In 2005 James Beattie signed for Everton and Beattiemania was rife throughout Merseyside. Things didn’t pan out the way many dreamt they would and it’s still sad to think of what if?
So many players have come and gone from Everton Football Club throughout the years, some great, many bad and a lot somewhere in-between. Nowadays it’s actually hard to remember what the exact sentiment towards many of our ex-players was at time when they donned the royal blue jersey. Hindsight is indeed everything and for many former Blues history has been kind whereas some have seen their records and performances not stand up to the test of time.
One player whom confused and frustrated the masses in equal measure during his Everton tenure, and continues to mystify this writer personally by his failure, was a certain Mr James Scott Beattie. An English striker whom was good in the air, covered plenty of ground during a game, possessed a powerful right foot and showcased a fiery personality in the heat of battle, he seemingly had all the qualities that Evertonians love about previous club idols.
Beattie arrived in January 2005 for a then club record fee of £6m and was unveiled under the lights at Goodison Park during half-time of a match against Portsmouth. The Blackburn-born man was 26 going on 27 at the time, considered peak years for any striker, and was very much a footballer in demand. The Blues had to beat off stiff competition from Aston Villa to land his signature but when we did feelings of excitement soared throughout the fanbase. For Everton to bring in a new talisman, who also had several England caps to his name, seemed a brilliant piece of a business both for the good of the side and commercially.
Despite making our best start to a season since 1985, actually holding onto 3rd place up until Christmas, the team in 2004-05 suffered from a noticeable lack of firepower up top. With Marcus Bent not coming up with the goals to match his terrific workrate, Ferguson relegated to a bit part role and Campbell constantly in the treatment room, Everton were in urgent need of a regular goalscorer if the season wasn’t to fall away in the second half. It didn’t thankfully but the men responsible for seeing to that were predominately Cahill, Carsley, Martyn and Stubbs, not the centre-forward whom we’d taken from Southampton.
Beattie’s first few months on Merseyside were memorable but not for pleasant reasons. On the pitch his conditioning left a lot to be desired, he infamously earned himself a straight red card for committing GBH on William Gallas in a moment of madness and also kept picking up nagging injuries in training. Additionally, there’s a personal story I’ll share which didn’t help endear him to yours truly and many other Evertonians from the off.
A week or two after his unveiling, on a bitterly cold Saturday, 10 year old me and my older brother travelled to Goodison Park early to wait at the player’s car park in hope of getting autographs. Wait we and dozens of others did and one by one every single player arrived and signed everything put in front of them, stopped for photographs or at least acknowledged the gathering and apologised for not having time to stop. Time ticked on and the anticipation for Beattie’s appearance grew until 2pm rolled around with still no sign of him. People began to wonder, was he injured and not in the squad that day? Had he arrived even earlier than anyone anticipated? Had he used a different entrance to the stadium?
Alas no, he was simply late. Pulling in finally at 2:15pm and with a very angry look on his face, Beattie stormed past the crowds of adoring supporters who’d huddled together waiting in the frost for him and didn’t say a word to even club officials as he marched inside. Hours of patience, barely being able to contain our excitement and even worrying for his well-being at one stage, only to be blanked completely for our troubles. Looking back now it’s easy to accept that it was more than likely a one-off instance and not a true reflection of James’ character but from then on in things just never seemed to get on the right track.
“How horrible is he?” I remember saying my equally crestfallen brother as we walked away that afternoon. “He’d better score today.”
Beattie scored only a solitary league goal in his debut season which ironically came against his former club whom eventually ended up being relegated. The Blues did end up finishing in the top four places but it was disappointing that our record signing hadn’t managed to make a more significant contribution.
However, with a full pre-season under his belt and European football to look forward too (let’s not discuss what ultimately happened with that) hopes I remember were still high that the player who’d scored well into double figures in four previous seasons would go into the new campaign fitter and more motivated than ever to repay Evertonians’ faith.
It did indeed get better somewhat. Beattie finished the 2005-06 with 11 goals in 38 games across all competitions in what was the club’s lowest scoring season in our history. A consolation goal in a derby, a delightful chip against Fulham and a match-winning strike against Arsenal were the stand-out moments but other than that it was a thoroughly depressing year that saw us finish 11th. Perhaps he’d have scored far more if surrounded by players of greater quality or deployed in a system that better suited his strengths as a box striker. The sad fact is though is that that period was a good as it ever got for Beatts whilst in blue.
The year after that the injuries piled up, Andy Johnson hit the scene and youngsters Victor Anichebe and James Vaughan broke through to leave our by then no.9 out in the cold. Beattie eventually departed in the summer of ‘07 after finishing that final term with just a meager 2 goals in 33 league games (with both of those coming from the penalty spot). Quite wisely he took the decision to drop down to the Championship with Sheffield United and rebuild his career from there.
After leaving James threw a few rocks in David Moyes’ direction by claiming that a falling out between the pair subsequently led to his form spiralling and his motivation plummeting. Whether you accept this as an explanation or not, I personally feel it’s a poor excuse for his non-fulfilment, the fact of the matter was that only 15 goals across 86 overall appearances was a very disappointing return for a forward for whom many had such high hopes. Moyes himself once famously described him as “a mix of Graeme Sharp and Andy Gray all in one” but unfortunately Beattie did not come close to living up the comparisons of either of those two men.
In the present day Beattie works in the game as a coach and has served as deputy to Gary Monk at several clubs such as Swansea, Leeds, Middlesbrough and currently Birmingham City. Whenever asked about his Everton days the former Accrington Stanley manager apparently speaks with fondness and acknowledges us as the biggest club he had the chance to play for. Evertonians may feel mixed in their feelings towards him, a lot was promised and very little was delivered, but ultimately Beattie served as an important lesson for the club’s supporters and no doubt the hierarchy at the top. No matter how badly we may want a player to succeed, no matter how qualified he may look to do so whilst playing elsewhere, no matter how much faith he’s shown, sometimes things just aren’t meant to be.
The former striker still had a career to be proud of all things considered because scoring 91 Premier Leagues goals isn’t just something anyone can claim. Everton managed to recoup £4m from his sale, a great amount at the time considering his lack of goals, and brought in the equally enigmatic Yakubu afterwards as a replacement. Supporters had ourselves a new hero to carry our dreams and everyone involved quickly moved onwards.
To this day however I do occasionally ask myself, what if Everton and James Beattie had managed to get off on a better foot in the beginning? What if he had managed to come into the club fully fit and with a brighter attitude? How many could he have bagged in his first full season had he been supplied better? What if Moyes had played him and another in a 4-4-2, would great things have been achieved? We’ll never know I guess but sometimes I can’t help but wonder.