Francis Jeffers first came to Evertonians’ attention as a fresh-faced 15-year-old in the mid-1990s, writing a monthly column for the Evertonian newspaper about life at the FA Centre of Excellence while studying for his GCSE exams. Much was expected of the highly rated striker, who made his debut as a 16-year-old substitute in December 1997 and would represent England from schoolboy to senior level.
A member of the 1998 FA Youth Cup winning team, Jeffers made his full debut against Derby County in February 1999 and impressed immediately. The possessor of an excellent first touch and outstanding off-the-ball movement, Jeffers was also fast and a clinical fisher. In many ways his play resembled that of another boyhood Evertonian – although Ian Rush slipped through the net to haunt Goodison. After also losing out to Liverpool on other boyhood Blues such as Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen, it appeared Everton finally had a home-grown hero of their own. Subsequently linking up with Kevin Campbell, Jeffers’ goals would play a part in saving Everton from relegation in the 1998/99 season. So impressive was their fledgling partnership that it represented a cause for genuine optimism going into the following season.
On the eve of 1999/2000 season, however, Jeffers shocked Everton by demanding a transfer after contract negotiations broke down. The spat was played out messily in the press, before subsiding, but it wasn’t the last time the striker was to fall foul of the Goodison hierarchy. He returned to impress in flashes, but an ankle ligament injury, sustained in an England under-21 game in February 2000, brought an end to his season.
JEFFERS returned to score five goals in the first five matches of the 2000/01 season before the injury curse struck again. Although sidelined for much of the campaign, by spring a record contract offer remained unsigned amid rumours that Jeffers and Walter Smith did not get along and counter-rumours that the player had an inflated sense of his own self-worth. Despite his abundant potential, injuries had restricted Jeffers to less than 50 appearances in four seasons.
In June 2001 he joined Arsenal in a deal reputed to be worth £10million, dependent on add-ons. Amid supporter anger and disenchantment, Toffeeweb.com gave the most erudite assessment of Jeffers’ sale:
His departure to Arsenal came as a terrible indictment on a club regime that contines to denigrate the once-great name of Everton - despite the lip-service paid to boyhood dreams, statutes to past heroes, and belated testimonials.
Jeffers may be injury-prone and lightweight. But under Arsenal's more intelligent coaching scheme than that offered by Archie Knox's baseball bat and fisticuffs, he could reasonably expect to improve his chances of playing for England and winning medals.
With the current Eveton set-up, he had no chance. His sale sadly confirms Everton's continuing decline as a Club quite content with selling its best players.
Yet his time at Highbury was an unmitigated disaster. Placed alongside players such as Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Sylvain Wiltord, chances were invariably difficult to come by, but Jeffers could surely have expected more than four league starts in two seasons.
In August 2003 Jeffers returned to Goodison on a year-long loan. But hopes that the prodigal son would make a lasting impression were quickly confounded. Beset by more injuries, he barely figured in the Everton line-up, and when he did make the team he looked a shadow of his former self. A huge bust-up with David Moyes as the season petered out to its disappointing conclusion saw Jeffers vow to never play for him again. Although he recanted and apologised, it was little surprise when Moyes let him leave at the end of the season. Jeffers joined Charlton Athletic in August 2004 for a cut-price £2.6million, but played fewer than 15 games before his release. Spells with Blackburn, Ipswich and Sheffield Wednesday proved fruitless and he eventually tried his luck in Scotland and Australia.