In 2003, Wayne Rooney, age 17, was selected to play for the English national soccer team. Upon being so informed by his club, Everton, Rooney responded: “Did Tony Hibbert make it?”
Rooney thought he had been named to England’s under-21 year old team and wanted to know whether his friend Hibbert, three and half years older than Rooney, would be joining him.
I’m pretty sure that Hibbert did not make that team, and he certainly has never played for the true national team. However, he has played more than 250 matches for Everton, the team that he (like Rooney) supported as a boy growing up on Merseyside.
Although Hibbert sometimes fills in as an emergency center back, and started out in midfield, nearly all of his appearances have come at right back. He’s a solid defender of unquestioned commitment. But his crossing of the ball, though it has improved, is not a strength. And Hibbert has never scored a goal.
Tonight, Everton honored Tony Hibbert with a testimonial game against AEK Athens. Wayne Rooney had hoped to participate. Considering the abuse Rooney might have faced from portions of the Goodison faithful (due to his departure from Everton years ago), that’s true testimony to the esteem in which he holds Hibbert.
Unfortunately, Rooney could not get out of playing for Manchester United in a glitzy exhibition match against Barcelona. He tweeted:
Good luck to hibbo in his testimonial tomorrow. He deserves it. Gutted i cant play. Was desperate to as well. All the best hibbo.
Esteem for Hibbert did not come quickly from Everton fans, who tend to focus on their players’ limitations, especially, it seems, if they are local lads. But Hibbert’s all-out, all-action displays eventually won over the faithful, and tonight they came to show their appreciation for the unassuming, long-serving right back.
Everton won the match 4-1. But the real story is that Hibbert finally scored for Everton on a free kick (see below). His goal precipitated what reader Rezzie Flanders calls the “best-natured pitch invasion in the history of English football,” during which Hibbert was mobbed by well-wishers.
Actually, Hibbert could easily have scored two on the night. Before his goal, a long range shot had been brilliantly saved by the Athens keeper. It led to a corner kick, from which the newly acquired Steven Naismith scored the last of his three first half goals.
But this was Tony Hibbert’s night and will always be remembered as the night that Hibbert scored.
You can watch the goal and the pitch invasion below (but without sound)
You can see the goal and listen to the crowd explode in this much shorter clip.