Over the years Evertonians have enjoyed an embarrassment of riches on the right wing. Players like Jimmy Husband, Andrei Kanchelskis and Mikel Arteta have all held down the berth with distinction. But nobody has sustained the same levels of excellence as Trevor Steven did during his six years with the club in Everton’s mid-1980s glory years.
A debate on the merits past and present Everton players always generates a healthy and fulsome response. But when, in 2009, a Toffeeweb.com contributor was perceived as underplaying the genius of Steven, he provoked a furious – but entirely valid and accurate - response. ‘Where you there in the 80s?’ asked one respondent. ‘Did you see Trevor Steven play? Do you remember his nickname from the terraces? GOD! The lad had everything, he could tackle, he could score, defend, attack with brilliance, show people his arse as they slipped in his wake. Today he would be one of the most sought after midfielders in Europe.’
Signed for £300,000 from Burnley in the summer of 1983, many Evertonians first thought it a hefty fee for a virtually unknown 19-year-old – not least given that the hugely promising Steve McMahon was sold to fund the deal. Steven had been scouted by many First Division teams, including Liverpool, but only Everton possessed the confidence to pay so much for a relative unknown.
The start to Steven’s Everton career was nevertheless slow. Patchy form in the opening stages of the 1983/84 season saw him lose his place to Alan Irvine. But after a successful spell in the Central League his confidence was restored, and he returned to the first team as the season reached its climax, appearing in the FA Cup semi final win over Southampton, then in the final itself. It was Steven’s deep cross that set up Andy Gray’s goal
Years later, he told the author Becky Tallentire: ‘For me, the turning point was the FA Cup win with Everton. To win there and take Everton on to a new level was brilliant, and that medal is the one I cherish the most.’ Indeed Steven seemed galvanised by the FA Cup win and was one of the most outstanding performers through the triumphant 1984/85 season. Not only was he a prolific contributor of assists, many destined for the head of Graeme Sharp or Andy Gray, but after Sharp he was second top scorer with twelve league goals. None of these efforts were more memorable than the brace he contributed to Everton’s European Cup Winners Cup run. Deep into the semi final second leg against Bayern Munich, Steven was played in by Andy Gray, and, one on one with the Bayern keeper, coolly chipped from the edge of the penalty area to seal a 3-1 victory. In the final against Rapid Vienna, his close range volley from a corner was the decisive goal in a 3-1 win.
A player of pace and composure who combined intricate dribbling with surging runs down the Everton right, Steven was soon recognised as one of the finest widemen in the club’s history. He possessed all the facets of a great winger: speed, flair, dazzling footwork and a cool head in front of goal. But Steven was always much more than an orthodox flanker. His work rate was exceptional. He could tackle. He was versatile and able to play through the middle, up front and even – as he sometimes did for England – at right back. He was one of the best penalty takers Everton have seen. With Gary Stevens he formed an outstanding right-sided partnership for club and country: a formidable defensive barrier and electrifying overlapping pairing that hit opponents hard on the break.
Already an England under-21 international, in February 1985 Steven received a full international call up, making the first of 32 England appearances against Northern Ireland. Steven picked up where he left off during the 1985/86 season, scoring nine goals and providing countless through balls and crosses for the productive Lineker-Sharp partnership. Although the campaign ended trophyless ‘Tricky’ – as he was now known – was part of the England World Cup squad in Mexico. With Gary Stevens, Peter Reid and Gary Lineker he formed a strong Everton contingent, playing in the quarter final against Argentina. Four years later he would appear in the World Cup semi final against West Germany.
Although still aged only 22 at the start of the 1986/87 season, Steven always seemed an old head on young shoulders. As Everton were obliterated by injuries that year, he seemed to grow in stature. Steven ended the season top league scorer, his contribution decisive as Everton were again crowned league champions.
Dark clouds, however, lay ahead. Amongst the Everton squad, the UEFA ban on English clubs competing in Europe was most keenly felt by its young players, such as Steven, who had many years still ahead of them. With age on his side, by rights Steven should have been a key component of Everton’s domestic and European challenges until the mid-1990s. But he was robbed of this opportunity and after Howard Kendall’s departure in 1987, discontent seeped through the club.
After a disappointing 1987/88 season, Steven refused the offer of a new contract. With his existing deal due to expire in summer 1989, speculation abounded about his future. With the signing of Pat Nevin in summer 1988 he found himself playing in a much deeper role, and there were barely suppressed hints at his unhappiness. ‘I’ve hardly played in my traditional wide position,’ he said in an interview at Christmas 1988. ‘While I’ve been happy to help Colin Harvey out when we’ve had injuries, I still prefer to play out on the right.’ Linked to moves with Liverpool and Manchester United, discontent began to permeate from the terraces. During the 1989 FA Cup Final, an Everton fan invaded the pitch to remonstrate with Steven, whose transfer to Liverpool was rumoured to be imminent.
This was his last action in an Everton shirt, a disappointing conclusion to a dazzling career. However, it was not Liverpool he joined that summer, but Glasgow Rangers (Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish remained an avowed admirer and later recommended Steven to Marseille). The move came after a bitter wrangle over a transfer fee: because Steven was out of contract and the two clubs could not agree a price, it was set by a tribunal at just £1.5 million - £1million less than Everton’s valuation. It was to prove a hideous under-valuation: just two years later Steven joined Marseilles for three times that amount.
A glut of club honours followed, and for the next seven years he was also able to display his talents in the European Cup and Champions League – opportunities denied him at Everton. In October 1994 he was linked with a return to Goodison as part of the deal that brought Duncan Ferguson from Rangers, but Steven was recovering from long term injury and the move came to nothing. He retired at the end of the 1996/97 season, later combining a career in punditry with work as a football agent.
Later speaking of his decision to leave Everton, he cited the European ban as a major factor. ‘We were all set to challenge for the European Cup the following season and that was a crashing blow. It threw a hell of a cloud over the English League. It’s one of the reasons I came away from English football. At the time it didn’t look as though we’d get back into Europe.’