a class act...
It was a privilege to spend time chatting to former Everton captain Richard Gough, who now lives in San Diego, all about his time at Goodison Park...
Richard Gough is a man I have wanted to interview ever since I started out.
A former Everton captain who wore the shirt, and armband, with immense pride.
Richard Gough was one of the few players, in my lifetime, who was genuinely befitting of our motto.
Ask any Evertonian, of a certain age, to describe Richard Gough, and you are almost certain to get answers that include the words ‘class’ and ‘leader’. A class act, on and off the pitch. He led by example, and never let Everton down.
Reaching Goughy was easier said than done though, with him now living in San Diego. At 59 years of age, he’s just as old school as you would imagine, with a minimal online presence. A private man.
I had hit numerous dead-ends over the past two years, trying to make contact with him, so I was delighted when I finally reached him. You don’t always know what type of response you are going to get from ex-players when you contact them; they have no obligation to speak to you, they have nothing to gain from giving up their time to an amateur writer, and they definitely have better ways to spend their downtime. On the pitch, Richard Gough was a warrior, a battle-scarred leader and absolutely nobody’s fool. Off the pitch, he is exactly the gentleman you imagine him to be. He is pleasant, approachable, and patient with my questions. He is on the other side of the world and had offered to rush back from his pre-planned game of golf to speak to me.
He speaks about Everton with a genuine fondness, from the off. “What a club. People say I never let Everton down, but Everton never let me down either.”
So, back in 1999, at 37 years of age, and seemingly on the verge of retirement, I was interested to hear how the move to Goodison Park came about?
“I’d played about 6 or 7 games for Nottingham Forest the previous season, and I had played alright, I did OK. I’d just turned 37. Then just before I was leaving to go back to the states, I got a call from Harry Redknapp, at West Ham, and said he’d like me to come and play for a season. They had a young boy there by the name of Rio Ferdinand. ‘We think he’s going to be real player Goughy, if he can play alongside you for a while, he would learn so much from you.’ Harry said. So, I agreed verbally, and I was all set to go to West Ham. Then, later on, I phoned Walter, mainly to ask him how much money I should ask for, from Harry? Walter said, ‘You’re not really going to stay are you?’ and I said ‘Well yeah, I think so, do you not think I should?’ Walter replied, ‘Well if you’re going to carry on playing then you can come to Everton!’
I was a bit taken back, and I said, ‘you’ve got Dave Watson there, he’s about the same age as me?’, but Walter explained that Waggy had some problems with his knee and was probably going to move into a coaching role, he wouldn’t be playing too many games.
So that was that, I agreed to come to Everton on a free transfer.
I headed back to the states, for about 6 weeks, and this was my first proper break for about two years. I remember the headlines at the time in the newspapers, people wondering what the hell were Everton doing signing Richard Gough? The consensus was that my best days were long behind me, I’d not really played regular top-flight English football for about 13 years, when I was back at Tottenham. I’m sure there were a lot of people saying, ‘We get rid of Materazzi and replace him with Goughy on a free transfer?!’” he chuckles.
I don’t think anybody could have envisaged the career Materazzi would go on to have, in all fairness.
“No, but Walter thought a lot of him though, I know that. He was only a young lad, and probably not suited to the English game. They sold him for a few million pounds, and I came in on a free transfer.
I knew a few of the boys down there at Everton though, so it was an easy transition for me joining the club. I knew John Collins well, and a couple of others. Obviously, I had a great relationship with Walter Smith and Archie Knox from our previous time together.
I have to say, I loved living in Liverpool. It almost felt like Glasgow’s twin city; working-class people, football mad, two big football clubs. Scousers are good honest, hard-working, friendly people. When I was at Everton, most of the players lived closer to Manchester, but that wasn’t for me, I wanted to live in the city. I lived in a place called Grassendale, just a short enough drive from the training ground, and I absolutely loved it. My wife had stayed over in America with the kids, so I was by myself, which was good in a lot of ways, I was able to concentrate on just playing, training and relaxing. I’d often go into town with Abel Xavier and we would grab a bite to eat, I really enjoyed being around the place, it’s a fantastic city.”
Gough joined Everton, at the grand old age of 37, with 61 caps for his country, and as one of the most decorated players in the history of Rangers FC. He captained the Ibrox club for eight title wins, and was the only Rangers player to win a medal in each of those record nine successive Championships.
“You know what though? No matter how much you achieve in football, whenever you go to a new club, you always have to prove yourself all over again. So, you get a bit of a buzz, an adrenaline rush if you like, as you know you have to prove yourself to your new supporters, and also to your fellow players.
Yes, I’d played at a high level, but some people thought being at Rangers meant I’d had it easy. But it was never easy playing for Rangers, believe me, with teams hitting you on the break all the time. Everybody wanted to beat Rangers. When I came to Everton, we had to defend, but it was a completely different type of defending than I had been used to for the past 10 years. It was out and out defending, balls coming into the box left, right and centre. I was much more prominent, you could say. At Everton, we were on the back foot a lot of the time. When you play for Everton, you need to be a good player, obviously, but you have to give 100% all of the time.
