Ellis Simms’ school football coach insists he wasn’t surprised to see his former pupil net a first Premier League goal for Everton at Chelsea while lifting the lid on one of the striker’s hidden talents that Sean Dyche might be tempted to try and exploit.
Oldham-born Simms plundered his first senior strike for the Blues when he outmuscled the Londoners’ £33million defender Kalidou Koulibaly before crashing the ball past the world’s most-expensive goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga to earn a 2-2 draw with just a minute to go at Stamford Bridge on Saturday night. After spells with Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City in youth football, Simms joined Everton aged 16 but after making his senior debut for the club last season – also against Chelsea away – he was loaned out by the club for the third time last July, joining Championship side Sunderland.
Recalled to Goodison Park in January, the 22-year-old has subsequently made a further half dozen first team appearances for Everton but finding the net in a top flight match represents a significant milestone for the striker. Tim Norman, Deputy Headteacher at Mills Hill Primary School in Chadderton admits that Simms’ achievement has become the talk of the staffroom.
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He told the ECHO: “I’ve been watching Ellis’ rise over recent years and I know he’s gone out on loan a few times but along with other staff members, I’ve been following his progress since he was recalled by Everton in January. I tend to watch Match of the Day so when I saw him put the ball in the back of the net on Saturday night, it was a great moment.
“My first thought was that I was not surprised that he’s playing at that level. You can spot the special talents early on really.
“Ellis was always a very intelligent all-round player. You saw that with his move to put the ball away but also with his strength and picking his spot.
“That was the thing with him as a young player with us, he was always very calm in front of goal. Another aspect of his play though when he was playing for the school team was that he was always very unselfish in what he was doing and you see that in his performances now, it’s not head down and come what may.”
Although Simms, a prolific scorer during his time among Everton’s academy ranks, has long since established himself as a centre-forward, bagging 10 goals in 24 games for Blackpool; seven goals in 21 games for Heart of Midlothian and seven goals in 17 games for Sunderland during his loan spells, his role in the junior game was somewhat different and featured a skill that current boss Dyche might find worth utilising. Norman said: “As you can imagine, that was a successful season for us, we won our football league that year. I’ve been coaching the team for 30 years at a couple of schools and I’ve only ever won the league twice and that was one of them.
“He obviously had good players around him but Ellis stood out in terms of his composure, his vision and ability. I also recall that he could do a throw-in that was the longest I’ve ever seen anyone throw a ball, it was like a corner whenever he took a throw!
“He was a forward-thinking player back then but more of an attacking midfielder rather than an out-and-out striker so he’d be in the thick of the action and he’d make sure he got back too when we were defending. He’d track back, try to win possession again and then get on the attack again.”
With Simms now based just an hour away, Norman is hoping that he might be tempted into making a trip back to visit his old school as a role model for pupils to aspire to emulate. He said: “I was talking to his Year 6 teacher the other day about Ellis’ attitude and he was the nicest lad you can imagine. He was so polite, so kind and wasn’t arrogant with his ability at all.
“He was never making out ‘I’m the boss of this’ or anything like that. I think that’s what made him such a good team player as while he obviously had the skill, he appreciated other people as well so that enabled us to get the best out of him.
“At the school we have a big focus on Oldham stars and every classroom has got a picture up of people from the area who are well-known for different things. When we last had them printed, we had an ex-pupil who has gone on to represent England playing basketball but we’re due for a revamp and I think Ellis could be taking centre stage for that.
“We spent a lot of time trying to encourage our current pupils that if they have a dream and they work hard at it, there’s nothing to say they can’t achieve that and Ellis is an example of that. We tell the children that the likes of Ellis were once sat in this hall when they were 11 years old and look what he’s gone on to achieve so they can do it too.
“We were saying that we’ll have to get him to come back and visit us. I’m sure he’ll definitely be getting a call from the school to see if he’s in the area because the children would love it if he could drop in on one of our assemblies as he’s been such an inspiration for them."
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