Everton vs. Chelsea : 23 December 2017.
With work finished for the year, and with a ten-day break to look forward to, most sane people would probably treat themselves to a little lie-in on the Saturday before Christmas. With my alarm ringing at 5am, I was soon reminded that sanity plays little part in the life of the foot soldiers of Chelsea’s away support. But this was an away trip that is right at the top of the list for me; not much comes close to Everton away. I can’t fathom why some in our support always deride Goodison Park. Admittedly the seats in the upper tier of the away stand are rather cramped, and there a few obtrusive roof supports, but I prefer its myriad of plus points.
There is surely much to admire. An historic stadium which has remained locked into a solidly working class environment from which our game was born. Two original Archibald Leitch stands, with the Bullens Road still maintaining the iconic cross-struts on the balcony. The Church of St. Luke’s still peeping from its corner between the shockingly huge main stand and the oddly-named Gwladys Street home end. The closeness of a few pubs. The walk along Goodison Road, full of hustle and bustle, one of the loveliest walks in football. The closeness of the pitch to the supporters. The teams coming onto the pitch to “Z Cars.” The sense that you are dipping into history.
There are two other personal stories which add an extra piquancy for me.
In around 1942, my father visited Goodison Park while undergoing training on an RAF base on The Wirral. It would be his only football game before he took me to Stamford Bridge in 1974.
In 1999, I took my then girlfriend’s son to his first-ever football game. It was a magnificent day and the nearest that I will ever get to taking a child of my own to a first-ever Chelsea game.
So, yeah – Goodison Park. It’s my favourite away stadium.
And still, hundreds of our supporters deride it as being a “shit hole.”
Get out you Philistines.
What are the alternatives? Of all the teams that are playing in England’s top division, we are bombarded with relatively bland new-builds.
Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Leicester City, Huddersfield Town, Brighton, Southampton, Stoke City, West Ham, Bournemouth and Swansea City.
There are a few stadia which have remained in situ, but with substantial changes in recent seasons involving three or four stands.
Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, Watford, Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion.
There are two which have had changes to two of their four stands in the past twenty years.
Burnley and Crystal Palace.
And there is one which has experienced just one new stand over the past five decades.
It is an anomaly in modern football, a reminder of a rich history, a simpler time, a reminder of my childhood, my youth, my footballing past. Once Everton eventually decamp to their planned new home over by the banks of the Mersey, I will feel rather sad.
I collected PD and Glenn in Frome at 6am, then zipped over to Parkyville to collect Lordy at 6.30am. Outside, there was nothing but darkness. We soon stopped for a breakfast at McChippenham.
Parky : “I’m bloody starving. I could eat a horse, and go back for the jockey.”
The other three had attended a Neville Staple concert in Frome the previous night, and they were all sleep-deficient. By the time I had hit the M5 just north of Bristol, two of the three were asleep. Day eventually broke at around 7.30am. I made good time on the well-travelled trip north despite long spells of fog. With Everton enjoying a little resurgence under Big Fat Sam and Little Fat Sammy, we all – reluctantly – agreed that we would be happy with a draw at Goodison. The league was City’s, we just needed to get our noses in front of United. I had heard that there was a fair few “spares” floating around for the game, and I immediately felt a twinge of guilt that I had not notified my mate Deano, a Chelsea fan who lives relatively close by, and who had visited Goodison with me in 2015. I wondered if he would be present. He doesn’t always get tickets for away games.
At bang on 10.30am, I snapped up one of the last “free” parking spaces on Utting Avenue which runs up to Anfield.
“Four and a half hours, boys. Happy with that.”
It was still misty. Visibility was only a few hundred yards. It added to the atmosphere, the old-time feel. I’m avoiding the use of the phrase “proper old school” in this match report, but it would certainly sum things up. On the walk to Goodison at the bottom of Stanley Park, the hulking mass of the new Anfield, only a quarter of a mile away, was lost in the mist. Glenn and I had an appointment at a nearby boozer, but after their dancing extravaganza of the previous night, it was as much that Parky and PD could do to simply reach Goodison.
“See you both inside.”
At about 11am, we walked into the “Thomas Frost” on Walton Road. It was a new away pub for me, and was full to the brim of both Everton and Chelsea supporters. Just inside the door was my mate Foxy and his dear mother. Foxy was visiting Liverpool as a fiftieth birthday present to himself. A Chelsea game was as good a reason as any to celebrate his birth.
I said to his mum “and it’s only right that you are here, because you were there too.”
And Foxy now had a personal Goodison memory of his own.
My father. His mother. Goodison. Perfect.
