Gary Stevens was always glad the two footballing cities he made home were Liverpool and Glasgow.
‘There was something similar about them,’ the former Everton, Rangers and England defender said. ‘Similar people, similar humour. That element of working class. Very generous in every way.’
He has reason to be even more grateful at the moment. For it has been from Liverpool and Glasgow in particular that warmth and kindness has flowed since his three-year-old son Jack was diagnosed with leukaemia just eight weeks ago. Stevens, 57, lives in Perth, Australia now. But since news of Jack’s illness spread, he has been reminded of the legacy he left back home.
‘Jack is going through some terrible treatment and has been very ill,’ Stevens told Sportsmail. ‘My wife has had to give up work and I have had to reduce my hours as a physio. So we have a GoFundMe page to try to help us get by and the response has been amazing.
‘We have been sobered by the way people have helped us out. But if it hadn’t have been for people on Merseyside and in Glasgow, it wouldn’t have gone anywhere near as well. It’s been humbling.’
The world turned upside down for the Stevens family in May when Gary and his South African wife Louise were told their youngest son had juvenile myelomonocytic leukaemia (JMML), a rare form of blood cancer. Without treatment, Jack’s chances of survival sit at only five per cent.
He is undergoing chemotherapy at Perth Children’s Hospital and it is hoped he will become strong enough to withstand the stem cell treatment that could save his life. But for that to happen, he needs a donor.
‘All over the world there is a register of willing stem cell donors,’ explained Stevens. ‘Anyone who gives blood can ask to be put on it. What we know at the moment is that the registry hasn’t produced a match for Jack. His older brother Oliver has come up as a match and they need to do lots more testing around that.
‘But the more people who have their names on that register, the more chance there is for people like our little boy.’
Stevens was a fundamental part of the best Everton team of recent memory. An attacking right back, he won two First Division titles in the mid-1980s and a European Cup-Winners’ Cup. After that he joined Graeme Souness’s eclectic Rangers team and won six consecutive Scottish championships.
These days, he works as a private physio. Many of his medals have been sold and life is different. ‘People here will sometimes recognise me and my kids really don’t get that,’ he laughed. ‘I have shown them a few things on the internet but it’s almost in black and white. It’s 30 years ago!
‘I sold quite a lot of my bits and pieces a long time ago. I went through a divorce and then did a degree for four years. I wasn’t earning. But I have a few bits left and I have my memories.’
Those early memories include playing as a 14-year-old in an open-age team attached to the Vickers shipyard in his native Barrow on the Cumbrian coast. His uncle played in the same side. ‘Half the guys were still hungover and some of them wanted to give the 14-year-old a lesson,’ he recalled.
Stevens was a winger when picked up by Everton. The man who changed that was Colin Harvey, assistant to manager Howard Kendall. ‘Without Colin I may never have amounted to anything in the game,’ Stevens said.
‘He moved me back from winger because I didn’t have that technical requirement. But it worked. As a full back, going forward was definitely one of my strengths.’
The team the late Kendall built featured Kevin Ratcliffe, Neville Southall, Paul Bracewell, Kevin Sheedy, Peter Reid, Andy Gray and the hell-raising Pat van den Hauwe.
‘We all liked a night out and a party back then. Win, lose, booze…you know. But we could play as well. We had got hammered at home by Liverpool in November 1982 and people in the crowd were going mental. Howard had to do something.
‘So he changed things and the next season we won the FA Cup and the season after it was the league. It was pretty amazing.
‘The football was occasionally sensational, just like Liverpool being awesome this season.
‘Howard took a chance on players. It was: “Peter Reid? What? He’s a has been”. Or “Andy Gray? He only has one good knee”. But they worked didn’t they? Both of them were brilliant at Everton. The players and managers clicked. Winning is a habit and we got into it.
‘I remember Howard saying that we would copy Liverpool and do it better by working harder. That’s what happened.
‘For a few years the two clubs just passed silverware between ourselves. Very nice.’
Everton didn’t get to play in the European Cup as English teams were banned at the time.
‘We never got to find out quite how good we could be,’ said Stevens.
Meanwhile, Stevens’ second league title with the club, in 1986-87, also featured the blackest moment of his career. A tackle on young Liverpool left back Jim Beglin in a derby at Goodison Park left the Irishman with a horrific leg-break that eventually ended his career. ‘There was no intention at all,’ said Stevens. ‘I know that and hopefully everybody else knows.
‘I got booked four times in my career. I know what type of player I was. Alan Hansen was very upset and had a few words with me. But what can I say? I had a bad first touch, tried to get to the ball but Jim got there before me.
‘Jim’s was a bad fracture. It did change things for me. It upset everybody in the stadium.
‘I said sorry at the time and I went to see him in hospital but I understand there is plenty of scope to be bitter.’
Back in England last year for the launch of the film Howard’s Way, which charts Everton’s rise in the 1980s, Stevens was glad to be in familiar company. Since his retirement he has been voted by Everton fans as the club’s greatest ever right back.
‘We had a WhatsApp group between us around the film and that was nice,’ he said.
‘It was also good to see the film and understand what the city was really like back in those days. As players we were cosseted a little from all the troubles in Liverpool and England.
‘My first wage at Everton was £16 a week but later we were earning well. We had contact with the fans back then, though. They could reach out. They would see us in the pub on a Saturday night or out in town. We were not untouchable. To be named the club’s best right back means everything to me.’
Stevens moved to Australia in 2011 and he and Louise have two other sons, six-year-old Oliver and Joshua who is 10.
‘Life feels very fragile at the moment,’ he said. ‘The information you are given at diagnosis is a sentence that’s just too big to take on board.
‘The unfair side is watching Jack having to go through everything. But there is no option. It’s hard to tell how aware he is. He has accepted things a little more, I think.
‘He treats the hospital like a hotel as everyone fusses over him. They have been wonderful there.’
The short-term aim is to get Jack well enough for stem cell treatment. For that, he needs a donor match and for that Stevens asks for only one thing. ‘Jack must have had 20 pints of blood transfused over the last eight weeks,’ he said.
‘So please give blood and when you do please ask to be put on the stem cell register. It’s just the same as donating blood. There is no operation, nothing at all. But it could give somebody like Jack exactly what he needs.’
The Stevens family GoFundMe page is at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/kuh7v-the-stevens-family and you can register to give blood at www.blood.co.uk