Tales From The Sticky Black Tarmac

Everton vs. Chelsea : 22 May 2011.

At 8.30am, I left my village. For the last time of the season, I sent a text to Alan –

“Jack Kerou’Whack.”

On passing through Bradford-On-Avon, I had to slow down to accommodate several cyclists on a Sunday morning race. It was a little reminder that the summer was on its way and that there were other sporting pursuits taking place. To be honest, it has felt that the football season had already finished, especially since we had the “lap of appreciation” after the Newcastle game. On this last day of the season, the focus was elsewhere; the relegation dogfight, played to its nail-biting conclusion for the fans of Birmingham City, Blackburn, Blackpool, Wigan and Wolves. I collected Parky and we were on our way north for the final time of season 2010-2011.

This would be my eleventh trip to Goodison Park and it remains one of my favourite away stadia. The reasons for this have been well detailed before, but it’s quite simple really; a historic stadium, with two stands from the early part of last century still intact, a cramped inner city location, with an atmosphere all of its own, rich with tons of memories of past games.

We chatted away on the drive north and the time flew past. We spent a while talking about the football / music crossover which has been such a feature of the game in Britain. And at Chelsea in particular. From the songs from West Indian ska bands of the late sixties, beloved by Ben Sherman-wearing youths on the terraces of The Shed, to punks and skins of the late’seventies (Kings Road posing in the morning, football in the afternoon), soul boys in the early eighties (wedge haircuts and skintight jeans), through to the house music phenomenon of the late ‘eighties, all baggy jeans, bright colours, ecstasy in the dance clubs and on the terraces.

There just isn’t anything similar for any other sport in the UK. Music and football – the perfect combination. It’s just a magnificent celebration of working class culture. This relationship, in my mind, reached its zenith in the summer of 1990 with the New Order / England song “World in Motion.” We then had the Chelsea vs. Manchester City battle-royal between Blur and Oasis during the Brit Pop years, with laddish attitudes evident in every song, borne from the terraces, and enthralling a nation. At Chelsea games this season, we still see “London Calling” and “One Step Beyond” banners. And no team has as many pop star fans as us, from Suggs and Woody from Madness, Dave Gahan and Andy Fletcher of Depeche Mode, to Damon from Blur and Gorillaz…the beat goes on.

At 11am, we called in to collect Julie and Burger from their home in Stafford. Time for a quick coffee and then onwards to Merseyside, whack. They are both busy with work, but still loving life in the heart of the Midlands. We managed to spirit two tickets for them out of the ether and they were happy to be aboard The Axon Express for the final game of the season. A few alcoholic beverages were shared between Burger and Parky and Julie spent a little time looking through the CIA book of my match reports from last season.

At 12.30pm, bang on time, I pulled into the car park of the Stoneycroft pub on the Queens Drive. A pint of Becks Vier. A relaxing time, with good people. Andy, Woody and Rob – travelling up from Nuneaton – soon joined us and we sat down for a Sunday carvery, with food piled high on our respective plates. The chatter subsided as we got stuck into the mountains of nosh in front of us.

“Bloody hell, it’ll take me twenty minutes until I reach the meat.”

“Bolton” said Andy.

“Best carvery in the Premiership.”

He then spent a few moments rekindling his love affair with the Toby carvery at Sunderland. Burger bought some Amarettos for the non-drivers. We all agreed that it felt strange to be at a game which was effectively meaningless. I guess we were all there for the craic though – nothing different, there.

We then drove on up to the Liverpool FC car park on Stanley Park and quickly found ourselves inside The Arkles pub. The pub was pretty full and I spent a little time with the other Nuneaton lads.

Lacoste watch –

Chris – lavender.
Chopper – sky blue.
Neil – royal blue.

WeroLoco from Calexico in California had been in touch and we eventually met outside. I had told him to look out for my travelling companion, identified by his trusty crutches.

“Are you Lord Parky?”

