Tales From The Unexpected

Everton vs. Chelsea : 30 August 2014.

It had been another tiresome journey north on England’s injury-hit motorway network, scarred with multiple stretches of road works and speed restrictions. I had collected His Lordship at 10am, and we were parked up, some five hours later, in a multi-story car-park on Liverpool’s waterfront after I decided to sweep down the hill into the city centre rather than park in the usual spot near Anfield. I had decided to forego the usual Everton pre-match in The Arkles, which is very close to Liverpool’s stadium, as I didn’t fancy the oh-so familiar routine of tattered wallpaper, sticky carpets and lager in plastic glasses. I fancied something different and had decided to head back to the area around Albert Dock and the Pier Head, where I have spent occasional pre-matches on Merseyside before.

During the first segment of our drive to Liverpool, we had gabbled away with excited talk of our trip to Lisbon in around a month’s time for the Champions League game with Sporting. As soon as the group phase games were announced on Thursday, a trip to Portugal’s capital quickly grabbed my attention. Ironically, I was only in Lisbon – very briefly – back in May en route to a few days in Albufeira, but I was very happy to be returning so soon. It is a city that I was longing to be able to visit again. A previous visit in 1987 amounted to no more than three hours. In May, it was around four hours. This time, with a three day trip planned, I’d be able to truly explore the city’s charms. The added bonus would be Parky’s first Chelsea European away since the European Cup Winners’ Cup Final in Stockholm in 1998. It is long overdue.

We had listened to Manchester United’s weak 0-0 draw at Turf Moor on the journey, but as we set off on a little tour around the former dock area, the rest of the afternoon’s results were at the back of our minds. We had an hour or so to kill, and we relaxed a little. The football results would take care of themselves.

There have been many previous visits to Merseyside with Chelsea – Anfield nineteen times and Goodison thirteen times – and I spoke to Parky about how the high numbers of visits have dulled the senses a little.

I always remember coming up to Liverpool for the first time, back in 1985, and everything seemed so alien to a lad from Somerset. In a nutshell, the culture of the city was rich, even if parts of its urban fibre were poor. However, all of the particular idiosyncratic differences – the architecture, the civic buildings, the shops and industry, the character of the locals, the sense of place, the historical legacy – which made the city so unique back then seem to lessen with each returning trip.

However, as I looked back up at the twin cathedrals looking down on the dock area from a ridge of high land – the protestant red brick and the catholic concrete – I suddenly felt a twinge of adrenalin as I remembered spotting these two famous structures for the first time almost thirty years ago. Part of the joy of following my team around the UK and beyond is being able to experience different cityscapes.

Yes, dear reader, even Liverpool.

We spent an enjoyable ninety minutes in and around the Albert Dock, where a wakeboarding competition was taking place. If I had done the correct amount of preparation beforehand, perhaps I would have found time to see the Mondrian exhibit at the Tate art gallery; back in 2008, I had visited a Klimt exhibition on my way to Wigan at the same location. For a while, the storm clouds swept in and shrouded the Liver Building in a curtain of rain. Thankfully it soon passed. I stood on the lip of The Mersey, and was immediately shifted back to previous centuries when immigrants from throughout Europe bade farewell on their voyage to new lands. It is very likely that my great great grandparents departed for Philadelphia from this city in around 1850. An obscenely huge cruise ship was moored a few hundred yards to the north; its size startled me. I wonder if any of the tourists were off to the match. It was approaching four o’clock and so we wondered if we had time for a quick pint in one of the many bars which now reside in the ground floors of the former warehouse buildings.

We popped in to the Pan Am bar and hastily enjoyed a pint of lager.

Compared to being in the crowded and stuffy Arkles, this was a great pre-match.

I soon drove up into football territory. On the approach to Goodison, all of the lamp posts were adorned with blue pennants, in a style very similar to those which I often see outside baseball stadia in the US; marking their territory, as it were.

“We Are Evertonians.”

“We Go The Game.”

“It’s What We Do.”

In the end, I drove past Anfield – right past the away end, ah memories of last May, you may have had Luis Garcia in 2005, but we had Steven Gerrard in 2014 and we’ll always have that on you – and spotted a gaggle of Chelsea lads leaving The Arkles. We were parked up at 4.50pm and the news came through that Manchester City had lost 1-0 at home to Stoke City.

“Get in.”

