When Billy Kenny was made man of the match in the Premiership’s first Merseyside derby in December 1992, Peter Beardsley christened the 19-year-old the ‘Goodison Gazza’. If only he knew just how apposite the comparison would be.
Kenny, whose father and namesake had been a fringe player for the club in the 1970s, was a midfielder blessed with sublime skill, especially in his passing. He had a range and scope of imaginative distribution that was on a par with some of Goodison’s finest. An immaculate double-footed player, he was no show pony either and could mix it with the best. Playing Wimbledon, he was scythed down by Vinnie Jones; Kenny took his punishment uncomplainingly, before giving Jones a taste of his own medicine a few minutes later. He possessed the sort of energy and aggression which could later be likened to Steven Gerrard.
After making just a handful of Everton appearances he was called up to the England under-21 squad.
Kenny, however, was a troubled soul. ‘Playing came easily,’ he would recall. ‘It was what happened off the pitch that was difficult to deal with.’ After succumbing to shin splints, Kenny was operated on, but lacking the daily camaraderie of training became bored and sought solace in booze and drugs. ‘Some mornings I got home at four or five, had a couple of lines of cocaine, slept for an hour and then went to training,’ he said. ‘Sometimes I could hardly see the ball. I was a joke.’
In 1994 he was finally sacked by Everton. At the instigation of the PFA he was given a second chance at Oldham – but was sacked again and drifted out of the professional game. In 2003, he wrote: ‘I played for other clubs but my heart was not in it. The only team I wanted to play for was Everton ... I play football with my friends and work with a cousin in property development. I am bitter at what happened. I have two children and I should have saved a fortune for them from a successful career, but I’ve got nothing. I still sometimes cry at night about it. It was an utter waste.’