The pub was a typical “Wetherspoons”, large and impersonal, but with cheap beers. It was the first time that Foxy, Glenn and I had been together since our goodbyes in the hotel foyer in Shanghai in August. To celebrate, I supped at a lovely bottle of “Tsingtao”, clearly becoming one of my favourites. There were laughs with Foxy as there always are. He is off to Barcelona and I invited him to stay in our apartment. Happy days. In the Everton section of the boozer, I spotted many Christmas jumpers.
And to think that the cult of looking smart at football began in these pubs, these streets, these houses back in the late ‘seventies.
On the walk up to Goodison Park, we passed a few buildings which were clad in blue and clearly owned by Everton Football Club; a community centre, a school maybe? Perhaps their “school of science” moniker from their glory years wasn’t far off the mark.
“It’s just full of Bunsen burners, Foxy.”
I turned a corner and spotted a sign; “Everton Free School.”
What was I saying about a club locked into its local community?
At the Dixie Dean statue, I bid farewell to Glenn, Foxy and his Foxy mother, and departed on my own little circumnavigation of Goodison Park. I always like to do this, but did not have the time to do so before our euphoric 3-0 win last season. Ever few years, Everton give Goodison a proper spring-clean, and at the moment the main stand is clad in blue and with huge murals of some of their heroic number nines.
If I had my way, Tommy Lawton would have been featured too.
As ever, there is an Everton “timeline” which wraps its way around the stadium – or at least the three oldest stands – and this is well done, above the blue brick and turnstiles.
Recently, a friend – thanks Kev – mentioned to me that Alex Young (“The Golden Vision”, one of the lesser known Evertonians) was featured in an iconic film based on Everton Football Club from the ‘sixties. It’s a lovely little period piece, and features some great shots of old-time Goodison, plus the well-worn features of Brookside actor Bill Dean for good measure.
I was quickly inside the Bullens Road after a quick security check. There was time for a chat with a few friends and the chance to wish them a “Merry Xmas.” Inside, I handed out a few Christmas cards. I need not have worried about Deano. Not only was he at the game, but he was sat right next to Parky, just two seats away from me.
“Chelsea World is a very small world – part 687.”
There were a few empty seats dotted around. Christmas shopping doesn’t get done by itself, does it?
I spotted that there were blue and white Chelsea Santa hats draped on every seat.
I am just bloody glad that the vast majority of the three-thousand away supporters chose not to wear them. Imagine if every single one of us wore them.
Three thousand Santa hats.
“Is this what it has come to?”
For. Fuck. Sake.
With Michy Batshuayi not chosen, this was another chance for the three amigos of Hazard, Pedro and Willian to harass, pester and worry the statuesque Evertonian defenders Phil Jagielka and Michael Keane.
Azpilicueta – Christensen – Rudiger
Moses – Kante – Bakayoko – Alonso
Willian – Hazard – Pedro
I still struggle with us not having a focal point for our attacks. I wonder what Bob Latchford is doing these days. We were surprised that Wayne Rooney was not playing. Upfront, Allardyce chose Lennon but there was no McCartney alongside him. Instead there was the much-admired youngster Calvert-Lewin and the silky Sigurdsson, who must be rueing his transfer to Everton, now that Allardyce and his “hoof it” tactics have replaced the more “school of science” approach of Ronald Koeman.
The mist still hung in the air. Ah, this was perfect. It had been a brilliant day thus far; all I would ever want from an away day in 2017. We waited for the game to start.
“Z Cars” heralded the two teams.
First thoughts : “God, that off-white kit of ours gets worse every fucking time I see it.”
Second thoughts : “Both teams are wearing white shorts. Brian Moore would be turning in his grave.”
At 12.30pm, the game kicked-off.
On the TV screens were the motif “#Blue Crimbo.”
We certainly dominated the early moments, buoyed by a beer-addled away support. The home fans were typically muted. We looked to play the ball in early to the front three, and Pedro was the first to threaten the Everton goal at the Gwladys Street, now named in remembrance of Howard Kendall, one of the Holy Trinity.
On ten minutes, we could hardly believe our eyes as a shot from Tiemoue Bakayoko and then Willian had shots cleared off the line by the old war horse Jagielka in quick succession. It would prove to be symbolic of the entire game. On several occasions in the first-half, we chose to hit a long diagonal to Marcos Alonso on the left, but his first touch was often lazy and laboured. I was begging for a first time cross to be whipped in.
“Here for the Chelsea, you’re only here for the Chelsea.”
This was a solid performance from us, and Bakayoko was working well with N’Golo Kante. Everton rarely threatened, despite the space that Sigursson found on a number of occasions. Everyone was defending well. Surely a goal would come.
“Feed the Scousers. Let them know it’s Christmas time.”
Victor Moses, the quieter of the two wing-backs, was fouled just outside the box. We waited for Willian to strike. Over it went. Bollocks.
