Tales From Toffeeopolis

Everton vs. Chelsea : 22 December 2008.

I’m a bit downbeat, so this one may not be too comprehensive.

Everton away – the chance, despite our well-publicised problems of late, to be top at Christmas. Against a team so depleted of attacking options that I read that in their last game, they lined up 4-6-0. And a trip to Goodison Park for the third time for Chelsea, and myself, in 2008.

I had booked myself a half-day holiday, but typically I was beset with a couple of last minute problems before I was able to leave work at 1.15pm. My good mate Glenn had driven over to Chippenham, but we were to be joined by a CIA stalwart for the day’s outing. Gumby is over here for a few weeks and I collected him from Chippenham train station. We zipped past the Edie Cochrane memorial, then were soon on the well-trodden route north. Glenn had not met Gumby before, but they were getting on well. I was a bit quiet, expecting some ructions from a couple of work-related issues. This was my ninth trip to the place known as Toffeopolis in the ‘thirties, but neither Glenn nor Gumby had been before. Believe it or not, this was a happy hunting ground for me – I have never previously tasted defeat at Everton. Wish I could say the same for that other stadium in Liverpool.

The traffic was light as we sped past Birmingham – me pointing out West Brom and Walsall’s grounds to Gumby. Stopped for a coffee at Stafford Services, but we were soon heading over the Liverpool Ship Canal, then turning off the M6 on the approach to Liverpool. This indeed has been a familiar trip for me…my fifth trip to Liverpool for a Chelsea game in about 17 months. I am a bit wary that I have probably detailed at great length a few of these away days on CIA before. Don’t want to cover the same ground!

Three other groups of mates were on their way too. Alan and Gary were heading up on one of the official free Chelsea coaches, about thirty minutes behind me. Daryl and Simon were on the free Chelsea train. Andy, Chops, Woody and Lovejoy were driving north from Nuneaton. We had arranged to meet for a meal at a Toby pub on the Queens Drive, the main road which circumnavigates Liverpool’s centre…as I parked-up at 5pm, Chops’ car drew up just behind us. Perfect. Andy had been recommending this boozer for ages – it does a great carvery for less than a fiver. I got stuck in along with the others. Very tasty. We had a few laughs over the meal. It was a nice time.

Our hunger, and thirst, satiated, we departed at 6.30pm. Until this point, His Holiness The Prince Of Gumbo didn’t have a match ticket. Our plan was to head for “The Arkles,” a stone’s throw from Anfield, and make some investigations. We paid £7 for a car park ( better safe than sorry ) and walked up to “The Arkles”…usually heaving, it was pretty quiet. As I waited to buy three pints of Carling, I asked a Chelsea fan if he had a spare…bingo! He had a ticket, which he sold to Gumby for face value. Job done. Spotted a few familiar faces. A few photos of myself with Glenn and Gumby.

As we left the pub at 7.30pm, I was reminded of the incident last May when I shook hands with Capello before the CL semi-final. As we walked past the Hillsborough memorial, our pace slowed.

Down the hill and Goodison Park loomed in the distance. The two stadia are about a half-mile apart. This blew Gumby’s mind.

I have detailed the street-scenes around Goodison before, so I won’t over elaborate again. Suffice to say, it’s a proper stadium, if a little ragged around the edges. Gumby took a snap of the Dixie Dean statue. Gumby had a quick chat with Cathy and Dog outside the Bullens Road Stand.

A little chat about Goodison. A lot of you know I am well into football stadia history and design. My mate Alan is too – the guru of football stadia is the Villa fan Simon Inglis, who has written many great histories through the years. Goodison Park – the home of Everton after they left Anfield, thus paving the way for the creation of Liverpool FC – was one of the first stadia to be built on a grand scale, under a master plan, rather than built on an ad hoc basis. The doyen of early stadia architecture Archibald Leitch was the architect of Goodison…and to this day, two of his stands remain…the Gwladys Street stand behind the right goal and the Bullens Road, along the side. The away section is the last quarter of the Bullens, adjacent to the much newer Park Lane stand ( built in 1994 – itself a replacement of an original Leitch stand ). Chelsea only had 1,800 tickets and so on such occasions we were in the lower tier, originally a terrace. Looking up towards the over-hanging upper deck, the famous Leitch cross-hatch on the balcony walls can still be seen. This is the signature of all Leitch stands – Goodison is the best example, since other stands at such places as Fratton have advertising hoardings over the distinctive metalwork. The towering main stand opposite was built in around 1970 on the site of a Leitch stand, almost the same height. Think back to Everton’s hey days of the twenties – Goodison must have been truly awe-inspiring. It was the first stadia to have seats and terracing on all four sides.

As Everton’s “Z Cars” was played on the PA, the home fans made some noise and the teams entered the arena. This is a bit ironic – Everton are mulling over a move to an out of town Greenfield site that will house a new 50,000 stadium. Most Everton fans would rather see Goodison redeveloped. It is their home…not the town of Kirkby, eight miles away. Where was “Z Cars” filmed in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies? Yes, you’ve guessed it – Kirkby.

Another night game with us wearing all black. Madness.

In the first ten minutes, the Chelsea choir sang ten different songs. The Everton fans, never the noisiest, were relying on their two staples…”Everton, Everton, Everton” and the horrible Celtic song “If You Know Your History.” We were in good voice to be honest, the first half especially. Lovejoy always sits in the front row as he is officially registered as disabled, but even he was joining in with “the Bouncy.” I hope nobody from the club was watching! He was bouncing, but there wasn’t a hair out of place!

Do I really have to talk about the game?

I didn’t really catch the JT tackle, but we had a few texts to say it was very reckless. That was a ridiculous challenge, out on the left wing in the opponents’ final third. He cost us the game. I hope he learns from it. We need someone to read the riot act to him, but will anyone? I don’t know. Over the course of the entire game, I think we were very very lucky not to lose…it could so easily have been 3-0. We have big Pete to thank – easily the man of the match. Alex seemed solid, Ashley Cole was reasonable, he showed some spirit. But the rest of the team were dire. With Everton not showing any willigness to take the game to us, we could have imposed ourselves on the game. The midfield four were poor…Deco and Ballack especially.

Frank had a few surges, but hardly any body else took the game by the scruff of the neck. Nobody took control. Passes were back, sideways, too slow, too laboured. Only once did Deco run at Everton. I watched Ballack win a ball, but then – job done – showed no inclination whatsoever to plough forward and join the second phase. Truly lamentable. Balls were pumped forward to Anelka’s chest – not his game – in the first half and he showed no desire to chase the loose ball. Drogba gave us more drive and purpose in the second, but – crucially – the midfield four were yards behind the play on too many occasions.

Deeply disappointing.

A trudge back to the car…spirits low.

I dropped Gumby off at his mate’s house in South Wales and eventually reached home at 3.45am.

Sigh.

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