. At the end of the season he was awarded a testimonial against Bologna, only the eleventh former player to be given such an accolade. But in November 2007, Harvey came out of retirement when he was appointed Bolton Wanderers Chief Scout by Gary Megson, an early-1980s Goodison protégé of his.
It was heartening that someone who lived and breathed football still had something to offer the game in these veteran years. But despite this new start, there was sense that Harvey’s heart would always be at Goodison; for in his various guises he had spent almost his entire adult life at Everton, and was a man, who, in the words of Tony Cottee, for whom the club was his ‘whole life.’ Asked on the eve of his testimonial how he would best like to be remembered, Harvey answered simply: ‘To have played for Everton and been an Evertonian myself.’