Once the most expensive full back in English football, Terry Phelan’s career had started to stagnate at the time of his arrival at Goodison in December 1996. Signed for £850,000 after serious injury had ruled Andy Hinchcliffe out for the remainder of the season, he was seen as another of Joe Royle’s panic purchases, another second-rate player not befitting of Everton’s famous motto.
Despite being plunged straight into a team suffering its worst run of form in a quarter of a century, Phelan soon proved his doubters wrong. An enthusiastic, committed player who possessed outstanding athleticism and pace as well as a biting tackle, the Ireland international looked as if he had been part of the Everton defence for years.
But just as injury had opened up a place in the Everton team for him, so it cut short his Goodison career. After starting the 1997/98 season in the first team, a serious cartilage injury kept him out for the bulk of the season and most of the 1998/99 campaign. Phelan regained his fitness for the 1999/2000 season, but was loaned out by Walter Smith, who made clear his preference for David Unsworth and Michael Ball ahead of the adopted-Irishman. In December 1999 he was given a free transfer and three months later joined Fulham.