“When Hibbo scores, we riot” has become a very popular phrase amongst Everton supporters in recent years. They are – of course – talking about stalwart Tony Hibbert, who in 12 years and 309 senior appearances (253 in the league) for the club, had never actually scored a goal. The right-back has become something of a cult hero amongst Evertonians, chiefly due to his no-nonsense approach, obvious love for the club, and of course, his goal scoring prowess – or lack of it.
Born into a family of staunch Evertonians, ‘Hibbo’ signed for the Merseyside club in 1991, aged just ten. He quickly progressed through the club’s youth ranks, and by the start of the 2000/01 season, he was training with the first-team. He made his debut in March 2001, when he came on as a right winger (he would be moved to right-back later in his career by David Moyes) against West Ham United. The very first involvement he had in the game was winning a penalty kick, when his marauding run down the right side was arrested by a high challenge from Stuart ‘Psycho’ Pearce (funnily enough, that was probably the closest he ever got to goal in his Everton career).
As the years rolled by, Hibbert became the unsung hero of the Everton team. His tenacity and committed approach endeared himself to the Goodison faithful, as well as possessing one of the most fearsome slide tackles in the Premier League. He is, by all accounts, an old fashioned full-back. What he lacks in skill, he makes up for with graft – qualities that have held him in high esteem throughout Moyes’ tenure on Merseyside.
He is undoubtedly, the consummate professional. Over the years he has spent significant time on the bench – whether he be deputising for Phil Neville or Phil Jagielka – but he has not once complained, never gone to the media, and never requested a move away. He plays for Everton Football Club because he loves Everton Football Club. In that respect, he is a total rarity in modern football.
Such is the respect that the fans have for Hibbert, that they all dearly want him to break his duct and finally score a goal. Every time he has the ball in the opposition half, there are enthusiastic cries of “SHOOT!” The supporters just wanted to show their appreciation for ‘Hibbo’, and celebrating a goal is the best way possible.
That’s why, when the club announced that his testimonial would be a pre-season friendly against AEK Athens on the 8th of August, there was such public clamour for tickets. The fans wanted to show their appreciation for Tony Hibbert, as well as hoping they might be there to witness that elusive goal.
And so, amid much build-up, the night finally came. There was a remarkable crowd at it – for a pre-season game – and the man himself was given the captains armband and walked out to a guard of honour. There was a feeling inside the stadium, that if he was ever going to score, then this would be the night.
Then, with 54 minutes on the clock, the impossible happened. Everton were awarded a free kick about 20 yards out from goal, and although regular free-kick taker Leighton Baines was standing over it, Hibbert promptly sauntered over to take it. He then proceeded to drive the ball into the bottom left corner of the net. Cue mass delirium. Cue absolute chaos.
As soon as the ball hit the net, his team-mates surrounded him in way of congratulations. Immediately afterwards, the large support who attended the match made their way onto the pitch. Within seconds, the stewards had a mass pitch-invasion on their hands. For a pre-season game, the scenes were utterly ridiculous. The Liverpool Echo’s Greg O’Keefe claims he hadn’t seen anything like it since Everton survived relegation on the last day of the season in 1994.
All in all, it was a great night, and a fitting tribute to the perennial unsung hero that is Tony Hibbert.
The fans were true to their word though. Hibbert finally scored, and they actually did riot.