Ben Godfrey opens up on life at Everton in and out of the team - and that miracle clearance

James Tarkowski, Ben Godfrey and Michael Keane before the Premier League match between Burnley and Everton at Turf Moor this season

There was a split-second when Everton were coasting to a fourth consecutive win and it looked like their run might come under threat.

As the cameras picked up the ball heading across the face of Jordan Pickford’s goal at Burnley the only possible outcome appeared to be that Zeki Amdouni would tap it at the back post.

That did not happen. Ben Godfrey was not even in shot as what should have been an assist was laid across the box. Yet somehow he still cut out that ball, forcing it behind for a corner and leaving his rival attacker, Turf Moor and the watching world stunned. It was a miraculous intervention made all the more remarkable because, as Christmas loomed, Godfrey had barely featured over the previous months.

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To produce such big moments without a consistent run of games is no mean feat, the ever-present James Tarkowski acknowledged. The centre-back, a mainstay of one of the best defences in the league this season, has often sought to place the success of himself and those around him, including Jarrad Branthwaite, down to the strength of the unit at Finch Farm. Supporters might only see what happens on a matchday, Tarkowski said earlier this season, but all of that is the culmination of what happens at the training ground, where the likes of Michael Keane and Godfrey play a crucial role in maintaining standards.

Godfrey, recently speaking to the ECHO, agreed. He said: “It is so important as players that, when you go through a period of not playing, that you train hard. Just because it is so hard to emulate that game fitness when you are not playing so the work that you do on the training pitch throughout the week is so important. That was my mindset through the period I went through of not playing and just being ready, as fit as I can, as sharp as I can and I emphasise that to myself every day.”

Keane and Godfrey both started that night at Burnley, producing big moments that backed up Tarkowski’s point about the work behind the scenes creating a solid core that extended beyond those who played the most games. But despite that pivotal block, which protected a clean sheet and secured what would become Everton’s last league win in months, Godfrey’s season continued in similar fashion - until he was brought in amid an injury crisis and produced a similar last-gasp interception at Fulham at the end of January.

He accepted that it was tough to be outside the starting line-up but said that, despite links at the start of the year that included to AC Milan, his primary focus was to take any opportunity that did come his way on Merseyside. “I’m an Everton player and that was my job,” he stated.

The 26-year-old continued: “It is natural for me to say it is difficult [not playing] because I am a footballer and I love playing so when you are not in the team it is always hard but at the same time I am part of a team, part of a unit, and my job if I am not playing is to train hard, push the lads on, be positive to be around and be ready to play my part when I am called upon.

“I have been on the flip side during seasons as well, when I have been playing regularly and there have been lads I have been ahead of. It has been so important that they train hard every day and push you on when you are playing. There have been times this season when I have had to play that role in terms of not being a regular starter and just making sure I am creating that healthy competition around the group and just being ready to perform when my opportunity did come around.”

In the eyes of Sean Dyche, Godfrey did take that chance that night at Craven Cottage, securing a run in the side that would eventually see him clock up 15 Premier League appearances. There were still difficult moments, that winless streak the most significant, but Godfrey believes he was able to show his value to the squad despite being asked to play out of position at right-back. He remains of the belief that centre-back is his best position.

And overcoming adversity is something that he has had to get used to in recent years as misfortune with injury has hampered his efforts to win consistent minutes. That was most pertinent on the first game of last season, when he did start at centre-back at home to Chelsea only to be stretchered off after just 15 minutes.

Asked how he overcame that disappointment, Godfrey recalled: “There is never a good time to break your leg. It was tough. For my family as well, who love watching me play and know how much it means to me to play. It was difficult but it is a period that has come and gone, there are positives as well, including things I learnt about myself in that period, which I can use to help others and use for myself in future situations.”

A key inspiration for him is his son, Reign, who was born as he was just regaining fitness over the winter of 2022/23. Whether he is out of the side due to injuries or tactics, Godfrey credits his family as offering him a foundation on which to build himself back up.

He said: “It is so difficult, especially because I am made to compete - we all are as players - so that being taken away through injury or team selection is always difficult but I am really fortunate in my family and friends. I have good people around me at home, I have got my little one as well, which has always been nice over such a difficult period. I am so fortunate that I have got such good family around me, they understand there are difficult periods and positive periods and I am really lucky with that.”

Godfrey heads into a summer in which he will enter the final 12 months of his Everton deal. That could have been his focus over the past few months. Instead, it has always been on doing what he can to get on the pitch in a Royal Blue shirt. “That’s something the manager is always stressing,” he said. “Not to lose belief when things don’t go to plan for a period of time. Keep banging at the door, keep doing the right things.”