Interview with Adrian Heath

Adrian Heath is probably one of the most important men in Everton’s last 25 years, having scored two of the most important goals of Howard Kendall’s “escape from the brink” in 1984. His goal at Oxford in the Milk Cup is often credited with turning things around for Kendall, and indeed Everton, back then, but his late winner against Southampton in the FA Cup Semi-Final at Highbury is just as important.

We tracked “Inchy” down after training one wet Friday morning at his new club, Coventry, and did our best Paxman impression……

When you were at Everton, you were known to all the fans as “Inchy,” obviously due to your height – who was the first person to call you that, and was it a nickname you were happy to have?

I’ve had that nickname since I was about six! I was the smallest in the class, but believe it or not, I did grow up to be almost 5 foot 7 but when I was at school I was so much smaller than everyone else, and by the time I’d left school, I was going to say I’d shot up, but that’s probably not the most appropriate phrase for someone my size. But I did get a lot bigger after I’d left school.

I didn’t mind the nickname to be honest, I’d had it since I was a kid, and people still call me it now so it’s something that has stuck. Even my dad calls me “Inchy”, even he won’t call me Adrian, and it’s just something I’ve always answered to.

You played over 300 games for Everton, do any stand out as particular favourites for yourself?

{Thinks for a long time!} Obviously there were some terrific games for us, the Semi-Final against Southampton in ’84, you know, scoring so late on in injury time of extra time with all the Evertonians running onto the pitch, that was a special day knowing that we were going back to Wembley. The League Cup final against Liverpool had whetted the appetite of everybody at the club and going back made us think, “Hey, come one, we want a piece of this.”

We were a young side back then, Sharpy, Sheeds, Ratters, and we all socialised together and were very close, and we all had a lot of hunger about us, and once we’d played Liverpool in that final I think we’d all got a taste of it so it didn’t surprise me in the slightest that we got off and running after that.

You’re career has been intertwined with that of Howard Kendall, you replaced him at Stoke when he came to manage Everton the first time, and then he brought you to Goodison, and you’ve also worked as his Assistant at both Everton and Sheffield United. Would you say he was a big part of your footballing career?

Oh yes, Howard’s been an integral part of my footballing career. When I was a young boy at Stoke, before I got into the side, I used to clean his boots. He used to wax-lyrical about Everton Football Club, and talk to me about the great games and great nights at Goodison Park that he’d been involved in, and my dad used to speak so highly of the “Harvey, Ball and Kendall” team. So, when I got the opportunity to go to Everton, and join Howard again, I jumped at it.

I’d actually turned a couple of moves down prior to going to Everton, but as soon as they came in I wanted to go there. Aston Villa and Coventry City both wanted me at the time, ironically as I now work at Coventry, when Ray Sexton was the manager and they were doing very well. Coventry actually offered more money than Everton, but I didn’t see it at that particular time as a really good career move, but as soon as Everton came in, I couldn’t wait to get there.

I met Howard the night after Everton had beaten Manchester United 1-0, and Sharpy had scored at Old Trafford, and I think Howard will tell you that it was probably the quickest deal the club have ever had to make! It was over in about five minutes, I met him after the game, he said “Do you want to come to Everton?” I said yeah, and he showed me what he could pay me and I said, “Well where’s the pen?” and that was it!

I’ve learned a lot from Howard Kendall during our time working together, he was a real player’s manager, and was a pleasure to work with. I enjoyed working with Colin Harvey as well, he was a terrific coach, and he worked well with the younger players at Everton. I took Colin to Burnley with me as well when I was manager there. So those two have been a big part of my football career, and I don’t think I could ever thank them enough for the way they’ve looked after me.

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So Howard was a big part of the decision for you to come to Everton?

Yeah he was. Obviously it’s a big wrench to leave your home town club, but there are certain clubs that you know don’t come calling very often, and Everton are one of them. The fact that Howard had spoken to me over the years, and the fact that he was the manager, and that he’d told me when we were at Stoke that his ambition was to go and manage Everton, I knew he would be bursting with ambition. I knew he would be taking pride in the club that he always called “his” club, he wouldn’t have gone there just to go through the motions, he wanted to make Everton the team that they were when he was playing there.

