The cruellest irony of Matthew Jackson’s Goodison career is that just as he was set to make his most important contribution in an Everton shirt, his first-team chances were to be severely restricted by the arrival of a new contender to his right back shirt.
THAT THE tall blond defender played on as if unperturbed by this challenge spoke volumes for his consummate maturity and professionalism – values that continue to shine through in his post-playing career as a BBC pundit. Signed for £600,000 from Luton Town in October 1991, the Yorkshire-born defender made his debut on his 20th birthday, establishing himself as Everton’s first-choice right back by the end of the 1991/92 season. Calm and composed, with a good turn of pace and displaying a willingness to join in attacks, Jackson also offered versatility, having started out as a centre back. His progress in a transitional Everton side was rewarded with an England under-21 call-up.
Perhaps if Jackson had played in a better Everton team or in a less traumatic point of their history, this early development may have advanced him towards full international recognition and a more prominent place in club lore. But as Everton laboured under Howard Kendall, then Mike Walker, Jackson’s career trajectory seemed to freeze. Certainly playing in a defence as porous and disorganised as that which laboured under Walker’s charge could do little for the confidence of a young defender.
Following Joe Royle’s appointment as manager, one of his first acts, in January 1995, was to sign Earl Barrett, a former Oldham protégé. It seemed harsh on Jackson, who was no more culpable for the club’s defensive shortcomings than any of his colleagues. Barrett came straight into the first team but was cup-tied, enabling the 23-year-old to reclaim his place for Everton’s FA Cup run.
Jackson did this in emphatic fashion: as Barrett’s signing was finalised his powerful drive from the edge of the area broke the deadlock late in a tricky fourth round tie at Bristol City. After partaking in the fifth and sixth round defensive shut-outs, Jackson’s near-post header opened the scoring in Everton’s thrilling semi-final victory over Tottenham. Left out of most of the remainder of Everton’s league campaign, Jackson returned for the FA Cup Final. On 30 minutes, Jackson was played in down the right by Anders Limpar. He cut into the penalty area and coolly turned Gary Pallister to square the ball for Graham Stuart, whose shot onto the cross bar was converted by Paul Rideout for the game’s only goal. Despite this outstanding riposte, there would be no comeback for Jackson. Many fans could not fathom Barrett’s inclusion, for while he was a good defender, his poor distribution negated this impact. Indeed Royle even signed the hapless Swiss right back, Marc Hottiger, in March 1996, causing Jackson to slip further down the pecking order. When, in December that year, Mike Walker, now back at Norwich, came in with a £450,000 bid it was entirely logical for the defender to move on.
JACKSON provided five years of outstanding service at Carrow Road, mostly as captain. He joined Wigan Athletic in 2001 and captained them on an improbable rise from English football’s third tier to the Premier League. In 2007 he joined Watford, and after a short loan spell at Blackpool called time on his playing career in August 2008. An articulate, erudite man, he has since set out on a career as a BBC radio pundit.