Everton vs. Chelsea : 1 May 2022.
Well, that was a bloody long way to go for a curry.
I had always thought that our match at Goodison Park would be a very tough fixture. In fact, leading up to it, I was telling everyone that was interested to know my opinion, and maybe some who weren’t, that I thought that we would lose at Everton. It was set up for it. A notoriously difficult place for us to get results of late, the Frank Lampard thing, an absolutely red-hot atmosphere, the fact that it would be “typical Chelsea”, the entire works. Coming out of Old Trafford on the Thursday, I said to the boys :
“Yeah, we’ve done really well tonight, but it will be much harder at Everton on Sunday.”
Everton harder than Manchester United? An away game against a team in the bottom three would be harder than one chasing a European place?
Oh yeah. Oh definitely.
There was a very early start to my Sunday. The alarm rang at 5am and I picked up PD at 6am and Parky at 6.30am. I planned in a little more slack than usual because, damn it, I was flashed on the way home from Old Trafford on Thursday evening. After years and years of no speeding offences, I was now looking at six points in around four months.
Three after Villa on Boxing Day.
Three – I presumed – after United.
Six points. Ugh. I would need to slow things down for a long time now.
At just after 9am, I navigated my way through the streets of Stafford to make an additional stop. Through my network of mates at Chelsea, an extra ticket in the Chelsea section had become available. It belonged to Alex, a Londoner who I often see in “The Eight Bells” but who has been residing in Stafford for around thirty years. When I heard about the spare, I quickly put two and two together. My pal Burger – aka Glenn – has himself been living in Stafford for almost twelve years since his arrival, with his wife Julie, from Toronto in the summer of 2010. I got to know the two of them on the US tours in 2007 and 2009 and we have become good friends over the years. A couple of texts were exchanged and, yes, Burger was in. I left it to Alex and Burger to sort out the ticket in due course.
I collected passenger number three and immediately called “The Chuckle Bus” an alternative name.
For one day only it was “The Burger Van.”
Lo and behold, there was quite a tale involved in the extra ticket. Burger and Alex had chatted and had arranged to meet up in a local pub. For years I have told Burger about Alex and Alex about Burger.
“You must know him. There can’t be too many Chelsea in Stafford.”
Well, it became apparent that the two of them used to drink – and probably still do – in another Stafford pub. After European aways, Burger would always bring home a friendship scarf from his travels at the behest of the barman. And Alex would always spot that a new scarf had appeared behind the bar and would ask the barman where it came from.
“Oh, from that bloke I told you about. You sure you don’t know him?”
They must have missed each other drinking in that pub on many occasions. They were like shadows haunting the pubs of Stafford. They even lived in the same area for a while. And all along, I had pestered both of them with tales of each other’s existence. Well, at last they had met, and I took a little pride that it had eventually been through me. They were only going to meet up to pass over the ticket over a single drink but they stayed for four.
On the drive north, we chatted how you never see club colours on show in cars on match days – or any other days for that matter – in England anymore. Tensions have generally cooled since the mad old days and yet you don’t even see a mini-kit on display. Those were all the rage thirty years ago. On this trip, covering almost five hours, I didn’t see one Chelsea nor Everton favour.
PD : “My old car used to be a shrine. By the rear window. Scarves. Cushions. Rosettes.”
It’s an odd one alright.
I was parked up in Stanley Park at around 10.30am with memories of the last league game of 2010/11 at Goodison when I had travelled up with Parky, Burger and Julie. That ended terribly, with Carlo Ancelotti getting the “Spanish fiddler” in the tunnel after the game. I wonder whatever happened to him?
While the three of them headed off to “The Thomas Frost” I began a little wander of my own. My friend Chris – the brother of Chelsea fan Tommie – is an Evertonian from North Wales who now lives near Newcastle. We had been talking about meeting up for a pint before the game in a pub called “St. Hilda’s” which is just a couple of hundred yards from “Thomas Frost”. Chris – and Tommie – gave me invaluable advice for my Buenos Aires trip in early 2020, and we owed each other a meet up. During the week, it dawned on me that this could be my last ever visit to Goodison Park, what with the threat of relegation and a new stadium by the river, and so I was determined to wring every ounce of football out of it. I asked Chris if the church that abuts the ground, St. Luke the Evangelist, was open on match days. I was told that the church hall next to it has an upstairs room devoted to Everton memorabilia. That would be perfect. I even had a working title for the blog worked out.
“Tales From St. Luke’s, St, Hilda’s And The School Of Science.”
The trouble was that Chris was currently waylaid on his cross-Pennine trek, courtesy of inefficiencies of the British rail network. Not to worry, I walked along Goodison Road, underneath the towering blue of the main stand, a path that my dear father may well have chosen on his visit to Goodison for a war-time friendly in around 1942 or so. It would be his only football game before Chelsea in 1974. I reached St’ Luke’s at around 11am and approached a couple of ladies that were seemingly guarding the entrance to the church hall, but were actually pedalling match programmes from a small table. It soon transpired that I had caught the both of them at a bad moment.