It wasn’t a difficult decision, and I always say to this day that joining Everton was the best decision I ever made in my career. Football’s been very good to me, but the best decision I ever made was signing for Everton that day.

You came to us as our record signing at £700,000, and you were still young at the time, how did that affect you when you arrived?

It was a big burden at the time because the team that became the team of 1985 was still very much in it’s infancy and we weren’t a particularly good side and Howard was still in the process of putting a team together really. There was a few older players still there, Higgy (Mark Higgins) was still there, so the team that became the famous side of the mid-eighties was still being put together, and I think the fact that I’d gone there for such a big price tag, I don’t think I did myself, the club, or the manager justice in the beginning.

Gradually we got there though, and as they always say, the rest was history.

You say you didn’t do yourself justice in the early days, but once you got started you bagged 94 goals for Everton, are there any that stand out in your memory as particular favourites?

I used to love big games at Goodison, I still say to people now that I don’t think there’s a better stadium in the country when Goodison’s bouncing. I loved the game where we beat Manchester United five nil in 1985, and although I didn’t get to play, the Bayern Munich game ranks up there as well. I remember scoring a goal when Sheedy lobbed the ball over the Norwich defence and I volleyed it in, and there are lots of other great games I think back to. The game last season when we beat Manchester United and Big Dunc scored, the place was bouncing, and I know it’s an old cliché, but it’s true, and I don’t think the supporters know just how much of an effect they can have on the team. Also, I don’t think there’s many teams who’s relationship with the supporters can influence the team in the way that they can at Goodison.

Goodison’s lovely under the lights, and I think when you get there on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening when the lights are on, it really is a special place to play.

One of the goals that stands out for many Evertonians is the goal against Oxford, which many credit as saving Howard Kendall’s career and turning round Everton’s fortunes. Was there a realisation at the time that that was the case?

At the time, I think the pressure was on Howard. Although people say “the goal that turned us around,” it was an important goal that set us on our way to go to a League Cup Final, which I think was the catalyst, and of all the goals I scored for Everton, it’s the goal that people talk about the most because it meant so much to people at the time and there was all the talk of it possibly being Howard’s last game. If that were true, then I couldn’t have repaid his faith in me any better.

Was there a sense at the time that beating Oxford would turn things around, or was it more relief at not being beaten?

The frustrating thing for us at the time was that we couldn’t put onto the pitch on a Saturday what we were doing in training from Monday to Friday, and I think that all the players knew that we were a very good team in the making, but we just couldn’t string it all together. Eventually though, we got on a roll, and we’ve spoken about the introduction of Reidy and Andy [Gray], and they were certainly big catalysts for that, because I think they made the younger element of the team, myself, Gary [Stevens], Trevor [Steven] and Sharpy realise just what a good team we could become. They were terrific signings for us.

There were a number of great players in that side of the mid-80’s which you were a part of, who would you say were the best players that you’ve played alongside?

People always mention the great partnership I had with Sharpy, and we had a great understanding together up front, but I’m sure Sharpy will say, certainly for us front players, that we both used to love playing alongside Kevin Sheedy. I shudder to think just how many goals that Sheedy made for me and Sharpy back in those days.

You just knew that if you were clever enough with your run, if you could get in behind people in on goal, then Sheeds would get it in to you. We got to know Kevin so well, that whether he put it in front of the defence or bent it round the back of them, he’d get the ball into you somehow, and I still maintain to this day that Kevin was one of the most under-rated players of the mid-80’s.

During that time, you were probably on the verge of starting a very promising England career until you were injured against Sheffield Wednesday. Have you ever forgiven Brian Marwood for that tackle?

Well, the good thing from my point of view, is that Brian Marwood is now the top man at Nike, so whenever I need any equipment, I just ring him up and say “Hey, don’t forget you cost me an England career!” and I get a bigger parcel than I might have expected!

It’s strange actually, because he’s become very close pals with Peter Reid, and it was Reidy who practically chased him around the pitch for two or three games after that kicking lumps out of him, so it was ironic how our paths crossed when me and Reidy were at Sunderland. But he’s a good guy, Brian, but certainly after a few pints we remind him he cost me my England career!

Who were the toughest defenders you played against?

