23-year-old Mike Milligan arrived at Goodison Park in August 1990 with a reputation as being one of the best up-and-coming midfield players in English football.
The Mancunian Irishman had been the heartbeat of the Oldham side that had thrilled the nation the previous season when, as a Second Division side, they reached the final of the League Cup and lost to Man Utd in an FA Cup Semi-Final Replay.
Colin Harvey paid £1 million for him (the British transfer fee record was only £2.9 million at the time) as, ever more desperately, he searched for the new faces that would bring back the glory days that had eluded us since Howard Kendall’s departure to Spain in 1987.
Milligan was hailed as the new Peter Reid and everybody was genuinely excited by his signing, hoping that it could be the springboard to push us on to better things after the previous season’s 6th place finish.
However (there’s always a ‘however’ in these portraits!) as soon as he got to Goodison everything seemed to evaporate. Gone was the hard-tackling and the drive; gone was the creativity and the enthusiasm. From day one (and he made his debut in the infamous 3-2 home defeat to Leeds that saw a disgusted Neville Southall spend the half-time break – we were 2-0 down - on the pitch sitting in the penalty area with his back against a goalpost) he was hopelessly out of his depth.
He just seemed to wander around on the periphery of a match, unable to impose himself or offer anything. To the fans he looked like he wasn’t trying and there are few sins more unforgiveable than that to the Goodison Park faithful.
Colin Harvey only lasted until the end of October in Milligan’s one and only season with us before Howard Kendall’s triumphant (ahem) return. Harvey didn’t actually do too badly as Everton manager, it was the comparisons with Howard’s glory side that played the major part in his downfall – but, who knows, if Milligan had lived up to his reputation and produced the goods then maybe Harvey would have survived.
In July 1991, not even a year after arriving, Kendall put us all out of our misery and sold him back to Oldham for £600,000.
He made just 21 starts for us in all (one of them at Wembley in the 4-1 ZDS Cup Final defeat to Crystal Palace) and only 16 in the League, finding the back of the net just once.
Like many before and since, he arrived at Everton full of promise with his head held high - but he left with his tail between his legs, remembered now only as an Evertonian donkey.