When talking about his first match in charge of Everton, against Liverpool in November 1994, Joe Royle spoke of how Duncan Ferguson ‘went to war’ to help win the game for Everton. Such was his galvanising effect, said Royle after the game that ‘it was as if a bolt of lightening had struck him.’ Yet Royle might have been talking about Andy Hinchcliffe, such was the transformation from that day in the defender’s Goodison form and fortunes.
Signed by Colin Harvey for £900,000 from Manchester City in the summer of 1990, Hinchcliffe was an outstanding all-rounder, and as a schoolboy he had represented Lancashire at cricket and lacrosse while also turning out for Manchester City’s youth team on Sundays. As a young professional footballer, he had shown promise with other young Main Road pretenders, such as Paul Lake, David White and Ian Brightwell, so it was with some surprise that City manager, Howard Kendall sold him to his former club.
At Goodison the England under-21 international at first looked to be an ideal long-term investment. Three months into his spell on Merseyside, however, Harvey was sacked and Kendall – with whom Hinchcliffe never seemed to click – returned from Maine Road. Injury and inconsistency combined to dog these first years at Everton, and by the time that Mike Walker was appointed manager in January 1994, Hinchcliffe’s youthful potential looked as if it would remain untapped. Indeed Walker rarely picked Hinchcliffe, even signing the hugely unpopular David Burrows to replace him in September 1994.
Two months later, Royle became Everton manager and Hinchcliffe was thrust back into the Everton first team. Playing as a left sided midfielder, he was one of Royle’s so-called ‘Dogs of War’, ostensibly a defensive player, whose magnificent – but hitherto unused – left-footed potency became one of Everton’s main attacking outlets. On Royle’s first, memorable, night as manager, twice Hinchcliffe’s pinpoint crosses met the head of Duncan Ferguson – one leading directly to a goal; the other to a knockdown, which Paul Rideout converted. A fortnight later, Everton met Leeds United at Goodison and Hinchcliffe swept the Yorkshiremen aside with all three of Everton’s goals coming as a result of his corners.
As Everton clawed their way to safety and an FA Cup win the following May, this became the pattern of their play, with Hinchcliffe’s set pieces central to their renaissance. But when Royle began to tame his ‘dogs of war’ after safety was assured, moving Hinchcliffe back to his favoured left back position, so Evertonians saw the first signs of his completeness as a defender. Crisp in the tackle, pacy and with excellent short and long range distribution, Hinchcliffe fully deserved his call up to Glenn Hoddle’s first England squad for the World Cup Qualifier against Moldova in September 1996.
Further call-ups followed as Hinchcliffe thrived for club and country. But shortly before Christmas 1996, disaster struck. Playing in a dull match against a poor Leeds side, Hinchcliffe made an innocuous slip. After struggling on, he was clearly in pain and had to be substituted. ‘No one realised the scale of the problem until the surgeon had operated,’ he said afterwards. ‘Then suddenly I wake up on Christmas Eve with my cruciate and a cartilage in a bottle beside my bed.’
Nine disastrous months on the sidelines followed, during which time Everton’s form plummeted as the club was plagued by boardroom disarray. Royle was sacked as manager, and for a third time Hinchcliffe was reunited with Kendall. Invariably rumours about Hinchcliffe’s future began to fly around. With less than a year remaining on his contract, some expected him to allow it to expire before making a personally lucrative free transfer under the terms of the Bosman ruling.
To the surprise and delight of Evertonians he affirmed his commitment to the club by signing a new long-term contract. Barely had the ink dried on his new deal, however, than he was sold to Sheffield Wednesday in a £2.7million deal in January 1998. With the emergence of Michael Ball and chairman Peter Johnson refusing to allocate more transfer funds unless players were sold, Hinchcliffe, had seemingly become an affordable sacrifice.
In Yorkshire Hinchcliffe briefly regained his place in the England squad, but injuries limited him to less than 90 appearances before he was forced to call time on his career in 2002. A quiet, thoughtful man, well-liked by his team-mates, he later became involved in media punditry for local radio in Manchester.