Expectations were high in the summer of 1899 when Everton shelled out £250 to bring Walter Abbott, Small Heath’s prolific inside forward, to Goodison Park.
The previous season the 21-year-old had scored 34 Second Division goals for Small Heath, forerunners of modern-day Birmingham City.
Yet hopes that Abbott would revitalise Everton’s shot-shy attack were soon confounded. Three games into his Everton career he was dropped, with his new club propping up the First Division having suffered three straight defeats. He returned midway through the 1899/1900 season as a converted half back, a position in which he remained for nearly a decade, adding skill, solidity and dependability to one of Everton’s finest ever teams.Abbott quickly earned national prominence for his role in the Everton defence.
He was, wrote William Gibson and Alfred Pickford, ‘one of a great line, and one who has made hard shooting from long range quite a speciality, some of his shots being like cannon shots, and often scoring when his own forwards are completely inoperative.’ Indeed his long- range shooting, honed while playing as a young inside forward, were a notable part of his repertoire. His ‘cannon shots’, wrote the Everton historian Thomas Keates, ‘so frequently successful, were a fascinating feature of his game, and installed him as a great favourite’.
His form earned him an England call-up against Wales in 1902, but he played at a time when the national team’s line-up was in a constant state of flux and riven between ‘gentlemen’ amateurs and mere professionals such as himself.
One who has made hard shooting from long range quite a speciality, some of his shots being like cannon shots - William Gibson & Alfred Pickford
Frequently the gentlemen found their social standing to be a better asset than their footballing ability in the selector’s eyes, and so found themselves picked ahead of professionals – such as Abbott – who were looked down upon by the class-obsessed snobs who ran football.
Abbott won just one cap, but perhaps a truer indication of his standing came by virtue of his selection for the Football League XI on four occasions.
Everton in this era were perennial nearly men, finishing First Division runners-up in 1901/02 and 1904/05 and FA Cup runners-up in 1907. They also finished third on another two occasions. Abbott, however, did experience glory in 1906, when he was part of the team that lifted the FA Cup.
Indeed, the left half played a key part in Everton’s victorious run. Facing Liverpool in the semi-final in his home city of Birmingham, Everton’s rivals dominated the early stages of the game. However, in the second half Abbott transformed proceedings with a long-range shot, which took a wicked deflection off the Liverpool left back Billy Dunlop and crept into the back of the goal. Liverpool were thrown into disarray and a minute later Jack Sharp set up Harold Hardman, who gave Everton an unassailable 2-0 lead.
Yet less than two years after lifting the FA Cup, in spring 1908, Abbott lost his place to Hugh Adamson. Now aged 31, Everton sold him to Burnley, where he spent two years. In the veteran stage of his career he returned to the Midlands, playing out his career with Birmingham City. After leaving professional football he worked in his home city’s nascent automobile industry.