Like so many of Colin Harvey’s signings, Neil McDonald faced the difficult – if not impossible – task of succeeding a member of Everton’s most illustrious team – in his case Gary Stevens. Ultimately it was a challenge he was unable to meet, but in 100 Everton starts, McDonald could not faulted for his efforts – the fruition of which saw him successfully reinvented as a central midfielder.
A son of Tyneside, like two men – Peter Beardsley and Steve Watson – who were to follow him into a blue shirt, McDonald was spotted as a youngster at the famous Wallsend Boys Club and signed by Newcastle. Still a teenager, he established himself in the Magpies’ team and was called upon to represent the England under-21 team on five occasions. In August 1988, the £525,000 switch to Everton came and he was immediately installed in place of the recently departed Stevens.
Tall and slightly ungainly, McDonald was a different proposition to the athletic Stevens. If early hesitancy was excused on account of his relative youth, Evertonians soon became impatient after several ponderous displays. McDonald was replaced as first choice right back by Ian Snodin, whose performances elevated him to the England squad, and subsequently found himself pushed behind Dutchman, Ray Atteveld. Undaunted, McDonald fitted in when called upon, sometimes also as left back.
In Autumn 1990 as the Harvey regime went through its death throes, McDonald was called upon as an auxiliary central midfielder and performed with distinction. Showing a previously unseen range of passing and a powerful shot, he looked an entirely different player. Yet this renaissance was brief, and in September 1991 McDonald found himself a victim of a transitionary period and was sold to Oldham Athletic. After playing spells with Bolton and Preston, a coaching career of great variation ensued.