Warren had begun his career with his home-town club, Wigan Athletic, and Everton – Albion’s visitors this Saturday - thought they had spotted a star in the making when they paid £150,000 for him in February 1986. “I went there as a 17-year-old and they loaned me back to Wigan, who were going for promotion,” he says. “I would only go back to Goodison when Wigan could no longer get promoted, and that was only settled in the last game of the season, they finished fourth.
“But Everton still had one game to play, against West Ham, a re-arranged game in the midweek between the scheduled last game and the FA Cup final against Liverpool. So I turned up on the Monday morning and was told I was in the squad and I ended up on the bench. It was Gary Lineker’s last league game for Everton before they sold him to Barcelona and I came on as substitute for him.”
Lineker had scored twice in front of 40,073, with Trevor Steven also netting for Everton, with Tony Cottee replying for the Hammers, who enjoyed the highest finish in their history. “It was an important game because it decided which of the two clubs would finish second and which would be third and Everton won 3-1. With my first touch I nutmegged Alvin Martin and the rest is history!”
Despite that auspicious beginning, Warren’s Everton career consisted only of ten appearances as substitute – not quite enough to earn a medal as Everton won the title in his second season – before he departed for Aston Villa for £300,000 in February 1987. But he cherishes the memory of his time there.
“You’d turn up for training and there were Peter Reid, Neville Southall, Gary Stevens, Paul Bracewell, Kevin Sheedy. The names tripped off the tongue and almost all of them were full internationals. Neville Southall was the best goalkeeper in the world in my opinion.
“And that was just the playing squad. We used to play head tennis against the coaching staff and you could never beat them, because they had Howard Kendall and Colin Harvey. So when Alan Ball later bought me for Portsmouth, I’d played for all of that incredible Kendall-Ball-Harvey midfield of the late 60s and early 70s.
“But they were great people to work for. It was like a family, an excellent club to be a part of, and it still is. They have an excellent Old Players’ Association and their official club ambassadors at the moment are Graham Stewart, Ian Snodin and Graeme Sharp, and they are full-time, going to weddings, funerals, everything.
“We always tried to play football, with two wide players. Training was usually small-sided games to keep your feet quick. I had a great time. In those days the manager, Howard Kendall, joined in with the training sessions and sometimes the drinking sessions too. But you could always go and see him about anything and he would be straight with you. What a manager, what a man.
“Unfortunately I had a lot of strikers in front of me, in Graeme, Paul Wilkinson, Adrian Heath, Lineker. I was told when they bought me that I was an investment and that I would have to bide my time, but Villa came in and made an offer that Everton accepted.”
The present Toffees side, he thinks, is underachieving. “Marco Silva, the manager, said on Friday before they played West Ham that it was a must-win game, which put the pressure on the players and himself, but they handled it well, I thought.
“Don’t forget though that they have spent almost £200 million, a lot of money for any club. They’ve got three players who have played for Barcelona, they’ve got the England goalkeeper, Richarlison who I think is a wonderful player who can play anywhere across the front, Theo Walcott, Moise Kean, a £24million centre-forward this summer - all very talented players.
“Their home form has been brilliant, but it always has been. It’s whether they can improve the away form. If they can get a run going then they have a squad that could make a run at the top six. But let’s hope they don’t start this Saturday.”
Warren expects another tight game after a 1-1 draw and a 1-0 Albion win in the two Premier League encounters between the clubs at the Amex so far. “The last two games here have been very close and the way we are playing we can get them on the back foot and put them under pressure.
“The way we started at Villa was very good. We took the game to them and although they tried to press us, we still got past them. When you have 51 percent possession with only ten men, you’re having a good game. But in the end it’s down to taking the chances. Aaron Connolly had two great chances in the first ten minutes.
“He just needed a bit more composure. Villa couldn’t have complained if we’d gone 3-0 up in the first half. The red card changed things, and we got away with the disallowed goal. But the good thing is that at 1-1 we didn’t sit back, and I think we should have scored at least one in the second half, maybe two.”
Last Saturday’s disappointment notwithstanding, Warren is enjoying life in the commentary box. “I love it. Johnny Cantor is an excellent commentator and we have a good laugh and a bit of banter driving up to games and back.
“I’m watching top-class football week in week out and they are exciting games with the way in which Brighton are playing. The players are buying into what Graham Potter is telling them and it’s working a treat. The bench looks strong and as the season goes on I think things will improve.”