“A good day for the city of Manchester, then Parks.”

On the walk to Goodison, along the southern edge of Stanley Park, we held our hoods over our heads as the rain fell. We spotted an Evertonian wearing an Eto’o shirt.

“Number five?”

A line of around twenty coaches were parked up, including the Kings Ferry and Ellisons ones from Chelsea.

With ten minutes to kick-off, we approached the famous old stadium – Evertonians lovingly call it “The Old Lady” while Liverpool fans have a more derisory nickname, “Woodison” – and we were soon inside. Parky was down below in the lower tier of the Bullens Road, while I was alongside Gary and Alan in the cramped seats above. It was great to be back. Goodison Park is one of my favourite away venues. I have enthused over its charms many times before. There were memories of last season, when I shook Lukaku’s hand outside the main entrance and when Eto’o made his debut for us. What an irony that both were now in Everton blue. With Torres’ ultimately failed spell as a Chelsea striker over, but with Diego Costa now at full throttle and Drogba back in the mix, it seemed that the game was all about centre forwards, irrespective of shirt number.

The “Z Cars” theme tune welcomed the teams on to the pitch. Chelsea were in a bright all yellow kit, while Everton’s decision to jettison their usual white socks in favour of black meant that the home team were unwittingly paying homage to the Chelsea kit of the inter-war years.

Blue, white, black.

Everton fans are almost defined by who they are not. Unlike at Anfield, scarves are in short supply at Goodison Park.

A quick run through of the team. I was so glad Diego Costa was fit. The midfield five was Ramires and Matic, Hazard, Willian and Fabregas. The Chelsea choir began with a predictable song aimed at Everton’s neighbours at the top of the hill.

“Steve Gerrard, Gerrard.

He slipped on his fucking arse.

He gave it to Demba Ba.

Steve Gerrard, Gerrard.”

A few Evertonians in the Park End applauded this; quite rightly.

Within a minute, Cesc Fabregas had received the ball and had spotted an incisive dart from that man Diego Costa. He steadied himself in front of Tim Howard and calmly despatched it into the net. Goodison was in a state of shock, we were in a state of ecstasy.

“OLE – OLE OLE OLE – CHELSEA – CHELSEA.”

What a start. We could hardly believe it. This was touted as a tough old game; our first real test of the nascent season. And here we were, 1-0 up after a few seconds.

“Take that Luis Saha.”

Another miracle soon followed.

Barely two minutes later, Diego Costa played the ball in from the left. Ramires spotted Ivanovic ahead of him and played a delightful ball to our beloved full-back. Everton appealed for offside, but Brana was unfazed. He slotted the ball past Howard. We all looked across to the linesman, but his flag stayed down.

Everton 0 Chelsea 2.

There was more delirium in the antiquated double-decked tiers of the Bullens Road stand.

Next, there was a contentious moment involving the hapless Howard. A ball was poked through for Eden Hazard to run on to, but the Everton ‘keeper claimed the ball at his feet. From over eighty yards away, it seemed fine, but Hazard’s immediate response was that Howard had handled outside the box. A couple of texts confirmed this.

Then, oddly, strangely, we let our grip on the game loosen. It was Everton’s turn to probe. For me, our midfield conceded far too much territory to the raiding Everton attackers. Nemanja Matic held firm, but did not get much support in return.

“We played better last year and couldn’t score. This year, two shots and two goals.”

From a corner, the ball’s arc was missed by Courtois and Lukaku crashed it against the woodwork. It was a lucky escape. Everton asked questions of our defence, but we withstood their challenges. We attacked on a few occasions, with Costa surprising me my drifting wide on the left. Then, catastrophe, with just a minute left of the first-half remaining. We again allowed Everton to build and the ball was played out to Seamus Coleman. His fine cross was met by the leaping Kevin Mirallas, and we groaned as the ball spun past Courtois into the goal.

The Evertonians roared.

Game on.

At the break, there was obvious concern that we were going to let this slip. My mate Glenn, who was celebrating his birthday, received a text from me:

“Hope that the inevitable Everton comeback won’t spoil your birthday.”

The grey skies over Goodison, brightened by the electronic glare of the floodlights tucked under the main stand roof, gave the match a special atmosphere as the second half began. It felt like November. A few half chances for Chelsea gave us cheer. There was noise in the away section. I kept looking over at the scoreboard in the far corner, and the time was appearing to slow.

