Such are the vagaries and uncertainties of modern football, the twilight of a professional’s career can usually be measured in months not years. Indeed, sometimes it is mere weeks.
The distance which stands between the relative stability afforded by the golden glow of terrace admiration and the exit door can, in the blink of an eye, shorten quite dramatically.
All players are eventually smothered by time’s tide and as the final corner is turned and the end of the road comes into sharp focus, the one unresolved matter is the question of a lasting legacy – if there is to be one.
For a footballer to bow to the inevitable and gracefully retire safe in the knowledge that he will be forever remembered, forever loved, at one club is quite something; so many move from glaring spotlight to the darkness of anonymity unnoticed and unheralded.
But to be loved and remembered with something more than affection at FOUR clubs? It is unlikely and it is extremely rare – but Alan Stubbs is something of a rare individual, a man who forced himself into the minds and hearts of those who paid to watch him play and manage.
It was in August of 2008 that Alan played the last of 483 senior games, forced to retire just seven months into an 18-month contract at Derby County because of a persistent knee in jury.
His spell with the Championship club was so brief that he didn’t have the time to endear himself to anyone at Pride Park.
However, the news of his retirement was greeted with an avalanche of goodwill messages elsewhere – at the clubs where his place in folklore was guaranteed.
Four clubs? Yes, four clubs. Glasgow Celtic, Bolton Wanderers, Hibernian and, of course, his beloved Everton.
Born in Kirkby in 1971, Alan opened his career with Bolton, turning professional in 1990 when the famous Lancashire club was languishing in the Football League’s old Third Division.
Alan helped Bolton win promotion in the 1992-93 season and after being installed as Club captain he led them through their best season for many years in 1994-95 when they twice reached Wembley, losing 2-1 to Liverpool in the League Cup Final on their first appearance beneath the twin towers.
Bolton’s second trip south was an altogether more joyous affair – promotion to the newly-formed Premier League being secured after a 4-3 Play-off Final victory over Reading.
When the Bolton manager Bruce Rioch departed for Arsenal he attempted to take Alan with him but his bid to secure the services of the centre-back he dubbed “ Captain Courageous “ was unsuccessful.
But Alan was now unsettled and unhappy with life at a famous but unfashionable club and he departed for Celtic in a £4 million move in July of 1996 – at the time a record signing for the Glasgow giants.
Such was Rangers’ domination of Scottish football at the time, Alan’s career at Celtic began in the slow lane before picking up pace.
Having forged an impressive defensive partner ship with the Danish international Marc Rieper, Alan picked up his first winners’ medal when Celtic defeated Dundee United 3-0 in the 1997 Scottish League Cup Final.
In terms of his Celtic days, Alan is possibly best remembered for his injury-time goal 11 days before that Final in a 1-1 draw with the age-old enemy from Ibrox a result which kept Rangers’ lead at the top of the Premiership to a recoverable four points. Celtic would go on to overhaul their city rivals to win a first League title since 1988 and to prevent Rangers from registering a record-breaking ten titles in a row.
It was a routine drug test after Celtic had been beaten by Rangers in the 1999 Scottish Cup Final which was to turn Alan’s world upside down – and threaten not only his career but his life.
“ I had to submit a urine sample for a test and it showed that I was suffering from testicular cancer. It turned out that I was producing a hormone which is usually found only in pregnant women. I recovered but later had a relapse when a tumour was found at the base of my spine,” he said.
“ I had chemotherapy and surgery but fought back and was able to resume my career. It can be done. There is life after cancer. I do feel that I am a much better person for the experience – dreadful though it was for myself and my family. It made me appreciate things a lot more, “ he added.
The day Alan had long dreamed about came in July 2001 when he joined Everton for the first time, the club he had supported since childhood.
Alan quickly became a regular fixture at the heart of a team which was being remodelled under new manager David Moyes.
In the 2004-05 season, Alan captained Everton to a fourth-place finish in the Premier League – enough to guarantee the club a place in the qualifying round of the Champions’ League in the following campaign.
However, during the summer recess, Alan had a much-publicised fall-out with the Everton hierarchy over the terms of a new contract and he surprisingly quit Goodison Park in August 2005 to join Sunderland.
Alan’s stay in the north-east was to be brief and rather unhappy – he returned to Everton on a free transfer just five months after leaving.
Alan’s long and illustrious playing career was to end in August, 2008 when, just months into an 18-month contract at Derby County, he was forced to retire because of a recurring knee injury.
Determined to carve out a career in either coaching or management, Alan returned to Everton for a third time shortly after hanging up his boots – this time as assistant manager of the club’s Under-21 side, a post he held for five years before being promoted to manager.
Although Alan was interviewed for the vacant senior managerial role at Goodison in 2013, he lost out to Roberto Martinez.
In 2014 he was installed as the manager of leading Scottish club Hibernian following their relegation from the Premier League.
Alan guided Hibs to second place in the 2014–15 Scottish Championship, securing the position above Rangers on the last day of the season. Hibs entered the Premiership play-offs at the semi-final stage, but lost 2–1 on aggregate to Rangers.
He also took Hibernian to a semi-final place in the 2014–15 Scottish Cup, where they lost 1-0 against Falkirk. In the 2015-16 season, Hibs initially challenged Rangers for automatic promotion but eventually finished third and lost in the playoffs to Falkirk. However, they reached both domestic cup finals in 2015–16, losing the League Cup final to Ross County, but winning 3–2 in the Scottish Cup final against Rangers. This was the first time Hibs had won the Scottish Cup for 114 years.
Alan left Scotland in the summer of 2016 when he was appointed manager of Championship club Rotherham United. Sadly it did not work out and after a string of poor performances he was sacked just two months after arriving in South Yorkshire.
Alan’s last excursion into the world of football management came in June of 2018 when he was placed in charge of St Mirren, a role he filled for just three months before again returning to his native Merseyside.