Everton v Sheffield United: Phil Jagielka relishing return to Goodison

Phil Jagielka: Assured a warm welcome. Picture: James Wilson/Sportimage
Phil Jagielka: Assured a warm welcome. Picture: James Wilson/Sportimage
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EVERTON’S ‘Grand Old Team’ anthem famously contains a line stating: ‘And if you know your history, it’s enough to make your heart go wooaarr!’

It references those halcyon days when the blue half of the Mersey footballing divide prevailed over the red. A time when the ‘School of Science’ principles were adhered to and the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Colin Harvey, Alan Ball and Howard Kendall ruled the roost at Goodison Park.

Phil Jagielka may not have lucky enough to play in that era – or in the Blues’ trophy-laden renaissance under Howard Kendall in the Eighties either – but his yeoman service in a 12-year association with the club will ensure that history treats him kindly in the years to come.

Having just turned 37, Jagielka – now back in the colours of Sheffield United – can also count on the history books recalling his contribution to the red and white cause with reverence at another working-class club who remember their own as well.

Manchester-born he may be, but the veteran defender will always be held in high esteem by Evertonians and Unitedties who inhabit the rival footballing cities of Liverpool and Sheffield.

That respect will be firmly in evidence from the Goodison faithful this afternoon.

The ex-Everton captain said: “I am tremendously proud to play a part in both of their histories.

“Everton do a lot in community and are a fantastic family club and you cannot say anything else differently about Sheffield United.

“They gave me my chance and I felt at home here. It was a really tough decision to leave and a lot easier to come back.

“Honesty is the easiest way and what both sets of fans expect. I know someone in the media recently said: ‘well done for running round’ and the gaffer (Chris Wilder) said that is minimum he expects and that is true.

“Both play at old stadiums which are square which I quite like as well, as it makes the atmosphere fantastic. They (Everton and Sheffield United supporters) both make a hell of a lot of noise and get behind you and it will be difficult for us.

“They expect a certain type of football and the Evertonians will be hoping and expecting to beat us and vice versa.

“We will take plenty of fans there as well who will create plenty of noise and look for us to do something special.”

Amid the nostalgia theme today as Everton welcome back Jagielka, the man himself is keen to denote that his career is far from finished.

Unfinished business firmly revolves around the Blades re-establishing themselves in the Premier League.

A cruel twist of Carlos Tevez-inspired fate ensured that his last top-flight foray with United was tinged with bitter disappointment after Neil Warnock’s side went down on the final day of the 2006-07 season.

Spying similarities between the Blades squad on their current top-flight journey and the one he played in 13 seasons ago – but hankering for a different outcome – Jagielka added: “It was exactly the same with the squad we went up with (in 2005-06).

“It did not particularly cost much and we were written off. But we held our own for the majority of the season. A few things did not go our way and it did not turn out perfectly.

“But we have been in the same situation. We are a very good football team, we know it and everyone else is yet to realise it.”

Under 25 during that last season in the big time with United, Jagielka is now definitely in the seasoned category and someone capable of imparting words of wisdom to younger colleagues amid the daily interaction of club life, while still influencing games on the pitch.

He has been schooled well in that regard, learning off some established senior professionals at first Bramall Lane and then Goodison and it was a big part of the reason why Wilder pushed so hard to bring him back to the steel city in July.

On his own mentors, Jagielka said: “Coming through, we had no money and the gaffer tried to get people in and out. Stuart McCall came and Wayne Allison. Later on, I had Sylvain Distin and Tim Howard (at Everton).

“These people played until nearly 40 and did really well in their older days. You look up to them – at the time, you have normal conversions and it is not anything patronising or crazy.

“Looking back, I remember Wayne said when we got to the play-offs and two semi-finals (in 2002-03) that this could actually be my best ever season and I was only 19 at time.

“I said that I hoped not, but he was right as far as memories go. It was definitely up there with my most successful seasons, even though we lost everything. Those little things help on the journey.”

Initially brought in as a jack-of-all-trades by Everton, it was Jagielka’s quick conversion to an established centre-half which propelled his career and enabled him to break through on the international circuit.

In his view, it is also helping to prolong it in his 21st season on the football circuit. A career which has seen him represent red and blue with distinction.

Jagielka added: “When I went to Everton, I had two or three different positions. I played right-back and centre midfield and was even asked to man-mark people.

“When you’re running around chasing someone else, I thought I need to find myself a home now. Thankfully, I did that in the middle part of my first season at Everton and I felt really at home.

“We did not have anyone else there. I was in the midfield at the time.

“I do not think I would be still be running around there at 37.”