DOMINIC KING: The sad story of Graeme Sharp’s Everton exile

The back of Goodison Park’s Main Stand is a sight to behold. From one end to the other, running the length of the pitch, there is a gigantic pictorial tribute to the men who set the standards.

Alex Young, ‘The Golden Vision’ as he was known, starts the sequence. To his right, follow Dave Hickson, Bob Latchford and Dixie Dean before Joe Royle completes the line. The image that really catches your eye, though, is the man who we have not yet named: Graeme Sharp.

Positioned between Dean and Royle, there is Sharp with the ball at his left foot, moving elegantly towards goal. No matter how many times you have visited Goodison, something about this still makes you stand and stare – the colours, the scale and majesty. It is a moment in time.

What a player Sharp was: he gave Everton 11 years after leaving Dumbarton in 1980 for £120,000, scoring 159 times in 446 appearances and providing the foil for great partnerships with Andy Gray, Adrian Heath and Gary Lineker, carrying the weight of the No 9 jersey.

Only the incomparable Dean can better the total of the proud Scot, who had a prodigious leap and a shot like a cannon — think back to the volley that settled the Merseyside Derby at Anfield in October 1984. His place in history is secure.

Graeme Sharp has not set foot in Goodison Park since a defeat by Brighton in January

It is a sorry tale for an iconic player who has a mural painted on the side of Goodison Park

It is a sorry tale for an iconic player who has a mural painted on the side of Goodison Park

Sharp (back row, fourth from left) is arguably the club's greatest living player - he formed a crucial part of their 1980s success

Sharp (back row, fourth from left) is arguably the club’s greatest living player – he formed a crucial part of their 1980s success

For the past five months, however, looking at the image has left profound sadness. Sharp, who won two league titles, scoring the opening goal against Watford in the 1984 FA Cup final win and also collected the European Cup Winners Cup, is Everton’s greatest living player.

He is to Everton what Sir Kenny Dalglish is to Liverpool, Sir Bobby Charlton is to Manchester United and Mike Summerbee is to Manchester City: a statesman who has represented the club all around the world with dignity and pride.

Could you imagine any of those men not being able to set foot in the stadiums where they once made dreams?

Yet that is the situation in which Sharp, now 62, currently finds himself. The last time he attended a game at Goodison was on January 3, when Everton were ransacked by Brighton losing 4-1. It was a febrile night, with protests against the board of directors.

On the day of the next home game, against Southampton on January 14, Everton issued a statement to say they had received security advice that it wasn’t safe for members of the board to attend the fixture and that this was ‘a profoundly sad’ situation.

The previous evening, a video had been released on social media by a group of fans, lined up on Goodison Road with banners. Among the barbs aimed at Chairman Bill Kenwright and major shareholder Farhad Moshiri, one banner with two words that inflicted the deepest cut of all.

‘Sharp Out’ it read.

What made this all the more startling was the fact the person holding it up was positioned directly underneath the picture that adorns the Main Stand in homage to Sharp. Within the club, there was revulsion that he had been targeted.

Vociferous protests have come to mark much of Everton's season - including calls for Sharp to depart

Vociferous protests have come to mark much of Everton’s season – including calls for Sharp to depart

Sharp had been appointed to an unpaid non-executive role on the board on January 5, 2022, describing it as ‘one of the greatest honours of all’. He was part of the furniture at the club, inducted as to its Hall of Fame in 2005 before being made an ambassador and then players life president. He added: ‘This club is in my blood. I take my role as a custodian of our great club very seriously.’

Those words were not hollow. Sharp had always been a regular visitor to Finch Farm, the club’s training base. He would be there, offering advice and encouragement to players, if it were needed, and being a sounding board for managers.

He had been involved in the recruitment and interview process when Frank Lampard was appointed, following Rafa Benitez’s sacking, and was desperate for him to succeed. The esteem in which Lampard held him, meanwhile, was beyond question. He couldn’t speak about him any higher.

Critics wondered what influence Sharp actually had behind the scenes, given that decisions were ultimately taken by Farhad Moshiri or Bill Kenwright, but at a club where there is often chaos, he would put forward a view designed to challenge and question.

There have been times when there has been a rush to reward players with new contracts quickly but he would always advise that there was no need to commit big sums to individuals who still had things to prove. He had played at the top and knew what was required to get there.

Everton’s best interests have always been at his heart. He would be proud to represent the club at any function, he would speak with passion and also have a glint in his eye when he got into debates with fans of the team across Stanley Park.

Discontent and anger directed at Farhad Moshiri has spilled over onto the other board members

Discontent and anger directed at Farhad Moshiri has spilled over onto the other board members 

Regrettably that glint has gone. Sharp, a modest man who has never wallowed in the nostalgia or displayed the memorabilia of his playing career at his home, is deeply hurt that he hasn’t been able to watch Everton since January 21 at the London Stadium. His wife Anne-Marie — the pair are proud grandparents — is inconsolable about the criticism.

Who can blame her? Sharp hasn’t visited Finch Farm recently, he won’t go into social situations where there is potential for a fan with a grievance against the board to appear and there is the very real prospect that he might never go to Goodison again. What a miserable situation this is.

They sing on the Gwladys Street about ‘if you know your history’ but clearly some of those who holler that don’t — having a grievance with Moshiri and Kenwright is one thing, making a club legend unwelcome at the place that should be his home is unforgivable.

For all that image on the Main Stand is stunning, a reminder of who he is and what he was, Graeme Sharp’s presence at Goodison Park should not be in picture form. Instead, the empty seat that was his in the directors’ box is the emblem of a sad, sorry story.