I quickly met WeroLoco’s mother, sister and girlfriend. His mother and sister were not planning on going to the game, but we advised them to pick up the two spare tickets which were being offered up by a Chelsea fan. We then sped off across Stanley Park, a force ten gale blowing, and reached Goodison Park just at the right time, with ten minutes to spare.

I made my way into the cramped Bullens Road stand and a large sign inside said “Everton Welcomes Visiting Supporters.” I had a seat in the upper tier and I was reminded of the first time I had seats in that particular section. This was a game in December 1998 and was memorable for being my girlfriend Judy’s boy James’ first ever football game. Now James is – and was then – a United supporter, but I had decided that it was high time that he got to see my team play. He was only ten. To be truthful, the game was poor (no goals, but a double-sending off, first Dennis Wise and then Richard Dunne), but it was lovely to take football-mad James to a game. I don’t have any kids of my own, so this was a very special moment. Despite his allegiance to United, I loved it when James joined in with a few Chelsea songs. It was my privilege to take James a year later to Old Trafford for the very first time. Don’t worry, he was with us in the Chelsea section and I even caught him chanting “Chelsea” at that game, too.

Just before I made my way to my seat, alongside Alan and Gary, my mate Ajax gestured to me and pointed out an actress from Coronation Street – I don’t watch the show, so didn’t recognise her – Brooke Vincent, who is seeing Scott Sinclair (according to Gary…again, I didn’t know.)

We had seats 1-3 in row L, so we were right in the corner, not too many seats away from the game in 1998. In with just a couple of minutes to spare.

Ah, Goodison – the wooden floorboards, the mammoth main stand opposite, the blue paintwork, the detail of the Leitch stands, the Toffee Girls, the “Z Cars” theme.

So, no Drogba, but Torres upfront with Anelka and Malouda.

“I’ve never seen us lose here, Gal.”

And when I said it, Gal’s look said it all.

The game began in bright sunshine and the wind had thankfully subsided. I was well aware that many seats in the Chelsea section were not occupied; I’d imagine several hundred had decided not to travel. Behind us, in the top corner, tens of seats were unoccupied.

The game was played out before me, but this was not appetising fare. An Everton corner was swung in from the far side and a header thudded against the bar. We had been warned. Soon into the game, a healthy chant echoed around the away section –

“We want you to stay. We want you to stay – Ancelotti, we want you to stay.”

And then, not so loud – “Carlo! Carlo!” – and a brief wave.

We struggled in the first period and Leighton Baines was in typical raiding form down the left. A woeful finish from Beckford and a strong Everton penalty claim were Everton’s highlights. A bursting Alex found support from Torres and the ball was played into Anelka but his shot was blocked by Klunk. Generally speaking, we were our usual slow and sluggish selves and only a couple of long distance Anelka shots late on were our further comforts.

At times during the first-half, the whole stadium was silent.

The sending off livened-up the second-half and, at least, the game seemed to be a little more feisty and engaging. I caught John Terry’s nice strike on goal on film – this rattled the left-hand post. His first Chelsea goal from “distance” still awaits.

The Everton goal was a joke, but nobody was laughing. Beckford just waltzed through from deep and shimmied past the convergence of four – it could have been nine – Chelsea defenders.

“After you Paolo.”

“No, after you JT.”

“Your ball, Alex.”

“Micky Droy’s ball.”

“Chopper’s ball.”

“My ball.”

“Sorry Marcel.”

“John Sillett!”

“Get him, Frankie Sinclair!”

“Hack him down, Berge.”

Goodison Park erupted. Our hearts sunk and our support got quieter. I’d say that only JT showed any spirit. Frank Lampard was absolutely woeful – and I’m genuinely concerned for him. I have a fear that his form, so dependent on his vitality and energy, could continue its rapid decline. Torres was looking disinterested and I was begging for him to lose his markers and spin his markers occasionally. We clearly need to change to accommodate him. Mikel – slow and ponderous. Malouda – hiding.

Pass, pass, pass – to infinity.

We had to wonder who had the spare man. It couldn’t have been us.

The final whistle and it was over.

