Everton face West Brom in the third round of the Carling Cup tomorrow at 8pm and tickets are still available. Prices start from £20 for adults, £10 for juniors and £15 for OAP’s. To buy your tickets visit evertonfc.com/ eticketing, call 0871 663 1878 or drop into the box office at Goodison Park.
TONY HIBBERT might not land many knock-out blows in his day job, but he has a fighter’s heart.
The right-back is never afraid to put his body on the line for Everton, and his natural combative qualities have led to a top-flight career spanning more than a decade.
Hibbert’s recent performances for the Toffees have been so impressive, he has kept club captain Phil Neville out of the team, and his cross for Apostolos Vellios’ goal against Wigan ensured he was the toast of Goodison Park on Saturday night.
And while the 30-year-old has been a part of the Everton set-up since the age of 10, he spent his spare time as a youngster following in his father’s fleet footsteps in a boxing gym.
Hibbert’s father Paul was a well-regarded amateur at St Aloysius gym in his native Huyton, but with the same modesty he passed onto his son, rarely spoke of his youthful achievements.
It was only when Hibbert Jnr discovered his father’s trophies, that a life-long interest in the sweet science developed in the future Everton stalwart.
“I didn’t know he was into boxing really until I found his trophies in the loft and asked him about it,” says Hibbert after a tough training session at Finch Farm when he found time to pound the heavy bag after the balls were put away.
“It was then that he told me about it. People said to me he was all right. I took an interest then, and we’d always watch the fights on telly together. I liked the local lads, particularly Shea Neary.
“I still follow the local boys like Tony (Bellew) obviously, and the Smith brothers. I know what they go through training wise because I’ve done it to an extent. It can be a brutal sport. Like with my fishing it’s nice to have other interests outside football.
“As a kid I was always in and out of gyms and I still do a bit with Dave (Billows, Everton’s highly-rated strength and conditioning coach) on the bag and on the pads here.
“I was at Everton from the age of 10 but I used to go down and do circuit training at the gym with my mates. I sparred a few times with them too. It was good, but nothing too heavy because the trainers knew I was playing football and looked after me.”
Hibbert has had ample chance to discuss his love of boxing since Scouse light-heavyweight champion, and passionate Evertonian, Bellew started training at Finch Farm under Billows’ watchful eye.
The big-punching contender, who enters the ring to Z-Cars and fights in royal blue shorts with the Everton crest emblazoned on them, has been training harder than ever as he prepares to face Nathan Cleverly next month in a world title show-down at the ECHO arena.
And Bellew has fast become a popular figure at the Blues training ground, with everyone from the first team squad – of which he is practically an honorary member – to the receptionist following his fortunes with interest and affection.
“It’s good to see Tony coming in, because he’s a big blue and it’s nice to be able to lend our support to him,” says Hibbert.
“He’s really supportive of us and a great lad to get along with. He is a good ambassador for the club and you can’t question who he supports when he’s in the ring.
“The lads here all look out for his fights, and we love talking to him about it. It helps take our minds off what we do every single day. Tony’s interested in us and vice versa – we spark off each other.”
Hibbert is not the only fight aficionado in the Everton ranks either, Tim Cahill counts Australian former cruiser weight champion Danny Green among his close friends, and Jose Baxter spent his summer training with local prospect Joe Selkirk.
“I used to talk a lot about it to Wayne (Rooney),” says Hibbert. “He had a few good boxers in his family too. It’s either in you, or it isn’t but I think it’s a really decent sport for young lads.”
Bellew’s gruelling regime to be in top shape for his fight on October 15 has made a big impression.
“Watching them have to get their weight down, and the strict diet they have to follow really opened my mind,” says Hibbert. “I can see what Tony goes through and it’s unbelievable. You’ve got to be very dedicated to put your body through that. Then to go into a fight, and feel that pain.
“It’s a lonely sport when you’re in the ring I suppose. I take my hat off to anyone who does it, because that lad wants to knock your heads off and you want to knock his off. There’s a hell of a lot of skill involved but first and foremost bravery.”
Hibbert believes Bellew can upset the odds by dethroning the champion, and backs the Wavertree puncher’s power to win the day.
“I think he’s got a great chance against Nathan Cleverley,” he says. “Tony’s an unbelievable boxer and so is Nathan. It won’t be easy but I know Tony has got a big performance in him, and can win that title.
“Tony has the power to knock anyone out in his division. If his head is ready and he’s up for it, he can be unstoppable. Cleverly won’t have much reply if Tony is on top of his game. His power is huge.”
For now Hibbert’s main focus is the visit of West Bromwich Albion in a tricky Carling Cup third round tie tomorrow. And he insists his stint in the team at Neville’s expense is of secondary importance to the team spirit which is alive and well in the dressing room.
“There are lads there who can step in any time and they’re great players so it’ll be interesting to see if the team stays as it was,” he says.
“Any club has got to have options and the competition is for the better of the squad. At the moment the manager has stuck with me because we did well against Villa, then got the win against Wigan. The manager has stuck to the principle that the lads are doing well so deserve our chance and that’s how it should be.
“Nev is always supportive. That’s our lads for you, I’ve done the same and so have others. We’ll pat whoever is starting on the back and then get on with our own training and hope for a chance when it comes again.
“A cup run is very important for us. West Brom are a Premier League club so I’m sure it’ll be a hard game. We really need to give it a good go in the cups for a chance of silverware, and if we can get a cup run it can help our confidence in the league at the weekend (v Manchester City).
“We’ve got our heads down and worked hard and it’s showed on the pitch.”
Everton’s progress in the cup may yet be unknown, but one thing is certain. If Hibbert’s name is on the team-sheet tomorrow – he’ll come out fighting.