In August 1962, Liverpool’s left winger, Johnny Morrissey, was sold to Everton in a £10,000 deal conducted behind Bill Shankly’s back. It was a decision that rankled with the Liverpool manager for the rest of his days, and the first clash in a cold war with his directors that would rumble on for the rest of his career.
The deal represented something of a surprise to all parties, not just Shankly. Morrissey, only the fourth player to move from Anfield to Goodison, was also an ardent Liverpool fan, whose early life had centred around his adored club. Everton, now known as the Mersey Millionaires, were supposed to be building a team capable of challenging for the league title. So why then, was the summer’s main transfer business the bargain basement signing of a Liverpool reserve who had never played beyond the Second Division?
Indeed his arrival represented the second attempt by an Everton manager to sign him: Ian Buchan had failed in an attempt to part exchange Tony Mcnamara for him in December 1957. And if Morrissey possessed any doubters about his allegiance or ability, he would soon confound them. One month after joining Everton, he came up against his former club in the first league derby to be played in more than a decade. 1-1 at half time and still deadlocked on the hour; a fumble by the Liverpool goalkeeper, Jim Furnell, saw Morrissey steal in and hit the ball past Liverpool’s covering defenders. It was headed away by Ronnie Moran, Liverpool’s last defender, but not before crossing the goal line. Liverpool would go on to equalise late on, but Morrissey had allayed much scepticism. ‘Morrissey had been abused all his life at the snake pit, until the Blues came in and saved him from those nasty Reds,’ wrote George Orr in his chronicle of the era. ‘He was re-educated and taught the Gospel according to the Angel Gabriel and the only true God Alex Young.’
Born in April 1940, Morrissey had emerged as one of Merseyside’s top young footballers, modelling himself on his hero, left sided forward, Billy Liddell. After scoring almost sixty goals in a season for Liverpool Schoolboys, Liverpool snapped him up and by his eighteenth birthday he had made his Anfield debut. Yet he found chances difficult to come by: Alan A’Court and a veteran Liddell were difficult to supplant, and despite being highly regarded by Shankly over five years he made just 36 appearances for Liverpool.
At Goodison, however, Morrissey completed almost as many appearances in his first season, lifting the League Championship in the process. Stocky yet adroit, direct and pacy, Morrissey was a potent part of Everton’s attacking armoury. He was at his best taking his ball from deep and running to the by-line, before lofting a lingering cross, but he could also cut in and let fly with a rasping shot. Though never a great stylist, he never lacked finesse and possessed an impeccable first touch and intelligence in his play.
After playing an important part in Everton’s 1963 title win, perhaps surprisingly he was a peripheral figure the next season, after losing his place to Derek Temple. He returned for much of the 1964/65 season, scoring the final goal in Everton’s 4-0 drubbing of Liverpool, but fell out of favour again the next season and missed the 1966 FA Cup Final.
And yet, as Catterick built his second great side around the midfield triumvirate of Colin Harvey, Howard Kendall and Alan Ball, Morrissey was an important part of it. Although he was usually upstaged by the so-called ‘Holy Trinity’, the Everton manager recognised the winger’s importance. ‘Johnny Morrissey played a big part in the midfield set up,’ said Catterick. ‘We always called Johnny our ‘safety valve’ player because he always made himself available to others when they were in tight situations. When the midfield trio was unable to play the ball forward, Johnny was always there to take a pass, hold the ball until the trio had made room, and feed it back to them.’
Morrissey was more than just a winger, however, he was a genuine hard man in an era when the game was replete with such figures. In particular, Everton’s encounters with Leeds United became grudge matches in which Morrissey seemed to up the mutual resentment a notch every time the two teams met. One vivid recollection many Evertonians have of him was during the 1969/70 season, when Everton beat Leeds to the title. Leading Leeds 3-2 in the September encounter at Goodison, Morrissey took the ball to the corner flag to kill time and so as to goad his opponents, raised his arm as if looking at his watch. Charlton, Billy Bremner, Johnny Giles and the rest of Leeds so-called hardmen never dared go near him.
The following year, Morrissey’s rivalry with Charlton was laid bare. In an October 1970 TV interview the Leeds player claimed he kept ‘a little book with players’ names in it. If I get the chance to do them I will. I will make them suffer before I pack it in. If I can kick them four yards over the touchline I will.’ Morrissey was one of several players against whom Charlton claimed he sought retribution. Their rivalry stemmed from an incident when Charlton was stretchered off and Morrissey allegedly goaded the Leeds player – ‘You won’t be getting your win bonus for a while, Jack.’ ‘John was a dirty bugger,’ Brian Labone admitted to Charlton’s biographer. ‘He was about half the size of Jack and when he was around, you had to look out.’
Perhaps some of the antipathy was football related too. In April 1968, Everton faced Leeds in an FA Cup semi final and Morrissey was to strike the decisive blow. ‘We went into that game as underdogs,’ Morrissey would recall. ‘John Hurst and Alan Ball were unable to play and Leeds were the best team in the country.’ Shortly before half time, a plan to frustrate Gary Sprake, the Leeds goalkeeper, paid off. Joe Royle had been instructed to block Sprake’s right-footed clearances so eventually he was forced to throw the ball out. When it landed at the feet of Jimmy Husband his lob shot was blocked by the hand of Jack Charlton. Morrissey scored the resultant penalty, but would later admit: ‘When I saw it on TV the following day I realised that the Everton fans were behind goal and if I had missed it I would have had to continue my career with another club.’
After claiming a second league title in 1970, Morrissey played on past his thirtieth birthday. But during the 1971/72 season he was struck with the injury curse that plagued so many of his colleagues from that team. A persistent Achilles tendon problem limited his outings, and at the end of the season Catterick accepted a bid from Oldham Athletic.
A decade later, Johnny Morrissey was again briefly gracing the Everton team sheet – the son and namesake of the sixties great worked his way through the youth system to make two appearances for the club where his father made his name. Sold to Tranmere Rovers in October 1985, Morrissey junior went on to make nearly 600 appearances for the Birkenhead club.