I had my camera at the ready and hoped to take a few photos of the boys down below us. Maybe even one of Carlo. Malouda was playing wide left and Ashley Cole, too. They applauded us. But the only three players who walked over to applaud us were – go on guess, it is obvious – John Terry, Frank Lampard and Petr Cech.

Respect to them.

In a poignant moment, I watched as JT stooped to take off his two boots and shirt. He clapped us, but looked very disappointed. He walked towards the fans in the lower tier and presented the boots and the shirt to fans down below. He pounded his chest with his right palm, and then slowly walked across the Goodison Park turf. One man with his thoughts.

The Everton fans were scowling and he pounded his chest once more.

As I walked down the stairs, I noted the rather nice working of the Everton motto “Nil Satis Nisi Optimum / Nothing But The Best” on a large sign. I mused that the Chelsea performance was far from it.

We met up outside the away end, the Evertonians buoyant, the Chelsea fans silent.

After a while to get out of the car park, we eventually edged onto Queens Drive at 7pm. The post-game discussion was brutal but brief. We had already put the game behind us. On the way home, I briefly glimpsed the hills beyond Manchester and wondered what sort of celebrations were going on at Old Trafford. The relegation equation was finally resolved and we were all sad to see Blackpool relegated.

A few Everton cars passed us – and quite a few had “Nil Satis Nisi Optimum” rear window stickers (they looked classy to be honest) but I came up with a different translation –

“Forever Seventh.”

We dropped off The Burgers at 7pm and we had another coffee in their delightful rear garden, the sun slowly fading. We wished each other all the very best for the summer, with the season in August not so far away. There is the friendly at Fratton Park, my two games in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, plus the Rangers game too. Lots to relish, lots to look forward to.

As we left Stafford, at about 7.30pm, I received a text from my oldest Chelsea friend Glenn, deep in rural Somerset.

“Carlo sacked.”

We fell silent for a few seconds and I had that awful dry feeling in the back of my throat that seems to appear whenever my mind and soul encounter sad news.

My initial reaction was : typical Chelsea, typical classless PR.

Poor Carlo.

For a while, Parky and I were quietly mulling over the future and the spectre of Roman’s obsession with the Champions League. In Roman we trust? I’m not so sure.

Confused. Sad. Tired. Frustrated.

The last junk food refill of the season at Strensham and the last Red Bull. It is just as well that Bruce Buck didn’t pull up alongside me on this occasion. I may not have been so pleasant as after the Stoke city game a month or so back.

We raced south and we listened to a Jam album. I’ve never met a Chelsea fan who doesn’t like The Jam – and it seemed appropriate for us to be belting out the lyrics to this most English of bands on this most typical of Chelsea evenings.

“A police car and a screaming siren
Pneumatic drill and ripped up concrete
A baby wailing, a stray dog howling
The screech of brakes and lamplights blinking

That’s entertainment, that’s entertainment

A smash of glass and the rumble of boots
An electric train and a ripped up phone booth
Paint splattered walls and the cry of a tom cat
Lights going out and a kick in the balls

I say that’s entertainment, that’s entertainment

Days of speed and slow time Mondays
Pissing down with rain on a boring Wednesday
Watching the news and not eating your tea
A freezing cold flat and damp on the walls

I say that’s entertainment, that’s entertainment

Waking up at 6 a.m. on a cool warm morning
Opening the windows and breathing in petrol
An amateur band rehearse in a nearby yard
Watching the telly and thinking ’bout your holidays

That’s entertainment, that’s entertainment

Waking up from bad dreams and smoking cigarettes
Cuddling a warm girl and smelling stale perfume
A hot summers day and sticky black tarmac
Feeding ducks in the park and wishing you were far away

That’s entertainment, that’s entertainment

Two lovers kissing amongst the scream of midnight
Two lovers missing the tranquillity of solitude
Getting a cab and travelling on buses
Reading the graffiti about slashed seat affairs

I say that’s entertainment, that’s entertainment.”

I dropped off Lord Parky at 10.45pm and I was home at 11.15pm.

And next season, we’ll do it all again.

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