As English football entered its cash-laden Premier League era of excess, Peter Beardsley was a refreshing antidote to such gauche times. A quiet man, a teetotaller in an era when to be so was considered exceptional, who preferred life away from the limelight which so many professional footballers enforce upon themselves, Beardsley was also one of the select few who have played for – and captured the imagination of – both of Merseyside’s ‘big two’.
During a two-year spell at Goodison Park he scored more than thirty goals – an impressive tally for a man who was in his thirties when Howard Kendall paid £1million to bring him across Stanley Park. As well as the goals that assured Everton’s top-flight survival in lean times, Beardsley captured blue hearts and minds with his array of neat skills and incisive play.
Born in Newcastle in 1961, Beardsley was a graduate of the famous Wallsend Boys Club, whose alumni included the likes of Alan Shearer and Steve Bruce. Like Bruce and Shearer he slipped under the radar of his home-town club, eventually getting his break with Carlisle United where he emerged as one of the lower leagues’ most exciting young talents. Former England and Leeds player Johnny Giles was an early admirer of Beardsley and signed him in 1981 while coaching the Canadian side, Vancouver Whitecaps, for £275,000.
In 1982, after impressing in a pre-season friendly against Manchester United, Ron Atkinson gave him a six-month extended loan-trial at Old Trafford but never took up the option to sign him, and Beardsley returned to Canada where he played for a further year. When the NASL neared collapse in 1983, Beardsley was brought back across the Atlantic by Newcastle, where, alongside the likes of Kevin Keegan and Chris Waddle, he won the Second Division title in 1984. In 1987 Liverpool made him a British record signing, paying £1.9million to bring him to Anfield, where he spent four years, picking up two Championship medals and also played a leading role in the 1990 World Cup, where England reached the semi-finals.
On falling out with new Liverpool manager Graeme Souness, Beardsley was allowed to join Everton in the summer of 1991. A deep-lying forward of grace and skill, Beardsley took little time to settle in at Goodison. Early highlights included a hat-trick against Coventry City in September and his form earned him many plaudits, some saying he was worthy of an England recall. Surprisingly the England manager, Graham Taylor, made clear that he did not feature in his plans.
Although Everton’s football at this time was occasionally slick and entertaining, the team struggled for form and crowds were poor. Two goals by Beardsley in March 1992 against Oldham Athletic gave Everton their first home win for exactly three months, which was telling of the way in which the team struggled. Beardsley nevertheless ended the season with 20 league and cup goals and 12 assists.
Everton were again disappointing in his second season, finishing 13th and exiting the League and FA Cups at an early stage. Beardsley still managed 12 goals, including a late winner in the Goodison derby, which he described as one of the ‘most satisfying’ goals he had ever scored.
That summer, with transfer funds at a premium and Kendall in the market for a target man, he accepted £1.2million bids from Derby County and Newcastle for Beardsley, with the forward opting for the latter club, where he was reunited with Kevin Keegan, now manager. Ironically Kendall never got his target man and the Goodison career of one of Everton’s most gifted individuals was over.
At Newcastle Beardsley enjoyed something of a renaissance, earning an England recall and spearheading Newcastle’s resurgance under Keegan. On leaving St James’s Park in 1997 his career resembled a road atlas, appearing for six different clubs in barely two years. On calling time on his playing career he assisted Keegan when he was England manager, later taking up a variety of coaching roles at St James’s Park.
Beardsley’s time at Goodison was probably best encapsulated in one sublime moment in a 3-0 win over Nottingham Forest in March 1993. After intercepting the ball just past the halfway line and spotting the goalkeeper off his line, he made an audacious lob. The end result, however, was indicative of Everton’s fortunes at the time. It hit the bar.