Tim Howard- The Ministry of Defence
The legacy Tim Howard left at Everton can be described in one noise: the sound of his metal studs crashing against the Goalposts. It still sends shivers down my spine to this day. Tim Howard joined Everton in the summer of 2006, after a three year stint as the heir to Fabian Barthez at Manchester United. Howard was pipped to the number one jersey by Dutch stopper Edwin Van Der Sar, which forced him to find gametime elsewhere, this was where his Everton journey began. Tim Howard at times appeared to be the Statue of Liberty between the sticks, certainly to me he couldn’t do wrong. Tim was the angelic superhero wearing Everton’s ‘keepers jersey. During my early years I would have traded my well-earned pocket money to pick his brain for five minutes, I wouldn’t have known any tactical, logical questions to ask the number twenty-four during my youth, but I certainly would have asked him to sign my gloves, and maybe who would win in a race between Steven Pienaar and Johnny Storm.
My first memory of Howard was during the Penalty Shootout against Manchester United in 2009. I recall him saving Dimitar Berbatov’s penalty, my mind fixates on Berbatov’s jinky, step towards the ball, and the way he swung he swung his goalscoring right foot at the ball. My hero Tim Cahill had missed the Toffee’s first, a moment where my stomach felt as though it had fell through the floor, and was halfway through Tim’s native Australia by the time Berbatov walked up and faced Everton’s other Tim. It seemed in that moment Manchester United’s inaugural penalty in that shootout took hours to reach Tim Howard’s outstretched body that would eventually block the ball, and send the Evertonians who had travelled down to what had been formerly known as “Goodison South” during my grandads adolescence into a positivity overdrive. Tim’s long body seemed to grow ten feet, the time which dragged on seemed to have stopped. There was no way to know Everton would go on to win and progress to our first final since the success of 1995, but Big Tim had given Everton a chance, a measly chance, and I was going to drink it in. As you can probably picture, when Phil Jagielka dispatched the spot-kick that sunk Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, my first experience of football euphoria insued. Of course Tim saved another penalty that day, but that one sticks in my mind. Tim’s sky-blue jersey is cemented into my memory, and if there is a part of the human brain that harnesses true love, that goalkeeping kit is cradled in its grasp. His sweaty, bald face (this was a few years prior to Tim’s infamous “bearded era”) smiled ear to ear down the national television camera that followed him across the Wembley turf. A royal blue flag draped across his back, and covered his famous number twenty-four. Everton were back at a Wembley final, and it was largely due to the heroics of the Premier League’s very own Statue of Liberty. The only time I have experienced more footballing glee, was twenty-five seconds into the subsequent final against Chelsea, when Louis Saha belted the ball past Petr Cech, and sent me on a jet propelled lap of honour around my Grandparent’s back garden, but that is all I’ll say about that final, Frank Lampard still makes me sick to my stomach today, especially knowing we haven’t reached a Wembley Final since. Nevertheless, Tim’s shoot em up, bang bang performance in the Wembley Semi-Final of ’09, was enough to convince me Football was magic, and Everton was the sorcerer who was practicing it.
By the late summer of 2009, I was Everton mad. I had all the shirts, I knew all the songs, and I had a season ticket in row five of the Park End. My seat sat dead in the centre from one end of the stand to the other, right behind Big Tim’s net for fourty-five minutes of every home game, fourty-five minutes I would treasure. Of course I knew of other Goalkeepers, cue Carlo Nash, Iain Turner and John Ruddy. The idea of seeing another stopper pull on the Everton Jersey, and cement a place in David Moyes’ starting XI though, seemed incredibly foreign to me. Tim had an auror about him, that when he was in the mood, he seemed unstoppable. To me he was like the popular kid in school, who you just wish you could spend a day with. He would stride towards the goal, and throw his water bottles to the right hand side of the net, he would thread his towel through the sidenetting of the Goodison goals, and then crash his black Leather boots off of the post that stood just inches taller than him, to rid them of the turf that slept beneath them. He would follow this routine perfectly in that order, and I would use my season ticket to witness it. Certainly during my younger years, you would struggle to convince me Howard wasn’t the modern humanisation of Superman, he was the all American American, and the stone cold arrogance he exuberated stopped me in my tracks towards the refreshment stand, and forced me to watch him.