Walter brought me in knowing I would be a positive influence on the dressing room, because of my experience and the way I looked after myself. Your dressing room is important, it can be a funny old place the dressing room, your senior players run the dressing room, or at least they should!
When I left Rangers, Walter had left Rangers at the same time. When Walter came to Everton, people might not know, he also had the chance to go to Sheffield Wednesday, but it goes without saying that Everton would always have appealed to Walter more than Sheffield Wednesday would. I obviously kept a keen eye on Everton’s results throughout Walter’s first season, we were always in touch.
Walter was a good man, and a fantastic manager. I’m sure that all the staff at Everton, right throughout the club, would all have nothing but good words to say about Walter. He made it such an enjoyable place to be around, there was always a good vibe around the place. It was such a good place to play our football. He was such a good man, we lost him too soon.”
"My first game was against Man Utd, I think I played well enough in the game, so I got off to a good start with the Evertonians. One thing I always say about Evertonians, they know good football. They know good football players, because they have had so many magnificent footballers play for the club. They are a good judge; they can usually tell pretty much right away if you are going to be a good fit for the football club.
That first game, against Man Utd, was me and Dave Watson at the back, up against Yorke & Cole. We played well and we managed to see them off. Waggy said to me towards the end of the game ‘I think that’s them seen off Goughy’ and I replied ‘Yeah, but they’ve still got Solskjaer and Sheringham to come off the bench!’
Waggy was a brilliant boy, one of the hardest men I have ever met in football. Very similar to myself in many ways, in the way he played. He was a magic boy, great to have around the club. He was a typical scouser, hard as nails."
"When I look back at that first season, we had a pretty decent team. It was primarily myself and David Weir at the back, we had Abel Xavier who was an international, a big strong lad and good on the ball, we had Richard Dunne, Michael Ball, David Unsworth. We had the likes of John Collins, the boy Pembridge, Jeffers and Campbell up front, they were a handful for most. Don Hutchison, he was a great player too. He wasn’t the quickest, but a real good player. He was an out and out winner, always wanted to win, even in training, and that’s what you need. It was a real good dressing room, in that first season anyway. We had a really good starting eleven, if we could all remain fit, it was a really good starting eleven, in my opinion."
I wondered, as captain, with the experience he had as a player, and the condition he kept himself in as an athlete, did he spend a lot of time working with the younger players?
"People often ask me that, and no not really, I used to go into the gym before and after training, and I used to simply say that if they had any brains, they would look at me, and the shape I was in, and follow me in, and do the stuff that I was doing. David Weir did and look at the longevity of his career and how well he did. David Weir was a fantastic player, we had a great partnership. I think he will have looked at me and thought if he can look after himself in the same way, then there was no reason why he couldn’t play as long. And I think he went on to play for Rangers until he was about 40? He is a good Evertonian as well."
"The first season was steady enough, it was a decent season, we finished comfortably in mid-table. The second season was a wee bit different. Duncan Ferguson came back, but we had lost a fair few players. We had lost Barmby and Hutchison, who were big players for us. The team had changed quite a bit, and then I got a bad injury. I remember telling Walter that I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to come back from it. I genuinely felt really bad, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to fulfil my contract. But Walter was great, he said ‘Richard, we are going to need you around, this is going to be a really tough season for us.’ Walter knew early on that we were going to struggle."
Everton’s financial struggles were well-documented, and Smith found himself with limited room for manoeuvre in terms of transfers.
“People talk about the signings Walter made, the likes of myself on a free transfer, Mark Hughes, Gazza, Ginola etc. But that was the reality of the situation at the time. Selling the likes of Dacourt and Materazzi and then replacing them with free transfers. He was spinning plates, and I don’t think you’ll find an Evertonian with a bad word to say about Walter. He tried to set up the team in the best way that he could, with the players at his disposal. Yes, it was often a defensive set up, because it just had to be, it was as simple as that, at times.
I’d played with Gazza at Rangers, obviously. He was one of the best players I have ever played with, he was unbelievable. Obviously, at Everton, he was at the end of his career and injury prone, but he could still change games on his day, and he did that a couple of times for Everton.
Thomas Gravesen was another who came in during that second season, I never really got to see the best of Thomas Gravesen. I think it would have been better for Thomas if I had been on the pitch!" he chuckles.
Archie Knox told me that Gravesen’s biggest problem was wanting to play in every position on the pitch. Goughy agrees –
"I think I’d have been telling him in no uncertain terms to stay where he was supposed to be! Credit to Thomas though, as you don’t get to play for Real Madrid unless you’re a good player, so fair play to the lad.”
