Ahead of the meeting between two of his former clubs, we caught up with BBC Sussex summariser Warren Aspinall on his Everton career and his thoughts on how Albion will finish the season.
Warren, you signed for Everton after just six months of regular first-team football for Wigan. So how did the move to Goodison come about?
I’d been having a really good season with Wigan and a few clubs were showing an interest but when Everton came in for me, it was a no brainer.
They were just down the road but, more importantly, were arguably the biggest club in the country at the time, winning the league, winning in Europe and full of international players like Gary Lineker, Neville Southall, Peter Reid, Kevin Sheedy, Graeme Sharp and Gary Stevens. I didn’t have to think twice about it.
What do you remember about your early days with the club?
I joined in February 1986 but as Wigan were chasing promotion from Division Three, I was immediately loaned back. As an 18-year-old, Everton manager Howard Kendall saw me as one for the future and he was happy for me to keep gaining experience at a lower level. I scored 27 goals in 23 games and following my last game I returned to Everton on the Monday morning and made the bench for the game against West Ham that night!
What are your memories of linking up with your new team-mates for the first time?
I’d been used to training on a park pitch in Wigan, with Mr and Mrs Smith walking past with their dog, now all of a sudden I’m driving into the car park which was full of flash motors. Not the Bentleys and Aston Martins you get today, but it was full of XR3is, XR2s, XR4s, and here was me chugging along in my C Reg Fiesta, having just passed my test!
Tell us about your debut then…
It was a big surprise, obviously, but with the side having played on the Saturday [a 6-1 win against Southampton] and with an FA Cup Final against Liverpool coming later that week, Howard clearly wanted to rotate his squad a bit. West Ham were third, we were second and whoever won would finish runners-up behind Liverpool.
It was also Gary Lineker’s last game at Goodison before he left for Barcelona and I came on for him in the closing stages. It was just an incredible feeling, to be playing in front of 40,000 people, whereas a week earlier I was playing up at Darlington for Wigan! We won the game 3-1 but it was hard to take it all in at the time, to be honest.
You only trained with Gary Lineker for a short spell but what was he like?
He was just a natural goalscorer; everything he touched found the back of the net. He wasn’t someone who would stay behind after training to practise his shooting, in fact he was one of the first players back inside.
He just came alive inside the six-yard box – a phenomenal player. It was obviously disappointing for Everton fans when he left the club after just one season, but English clubs were banned from Europe at the time and he clearly wanted to play at the highest level.
You went on to play just ten games for the Toffees the following season – so was that disappointing?
I think it was down to finances as much as anything. I was bought for £125,000 and sold to Aston Villa for a club record £300,000. Obviously at that age I was still some way down the pecking order, with Sharp and Heath the main pairing, and I remember Villa manager Billy McNeill coming up to a hotel in Haydock to meet with me and my dad.
These were the days before agents and my dad was a miner with no experience of dealing with football people, and we just accepted what was said. I was given a pay rise but that wasn’t that important for me at that age; I just wanted to play more regularly, and Billy promised me that.
Unfortunately when I got to Villa I found even more strikers in front of me: Gary Shaw, Simon Stainrod, Gary Thompson and Andy Gray! But the following season, under Graham Taylor, I went on to become joint top scorer, as the club made an immediate return to the First Division.
What are your thoughts on this season?
Some of the football we've played has been really good to watch and there have been a lot of games when I've been scratching my head wondering how we have dropped points.
But in the Southampton and Newcastle game we got our reward and we were excellent for an hour at Old Trafford last week. I'm sure we'll stay up and I fancy us to finish with more points than last season. It's been strange not having fans for most of it, I'm sure everyone can't wait to get back to normal!