David Weir represented the finest bargain of Walter Smith’s Everton reign – a time of frenetic transfer activity at Goodison.
A late starter who had studied in the US on a football scholarship, in 1992, aged 22, Weir finally embarked on a professional career with Falkirk. Weir came under Walter Smith’s radar while playing in Scotland and twice he tried to sign him for Rangers. But the deals fell through and in 1996 Weir joined Heart of Midlothian. He excelled at Tannadice, earning his first Scotland cap in 1997, and as his contract ran down towards the end of the decade began attracting the notice of English clubs keen to sign him on a Bosman free transfer.
In February 1999, Smith stole a march on his rivals, which included Liverpool, paying Hearts – who risked losing Weir for nothing in the summer - £200,000 for the defender. Tall, slim, a fine header of the ball and a good reader of the game, Weir initially struggled to adapt to English football. Bafflingly, Smith initially played him at right back, wing back and even in midfield, positions to which he was patently unsuited. Never the fastest of players, nor possessing the technical attributes necessary in such positions it was unsurprising that the form at the start of his Goodison career was faltering.
During the 1999/2000 season Weir was given more opportunities at centre half, his natural position and began to prove his worth. A calm, unflustered player, with Richard Gough alongside him he brought composure and experience to the Everton back line. When Gough was ruled out for most of the 2000/01 season through injury, Weir assumed the Everton captaincy and was one of the few bright points in another disappointing campaigning.
With the arrival of David Moyes in March 2002, Weir became one of the foundation stones upon which Everton’s renaissance was built. Now one of Goodison’s senior professionals, over the next two years the captaincy rotated between himself, Kevin Campbell, Alan Stubbs and Duncan Ferguson. He was at his best when partnered by Joseph Yobo, his experience aiding the rookie’s development, and the Nigerian’s blistering pace compensating for Weir’s lack of speed.
Weir started the 2004/05 season open that it would likely be his last for Everton and that he was playing to attract the notice of another club. But after injury to Joseph Yobo, he was recalled to the heart of the defence and was among the most consistent performers as Everton defied all expectations and finished fourth. His outstanding form earned him at the age of 34 a recall for Scotland, now managed by Walter Smith. At the end of the season Weir signed a contract extension, and following Alan Stubbs’ departure to Sunderland was named club captain.
Perhaps this was one season too many for the Scot. Although he continued to appear regularly through the 2005/06, he was now in his mid-thirties and his waning pace became exploited by opponents. Although by no means wholly culpable for these reversals, Weir played in the 7-0 humiliation to Arsenal at the end of the 2004/05 season, the 5-1 hammering at Dinamo Bucharest and the 4-0 defeats to Bolton Wanderers and West Bromwich Albion in the first half of the following season. At other times his experience under pressure was excellent, and off the field he remained an outstanding and articulate ambassador for the club.
Weir retained the Everton captaincy for the 2006/07 season, but with the arrival of Joleon Lescott chances were harder to come by. In January 2007, Walter Smith, who had returned to manage Rangers, signed him on a free transfer. There followed an Indian summer: for Rangers, he was instrumental in their reaching the final of the 2008 UEFA Cup; for Scotland he was a key component in their team that unexpectedly beat France in a 2007 European Championship qualifier.
Weir, who had once professed of his ambition to play at 40, did just that, also continuing to turn out in the blue of Rangers until midway through his 42nd year. The Scot left amidst the club’s crippling financial problems in January 2012 and after spending a few weeks on a pay as you play deal with Sheffield United returned to Everton as an academy coach. He displayed his supreme fitness on the day of his return, turning out for the reserve derby with Liverpool and playing his part in a 1-1 draw.