IT’S ironic that the only injury-related fortune James Vaughan ever enjoyed at Everton was the glut of niggles to senior strikers that allowed him to write his name in the Goodison history books seven years ago.
The striker was just 16 years and 271 days old when he replaced Gary Naysmith at Goodison Park in April 2005 and gleefully fired home the Blues’ fourth goal of a rout against Crystal Palace.
That strike three minutes from time made the Birmingham-born teenager both Everton’s, and the Premier League’s, youngest ever goalscorer, both records which still stand today.
What followed were the inevitable, and unhelpful, comparisons to another Royal Blue prodigy Wayne Rooney, and in the end Vaughan’s career on Merseyside failed to fulfil that early potential largely due to a rotten run of inopportune injuries which would have prompted lesser men to quit.
“Being Everton’s youngest ever scorer still makes me proud,” says Vaughan, 24, who is now on loan at Championship side Huddersfield Town from Norwich, the club he eventually left Goodison for in summer 2011.
“I grew up at Everton after starting in the academy at the age of six so to do that was a dream. I’d already been on the bench a few times before the Palace game and read in a paper that if I scored I’d break Joe Royle’s record as the youngest.
“When we were 3-0 up on the day I thought I’d get a run out.”
For such a prolific marksman at every level of the club before breaking into the first team, Vaughan only managed seven goals in 47 appearances but some were extra significant.
Not only did he coolly convert one of the penalties that knocked Manchester United out of the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley in 2009, he also got on the scoresheet in Europe on a memorably frosty night in Holland.
That was the winner in a 3-2 Everton victory over AZ Alkmaar, who had a 32-year record of never being beaten at home in European competitions, in December 2007.
“That must have been the coldest I’ve ever been on a football pitch,” he says. “It was absolutely freezing. Scoring in Europe was amazing at the time but now when I look back it was even better. It’s only now when I reflect on those times I realise how good they were. I was in the squad that reached the Champions League qualifying stage.
“Those experiences will never leave me.”
Vaughan’s untimely run of injuries eventually prompted his departure, but he accepts the move was right for him.
“Everyone knows the troubles I had with injuries,” he says.
“The one that stuck out was dislocating my shoulder against Preston North End in a pre-season friendly. I’d ended the previous season on form and scored a few goals and pre-season had gone well. The gaffer spoke to me and said I was in his thoughts and likely to get games in the coming campaign. Then that happened and a week later he bought Yakubu which put me back in the pecking order again.
“It was hard for me to leave Everton in the end. The club had been my life and knowing it was coming to an end was difficult. It was obvious I was not going to be playing as much as I wanted towards the end.
“It was important to me to be playing and the manager was honest with me. There’s no gripes whatsoever with him. At the time it could be frustrating sitting on the bench or playing for the reserves when I wanted to be in the first team but he was always straight with me.
“We sat down, talked and came to the conclusion that I should move on. I’ll always be grateful to David Moyes for standing by me when I had so many problems with injuries. He wanted me to succeed.”
Vaughan still considers himself an Evertonian and has many links with the club.
“Victor Anichebe is a very close friend and he’ll be one of my best men when I get married next summer. He will be a life-long mate and if you talk to the Everton lads they’ll tell you how good he can be. He can be unstoppable for defenders and it’s nice seeing him scoring goals and looking sharp so far this season.
“I always got on with Leighton Baines too and I’m glad to see him getting the recognition he deserves as one of the best left backs around.
“My dad used to go to every Everton game and got in with all the lads who travel with them.
“Everton’s is still the first result I look for.”
For the time being Vaughan’s focus is on Huddersfield, where he has formed a promising strike partnership with another ex-Blue, Jermaine Beckford.
“I’m playing games which is the big thing,” he says. “I’m not the type to sit on the bench and take the money. It’s a short career so you’ve got to enjoy it and I just love playing.”
l THE James Vaughan Soccer schools are a newly established company providing football services in Liverpool. The launch of JVS takes place on Wednesday October 24 at Wavertree’s Blue Coat School, with another six primary schools in the city getting involved. The first holiday Soccer Camp will take place in the October half term, October 22, at the Blue Coat. Saturday morning sessions commence on Saturday November 3 at Cardinal Heenan Lifestyle Centre.
As one of the original founder members of the Football League, Everton are a club steeped in history and tradition and have played more seasons in the top flight of English football than any other club. Their association with the greatest cup competition in the world has thus conjured some wonderful moments, and this offering from Sport Media celebrates a century of memories since their first FA Cup success in 1906. Celebrate a century of memories with 'Everton's FA Cup 100'. Read