Signed as a 23-year-old amateur from Queen’s Park in May 1981, Alan Irvine had previously resisted the lure of professional football to complete his Chartered Insurance Institute exams. An old-school Scottish winger, he maintained a noble tradition set at Goodison by the likes of Alec Troup, Torry Gillick and Alex Scott. A good dribbler with pace and skill, he proved a natural crowd pleaser and at times defied the notion that his type of player was a dying breed.
And yet this was never quite enough for Irvine to make a regular place in the Everton team his own. Frustrated at biding his time in the Central League, he requested a transfer in September 1983. He stayed long enough to play a prominent role in Everton’s two cup runs that season, appearing in both Milk Cup Final games against Liverpool, and in all of Everton’s FA Cup games before the semi-final with Southampton. At the end of the season he joined Crystal Palace for £50,000 and subsequently had spells at Dundee United and Blackburn Rovers.
IN THE EARLY 1990s, Irvine embarked on a coaching career and in 1998 was made director of Newcastle’s youth academy. Here his reputation quickly grew and in 2002 David Moyes offered him the assistant manager’s job at Goodson. So highly was he rated at St James’s Park that he was offered an unprecedented ten-year contract to stay, but Goodison was too alluring.
Moyes and Irvine would enjoy one of the country’s most prominent and longest serving managerial partnerships. From beyond Goodison the perception was that Irvine, a personable, friendly character, provided a contrast to Moyes’s sharper edge.
‘I don’t think David was ever a bad cop but it is different as an assistant manager,’ Irvine said of their partnership in 2009. ‘The lads will turn to you a bit more because they know that you haven’t picked the team. Even though it may well have been that David had gone with the team that I suggested. A massive thing for the assistant manager is that the players must never feel that you disagree with the manager. In private you might disagree, and we did on many occasions, but when he made the final decision we were all behind him.’
In November 2007, Irvine left Goodison to take on Moyes’s former job as Preston North End manager, which he held for two years. A subsequent spell at Sheffield Wednesday was less happy.
Everton, however, still remained in his heart and in June 2011 he returned to Finch Farm to head Everton’s academy.
A big part of me will always belong to Everton,’ he would reflect. ‘I had a special time when I was there as a player and it was a special time when I was assistant manager. The club caught the imagination of my family and it is that kind of place.