Defender Tony Hibbert was born in Merseyside, home to Everton FC, in 1981. He won a championship with Everton's youth club in 1998 and has played with the English Premier League team since 2001. But the most critical thing you have to know about Tony Hibbert is that he had never scored a goal. Ever.
Through 309 career matches with Everton, not once did Hibbert ever find the back of the net during a match. Now, in English soccer, when you play with the same club for 10 seasons, they honor your continued service with what's called a testimonial. It's usually an exhibition at home against some less-talented international squad. Basically, it's meant as a kind of Player Appreciation Night, and it's a very prestigious honor. Tonight, while the rest of England was busy watching the Olympics, Hibbert's testimonial took place against AEK Athens.
Now, Hibbert (you might guess) is an off-the-charts fan favorite in Merseyside — the BBC considers him a "huge cult hero" among the team's supporters — and folks have been looking forward to his testimonial for months. Here's what the Guardian said back when the match was announced in June:
Long-serving Everton defender Tony Hibbert will have a testimonial against AEK Athens at Goodison Park on August 8. The 31-year-old, a graduate of the club's academy, has made 309 appearances since his Toffees' debut in 2001. And never scored. Here's hoping the Greeks will gift him a goal that night.
It was such a big deal that Wayne Rooney asked if he could play for Everton, in a move that would've reunited him with his old friend and teammate:
The Manchester United striker, who left his boyhood club in acrimonious circumstances in 2004, asked to support his former team-mate Hibbert in his testimonial against AEK Athens on Wednesday night, only for the game to clash with United's high-profile friendly with Barcelona in Gothenburg.
Hibbert said: "It was great that he asked me but it just worked out that Manchester United also have a game and he was quite upset when he realised. It says everything about Wayne that he was willing to do that. He probably would have got a bad reception but he is not fazed about that. He loves Everton. Deep down he is still an Evertonian.
Meanwhile, Hibbert was certainly feeling the pressure going into tonight's match. He even had an idea how he wanted to score if presented the opportunity:
Hibbert has never scored in 309 appearances for Everton, an unwanted club record, but claims to have no plans to take a penalty should one be awarded against AEK. He said: "Everyone has been asking me that. The manager hasn't said anything, nobody has. I would rather us win 1-0 than us get beaten 2-1 and I score the goal. I just want to win. I don't know why everyone is saying I should take a penalty either. It's an easy way of scoring, isn't it? If I'm going to do it, I want it to be a 30-yarder."
The other key thing is that the Everton fans decided long ago that when (not really if) Hibbert scored, they would riot on the field. In fact, the single comment on this YouTube video from a few months ago, showing Hibbert scoring in practice (and the crowd playfully cheering the moment), is WHEN HIBBO SCORES WE ROIT :). (You get the idea.)
Of course, Tony Hibbert scored his first career goal today, off a free kick from not quite 30 yards out. The TV broadcast video is up above, but many fans had their videocams rolling when Hibbert readied his free kick, and a few kept rolling even as they rioted. Click through for a sampling of some other fan-shot videos.