In those days, it was still very much on the back end of the days of the hardmen of football who could really give you some, although the likes of Hansen and Lawrenson were different class of defenders, despite me and Sharpy doing quite well against them. In those days it was still a case where the defenders got the first one free, so to speak. The first ball that came up they’d let you know they were around, the likes of Butcher and Osman down at Ipswich, Evans and all that at Villa, there was a lot of “robust” centre halves in those days. Attackers tend to get a lot more protection than they did in those days!

When you’re my size though, you need to use speed and movement to get passed them, but the likes of Sharpy and Andy Gray could actually give some of the physical stuff back, and I think sometimes Andy got his retaliation in first, and I think he taught Sharpy how to do that, and in the latter days of his career, Graeme was very hard to play against because he knew how to look after himself, whether it was with his elbows or with his feet.

In 1988, you went out to Spain to play your football, which a lot of English players did. You only spent a year out there though, what happened?

As I said earlier, the best thing I ever did in my footballing career was signing for Everton, and the worst decision I ever made was coming back from Spain. I had a few off-the-field things going on in my life, my family at the time, and the business I was involved in wasn’t doing too well either and when I came home that summer, I had the opportunity to sign for Aston Villa. With no disrespect to Aston Villa, I made the decision when I was in England and it seemed like the easy decision to make, not only could I come back to England with a good club, but I could sort all my problems out, but really what I should have done was gone back to Spain and let the problems back in England sort themselves out.

I had a great lifestyle in Spain, I loved living in Barcelona, some of my best friends are still over there, the God-father of my children lives in Spain, and I met a lot of lovely people out there and I would hope that it’s where I’ll end up living when I finish my football career.

From that point of view it was a fantastic move, and financially, I have to be honest, I did very well out of the deal. It was also great to play the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Athletico Madrid, touring Spain, which is a beautiful country, it showed me that there’s a lot more to offer about Spain than just the Costa del Sol!

When I came back, I never really settled at Villa, then I had two and half good years with Manchester City, and City reminded me an awful lot of my time at Everton. I really enjoyed my time there playing with Reidy and Niall Quinn, then Alan Harper came across from Everton. Then we had Wayne Clarke, Neil Pointon, and we probably had about six or seven Evertonians at City with us at the time, so it was like a home from home. We had a couple of good years there as well, we finished towards the top half of the First Division, and then I went to Burnley, which was another terrific move for me.

You think at that stage, you know, you’re moving on in your career, moving down the leagues, but we managed to get a promotion there, and I had to two and a half years there. [Adrian scored 20 goals in his first full season there.]

When you finished your playing career, you then hooked up with Howard Kendall as Assistant manager at Goodison. What were the differences for you between being a player and being management?

Obviously the side were different from Howard’s first time there, and the consequences were different, and we were only there for a year, but I always remember that last day of the season against Coventry City, and I wouldn’t want to go through that experience again.

I remember thinking that all the things I had achieved at Everton as a player would have gone out of the window if we’d have gone down that day. I’d have been part of the management team responsible for taking the club to the second division. But in an ironic way, that was another big time in the club’s history.

We had stayed over the water in the Wirral the night before the game, and as we came through the tunnel there was Evertonians everywhere in town, and all the way up Scotty Road with well-wishes and flags outside of the flats saying things like “You can do it Everton” – I looked around at some of the players, and I think that was the first time that the likes of Gareth Farrelly and Danny Williamson and the others who were new to the club realised the size of the club. I think they realised the enormity of the game they were about to play.

That was another day where the crowd got us through.

Obviously being a player at Goodison holds happier memories than your time as Howard’s assistant.

Absolutely, because of how things went, but I think that most Evertonians that are in management now all have the dream of going back there as manager at some stage. I look at Moyesey now and I hear the things he says, and the club’s got him. It’s such a football club that it does get under your skin and you just can’t get away from it. There’s not one person in management now, who has played for Everton, that won’t want to go and manage Everton Football Club, and I think that pays testimony to the club, and the fans.

We would like to thank Adrian for taking time out of his busy schedule as Assistant Manager at Coventry to speak to us, and also to the wonderful people in the Coventry Press Office who helped make this interview possible.

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