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Neville Southall: A True Goalkeeping Great

Neville Southall is often described as one of the best goalkeepers of his generation.

The Welshman made well over 700 club appearances and won some of the highest honours in the game. He remains amongst the most capped Welsh players having played for his country 92 times.

Southall was known for his immense shot-stopping ability, in particular how commanding he was in ‘one-on-one situations’ where he’d quickly burst off his line to meet any onrushing forward before instinctively blocking or saving the ball.

In The Early Days

Southall was raised in the Welsh town of Llandudno and played his youth football there too. During his teenage years, the keeper had successful trials at Wrexham, Crewe Alexandra and Bolton Wanderers – although maintained he always wanted to be a postman.

By the age of 15, the Welshman was playing for Llandudno, briefly joining semi-professional side Bangor City before finally switching to Winsford United as a 20-year-old.

Southall’s displays caught the eye of football league club Bury and in 1980 they spent £6,000 to acquire his services. He made his first team debut during a 2-1 victory versus Wigan Athletic.

Whilst Bury struggled throughout the 1980/81 season, Southall began to excel, keeping 15 clean sheets after conceding just 50 times in his 44 appearances. He was rightly named as their Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year for 1981.

Everton Is Home

Southall made his career changing switch to First Division side Everton in 1981 for £150,000 and was an ever-present throughout the 1981/82 season.

At that time, Everton boss Howard Kendall referred to Southall as the best goalkeeper in the top flight “outside the big three” which included Manchester City’s Joe Corrigan, Liverpool stopper Ray Clemence and Peter Shilton of Nottingham Forest.

After an injury-blighted 1982/83 campaign, the Welshman fully established himself as the club’s first-choice goalkeeper by 1983/84. Despite Everton’s poor start to the league campaign, they excelled in cup competitions, reaching the final of both the League Cup and FA Cup.

During the League Cup final against Liverpool, Southall succeeded in keeping a clean sheet across a keenly fought goalless draw. The replay saw Liverpool win 1-0 with feisty Scottish midfielder Graeme Souness scoring the only goal.

Throughout their 1984 FA Cup run, Southall found he had very little to do and kept another clean sheet as Everton triumphed 2-0 over Watford to lift the famous trophy.

The Welshman soon tasted success in the league too. Although Everton lost their opening two league games of the 1984/85 campaign, they went on to lose just three of their next 37 league games and secured the First Division title by an impressive 13-point margin!

Even more impressively, the Toffees then beat Austrian outfit Rapid Wien 3-1 in the final of the Cup Winners Cup to win a first European title in the club’s history.

A treble of sorts was on the cards and only three days later Everton faced Manchester United in the 1985 FA Cup Final. But this time Southall tasted defeat as the Red Devils won 1-0 thanks to a Norman Whiteside goal in extra time.

At the end of a fruitful season, Southall was named as the FWA Footballer of the Year, the first Everton player, only the second Welshman and fourth goalkeeper to ever win the accolade.

However, the following season proved far less triumphant. During the 1985/86 campaign Southall twisted his ankle and suffered ligament damage whilst on international duty with ten league games left to play. The Welshman was left frustrated as Everton lost both the league title and 1986 FA Cup Final to Liverpool.

Yet the very next season, coinciding with Southall’s full recuperation, brought with it a second league title as the Toffees finished seven points ahead of arch rivals Liverpool.

It would represent the last honour Southall would lay his ‘pair of safe hands’ on for eight years.

Then in 1995, with Everton having experienced several seasons of relative mediocrity, the club enjoyed an incredible FA Cup run. Southall conceded just a single goal across five games on their way to the Final against Manchester United, Everton inflicting a 1-0 defeat on the Red Devils with the Welshman memorably pulling off a double save from Paul Scholes.

Southall left Everton in 1998 after twenty-four years as the most decorated Everton player in their history, having made 578 appearances and keeping a remarkable 228 clean sheets.

Career Twilight

Southall continued to play for a further four years following his departure from Everton. He featured for a large number of teams – twelve in total –  including the likes of Stoke City, Doncaster Rovers, Torquay United, Rhyl and his final club side Dagenham & Redbridge.

The Welshman retired in 2002 at the age of 43.

Representing Wales

Southall won his first cap for Wales against Northern Ireland during a 1982 British Home Championship game. Eight years later his country qualified for the 1990 FIFA World Cup where Wales met Netherlands, West Germany and Finland.

Whilst they failed to win a single game, Southall got the chance to play against some of the world’s finest players including Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Jurgen Klinsmann. Notably, during a 1991 clash as Wales lost 4-1 to Germany, it ended Southall’s impressive record run of 385 minutes without conceding an international goal!

Just a month prior to his 39th birthday, Southall won his final cap for the Welsh against Turkey in August 1997, which the Turks won 6-4. He won a total of 92 caps for Wales – a national record at the time – and he remains fourth on a list of all-time appearance makers behind only Wayne Hennessey (109), Chris Gunter (109) and Gareth Bale (111)

Coaching And Management

Southall briefly experienced life as an international boss, appointed caretaker manager of Wales alongside Mark Hughes in June 1999. The former keeper’s only game in joint-charge was Wales’ 2-0 loss to Denmark.

He also worked as a goalkeeping coach at Huddersfield Town and Tranmere Rovers before later becoming a player-coach at York City, Rhyl, Shrewsbury Town and Dagenham & Redbridge.

Southall was appointed manager of Conference club Dover Athletic in December 2001, yet his managing stint at the Kent-based club was short and he was sacked in March 2002. The Welshman also spent a spell as Wales under-19 coach before leaving his position in November 2004.

Four years later in 2008, Southall took on his last job as an assistant manager for Margate before being appointed in the role of caretaker manager a year later.

Honours And Accolades

In 1985, Southall was named FWA Footballer of the Year and is still the last goalkeeper to be handed the award to date. The Welshman was also included in the PFA Team of the Year across four consecutive seasons and even featured four times on a list of the world’s top ten goalkeepers by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics.

He was awarded an MBE for his services to football in 1996 and three years later, World Soccer magazine judged him 95th on the list of ‘Greatest Players of the 20th Century.’

Southall made a total of 782 appearances during a career spanning more than three decades and kept a stunning 285 clean sheets!

Life After Football

Following his retirement, Southall began teaching young people from deprived backgrounds how to coach in a community scheme called Soccer Skills.

In 2014, Southall started working as a teaching assistant at Canolfan Yr Afon in Ebbw Vale, helping students with their job seeking and working alongside local businesses to arrange work placements.

He is also a member of the trade union UNISON and serves as international officer.

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