“You’ve got a bad mental attitude.”
“No, you have.”
“Let’s go outside.”
I could hardly believe my ears. These frail women were having a proper go at each other. It made me chuckle.
With hindsight, it set the tone of aggression that would mark the entire afternoon in and around Goodison Park.
After the dust settled, I was told that the room upstairs would only be open at 11.30am. I had twenty minutes to kill and so set off for Kirkdale train station? Why? My good friend Alan – another aficionado of Archibald Leitch, the architect of so many iconic football stands and stadia – had noticed a little homage to Leitch’s cross-hatch balcony walls at that station when he caught a train to Southport a few years ago after a game in Liverpool. I owed it to myself to go and take a visit myself.
The only problem was that there was a little drizzle in the air. I zipped up my Paul & Shark rain jacket, flipped the hood and set off. My mind wandered too.
In November 1986, on my second visit to Goodison – my second visit of 1986 in fact – at around that exact same spot where I crossed Goodison Road, a gang of around four scallies – early teens, no more – had begun talking to me well before the game began. They had soon sussed I was Chelsea and started to ask me a few questions. I was, it is true to say, a little wary. However, I must have a non-aggressive demeanour because the lads – after my initial reluctance to engage in a conversation – just seemed football-daft and chatted to me for a while. Thankfully they posed no threat. These weren’t spotters leading me to danger and a confrontation with older lads. We chatted about the game and all other associated topics.
“Where you from mate?”
“Is Nevin playing today?”
“What’s Chelsea’s firm called?”
“You going in the seats at the Park End?”
I remembered that they were from Kirkdale, just a twenty-minute walk from Goodison. I also remembered that these lads were on the prowl for free tickets which, a surprise to me, were sometimes handed out to local lads by Everton officials. A nice gesture.
Yes, I thought of those young lads. They’d be in their late ‘forties by now.
Bizarrely, we played at Anfield in December 1986 and, walking along the Walton Breck Road behind The Kop before the game, the same lads spotted me again and we had a little catch up. I never did find out if they were red or blue, or maybe a mixture of both.
I crossed County Road. This wide road inspired the name of one of Everton’s earliest gangs – “The County Road Cutters” – and the rain got worse as I crossed it. Would I regret this little pilgrimage to Kirkdale in the rain this Sunday morning? I wondered if my father had taken the train to Kirkdale all those years ago and if I was treading on hallowed ground.
I reached the station and headed down to the platform where “The Blue Garden” – sadly looking a little shabby and needing a makeover – was placed. The rain still fell. I took a few photographs.
I retraced my steps. I passed “The Melrose Abbey” pub, itself sadly looking a little shabby and needing a makeover. I was tempted to dive in – I saw a huge pile of sandwich rolls stacked on the bar ahead of the football rush – but decided against it. I was lucky in 1986 with some lads from Kirkdale and although time has moved on, I didn’t want to push my luck thirty-six years later.
On the walk back to Goodson the hulk of the main stand at Anfield could easily be seen despite the misty rain over Stanley Park. I approached Goodison again, a fantastic spectacle, wedged in among the tightly terraced streets of Walton. Ahead, things were getting noisy and getting busy. In the forty-five minutes that I had been away, the area beneath the main stand had become packed full of noisy Evertonians. Some were letting off blue flares. We had heard how some fireworks had been let off outside the Chelsea hotel. And now this. The natives were gearing up for a loud and confrontational day. I guessed that they were lying in wait for the Chelsea coach. I sent an image of the blue flares outside The Holy Trinity statue to Chris, still battling away in Rochdale. His reply suggested he wasn’t impressed.
Pungent sulphurous fumes filled my nostrils. Ex-player Alan Stubbs walked through to the main entrance. The atmosphere was electric blue. I hadn’t experienced anything like this at a game in the UK before apart from a European night or two at the top of Stanley Park. I was hearing Everton songs that I had never ever heard before. The home support was going for broke.
I must admit that it felt so surreal to hear Scousers singing “Super Frank.”
I entered the football exhibition at St’ Luke’s and was met by a black and white photo of Tommy Lawton. He would sign for us after the Second World War. It still baffles me that we bought two of the greatest strikers of the immediate pre and post-war era in Hughie Gallacher and Tommy Lawton yet didn’t challenge in the First Division at all.
Of course, the greatest of all was William Dean, or simply Dixie. He must have been some player. I snapped a few items featuring him. His statue welcomes visitors to Goodison on match days. I always used to love that he scored sixty goals in the 1927/28 season, just after the other sporting hero of that era Babe Ruth hit sixty home runs for the New York Yankees in 1927. That Dixie Dean should die at Goodison Park during a Merseyside derby just seems, in some ways – as odd as it sounds – just right.