The change in the tone of Gough’s voice, when he speaks of that second season, is obvious. Gough was a leader of men, he was a warrior, and he expected everybody around him to have those same high standards. He was captain of Everton Football Club and took that responsibility very seriously. Despite being out injured for much of that season, he wasn’t happy with what he was seeing…
“Things were worrying during that second season, I remember watching from the side lines during that second season, when I was out injured, and I remember thinking that we could be in big trouble this season. I was injured at the time, and it was a very hard period for me, I was frustrated. I only ever called a team meeting a couple of times in my whole career, but at Everton I seen something going on in that second season, and I didn’t like what I was seeing. People were complaining, the boys were getting quite a bit of money, and all of sudden everyone was complaining about all sorts, blaming the training, blaming Walter and Archie’s methods, and I wasn’t having it. So, I told Walter and Archie, I told them I was calling a meeting, but they were not to come anywhere near. I was going mad, I said to the boys ‘we need to start having a look at ourselves in the mirror here, the training is the same training we were doing last season, nothing has changed, it’s nothing to do with the training, it’s about what we’re doing out there on the field. It’s about time we start taking some responsibility here.’ Mark Hughes came up to me after it and said that it was one of the best things he had seen in his whole career. Then he said that it probably still wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference…
We did well to avoid relegation that season.”
Our conversation turns to the current Everton side, at the time of writing, we are big trouble in the Premier League, with just one win in 15.
“I always watch the Everton games, it’s been difficult this season, hasn’t it? So many injuries, especially being without Calvert-Lewin, who I think is going to be a good player. The defence worries me, so many changes at centre back, as I said to you earlier, myself and David Weir played almost every game together, you need to have consistency in your defence. You need to be strong right through the spine of your team, and we don’t seem to be too strong in those areas at the moment, so that’s always going to be a worry. It doesn’t help your goalkeeper either, Jordan Pickford’s a good goalkeeper, he’s England’s number 1, but not having a steady defence in front of him won’t help him.”
I joke about the unbelievable condition Gough is in, at 59 years of age, and how we could do with a leader like him in an Everton shirt this season.
“I think there is a lack of real leaders in football generally, to be honest. The top clubs still have them though, and you need that in your team. The dressing room should be run by your senior players, so you need good leaders in there to make things easier for your manager.
I have to say, I am pleased with the appointment of Frank Lampard as manager, he was my first choice to replace Steven Gerrard at Rangers. I was amazed they never even spoke to him, to be honest. I actually spoke to Frank recently, and I asked him about Rangers, but he said they didn’t show any interest, which I was really surprised about. I was really pleased that he got the Everton job, obviously it didn’t work out for him at Chelsea, but I think he did a decent enough job there. Chelsea is a massive club with huge expectations. He started really well with the win against Brentford, his second game was a hard one against Newcastle, they have brought a lot of players in, and they are on the up, so it was always going to be a tough game going there, with the crowd behind them.
He needs to get it sorted out at the back, first and foremost, we are conceding goals far too easy. It’s no good, when you can’t do basic defending properly, then you are asking for trouble, and we are struggling with the basics. Some of the goals we have been conceding, so many could easily have been stopped. The constant change amongst your defenders doesn’t help though, he has to try and get that sorted, you need some sort of consistency with your personal and get some sort of regular partnership. Lampard didn’t have much time to play with, in terms of the transfer window, but I was surprised he didn’t look to maybe bring in another defender.”
We speak at a time when the atmosphere at Goodison Park has come under scrutiny, primarily in the podcast made by Watford keeper Ben Foster. He comments on how the bear-pit like atmosphere can have an adverse effect on the Everton players, when things go wrong. Gough, somewhat predictably, is swift to bring the responsibility back on to the players. He understands exactly what Evertonians expect from their players…
“Goodison Park isn’t an easy place to play, but if you can get the Evertonians on your side, it’s a big, big help. Evertonians enjoy good football, that goes without saying, but if they can see the team putting in 100% effort, then that’s the minimum they expect. You need to run around, you know? They aren’t worried about you making a bad pass, if they can see you are actually trying, they will forgive a lot for that, believe me. If they can see that you give 100%, then that’s all that they want. If the other team is better on the day, then so be it. But if you are not giving 100% and you are getting beat, then they are going to come down on you, and that’s only fair. They have had a lot to put up with in recent years, it’s certainly not been easy to be an Evertonian.”
Another man Gough has known for a long time, is Duncan Ferguson, having spent time together at both Rangers and Everton. He admits to being surprised at Duncan’s foray into management, albeit in a temporary capacity, as it was.
“If you would have asked me if I ever imagined Duncan being a manager I’d have said ‘never in a million years!’, but fair play to him, he has gone and got all his badges, and I know from speaking to people that he is a really positive influence around the club. We had a conversation about it, myself, Walter and Archie, and we were all surprised to see him get involved with that side of things. He is somebody that all Evertonians can look to for inspiration, he loves Everton, and he knows the club better than anyone. He’s stepped in a couple of times as manager now, and he’s never let anyone down.
I have known Duncan since he was a young kid, he was always going to be a special player. The problem with Duncan was getting him on the pitch. When he was on his game, he was unplayable, he really was a top, top striker.”
It was a huge pleasure for me to spend time speaking to Goughy, and pleasing to hear how proudly he speaks of his time at Everton Football Club. It’s clear to me that the fondness that Evertonians have for him, is most definitely reciprocated.
“I need to get back to Goodison Park, it’s been too long. I love the football club; I wish I could have played at Everton longer than I did. My time at Everton gave me a whole new lease of life. Everton supporters often say that they wish they had got me earlier, and I certainly wish I had played for them a bit earlier too…”