Brian Viner: Veteran Beattie steals show as Everton struggle to find magic

He loved the fact there was a tipsy middle-aged woman who kept yelling: 'Mr Wilnis, I've had your pants on my head'
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The Independent Football

On Saturday I took my six-year-old son to his first football match, Ipswich Town v Everton. There were no goals, which he found slightly bewildering, because the drab low-scoring matches he plays in at school – in which creativity is stifled by the tendency of everybody to run hell for leather after the ball, including both goalkeepers and reportedly, on one blissful occasion last week, even the dinner lady – tend to finish 14-13. The more free-scoring games finish 23-all.

This, incidentally, reminds me of the last time I took a taxi across Liverpool. The cab driver was raving about his son, aged 10, who that day had scored eight in a match against a Stoke team – "three with his left foot, three with his right foot, and two with his 'ead" – despite copping – increasingly ferocious abuse from the Stoke defenders, who, as he danced past them, roared or more likely squeaked at him: "Your mum's got big tits".

Anyway, in taking Joseph to his first Premiership match, I confess that I was trying to compensate for disappointments in my own childhood. For years I begged my father to take me to watch Everton, but he always refused on the grounds that large crowds contained too many dangers for small children.

More pertinently, I think, attending a Saturday afternoon footie match would have kept him away from horse racing on the box. Everton versus the ITV Seven was not even a contest.

So it was not until I was 15 and considered old, large and and ugly enough to go with my mates – by which time my dad had departed for the celestial Tattersalls enclosure and could no longer raise an objection – that I actually went to Goodison Park. I made up for lost time, too, not missing a home match, nor many away matches, for the next four years. But, all the same, it is an enduring source of regret that I first stood on the Gwladys Street terraces in the age of Geoff Nulty and George Telfer, rather than Alan Ball and Joe Royle.

So when my friend Neil Farrar – whose company ASD Europe Ltd, a sportswear manufacturer with a reputation for excellence, reliability and integrity, not to mention charismatic executives with chiselled good looks, has a box at Portman Road – kindly invited me to be his guest for the Everton game, I cheekily asked whether Joseph could come too.

I cannot, of course, claim that these are halcyon days for Everton. Whereas I grew up inhaling the spirit of the club motto, "nil satis nisi optimum", loosely translated as "only the best will do", Joseph now understands it as "nil-nil satis", loosely translated as "we'll settle for a goalless draw".

But, even so, I still nurture hopes that Duncan Ferguson might one day loom as large in Joseph's pantheon of heroes as Bob Latchford does in mine.

Obviously it's early doors, but he already seems prepared to commit himself to a lifetime of supporting Everton. Moreover, he was not unduly gutted by the lack of goals on Saturday. He loved watching the crowd, he loved being at liberty to help himself from a fridge full of Coca-Cola, and he loved the fact that there was a tipsy middle-aged woman in the adjacent box who some time after the game, as the Ipswich players signed autographs on the pitch, kept yelling: "Mr Wilnis, I've had your pants on my head!"

Accordingly, it was a happy, skipping six-year-old with whom I made my way home on Saturday. Who, I asked him, was now his favourite footballer in the whole wide world? He thought for a bit, while I steeled myself to hear him say Hermann Hreidarsson, who had just signed his programme. "I think," he said, "that it's Kevin 'The Beat' Beattie."

This was largely my fault. When Kevin Beattie, an occasional pundit for Radio Suffolk, popped into our box to say hello, I tried to impress upon Joseph that here was a man who deserves to be remembered as one of the finest defenders ever to play for England, which he did 42 times. Beattie kindly gave Joseph a copy of his book, "The Beat", and leafing through it I was reminded of the magnitude of Ipswich's achievements in the glory, glory years under Bobby Robson.

In the 1973-74 Uefa Cup, having knocked out Real Madrid in the previous round, Ipswich hammered Lazio 4-0 at Portman Road – and Trevor Whymark scored all four. Whymark, Beattie told me, now drives lorries for a Suffolk chicken factory. He did not tell me, because he is devoid of self-pity, that he lives in an Ipswich council house caring for a wife crippled with multiple sclerosis, and barely scrapes a living himself. I didn't explain any of that to Joseph. I'm not sure whether, as footballers earning £40,000 a week talk about strike action, I quite understand it myself.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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