When, in the summer of 1999, Walter Smith signed Richard Gough, a distinguished former Scotland international defender, the move was greeted with shrugs of bemusement and cynicism. Past his 37th birthday and at the end of his career, Gough had been consigned to the graveyard of America’s MLS since mid-decade, yet was slated as a replacement for the departed Marco Materazzi – 11 years his junior.
Gough had been Smith’s captain at Rangers, where he won nine consecutive league titles, and the suspicion was that he was just another old boy out for a final pay day.Gough, however, soon confounded such scepticism. Hard, immensely fit and with impeccable reading of the game, Gough brought a veteran’s calm to an Everton defence notable in previous seasons only for its erraticism and ill discipline. He was a distinguished leader too, and as Dave Watson faded from first-team view he took many of his responsibilities, serving as Smith’s on-the-field lieutenant. Sometimes this desire was too much for some of his colleagues. In one game, against Coventry City in October 1999, Don Hutchison, serving as team captain, took exception to Gough’s involvement and took a well-publicised swing at him.
BORN IN SWEDEN to a Scottish father and Swedish mother, and subsequently brought up in South Africa, Gough had started out with Dundee United in the early 1980s, first coming into contact with Smith, who was winding down his playing career and setting out as a coach. He was a key member of Jim McLean’s remarkably successful teams, lifting the Scottish League title in 1983. He spent a year at Tottenham in 1986/87, returning to Scotland with Rangers at the end of the season. In the veteran stage of his career he moved to the nascent MLS, returning to Britain for brief spe with Rangers and Nottingham Forest. After impressing at the latter, Smith made his move.
Gough’s form through 1999/2000 was rewarded with a generous two-year contract and the club captaincy. Three games into the 2000/01 season, however, he was struck down with knee ligament damage, and although he returned intermittently was never the same again. Nor indeed, was Everton’s defence, and without his leadership a promising start to the season slipped away. At the end of the season, Gough, now aged 39, retired. Arguably, Walter Smith’s reign never recovered from the loss of his talisman.