“Another half hour of this; we’ll never last, Gal.”

“Next goal is crucial, Chris.”

“Trouble is, mate – we thought we’d won it after three minutes.”

I was worried that Everton, still threatening, would ruin things. The Chelsea fans around me we worried, too. Then, Eden Hazard – very quiet thus far – collected the ball in front of the Chelsea fans below me. We willed him on, and he responded by running deep into the Everton box. I saw Diego Costa running into an already crowded area and I quickly thought to myself –

“Like to see what Hazard does here. Wonder if he’ll reach Costa.”

With the blink of an eye, Hazard’s pass to Costa hit the sliding Coleman and ricocheted, miraculously, into the net, spinning off the far post.

We roared again, but deep down I knew that we had been lucky.

Amidst the triumphant celebrations, a plastic bottle was tossed into the Park End by a Chelsea supporter and our attention was centered upon the pointing, gesturing and faux outrage shown by both Everton and Chelsea fans down below us. Police were repositioned in the walkway between the sets of fans and some even stood in front of us. I don’t mind Everton fans generally, but the ones who inhabit the five-hundred or so seats of the Park Lane nearest the away paddock must be hand chosen for their relentless complaining, restlessness, irascibility and anger. I looked up to see a killer ball played through the heart of our defence and Naismith poked home with a fine finish.

3-2.

“Fackinell.”

“What happened?” asked the chap to my left.

“They scored” I replied.

“Shit defending” said another.

A huge roar from the home stands welcomed Samuel Eto’o on to the pitch. He seemed to be sporting a new, lopsided hairstyle. Maybe he was hoping we wouldn’t recognise him.

We came at them again. The ball was worked into Matic, central, but with defenders looking to throw themselves towards him. He remained calm and worked the ball on to his favoured left foot. He drilled a low shot past Howard and we regained our two-goal advantage.

4-2.

Still the goals came. A Leighton Baines free-kick found the stooping head of Eto’o – who else? – and the ball flew into the Gwladys Street goal, with Courtois unable to scramble back.

4-3.

Within a minute, we broke away and Ramires received a ball from Matic and toe-poked it past Howard from an angle.

We roared again.

5-3.

Next, we were in adoration of an amazing piece of skill from our young Belgian goalkeeper. A Mirallas shot was goal bound, but Courtois flung his hand out to push the thunderous strike onto a post.

In the away end, we were gasping, trying to make sense of all of it.

“Oh, Mourinho will hate this.”

“I’m only surprised Lukaku ain’t scored yet.”

Filipe Luis came on, replacing the overall quiet Hazard, for his Chelsea debut. Then, in the last moment of an incredible match, another substitute – the much derided Mikel – was able to break, keep his composure and nonchalantly back heel a pass in to space for Diego Costa. Our new goal scoring hero still had much to do, but pushed the ball wide, created an angle, skipped past a sad challenge from Distin and slammed it past Howard.

6-3. Bloody hell.

Diego Costa was overjoyed, and he pumped his arms before jumping in delirium towards the baying fans in the corner.

At the final whistle, there was a proper mix of emotions in the away end. As the players slowly walked towards us – all eleven of them, as it should be – the little band of brothers who I had watched the game with agreed that it had been a mixed-bag of a performance. Outrageous raids on the Everton goal, but also ragged defending.

Half-jokingly, I exclaimed “I’ve never seen us play so badly and score six.”

Smiles all around.

I had a vision of the players and management team striding triumphantly into the small, cramped away dressing room, only to find a pale Jose Mourinho, holding his arms around his waist, sat on the floor, rocking.

“Leave him be. Let him have a few moments alone, lads.”

We all remember his comments back in 2004 when he was dumbfounded by a high-scoring North London Derby, which finished 5-4 to Arsenal.

“That wasn’t a football match.”

I met up with Parky outside on the corner of a terraced street opposite the away turnstiles, just as a bevy of noisy Chelsea fans began a new chant –

“Diego Costa – He’ll Win Us The League.”

The journey home was easy in the circumstances. Driving two hundred miles after such an astonishing game of football – it was only the third time that I have witnessed nine goals in a single game – is not a chore. I eventually reached home at 12.15am, but I knew that I’d be awake for a while yet, attempting to relive and perhaps rationalise the insanity of Goodison Park 2014.

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