He Tweets, He Saved: The Very Best Of Neville Southall
Football fans of a certain vintage face a very particular frustration of convincing younger generations about their footballing heroes. With goalkeepers, the job is even harder, because individual recognition has always eluded them.
Just two - Pat Jennings and Gordon Banks - have ever won the PFA Player of the Year award. Meanwhile, only four goalkeepers have claimed the Football Writers’ award in the last 70 years - and the last to do so was in 1985.
22 years later, that man is finally being appreciated by a whole new set of fans. His name is Neville Southall, and he is both a legend and, surely now, an Absolute Legend.
To celebrate his enduring appeal, we have taken a simple approach: ten outstanding Neville Southall saves from his pomp, ten frankly excellent tweets from the present day.
10) Top corner, top banter
At 6ft 1, Southall was not blessed with the standard dimensions of a world-class goalkeeper, a disadvantage overcome by some startling athleticism. Here he is denying Sheffield Wednesday’s John Sheridan in the 1989/90 season.
To complement it (like a wine pairing, perhaps, even though Big Nev has always been teetotal) here he is completing an altogether more straightforward takedown of Sepp Blatter (via an innocent linesman.)
9) Reflex and reaction
Southall’s showreel of saves is dominated by point-blank reflex saves, the sort that leave co-commentators lost for words and which you can’t just develop on the training ground. This save against Tottenham - as Everton marched to the title in 1984/95, was described in one match report as “the most astonishing save since Gordon Banks left Pelé dumbfounded in Mexico"
These days, Southall can be relied upon for frequently withering summaries of Everton’s shortcomings.
8) Strong arm, tough questions
Another outstanding feature of Southall’s repertoire was his ability to turn goalbound shots away with a rock-solid forearm, like this stunner against Sheffield Wednesday.
It also takes some solid convictions to compare Roberto Martinez with Napoleon and Donald Trump, both of whom at least had a clearer grasp of defence strategies than the former Everton manager.
7) Last Line of Defence
As the 80s wore on, Liverpool vs Neville Southall became something of a running battle. Anfield became the fortress of English football, while Southall was frequently voted into the top 10 goalkeepers in the world each year.
Few keepers could look quite so disgusted with conceding a goal as Southall, for whom bad defending is only occasionally a laughing matter.
6) Comprehensive coverage
A famously dedicated trainer, Southall’s job was never done with the first save. Against Manchester United here, he denies both Brian McClair and then Mark Hughes in the space of three seconds.
Big Nev has adopted a similar no-stones-left-unturned approach to his festive Twitter message, remembering to include those souls beavering away on the International Space Station, for a start.
5) Bright and early
A quite frankly ridiculous penalty save to deny Coventry’s Brian Kilcline in 1988. The reaction of everyone - from the stunned Kilcline to the jubilant Everton defenders - says it all.
Neville Southall does not hang around when there’s business to take care of.
4) Big man for the big occasion
Everton’s 1995 FA Cup final win over Manchester United was thanks in no small part to 1) Southall being as wide as a small barn door and 2) his late double save from substitute Paul Scholes.
You’ve earned a holiday, big man.
Another classic Southall v Liverpool moment, this time denying his Wales teammate Ian Rush after a long battle of penalty area wits. The master finisher came up against the head bouncer, and Big Nev’s nerves held out.
Best just to ring Neville Southall if you want to get hold of him, though. Or tweet him, obviously - he always replies.
2) Reaching peak Big Nev
Almost everything good about Neville Southall here: the immaculate mid-air tip away, the reaction save from about three yards out, and the exasperated, Vaseline-lined glare of a man who will not be beaten.
And then there was that day recently when he started tweeting about skeletons.
1) Sheer poetry
Technically his best save? Maybe, maybe not. But the sheer spectacle of Neville Southall leaping towards his own top corner and clawing a shot away like a cat being thrown a ball of paper is an eminently loopable few seconds of vintage football.
That leaves us with perhaps his most touching tweet, the short verse of “Webfeet”, from Neville Southall, football’s unlikely poet laureate.