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Burning ambition, big tackles and a love of the game

John Stones’ move to Manchester City from Everton for £47.5 million back in August, made Graeme Sharp, an Everton superstar of his day, look back 36 years to when his own transfer made headline news, and football was a different world.

“I had come to Everton as an unknown 20-year-old from Dumbarton,” Sharp said. “They’d paid £120,000 for me, which seemed an awful lot of money. I couldn’t help wondering if I was really worth it.”

After a dodgy first season in which he made only six first-team appearances, Sharp played a key role in Everton’s golden era and still holds the club’s post-war goal-scoring record of 159 goals in 426 games.

Only the pre-war legend Dixie Dean has done better.

An ambassador for the club since his retirement 16 years ago, Sharp was torn by the news that Everton were losing their star defender.

“Of course I wanted John to stay,” he said. “But you can’t blame the lad for wanting Champions’ League football and of course the money was amazing.

“But, I’m glad I played when I did. The game was tougher than today and we got away with murder, but I reckon we had more fun – and if you wanted chips for dinner you had them!”

Graeme Sharp

Sharp was also pleased that the greatest influence in his career, Everton’s late iconic
manager Howard Kendall, has had a stand named in his honour at Goodison Park.

He said: “Howard came in as manager for the 1981 season and seemed to think I had some potential.”

Soon Sharp was playing as a regular striker, netting 15 goals in 29 league games and becoming a key figure in Kendall’s plans.

Sharp added: “Howard was a great manager to play for. He believed in team spirit. The lads enjoyed themselves but he made sure we worked extremely hard. He treated us like adults and expected us to behave responsibly and take care of ourselves on and off the pitch.

“There was no psychology and motivational strategies in those days. He told us what he expected us to do – what shape to keep and who to mark, and let us get on with it.”

Sharp remembers Kendall’s nearest approach to team psychology was to tell his players at half-time that the fans at the Gwladys Street end could help them win: “He would say: ‘Get the ball into their box and Gwladys Street will suck it into the net!’ It’s fitting that it has been renamed the Howard Kendall stand.”

The arrival of Andy Gray and later Gary Lineker, as strike partners, brought Sharp the finest hours of his 11-year Everton career.

He played 12 games for Scotland but says his greatest achievements were as part of the Everton team which won the FA Cup in 1984 (he scored the first goal in the final), the First Division in 1985 and 1987 and the European Cup Winner’s Cup in 1985.

He scored 30 goals in 54 games and attracted the attention of clubs in France, Spain and Italy.

He said: “Gary went to Barcelona in 1986 but I wasn’t tempted.

“I think we had more burning ambition than many of today’s players – we played our hearts out for the team and would do whatever it took to win. Watching Leicester last season reminded me of the way we played when Everton were top of the pile.

“Of course I wanted to score goals but I got just as much satisfaction from making goals for other people. I had a great relationship with Lineker, who would just hang around the six-yard box and I would lay them on for him.

“The game was very different in those days. Gary never even got a yellow card but that was because he was tucked up in the six-yard box, out of harm’s way when the mayhem went on. We could get away with a lot more on the pitch because we didn’t have all those cameras and officials watching us and the rules were less strict.

“There were some really tough guys, particularly in teams like Wimbledon and Luton, and you had to show that you weren’t afraid. When I first came down from Scotland I was being knocked about pretty badly and after one game my father told me I had to stand up for myself against defenders who were out to intimidate me.

“I took him at his word and in the next game I went into a tackle and actually knocked my opponent out cold. Miraculously I got away with it, but the opposition treated me with more respect after that!”

He looks back fondly at the hard men he encountered over the years…Stuart Pearce, Vinnie Jones, Mick Hartford, Tony Adams: “They could all play a bit, but didn’t mind mixing it, too.”

The memories flood back…a 30-yarder smashed past Bruce Grobbelaar in 1984 which gave Everton their first win at Anfield for 14 years (“That’s the goal that everyone remembers”).

Howard Kendall left, and when he returned to Everton three years later, Sharp was not part of his future plans.

Kendall brought in a new strike-force of Peter Beardsley, Tony Cottee and Mike Newell.

“I got the message,” Sharp says. “It was time to move on, but it was very hard to leave.”

He went to Oldham Athletic, newly-promoted to the First Division, in 1991 and moved with them to the new Premier League.

When manager Joe Royle quit to take over at Everton, Sharp became player-manager and finally manager, until 1997.

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