The ‘Dogs of War’ – the midfield triumvirate of John Ebbrell, Barry Horne and Joe Parkinson – have become synonymous with Joe Royle’s tenure as Everton manager. Certainly they were crucial to Everton’s revival during the 1994/95 season, ensuring the club’s Premiership survival and serving as the foundation stone for its FA Cup success. However, Royle came to regret the term, which was born as a quip early in his time as Everton manager. Asked why he overlooked Vinny Samways, the gifted but erratic midfielder, Royle replied, ‘What we need is a “Dogs of War” mentality rather than a “School of Science” one.’ The tag stuck, but Royle came to see its continued use in the media as a slight on his emerging team.

WHEN ROYLE was appointed Everton manager in November 1994, he inherited a side in dire straits. Bottom of the league, their troubled start to the season was characterised by the insipidness and lack of fight from the team. Royle radically reconstituted the team, packing the midfield with a defensive-minded core, containing Parkinson, Ebbrell and Horne. Their task was to scrap, harry and chase every ball as if their very lives depended upon it. After his revitalised team beat Liverpool in Royle’s opening match, they embarked on a remarkable run that culminated in survival and the FA Cup Final victory over Manchester United.

There were a number of factors behind this remarkable turnaround – the enhanced sense of responsibility of the senior players; the form of hitherto under-performing stars like Duncan Ferguson and Anders Limpar; the set pieces of Andy Hinchcliffe and the renewed team spirit engendered by Royle – but the Dogs of War were at the centre of Everton’s revival.

‘High-profile players have since told me that they didn’t look forward to playing against us,’ Barry Horne told Becky Tallentire in Still Talking Blue. ‘There was something of a reputation about the whole team, not just individuals. While it’s always nice to know that people don’t look forward to playing you, I felt people focused too much on that aspect of my game and overlooked others.’

AFTER WINNING the FA Cup, Royle insisted that Everton were now more ‘Crufts’ than ‘Dogs of War’. But while he sought a more expansive style, introducing more gifted ball players like Tony Grant and Gary Speed to his midfield, Everton largely remained a rough-and-ready team.

Royle was notoriously sensitive about press coverage and disliked allusions to the ‘Dogs of War’.

I did live to regret making the remark because it was held over our heads like a sword through my time at the club,

he recalled in his autobiography.

Indeed Royle’s relations with the press deteriorated rapidly over the winter of 1996–97, culminating in his banning journalists from Bellefield. At the root of this rupture was Royle’s sensitivity to criticisms of Everton’s style and tactics, particularly from the Liverpool Echo. The Dogs of War, it seemed, always came back to bite him. Certainly none of this messy dispute enhanced his reputation, and arguably it played a crucial role in his departure from the Everton manager’s seat in March 1997.

By then the Dogs of War had been broken up. Barry Horne had joined Birmingham City the previous summer, and John Ebbrell was sold to Sheffield United in February 1997. Only Joe Parkinson remained, but he was playing with an injury that ended his career by the age of 28. It was an inauspicious end for a group of players who had been so vital to Everton.