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Christ alive I'm in bits now NT
...gave rise to that penultimate Squires panel.
I’ve written to two sports ‘celebrities’ in my life. The first was to Richie Benaud after he’d announced his retirement. I wrote to him to thank him for being the calm rational voice of my cricket summers and with good grace he responded. The second letter I wrote was to Howard Kendall when I was a 23 year old. That wasn’t such a nice letter.
I first watched Howard Kendall when him Harvey and Ball formed the classiest Everton midfield I was to ever experience (and probably ever will). I was 11 in 1970, when Everton won the league and in those days troops of 11 year olds (and younger!) would still go the game in numbers and unsupervised without it becoming a child neglect issue. (In fact the only dilemma I’d ever face match days was whether to spend my bus fare home on a bag of chips and a walk back to Huyton or risk a clip around the head by the conductor for bunking on the bus) I still remember the brilliance of that midfield, though through the haze of 50 years.
1981 Kendall rejoined Everton as manager and at first the signs were not promising by 1982/3 tempers were frayed and the ‘Kendall Out!’ chants became a small but significant presence at home games. After one particularly disappointing game I reached for the Basildon Bond and fountain pen (blue ink not green) and poured out all of my frustrations to the manager.
I cant remember the wording of the letter, but the gist was that I wasn’t happy with his management, he wasn’t motivating the players, they were lazy and I was particularly scathing of our young Welsh Left Back, who was the most useless defender I ever had the misfortune to watch. I ended the letter that if I was ever given the chance to play for Everton you’d need the trainer to carry me off the field as I’d have used every last drop of energy during the game.
He responded. He offered me a trial.
I took the opportunity and as a not very good alehouse player was so far out of my depth it was embarrassing. After it, he treated me to lunch, a tour of the facilities and the chance to meet the players - he offered me tickets for the next Everton home game, which I declined as I was a season ticket holder already, so he arranged for me to have two tickets sent to my address for Everton’s next away game (Arsenal). He never mentioned the letter I’d written once except to say as we parted - ‘you see (Sid), we are trying our best’
The manager I roundly castigated went on not only to win my respect but became the most successful manager in Everton’s history. The Welsh Left Back I was scathing about was Kevin Ratcliffe playing out of position who became Everton’s most successful captain and certainly the quickest central defender I ever watched.
So thanks Howard wherever you are for the best 10 footballing years of my life both watching you as a player and your first spell as a manager. Most of all from a very personal note - thanks for teaching me the value of humility.