Last week, STEVE MITCHELL – @barafundler – had the great pleasure of meeting an Everton legend – the one and only Bob Latchford. With the recent release of his much anticipated autobiography, I sat down over lunch to discuss a career that until now has remained a very personal memory.
The obvious question, without giving too much away from what’s in the book, is why now? And what were your main motivations to tell your story?
I suppose after years of pressure, not only from James Corbett, (who co-wrote the book) but from other people, I finally decided to take the plunge. I thought to myself that if I don’t get something written soon I’ll have forgotten everything that happened in my career as I have a bad memory! I was still reluctant about doing it right up to the point where I started the process with James but when we started, I found it very therapeutic talking about my life.
Who were your boyhood playing idols, as you state early on in the book that you could have played in a number of positions?
The one player I always looked up to was Denis Law but I also admired Alfredo Di Stefano, after seeing him on television in the all-white strip of Real Madrid playing against Wolves.
You cite Birmingham City manager Freddie Goodwin as probably the biggest influence on your career, could you explain to me why that is and what made him so special?
Yes that’s right; whether it was because he didn’t have any money to go out and buy players, I don’t know; but he really worked on me. I used to go back in the afternoon to do one on one training with him, so I always regard him as the person who kick-started my career as a player.
When you moved from Birmingham to Everton for £350,000 did you feel that added an extra burden on your shoulders at the time and how did the other players in the Everton dressing room come to terms with this, knowing they were lining up alongside the most expensive player in Britain?
I carried the burden until I got my first goal for the club. I didn’t score in my first two games for Everton, but then I opened my account against Leicester City and the great weight was lifted. I feel if I’d have gone more games without scoring, the other players in the dressing room would have started to question how much the club had paid for me but as soon as I started getting the goals, the respect came automatically.
Tell me more about the now infamous Billy Bingham pre-season training runs on the dunes at Southport.
Ah yes, the dreaded pre-season. Billy always wanted us to do running on the sands and I don’t really think the players could understand why we kept running on sand when we played on grass.
Let me take you back to the 74/75 season in which you so nearly won the league with Everton. You recall in the book many factors that you believe cost you the Championship, one of them being the training methods used by Bingham in the run-in. Why do you think he pushed players so hard, knowing what was at stake and do you think that if you had taken the title that season, Everton could have maybe gone onto major European glory?
His record has proved that he was a good manager, but some of his training methods were strange. For example, in the week leading up to a big game like the derby against Liverpool, he’d have us running and running and by the day of the match, the players were knackered. It was as if we were doing a pre-season towards the end of a season and players started to question his methods. Did his style of coaching cost us the title? I would say it didn’t help. It’s not the only factor, but it’s one of them. I think if we’d won the league in 1975 it would have certainly been the catalyst for maybe more success. I’ve always said to Evertonians that once you knock over that first trophy, then it becomes easier to knock over the others.
Do you think that if Gordon Lee had been in charge of the 74/75 team you would have gone on to win the championship?
Good question, it’s one I’ve not been asked before. Let me explain, Gordon Lee was a totally different character away from the media spotlight where he came across a little dour. In answer to your question; it’s a distinct possibility, yes.
The 1977 League Cup heartbreak; what are your abiding memories of the “three-month final”?
Our bad luck was what stands out. In the first replay, Roger Kenyon didn’t clear the ball which was so unlike him and Aston Villa scored. Then there was the Chris Nicholl goal and I don’t think he ever scored again in his career. Also there was the incident with Terry Darracott shortly after Nicholl’s strike, where the ball bobbled over his leg and Brian Little scored.
And from that you go on to become one of the few players at the time to get 30 goals in a season. At what point did you start to think about the £10,000 that the Daily Express were offering for hitting the target, as that was a lot of money in those days?
Let me start by stating that the £10,000 they promised was not the amount I received. £5,000 of it was split between the Football League and the PFA. I got the other five and put four of it into the player’s pool, keeping one for me. A few months later, I got a letter from the Inland Revenue wanting to tax me on the 10K they presumed I’d got. It took me years to convince them that I didn’t get the full amount.
How nervous were you taking the penalty against Chelsea to give you the 30 goals?
I actually needed two goals on the day to get the 30 and I woke up that morning without any nerves at all. I scored my first one, (the teams fourth on the day) from a corner and then Mick Lyons falls over in the box for the penalty. The worst part was the wait to take it as Chelsea players were arguing with the referee despite being 5-0 down at the time!
An England début at 27-years-old; In the book you point to certain factors that in your opinion, held you back from being called up much earlier. In particular, you still believe that you could have made the difference at Wembley in 1973 against Poland. Do you think if you were playing in the modern era, you would have got your chance much earlier?
For 11 years nobody scored more goals than me and I didn’t know that until we began to research the book. So even more than at the time, I have to wonder how I got overlooked for England. Now I do know however, Sir Alf Ramsey coached me in the England Under 23 side and he never wanted to put me in the first XI. With Don Revie, I still don’t know to this day what I did to upset that man. Ron Greenwood couldn’t ignore me though, but he waited until my form dipped around 1978/79 before leaving me out. If I was around in the modern era I would have definitely won more caps, because we don’t have the striking talent around that we did back then. Basically, if you are an English striker in the Premier League you will be picked for England, simple as that.
I’d like to move on to 1981 now and you signed for newly promoted Swansea. You state in the book that Howard Kendall was anxious to keep you at Goodison when he took over from Gordon Lee. Why did you feel it was time to move on?
I felt that the club had started going backwards and I started to have doubts. I also had probably my worst injury in 1980-81. I damaged my hamstring in the November and then I didn’t play again until the final league game of the season and I think that, coupled with the fact that Graeme Sharp was coming through, made my decision for me. I went to Australia to play in the summer and I knew it was time for me to move on. Maybe if Howard had come in a couple of years earlier I may have stayed at the club longer.
What were the main differences between Swansea and Everton from a player’s perspective?
It was a stark contrast. Swansea was a small provincial club who had a stadium that looked like it belonged in the 19th century. The reason I joined them was because they were the only top-flight club at the time who were interested in me. They’d just got promotion and needed a striker to help them stay there.
Do you feel Swansea were victims of their own success, after such a rapid rise up the divisions?
Financially they overburdened themselves when they got to the top-flight and the club had no safety net in place in the event that they were relegated. Once the dip started, they had to offload players (including me), which pretty much made relegation inevitable from which they never recovered.
Were you hurt by the way Everton seemed to ignore your existence once you’d left?
To be honest, there was never an approach from the club after I’d left and I’m not the type of person who calls up wanting tickets etc. I never imposed myself on them, so I’d just dropped off the radar as far as they were concerned. It wasn’t until I got a call from Steve at the Everton Foundation that I got myself back onto the periphery of the club.
What are your opinions on the current Everton team?
I think that they are on the verge of becoming a really good outfit. They have a lot of very good players and Roberto Martinez has a great work ethic and his views on how the game should be played are excellent. I’d like to see them play at a higher tempo than they do at times, because that’s when they look at their most dangerous.
Life in Germany with your partner Andrea and your new family is a far cry from your upbringing in Birmingham. Will Bob Latchford ever return to these shores to live?
Not at the moment no. I can see us moving out of Germany for sure, but the UK is not one of the places on our list where we would want to go.
Finally, who were the best players you ever played with?
For sheer natural talent I would have to say Trevor Francis, he was a genius. For working hard to turn yourself into a great player, then I’d say Kevin Keegan. He was a super man and a super player.