Interview: Francis Jeffers - 'If I was playing now I would never leave Everton for Arsenal'

Chris Bascombe
Jeffers is back at Everton and enjoying his job as a coach

Walter Smith gathered his triumphant players, marched them out of the Everton training ground to a nearby café and promptly ordered a fry up.

It was September 1999, the morning after a 1-0 win at Anfield. As the victors paraded around the West Derby area of Liverpool - acknowledging the congratulatory hooting of the car horns – none would have believed the wait for the club’s next Anfield win would enter an 18th season.

“We walked out of the (old) training ground, Bellefield, and down Eaton Road towards Alder Hey Hospital, got in a café there and had a bacon sarnie,” recalls ex-striker Francis Jeffers.

“Walter would have paid. That was the treat of beating Liverpool. It was great.

“I remember walking out and all the cars were beeping as the whole squad went to this café, fist pumps out of the window and all that. It was great. It was what it was about: giving the Evertonians something to shout about.”

Jeffers shone in that victory, claiming an assist for Kevin Campbell’s winner but also sent off following an altercation with Sander Westerveld. When reviewing the footage, history has been less kind to the Dutch goalkeeper.

Jeffers and Sander Westerveld clashed in the 1999 Merseyside derby Credit: Reuters

“You’d like to think so, he was 6ft 5ins,” laughs Jeffers.

“I think he got more stick than me. We had had a little run in earlier in the first half. I had a chance, I was through, beat the offside trap and put it wide - a poor finish.  He said something to me after that and then 5 or 10 minutes later I went through and sort of collided with him and before you know it a few handbags and off you go.

“If the keeper grabs you by the neck, you are not going to just take it and say, ‘oh sorry about that mate.’ Regardless of who you are playing, if you get grabbed by the neck you are going to react whether it is in a Sunday league game or a Merseyside derby.

“It was probably one of the only times I played well for Everton! We deserved to win, I remember I fancied us strongly that night, looking at the two teams. We were quite strong at that time and had started the season well. The win might have put us in fifth and they were in the bottom half of the table. Me and Kevin Campbell had struck up quite a good partnership and looked like we had a goal in us.

“It was an early goal, around four or five minutes. I think Barms (Nick Barmby) cut one back from the left and I scooped it into Kev’s path and he finished it off. He was giving the upsies to the Kop.”

Liverpool’s dominance in the home fixture since is a curiosity. For much of that time they have had a superior side. On other occasions Everton have finished above their neighbours in the Premier League but wilted when arriving at The Shankly Gates.

There are suggestions of a mental block. 

“There is no reason why it has been so long,” says Jeffers.

"Sometimes you have grounds you don’t win at or don’t play well as a player.

WATN Everton

“I don’t know if it is psychological. Players come and go. You would have to ask the players but what tends to happen in the build up is that it gets mentioned a lot, so players who probably haven’t been here and who have signed in the summer see it and think, ‘that’s an interesting stat,' but there is no reason why we can’t go there and win.

“I have been impressed with the team. Why can’t we win? We have probably got our best squad that we have had for a long time, we have Rom, the best striker in the league barring no one. We are well equipped to win there, we can win there, but we have been equipped to win there in the past and for some reason we have not done it. Last season was a nightmare, wasn’t it? We never started well and got a bit of a battering. This year I think we will be a bit more solid. That is one thing you can say under Ronald Koeman - that we think defensively as well as offensively. We have players who can win the game.”

In 1999, Jeffers stood against and alongside Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher among those regarded as Merseyside and England's greatest prospects. He left for Arsene Wenger’s great Arsenal side in 2001.

Now he has completed his UEFA ‘A’ licence, working as a specialist striker coach at Everton’s Academy. He is honest about his career.

“I didn’t fulfil my potential. That is a fact,” he says.

