Goodison mourns loss of 'legend' Labone

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The Independent Football

Tributes were paid yesterday to the former Everton and England defender Brian Labone, who died late on Monday night.

The 66-year-old,who won 26 England caps, was found collapsed in the street near his home in Maghull, Merseyside. He was understood to have been walking home after a night out. A passer-by called for an ambulance and paramedics tried to revive the former Everton captain, but he was declared dead on arrival at hospital.

Labone made 534 League appearances for Everton in a 13-year career. The club's director of communications, Ian Ross, said: "Everyone at the club is devastated. In the pantheon of Everton greats, Brian Labone is right up there with the very best.

"He was one of the club's favourite sons and a hugely respected figure. He was regarded as a 'professionals' professional' before that term was ever used. But not only was he a great footballer, he was also a lovely bloke. I've never met anyone who met Brian who didn't like him.

"He still worked at the club as an ambassador on match days, showing guests around the stadium. He loved to do that because it meant he was still dealing with Evertonians."

Labone was due to appear in England's 1966 World Club squad but pulled out as he was getting married. He later played a key role in the England World Cup squad of 1970.

Labone, who was booked only twice and scored two goals in his career, retired at the end of the 1970-71 season due to an Achilles injury. He won two League championships and an FA Cup winner's medal.

Kevin Ratcliffe, the captain of Everton from 1983 to 1991, added his own tribute. "He was a great captain, a great player, one of those players I'd have liked to have played alongside," Ratcliffe said. "He was a good spokesman for the club. He 'was' Everton Football Club." As a player, Ratcliffe described Labone as "a fair centre-half", adding: "He'll be missed by the club because he did represent the club. Everyone loved him around Liverpool."

The former Everton player and manager Howard Kendall, who was Labone's team-mate for seven years at Goodison, said: "He was a great player and a great leader. He didn't shout his way through the team, he led by example and his performances on the pitch were tremendous. He was an outstanding player and a gentleman. It's a tragic loss."

The Football Association chief executive Brian Barwick said: "Brian was one of football's true gentlemen - a one-club man and a legend in Everton's history.

"Brian's strengths were of the highest calibre - a cool, classy, committed defender and a great leader of his team. He also made 26 appearances for England, including playing his part in the 1970 World Cup alongside the late Bobby Moore.

"Brian's lifelong love affair with Everton continued after he finished playing. I recently saw him at a function on Merseyside and was still enthusing about football and Everton in particular. He was a great man and it's a sad loss."