Everton manager statue brings overdue Neville Southall new stadium addition back into focus

The unveiling of a statue for ex-Everton manager Walter Smith brings the desire among the Blues fanbase for Neville Southall to be honoured when they move to their new stadium back into focus.

Ahead of Rangers’ Scottish Cup final defeat to Old Firm rivals Celtic at Hampden Park on Saturday, as they were sunk by Adam Idah’s last-minute strike to secure a domestic double for Brendan Rodgers’ side, a statue of Smith, who died aged 73 in 2021 after a battle with cancer, was presented to the public for the first time with his family in attendance. Smith’s widow, Ethel, was joined by the couple’s sons, Neil and Steven, plus their grandchildren, as a blue cover was removed in front of a large crowd to reveal a bronze sculpture of the late Rangers boss outside of their Ibrox ground on the corner of the stadium between Edmiston House and the Copland Road stand.

It has been designed and sculpted by London artist Douglas Jennings, whose portfolio includes a statue of Queen Elizabeth II in London and England World Cup-winning footballers Jack Charlton and George Cohen. While Smith struggled to replicate his successes north of the border while at Everton, taking over a side that had only avoided relegation on goal difference in 1998 and going on to record a hat-trick of bottom half finishes (14th, 13th and 16th) before being sacked and replaced by fellow Scot David Moyes in March 2002, he steered Rangers to 10 League Championships, five Scottish Cups and six League Cups in two separate spells as manager plus a further three League Championships and four League Cups as assistant manager, as the plinth his statue stands on records.

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One man who did play a leading role in Everton’s glory days though is Southall, who, as the only survivor in the team that won two League Championships, an FA Cup and European Cup-Winners' Cup and FA Cup under Howard Kendall in the 1980s, became the Blues’ most-decorated player when he helped them to win the FA Cup in 1995. The former Wales international also holds the record for most Everton appearances, having turned out for the club on 751 occasions between 1981-97 – some 217 more than his closest challenger, Brian Labone.

Not only that, but for a long period of his lengthy spell at Goodison Park, Southall was widely-considered to be the world’s best goalkeeper. Imagine that now, Sean Dyche having a player who was rated as the number one on the planet in his position at his disposal?

Everton remain fortunate to have Jordan Pickford – arguably their best goalkeeper since Southall – at their disposal, but while England’s number one will be seeking glory at this summer’s European Championships that start in Germany next month, going into the tournament as one of the best custodians in the competition alongside the likes of Slovenia’s Jan Oblak and the hosts’ Manuel Neuer if the veteran Bayern Munich man is declared fit, but most concede that a couple of Brazilians remain above him in the Premier League pecking order.

Members of Walter Smith's family at the unveiling of his statue outside Rangers' Ibrox Stadium on May 25, 2024
Members of Walter Smith's family at the unveiling of his statue outside Rangers' Ibrox Stadium on May 25, 2024 -Credit:Robert Perry/PA Wire

Southall was one of the all-time greats, though, and some 39 years since he became the last goalkeeper to be voted Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year, he is now the only one of that illustrious quartet not to have been immortalised by having a statue of him. Bert Trautmann (winner in 1956) has a statue at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium; Gordon Banks (winner in 1972) has one at Stoke City’s bet365 Stadium and, as of November last year, Pat Jennings (winner in 1973) has one on Kildare Street in his home city of Newry, Northern Ireland.

Telling it like it is, during retirement, an outspoken Southall hasn’t always been a welcome guest on matchdays of those within Goodison Park’s corridors of power, but it was great for Evertonians to see him back among them for the 1-0 home win over Burnley last month. Other Everton greats Dixie Dean plus ‘The Holy Trinity’ of Kendall, Colin Harvey and Alan Ball have all been honoured with statues outside ‘The Grand Old Lady’ but when the Blues relocate to their 52,888 capacity new home by the banks of the Mersey at Bramley-Moore Dock next summer, whoever is actually making the decisions at the club by that time would do well to correct this significant omission.