Today, players’ nicknames lack imagination. There are no “Black pearls”, “Nijinskys”, “Maradonas of the Carpathians” or “Ghosts” (for the uninitiated, these players were: Eusebio, Colin Bell, Georgi Hagi and John White). In the 1960s, Alex Young of Everton was dubbed “The Golden Vision” – a near-celestial nickname.
It was Tottenham Hotspur’s double-winning captain, Danny Blanchflower, that coined the phrase in tribute to Young. Ironically, it was Young’s Everton that took over from the fabled Spurs team in 1963 as the best team in the land. The team, managed by Harry Catterick, was the product of the so-called “school of science” (yet another nickname), a tag that was given to the club in the 1930s by the legendary Steve Bloomer, who described Everton’s football as “scientific”.
Fifty years ago, Everton’s fast and incisive methodical style was enough to win the 1962-63 Football League title, something that is almost unthinkable today. Interestingly, Everton also had a nickname they probably didn’t want – “the cheque book team”, a reference to their spending spree over the previous year before their title triumph.
Harry Catterick was a former Everton centre forward, but due to the second world war, he had to wait nine years to make his Football League debut for the club. He went into management in 1951 with Crewe and then onto Rochdale and Sheffield Wednesday (1958-1961) before being appointed in charge of Everton in 1961. He succeded Johnny Carey, who was famously sacked in the back of a taxi by the Everton chairman. A relatively quiet man, compared to his Liverpool counterpart Bill Shankly, Catterick didn’t even like his team being featured on TV because it gave away trade secrets. How would he cope today? Catterick’s first full season, in 1961-62, saw Everton finish fourth, one place higher than in 1960-61. It was the start of the best spell the club had enjoyed since lifting the title in the 1938-39 campaign.
There were a host of well-known players in the Everton squad, but the name that most Goodison regulars will recite when you talk about 1963 is Alex Young. It was Catterick’s predecessor that signed him from Hearts in 1960 for over £ 40,000. A Scottish international, his elegant style and goalscoring prowess drove Everton to the title. His partnership up front with Roy Vernon was key – Vernon, a wayward Welshman, scored 24 goals in 1962-63, many with his favoured left-foot. He was a difficult character to manage and could often be seen smoking in the tunnel before taking the field. Eventually, Catterick disposed of him because of his off-pitch antics and penchant for betting shops.
Gordon West and Brian Labone both had long careers with the club and also played in Everton’s 1970 title winning side. West, a large but surprisingly agile goalkeeper, was signed from Blackpool and in in any other era, would surely have won more than his three England caps. Labone, known as “Mr Everton” due to his long and passionate career with the club, eventually played for England although pulled out of the 1966 squad as he was starting married life.
Jimmy Gabriel also had a long career after joining Everton from Dundee in 1960. He served the club well but was edged out by an emerging generation in the late 1960s. Outside right Billy Bingham, an Irishman, went on to manage the club, but lost his place to Alex Scott, who joined from Rangers halfway through the 1962-63 season.
Everton kicked off the season with a 3-1 win at Burnley. They won their first four games before losing 1-0 at Fulham. Their second defeat, surprisingly, was at Leyton Orient. The first Mersey derby of the season ended in a 2-2 draw at Everton, with Johnny Morrissey scoring on his debut against his old club. He followed that up with a hat-trick against West Bromwich Albion. In December, Everton drew 0-0 at Tottenham in front of 60,000 people and maintained a two-point lead over their nearest rivals. The “big freeze” of 1963 caused them to stutter and when Catterick’s men lost to Leicester in February, Spurs were now in front. By the end of March, two successive defeats, against Arsenal and Sheffield United, sent Everton down to third, six points behind Tottenham. By mid-April, Leicester were top with 51 points, with Tottenham and Everton one point behind. Four days later, Everton went top after beating Spurs 1-0 at Goodison, thanks to a Young goal, in front of 67,650 people. With one fixtures remaining, Everton were five points in front of Spurs, but the north Londoners had played just 39 games. Everton beat Fulham 4-1 in their last game (a hat-trick from Vernon and one from Scott), while Tottenham lost at Manchester City. Although Spurs still had to play twice, they couldn’t catch Everton’s 61 points. Everton went through the entire season unbeaten at home, dropping only seven points at Goodison. They finished six points clear of Tottenham Hotspur and lost just six games in the league.
Everton’s team was an exciting combination and can stake a claim to being the best the club has ever turned out, although teams from the 1930s and the 1969-70 team could also be considered. The team managed to stay among the challengers for the next few years, until a new batch of young players (Kendall – Ball – Harvey et al) came on the scene. Golden vision? 1963 was certainly a golden year for Everton.