Howard once again showcased his brilliance on an early winters night in 2012, when he achieved a feat only a handful of Goalkeepers can claim. On January 4th 2012, Tim Howard scored a premier league goal. The wind roared through the Goodison atmosphere, and made the majority of Evertonians reach for their half time Bovril. Howard laced his foot through the ball, which rose to an altitude that would make Neil Armstrong jealous. The northern wind carried the ball gracefully through Goodison Park, at a height that hurt the necks of the supporters inside the “Old Lady”. It bounced joyfully over the head of Adam Bogdan and treacled into the Wanderers net, and the Everton fans had an unexpected goalscorer in their ranks. Howard’s modesty can be admired in that moment. If he had hair, it would have been significantly ruffled by his teammates who cheered him on, still shocked at what they had seen. Tim Howard’s Goodison Goal will forever remain a slapstick moment in Evertonian minds, because the Toffees went on to lose the match 2-1. Couldn’t write it, could you?
I’ll give you one more Tim Howard moment to reminisce on. in fact, ill give you a name, Graziano Pelle.. ring any bells, blues? I’d be surprised if it didn’t. In April 2015, I was a bright eyed, squeaky fourteen year old, and by this time I had moved from my Park End seat, and had a seat in the join between the Upper Gwladys Street, and Upper Bullens Road stands. The game against Southampton was a perfectly normal, routine 1-0 home win when you examine the scoreline. Tim Howard’s save six minutes in from Southampton’s prolific, Italian frontman, was anything but “normal”. Shane Long made a quick beeline down the left hand side of the Goodison pitch, ball at his feet. Long had caught the Everton defence napping on his pace. He whipped a ball into the Gwladys Street penalty area, time stopped after that. Pelle got a connection to the ball, not clean, but by no means a bad shot. The ball flew gracefully through the air, it reminded me of a magnet being pulled towards a fridge freezer, although the shot was fragile due to Pelle’s awkward attempt, It seemed unstoppable. Tim Howard hadn’t had the best season, it seemed my favourite goalkeeper had had his best days, and he seemed to be gaining on his last hurrah. Tim had made mistakes, Demba Ba’s goal at Goodison in 2012/13 sticks in my mind, I call it his “starfish moment”, google it, you’ll get the picture pretty quickly. One thing Howard was dreadul at, was reading the script, and he obviously had left his screenplay for the afternoons events at home in his other pants. Tim flew back towards the stand, from behind, it seemed Michael Jordan-esque. Ten years prior it would have made one of those trendy Nike adverts. The stadium seemed to shrink before me, and the superhuman in Everton’s net that took the form of Tim Howard, magnetised towards the football that seemed destined for the blue nets behind him. Tim reached his basketball arms behind the ball, and shovelled it out of reach. He fell backwards into the goal, and the ball was cleared, cueing a roundof applause from the Goodison faithful, who couldn’t believe their eyes. Even I glanced at the scoreboard to make sure Tim had actually stopped the ball crossing the white line he stood on. He had, Tim was up to his old tricks, and it was bloody glorious.
The following season was Tim’s last. 2015/16 was his Everton curtain call. He began to look like a sick dog, who needed to be put down, seeing Tim being beaten at his near post, or dropping a cross he should have caught, left a stale taste in my mouth, and saddened me. Even as a naive fifteen year old, I knew of the impact he had on me, just not as much as I know now. It was announced Tim was to leave the club, and join Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer fame. His last game for the blues was a convincing 3-0 win over Norwich City, worthy of Tim’s legacy. My last memory of Tim, was seeing him at the end of that game, clutching a black microphone. He delivered a heartwrenching speech to all four sides of Goodison Park, he spoke of Everton the way I would have in that situation, he spoke of Goodison Park, how you would of your happiest memories. In January 2019. Howard announced he was playing his last season in professional football, and would be hanging up his gloves. He delivered an interview about his time at Everton, which was welcomed by blues all over social media. Tim will forever be remembered at Goodison, as a hardworking, loveable fan favourite. Who is as big a blue as any of us. He will always have a seat at Goodison. Tim if you’re reading this, give me those five minutes, and I can finally find out if Steven Pienaar really was quicker than Johnny Storm.