We faded a little on the half-hour mark and Tom Davies – why do I like it that he plays with his socks hallway down his shins? – was able to pick up a ball, drive through midfield but his shot was wide. It was then Bakayoko’s chance to run from midfield. He strode right through the Everton half and passed to Pedro. I admired the lovely shape as he smacked the ball goal wards, but Jordan Pickford palmed over.
Just before half-time, Andreas Christensen uncharacteristically lost possession in front of the towering main stand and we watched, no doubt worried, as Calvert-Lewin drove into our box. He stalled, unsure of what to do, and the ever-reliable Azpilicueta blocked.
At the break, we were a little frustrated not to have broken the deadlock. After a little noise at the start, everything had died a little. I could not remember a song in praise or anger from the Evertonians the entire half. We could hardly believe that Big Sam had decided to take off the midfielder Davies in place of the bulky defender Williams. It seemed to re-enforce his battle plan.
Soon into the second-half, Pickford was soon called into action, saving well from a drive from Eden. The rebound fell to Alonso but Williams hacked it away.
The sun had now burned the mist away, but the only sunny part of the Goodison Park pitch was the Chelsea penalty area. We watched as Thibaut looked rather concerned as he shielded the sun from his eyes. He came for a cross from a rare Everton foray, confidently punched, and we heaved a huge sigh of relief.
We dominated fully now. Everton’s answer to receiving the ball from a clearance or a miss-placed pass was to simply hoof the ball up and away. I looked over at the Evertonians in the Park End and wondered how much of this they could stomach.
Eden Hazard was at the centre of everything. His change of pace, his slight of foot, his acceleration, his awareness of others was simply sensational.
Cesc Fabregas replaced Pedro. There was a slight change in shape.
I was a little annoyed with both wing backs. I spoke to Gary :
“Both Alonso and Moses seem to take forever to get going once they have the bloody ball. Zappacosta, who is not as good a player, at least gets out of the traps pretty damn quick.”
Hazard forced another excellent save from Pickford in the Everton goal. This was turning into “one of those games.”
With twenty minutes of the second-half gone, the locals behind the goal at last erupted in song. I almost feinted.
“EV-ER-TON, EV-ER-TON, EV-ER-TON. EV-ER-TON, EV-ER-TON, EV-ER-TOOOON. EV-ER-TON, EV-ER-TON, EV-ER-TON. EV-ER-TON. EV-ER-TON.”
Next home game, I hear that they are going to attempt to master four fucking syllables.
Michy Batshuayi replaced Willian, and was warmly applauded. The Chelsea support, to our immense credit, have not turned on him, and we realised that he might well turn out to be our saviour. His first fine touch was cheered by all.
“COME ON MICHY, SON.”
A Moses cross was headed – THUMP – against his own bar by Williams. This was just typical of our luck all day. I lost count of the number of crosses or shots which were deflected wide or over or blocked by a loose leg.
With the last throw of the dice, Zappacosta replaced Moses. One of his first crosses was sliced high into 2018.
A Rudiger strike went straight down Pickford’s throat. A daisy-cutter from Cesc was deflected away for a corner.
“How the fuckitty fuck have we not scored in this game?”
There is always a then.
An Everton corner from where the Bullens Road meets the Gwladys Street.
“Here we fucking go.”
Our nerves jangled. Our buttocks tightened. Our heartbeat increased.
A Sigurdsson corner evaded everyone apart from the head of Keane, who rose – nobody near him, for heaven’s sake – but thankfully thumped his header way over the bar.
There was a collective and profound sigh to be heard in both tiers of the away end.
Despite an added four minutes, our attacks petered out. At the final whistle, we were silent. There were no boos, and not a great deal of cheer either. As the players and manager came towards us, I heard a good level of support and that cheered me. Parky and I soon made our way out and waited for PD and Glenn to join us.
We were as philosophical as ever.
“We had said we would have been content with a point.”
“With just a little more luck, we would have won that two or three naught.”
“How awful were Everton, though?”
We hot-footed back to the car and were soon on our way south.
At Stafford, we stopped for some much-needed scran, and I was able to drive on, refuelled and replenished. We listened to the radio intermittently. An away win for Tottenham was met with subdued moans. The events at Leicester City were left to unfold by themselves; I simply did not have the stomach for it. The radio was turned off.
I eventually reached home at 9pm.
I clicked-on the TV.
Leicester City 2 Manchester United 2.
“As you were boys.”
We are now at the halfway stage in our league season. Back in August, I predicted a championship win for Manchester City, with United finishing in second place and us in third. I think I predicted Spurs to finish fourth. As it stands, Chelsea will be right in the mix for an automatic CL berth, but I honestly think that we can pip United to second place. In one hundred and twelve years, we have only bettered that on six occasions. Sometimes it is perfectly fine to come second.
See you all on Boxing Day.