5th May 1996. Outside the Park End of Goodison Park. Barry Horne has walked past and into the stadium. As supporters gather round with pen and paper in hand I attempt to break free from my dad, only to be held back. We’re not waiting for Barry Horne.
Minutes later. A moment that has stuck with me ever since. I peer through the crowd, held in my dad’s arms on my first visit to the ground I would grow to love so much, and get my first look at a Russian hitman. Immaculate in a long black trench coat and mobbed by fanatical Evertonians.
“There he is, son.”
It would be Joe Parkinson who rifled home the only goal against Aston Villa later that afternoon, but seventeen years on I would get a chance to sit down with the man who gave me my most vivid memory of that day.
In The Horseshoe pub on Clerkenwell Green, Andrei’s face lights up when I tell the story of our first meeting and recall the time, mere months later, he provided the cross which Duncan Ferguson had headed past Peter Schmeichel to put us 2–0 up at Old Trafford. My dad phoned my mate’s house for me to ‘get home right now’ and had been waiting for me with open arms at the gate as I peddled towards him on my bike…
I explain that we had listened to the second half together on Radio City, and Andrei laughs as we discuss it sums up being an Evertonian that the game ended 2–2.
AB: Andrei, you were one of the first foreign imports to come to England. What was your background in the game back home?
AK: I had been into ice hockey which was the main sport back home and aspired to be a professional. I was also good at gymnastics and it was suggested I try football. I loved the game straight away and idolised Diego Maradona. It was very traditional training methods back home. I joined an academy based in Kharkov before joining Dynamo Kiev, the biggest club in the Soviet Union. I had watched them growing up, so it was great to start my career there.
You signed for Manchester United first, but when you came to Everton in 1995 what struck you most about the club upon your arrival? What can you remember of that moment in your career?
I had spoken to Joe Royle a few times. There was also a lot of interest from Middlesbrough. I remember Sir Alex Ferguson wasn’t happy about the fee. I think Joe Royle convinced him, as he had sold him Dennis Irwin while at Oldham for a small fee.
George Canlan, who was my translator as well as Eric Cantona’s, was a big Everton fan. He sadly passed away last year. I knew that the club had a big history, but George told me the full story. He was a very clever man and had helped the USSR team at the World Cup in 1966, too.
The people of Everton were great with me from the beginning. I had some injuries, which was frustrating, but they trusted me and showed faith. I got a good reception and was very pleased. I enjoyed it from the start.
I remember seeing you get swarmed by Evertonians when you turned up to the ground on my first visit to Goodison Park. Many fans rated you as the best player the club has had since the successful team in the 1980s: were you aware how loved you were?
They were fantastic supporters and all-round great people in Liverpool. Whatever the result they were behind us and they love the club so much. The Everton fans are special because they are the people of the city. It is organic and creates a lot of passion. They had a lot of trust for the players and for the team.
A lot of your goals you managed to beat the goalkeeper at his near post. One in a brace against Blackburn at Ewood Park, a couple at Sheffield Wednesday and, of course, the one at Anfield. Is that something you worked on specifically?
No, I can’t say I worked on it. It was just something that happened for me. Maybe it was lucky? When you are in the moment, through on goal, you just hit it and with a bit of luck it goes in. It’s not a specific skill you can work on. Not like for a free kick. In the game you trust your decision and see what happens. Thankfully for me, a lot of goals went in…
Going back specifically to that Anfield Derby on 18 November 1995. A brace at The Kop. I think the first is one of the best headed goals I’ve seen in the Premier League, the way it bends in off the post with pace. How special a feeling was that and can you remember seeing the Evertonians jump up in The Kop as you celebrated? How did you celebrate that victory?
[Laughs] I remember after both goals seeing the fans dotted around the ground. It was amazing. My first goals for Everton being at Anfield and winning 2–1. The header was a great goal. (David) James had no chance. It was just an excellent night and a very important win for us. We didn’t celebrate the win too much as we just focused on the next game. Maybe just a few pints of lager.
Anfield is one thing, but what was it like turning out at Goodison Park? Do you remember playing there fondly?
Yeah, it was special. Goodison Park is very individual. Some players liked to stay in the dressing room and stretch. I loved getting out there early. It was a special atmosphere with the fans very tight to the pitch. It was very interesting being an old stadium, being able to hear the fans shout. It was unique in that way, and it was a privilege to play there.
You left for Serie A and Fiorentina in 1997. For many Evertonians there is still an element of mystery surrounding your departure from the club. Are you able to shed some light on that?
I never wanted to leave Everton. My contract was for three more years. The club at the time had financial problems, and the directors made a deal with Fiorentina for £8 million. Some other players were also sold on. I had a really good time at Everton but my second season was not great. Joe Royle was promised by the Chairman we would sign new players, but it never happened.
Were there any players you especially enjoyed playing against?
I enjoyed playing against Graeme Le Saux and Phil Babb. They always provided a challenge, and I think I got the better of them. Vinnie Jones also once said to me ‘I’m going to kill you, you Russian bastard.’ [laughs]
It’s nice to see you will be hosting a stadium tour at Goodison Park in the next few weeks. What is your opinion of the current situation at Everton with your ex-teammate David Unsworth being put in temporary charge of the team?
Unsworth is a great guy and Duncan Ferguson, too. I think it’s best to keep them until the end of the season and see what happens with the situation.
If you bring in a new coach now, it is more new ideas; they may not understand the English mentality. Unsworth and Ferguson have been working for a long time at Everton and understand the players, and the fans have the understanding, also. For me, it’s better if the Chairman keeps them on.
With the club seemingly adopting a similar approach to Ajax in terms of involving ex-players in the system, what can you say about the thought of being part of a new coaching set up?
Yeah, why not? If there is some interest in me, I am ready. It would be very interesting for me to go back to Everton…
Russian Winters by Andrei Kanchelskis is available now from the good people at deCoubertin Books, and you can find the excellent Horse Shoe pub here. For more interviews with footballers, dewy-eyed stories about standing outside football grounds, and other extremely football content, subscribe to our quarterly print publication.