By Gary Naylor
Kevin Sheedy was an Everton Great, a sweet, sweet sentence to write as he could, and should, have been a Liverpool Great, since they had him as a youth and let him go (preferring Ronnie Whelan, with whom he shared many traits).
He won everything short of the European Cup in club football (he wasn’t allowed to compete post-Heysel) and was a key member of Jack Charlton’s successful Ireland teams. And he was my hero.
He had some of the characteristics of David Beckham, except he was even more one-sided (left), never headed a football (except once vs Man Utd), never tackled and never beat a man for pace or with a trick. He never warmed up, and if taking up position at the opposite side of the pitch from the tunnel, barely made it to his place before the kick-off, so slowly did his very bandy-legged walk carry him over the ground. He was average in height, could be riled, but was generally placid in temperament and shunned the Press.
He celebrated boisterously (famously in front of The Kop), but usually he was quick to slump the shoulders and, on those ridiculous legs, trudged back to the halfway line. You could have stood next to him on the bus on the way to the ground and never notice him. Like two more of my favourite players of whom I have written, John Robertson and Neville Southall, he looked an accidental footballer, and was all the more cherished for it.
He averaged 10 league goals per season over seven years as a wide midfielder (not a wide forward / midfielder like Ryan Giggs or David Silva) without taking penalties at a time when the rules made it much harder to score and 1-0 was a very common result. If they kept stats on it, he would have had the highest assists in the League for certain.
He took free kicks all right, and to my continuing astonishment, deposited one Goodison effort round the wall into the top left corner, only for the referee to demand a re-take: whereupon he planted the ball in the top right corner (see for yourself below). I’d have retired there and then.
Though goals were a key part of his game, his main contribution was to find passes, short and long, that set up a front pair, three midfielders and both full-backs who raided forward at every opportunity, ensuring that Everton in the 80s, like Barcelona today, played in the opposition half.
He stayed wide on the left unless running into the box, stretching the width of the pitch, giving him the time to play that more conventional wide men got through a trick or a burst of pace. The head was up, his appreciation of team-mates keen and his pass always positive. Plenty of full-backs showed him the inside, knowing that he had no right foot, but that merely opened up the pitch for him to find a man. Like all the best players, he had options whenever and wherever he received the ball.
Never, and this includes Paul Scholes, has so much football come from so unprepossessing an individual. The Royal Blue 11 shirt will always be Kevin Sheedy’s.
If you enjoyed Gary’s writing, you can read his views on all things from football to film on his personal blog, The Sound of the Tooting Trumpet, and read his thoughts on cricket, here, and theatre, here.
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