– Bill Kenwright, Chairman of Everton Football Club.
It is a rarity for a professional player to cement over eleven years at a club in this day and age, and Wednesday 8th August marked a day to celebrate exactly that fact for Everton’s modest, consistent right-back. Tony Hibbert’s eagerly awaited, well attended testimonial at Goodison Park was an evening that will forever live in the memory of Evertonians who witnessed a something quite exclusive.
Hibbert’s creditable claim to fame is his ten years of top-flight football at Everton, including 309 competitive appearances. However, as is well known among not just Evertonians, Tony Hibbert has never scored a single competitive goal.
With this in mind, there could not have been a more fitting tribute than when Everton hosted AEK Athens as a pre-season friendly-turned-testimonial on Wednesday. Despite the Bullens Road stand, Upper Gwladys and upper Main Stand being closed, an incomparable round of applause from fans, players and staff of both sides greeted the lifelong Bluenose from Huyton upon his arrival for a pre-match presentation.
A hat-trick from promising new signing Steven Naismith propelled the Toffees in to a 3-1 lead by half time. The Scot linked up well with former Rangers team-mate Nikica Jelavi?, at times appearing telepathic, raising optimism for the upcoming Premier League season. And then, in a heart-stopping moment, mid way through the first half, ‘Hibbo’ responded to the crowd’s pleading cries of ‘shoot!’ (which, if you ever attend an Everton match, happens virtually every time the 31 year-old crosses the half way line) and unleashed an unexpectedly powerful shot upon Athens’ goal from over 20 yards out, shaving the crossbar, leaving the goalkeeper confounded and further rattling the opposition’s confidence.
The right-back himself revealed his wish to score a ’30 yarder’ instead of a penalty kick prior to his testimonial, despite appearing as if he had no intention to drill the ball in to a net at Goodison Park anyway.
Expectations had become raised from Hibbert’s earlier effort, and the second half contained a hectic ten minutes which Evertonians, and Hibbert himself, will surely tell the grand kids about one day. For a while now, there has been a famous saying among supporters, which players and staff have been aware of for a while: the infamous ‘Hibbo scores, we riot’ slogan, which was plastered on pre-match posters and leaflets.
A free-kick was awarded to the Blues during the second period and, as the crowd expected, the celebrated defender strolled over with an air of confidence and dominance unseen for 11 years beforehand. The ball was teed up and subsequently battered in to the bottom corner of the Gwladys Street goal, courtesy of the man himself, Tony Hibbert.
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