“I don’t have to hide that. I should not have ended up with just one England cap, but for one reason or another… it is all different things. Myself, a bit of luck, wrong move at the wrong time, injuries. You can go on. But you know what? I still played for England. If you asked me about that when I was ten…

“It was never going to get any better for me than playing for Everton. I was on the terraces so that was as good as it got. But I’m not blowing smoke up my backside by saying I know I should have done better.

Jeffers signed for Arsenal in 2001 but never fulfilled his potential Credit: Richard Heathcote

“It is not having a go at the club but at that time this football club was different to how it is now. It was not going in the direction it is going. We were selling players. That was the fact. And then Arsenal come for you, the best team in the league. If I was coming through now there is no way I would be leaving this football club. Why would you? Especially being an Evertonian, a young scouse lad dreaming of playing for them.”

Having initially offered his services to the club on a voluntary basis, Jeffers is now relishing the chance to help the new generation as part of full-time commitment. He feels it is more challenging being a striker in the modern game but knows he can guide the emerging talent.

“When I came here two and a half years ago, I wasn’t sure coaching was for me. So I got in touch with the people here and asked can I come in and watch, dip my toe in and see if it is for me,” he said.

“It is a big commitment, long hours, so I didn’t know whether I wanted to be a coach. I didn’t know whether I was just looking for something to do because my career had finished and I was thinking where do I go next? I only know football.

“I came in and I spent about eight months just listening and watching with the coaches and around the players and then they asked me if I wanted to do a bit of part time coaching. I said yes. Looking through the years I felt the role of a striker had changed. I feel it is more difficult to play up there now.

Run-in

“Nowadays kids are playing different formations and there is so much they have to learn and I didn’t think they were getting any help. They should be because ultimately, and I know I am biased, strikers are the ones that matter. They matter most.

“Goalkeepers have specialist training so this is an area of the pitch where they might just need more help than they are getting. So I asked the club and they said we’ll give it a go. I felt watching a lot of coaching, not only here, a lot of sessions were tailored for midfield players with the obsession to be possession based. Where are the strikers going to get the opportunities to learn how to be a striker?

“You are up there on your own aren’t you? When I came through from the age of 12-13 at Everton and went to Lilleshall, everyone was playing 4-4-2 so I was one of two strikers. That’s all I ever did so the things I was doing in the early stages of my career I continued to do.”

Like many, Jeffers feels something may have been lost with the end of the era of ‘street footballers’.

“Colin Harvey was probably the best coach I ever had. Coming through as a young player there was Keith Blunt at Lilleshall. People like that I would learn from,” he says.

“I played football for hours in the streets. You don’t see that now. By the time I came to Everton at 10 or 11, all the techniques of kicking with both feet, curling the ball and striking the ball, I had been doing for as long as I could remember on the streets. Technically I don’t think the kids come in as good as they were many years ago. That’s why you try to get them in earlier because they do not play on the streets.

Jeffers ended his career with only one England cap Credit: getty images

“If I have seven strikers I work with we have individual learning objectives. We’ll tailor the sessions around that player and what they need.

“Some of the sessions are interlinked with the coaches so I might be around the 11 v 11 games and walk on to speak to the strikers and ask them why they may have taken a decision they just did. To me that is good coaching. Let the lads play and ask them questions as the game is going on. I can get an instant point across and instant answer. I’m a small part of it. If they play for Everton I might help 0.05 per cent with just a little bit of information. I won’t be taking any claims if we bring a striker through!”

The barren run at Anfield will end eventually, but regardless of Saturday’s outcome Jeffers is sure Koeman can succeed where Roberto Martinez and David Moyes failed.

“In a one-off game we’d like to get rid of the hoodoo of Anfield but in the bigger picture we are ambitious and want to be winning things now,” he says.

“The new owners and people around the club, the players and the manager are the same. The manager said he would not come to Everton if he didn’t aim to be successful. That is what we are aiming for in the bigger picture. We need to be winning things. We have the calibre of players to be winning things.”

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