Supreme fitness and athletic magnificence would underpin Gary Stevens’ long and illustrious career, but he was more than just a fine athlete and defender. As well as providing an often impenetrable barrier on the right side of Everton’s defence, as an overlapping full back he was an important part of the Everton attack, forming a magnificent right sided partnership with Trevor Steven. This would span a decade at Everton, for England, and latterly Glasgow Rangers.
Born in Barrow, Stevens first made the breakthrough to the Everton team in October 1981 during Howard Kendall’s first months as manager. Although he would be a central figure in Everton’s glory years, over the next thirteen months Kendall alternated between Stevens and Brian Borrows, a fellow youth team graduate. Stevens won through after Borrows was among the scapegoats in the wake of Liverpool’s 5-0 Goodison massacre in November 1982. His rival never played in a blue shirt again and was sold to Bolton the following spring. ‘There was not much to choose between us,’ Stevens recalled. ‘For virtually two seasons, it was Brian or me at right back. I played first, he took my place, then I got it back. I don’t now what grounds the decision to sell Brian were made on, but it could just as easily have been me who moved on.’
Stevens career truly took off following the arrival of Trevor Steven in summer 1983. The two shared a similar work ethic and seemed to form an innate understanding down the Everton right. ‘I think Trevor has helped him a lot and they worked well together and complimented each other perfectly,’ said Tommy Wright. ‘He has great attacking qualities with a good eye for goal and did play more as a right winger. But gradually he changed and I think he was told to restrict himself by the coaches. He adjusted and stopped belting helter skelter down the wing and realised he was meant to be a defender and that was when his skills in that department improved.’
Stevens’ form during the 1984/85 season brought him an England debut against Italy at the season’s end. He became a fixture for the national team and was in the England squad for the 1986 and 1990 World Cup Finals, and the 1988 and 1992 European Championship Finals. Many of his 46 international appearances were made alongside Trevor Steven.
Fast, powerful and hardworking, Stevens worked the Everton right tirelessly until 1988. He seemed to be blessed with the innate capacity of running constantly, and possessed such a fine turn of pace that few opponents got past him with speed alone. There were, however, some shortcomings. Sometimes he was derided for his lack of technique. Over the years this improved, although he was still prone to hoofing the ball up the field. (Sometimes this was to great effect: it was a Stevens’ long ball with which Graeme Sharp connected to score his stunning volley against Liverpool in October 1984.) There were occasional lapses of concentration too – none more costly than the stray pass that let in Ian Rush to score the equaliser in the 1986 FA Cup Final.
In attack his long throw ins became a potent weapon, particularly with target men of the calibre of Andy Gray and Graeme Sharp to aim for. For a full back with few set piece responsibilities, his goals tally was comparatively healthy; none were considered more important by Evertonians than the deflected shot which knocked Liverpool out of the League Cup third round in October 1987.
By this stage, however, Stevens was becoming disenchanted with life at Goodison. Having won virtually honour available to him, he sought European football and the higher wages on offer in Scotland. In summer 1988 he joined Glasgow Rangers for £1.25 million. Here he won numerous further honours and Trevor Steven linked up successfully with him a year later. In 1994 he returned to Merseyside with Tranmere Rovers, where he played out his career. Later he turned his hand to physiotherapy.