Steve McMahon had both the talent and grounding as an Evertonian to become a Goodison great. Were it not for a premature departure - still shy of his 22nd birthday – such hopes may have been realised. But to the unending dismay of Evertonians, McMahon’s best years lay at Anfield, and so, instead of becoming an Everton hero, he became one of the most reviled opponents of his generation.
A boyhood Evertonian, who as a teenager served as a Goodison ballboy and worked his way through the club’s youth set up, McMahon was given his debut as an eighteen year-old on the opening day of the 1980/81 season. Immediately showing maturity beyond his young years, he established himself in a transitional Everton team. An energetic player noted for his tough, eager tackling, in many ways he resembled Bolton’s Peter Reid, who Gordon Lee had unsuccessfully tried to buy that summer. With his neat and tidy passing, he allowed more expansive players such as Asa Hartford and, later, Andy King and Kevin Sheedy to flourish further up the pitch.
In the 1981/82 season, McMahon – who played more games than any other player – was awarded the Supporters Club Player of the Year award and called up to the England under-21 team. As a youthful Everton team made some progress under Howard Kendall’s management the following season, McMahon was one of its leading lights, outshining Reid, who was now an Everton player.
However, negotiations over a new contract spilled over until the end of the 1982/83 season, before reaching an impasse. Kendall insisted he wanted to retain McMahon’s services in the teeth of a bid from Liverpool. After a dark night of the soul, McMahon rejected Liverpool’s advances, instead joining Aston Villa on the eve of the 1983/84 season. The £250,000 fee funded the signing of Trevor Steven.
McMahon spent two years at Villa Park, but remained on Liverpool’s radar. In September 1985 he became Kenny Dalglish’s first signing as Liverpool manager. At Anfield, McMahon’s style became at once more expansive and abrasive. More than just a midfield grafter, he was Liverpool’s playmaker as Dalglish led the team through a succession of honours.
And yet at Goodison, the switch smacked of betrayal. The feeling among Evertonians – perhaps unfairly – was that McMahon had engineered the move to Liverpool. There was also a persistent grudge with his former colleagues in derby matches. Graeme Sharp wrote in his autobiography that McMahon appeared to become a ‘Billy Big Time’ on signing for Liverpool: ‘He had a swagger about him and I felt that he looked down on Everton.’ Sharp recounted how McMahon gouged him in the eyes during one encounter, while few Evertonians will forget the bone-crunching challenge he made on John Ebbrell in 1991 – a tackle that ultimately saw McMahon stretchered off.
McMahon played out his career with Manchester City and Swindon Town, where he was player manager. He enjoyed mixed success at the County Ground and in subsequent spells in charge of Blackpool and Perth Glory, later turning to television punditry.