Hearts and Everton relationship explained: how it works and why Duncan Ferguson plays a key role
Connections between Hearts and Everton are obvious: Two big clubs fervently supported as the fulcrum of their local communities; two traditional stadiums tucked neatly among houses inhabited by many of their fanbase.
Football and social heritage dominate the areas surrounding both Tynecastle Park and Goodison. It stands to reason, then, that Everton players should find settling in Gorgie fairly straightforward. Beni Baningime and Ellis Simms are two such examples.
There are more technical sporting reasons for Hearts’ recent transfer business with the Merseyside club, though. Loanee striker Simms followed permanent signing Baningime north to Edinburgh this season as Riccarton officials tapped into a market they may well revisit in future.
Both players were scouted extensively in an Everton Under-23 side which favours an appropriate style of play for the Scottish Premiership. Manager Robbie Neilson monitored Simms for years, while sporting director Joe Savage was a long-term admirer of Baningime.
Relationships with Everton Under-23 manager David Unsworth and first-team coach Duncan Ferguson are integral to Hearts’ recent recruitment from Goodison. There is nothing official in terms of a link-up between the clubs, it is simply an association between coaches and technical staff.
The fact three of them are Scottish probably helps. “The way Everton Under-23s play is more in line with how first teams play,” explains Neilson when asked by the Evening News what is behind the attraction.
“That’s down to the way David Unsworth has got them playing. I know big Dunc very well so I speak to him about players. You know what Dunc’s like, he will tell you straight down the middle what he thinks of a player. He’s very honest about them.
“There are certain clubs we look at where we know we can get players who are more suited to coming up here. It’s not just solely one club, there are a few others.
“Some of the Under-23 teams in England play football that is not similar to the football up here. That can make it very difficult for the boys when they come in. Some others I think are pretty much playing like first-team football and that makes a huge difference.”
Unsworth and Ferguson placed their trust in Hearts when a loan for Simms was mooted during the January transfer window. Playing regular first-team football in Scotland should aid the development of a 21-year-old forward who, whilst still raw, possesses all the right attributes.
“I think they saw how well Beni did when he came up last summer and they are hoping we do the same with Ellis,” says Neilson. He first encountered Simms in 2017 whilst managing MK Dons and recognised a player with serious potential.
“He is the player I thought he would be for us. To be honest, I’d watched Ellis for a long time. I remember him when he was banging goals in for Everton Under-18s when I was down south. I think he scored something like 20-odd goals in 20-odd games. His stats were really strong.
“He was powerful, he ran the channels and he had good technique. I kept an eye on him. He went to Blackpool on loan and did really well. He picked up an injury towards the end of his time there.
“If that didn’t happen, I think he would probably be playing on loan for an English Championship club now. Because he hadn’t played for a while, we managed to get him up here.
“You are looking at those type of players. Everton have a younger one in there as well, the young lad Lewis Dobbin, who is not the same type of player as Simms but is scoring goals.”
Historical connections between Hearts and Everton date back to players like Gary Naysmith, David Weir and even the legendary Alex Young. Those distinguished individuals travelled in the opposite direction to Baningime and Simms, all three going on to thrive on Merseyside after excelling in Edinburgh.
Simms intends using his move to make an impression on Ferguson and the recently-appointed Everton manager Frank Lampard. He has one senior appearance in royal blue to date and signed a new three-year contract in November.
After consulting Baningime about Tynecastle life, he has found it pleasantly enlightening. “It was definitely a bit of a surprise,” says Simms. “I had heard a little bit about Scottish football but, now I’m here, my expectations are even better.
“I thought, with it being Scotland, maybe the football might not be as good. But the opponents are good, it’s a competitive league and I’m really enjoying it up to now.
“I like to run in behind, stretch the backline, score goals, hold the ball up and try link with the other attackers. I’d like to say I’m an all-round striker, but there’s definitely room for improvement and that’s something I’m looking to do.
“Prior to moving to Hearts, I spoke to the manager and Beni Baningime. They were just full of praise and that gave me that extra motivation to come here. I kept in touch with Beni when he came to Hearts [last July]. He loves it here too. I knew if I came here then there was a chance I’d enjoy it too and so far I am. I’m loving it here.”
A word in the ear from the straight-talking Ferguson doubtless helped the young man from Oldham prepare for Scottish football. “In training with Duncan he gives me tips, so it’s great to learn and ask questions on how I can improve. That’s definitely helped me a lot,” says Simms.
“When you get to know him, he’s a nice guy. I got on well with him and he helped me a lot.”