A Kirkby-born boyhood Evertonian who watched Everton’s mid-eighties glory days from the Gwladys Street terrace, Alan Stubbs first made his name as part of Bolton Wanderers’ mid-1990s revival. The tall centre half was a fine reader of the game, a good header and, even if his ball playing skills were sometimes over hyped in these early years, a doughty and brave player. He won England B honours in 1994, and joined Celtic in a £4 million deal in 1996.
Perhaps full international recognition may also have come Stubbs way, but in 1999 his life changed forever. After giving a blood sample following the Scottish Cup Final, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. An operation and chemotherapy saw a recovery, but in November 2000 it emerged that he had suffered a relapse and he was admitted to hospital for further treatment. He underwent surgery in January 2001 and was again given the all-clear.
Six months later, Stubbs was an Everton player, having signed on a Bosman free transfer. It was, he acknowledged, his ‘dream move’ and pulling on an Everton jersey for the first time was ‘the best feeling I've ever had in football.' He had by now entered the veteran stage of his career and was nearing his thirtieth birthday. One of the most noticeable things in these early appearances was a discernable lack of pace – something that was easily exploited by opponents. Stubbs was dropped barely a month after his debut, and although he returned soon after was unable to remedy the terminal decline of Walter Smith’s regime.
And yet after the arrival of David Moyes in March 2002, Stubbs looked a different player. Particularly when picked to play alongside Joseph Yobo, whose fleet footedness complimented Stubbs’s impeccable reading of the game, he shone, often captaining the team too. Alongside David Weir, he shared a solid and occasionally imperious central defensive partnership. While against better opponents their lack of pace showed, sometimes their experience counted for more as the Everton defence absorbed onslaught after onslaught.
Stubbs possessed many of the attributes – a boyhood love of the club, passion, commitment – to make him a firm crowd favourite, a legend even. And yet the bonds between supporter and player were sometimes undermined. Stubbs shared the same agent as Wayne Rooney, which fanned conspiracy theories when the youngster joined Manchester United. Later he publicly backed Everton’s unpopular proposed move to Kirkby. In July 2005 he skulked out of the club, turning down the chance of a new contract and Champions League football in favour of a better deal at Sunderland. He then accused Everton of demanding a contractual clause relating to the cancer – claims that were untrue and for which Stubbs apologised.
The switch to the Stadium of Light was an unmitigated disaster. Sunderland were relegated from the Premier League with a record low points tally, but Stubbs had by then left the North East. Chastened after his earlier outbursts, Stubbs was a surprise return to Goodison in January 2006 and soon confounded any lingering doubts with some fine performances through the remainder of the season, and in Everton’s successful push for European qualification in 2006/07.
Following the arrival of Phil Jagielka in July 2007, Stubbs fell down the Everton pecking order. In January 2008 he was given a free transfer and joined Derby County. But the move was less than successful, with Derby even beating Sunderland’s dismal low points record. Following relegation he made just one more appearance, before announcing his retirement due to a persistent knee injury. In September 2008, he returned to Everton as part of Moyes’s coaching staff.