I could – and should – have stayed longer in that attic at St. Luke’s but I needed to move on. I sadly realised that I wouldn’t be meeting Chris, not even for a pre-match handshake, so I headed away from the ground again. I battled the crowds outside. There was a line of police – Bizzies – guarding the main stand and it took me forever to squeeze through. I may or may not have said “scuse me mate” with a slight Scouse twang a few times. The songs boomed in my ears.
“The boys from the royal blue Mersey.”
Eventually I was free and raced over to “The Thomas Frost”, one of my least favourite football pubs. There was, according to the steward, no room at the main entrance. I simply walked over to a corner door, chatted to Darren from Crewe, and went in there. I eventually met up with PD, Parky, Burger but also Deano and Dave. The Old Firm match was on. There were plenty of Scottish accents in the crowd and I supposed they were ‘Gers fans down for the game.
Shouts above the noise of a frantically busy pub, pints being consumed, everything so boisterous.
This football life.
Chelsea songs too. To be fair, both sets of fans – Everton and Chelsea – were drinking cheek by jowl with no nastiness. Chelsea tend to side with Rangers. Everton tend to side with Celtic. I had noticed a box of Celtic programmes at St. Luke’s – but no Rangers ones – as if no further proof were needed. A potential tinderbox – Everton, Chelsea, Rangers, Celtic – was passing with no trouble at all.
We left for the ground. I remembered seeing Burger with his father outside Goodison for the away game in early 2015/16, another loss. I had travelled up with just Deano for that one. All these lives intertwined.
I was inside in good time. Yet again our viewing position was awful, shunted way behind the goal line. Since our last visit in December 2019 – guess what, we lost – a mesh had been erected between the two sets of fans between the Bullens Road and the Park End. Everton certainly missed a trick in around 1994 when the simple single tier of the Park End replaced the older two-tiered stand. There is a lot of space behind that stand. It could have been much grander. But I bloody love Goodison and I will be so sad when it is no more.
It’s the antithesis of the old Stamford Bridge, the first ground I fell in love with. Our home was wild and rambling, spread-out, away from the road, a land of its own, a land of undulating terraces, inside and out, of shrubs and trees, of turnstiles, of forecourts, of differing stands, of corrugated iron, of floodlight pylons, of vast stretches of green, of views of Brompton Cemetery, of Earls Court, of London.
Goodison was – and is – cramped, rectangular, uniform, encased and with only St. Luke’s church of the outside world visible from inside.
I loved and love both.
We were at the very front of the top tier.
The noise increased.
“And if you know your history.”
It seemed that the whole day was about Everton. Yes, we were chasing a third place but it was all about them. And that was what scared me. I envisioned them fighting for everything, the dogs of war of the Joe Royle team of around 995 revisited.
Spine-chilling stuff. I closed my eyes and breathed it in.
As the teams entered the pitch from different entrances, flags and banners took over, and the heavy smell of the flares hit my senses once again. I spotted a flag in the Gwladys.
“We Are The Goodison Gang.”
What on earth was that? It sounded like a ‘seventies children’s TV programme.
Thomas Tuchel had chosen an eleven against Frank Lampard’s Everton.
Rudiger – Silva – Azpilicueta
Alonso – Loftus-Cheek – Jorginho – James
Werner – Havertz
Alan : “Not the most mobile of midfield twos.”
There was a mixture of new and old names for Everton. I had heard good stuff about Anthony Gordon.
As for Seamus Coleman, wasn’t it time he retired and fucked off to run a pub in Cork?
Borussia Chelsea in yellow and black. Everton in old-style white socks, la.
I would later learn that Chris got in with five minutes to spare. He works in logistics too.
It was fifty-fifty for much of the first-half and although the Everton fans seemed noisy as hell in the first segment of the game, the noise fell away as the game progressed. I noticed that for virtually the entire first period, the denizens of the Park End to our left were seated.
“Just not good enough. Must do better.”
A save from Edouard Mendy from Demarai Gray was followed by a dipping shot from Mason Mount and this indicated a bright start. But thrills were rare. On eighteen minutes we witnessed an amazing piece of skill from Mount, juggling on the run, flipping the ball up, and bringing it out of defence. Sublime stuff. Just after, sublime play of a different kind when Antonio Rudiger recovered well to make a magnificent run to cover the right-wing thrusts from Everton with a great tackle.
I could not understand the chants from our end for Frank Lampard. We love the bloke, of course, but I thought all that was silly and miss-guided. We were struggling on the pitch. I was not sure how a song about Dennis Wise in Milan was helping the cause either.
Parky was annoyed too : “Is he playing?”
Another shot from Gordon, just wide.
This was dreary stuff.
Only a lovely run from deep from Ruben Loftus-Cheek enlivened the team and the fans. With each stride, he seemed to grow in confidence. It was a graceful piece of play, but one that begged the question “why doesn’t he do it more fucking often?”
There was a fine block from Thiago Silva late on in the half, but – honestly – was that it?
For the second-half, Tuchel replaced Jorginho with Mateo Kovacic and we hoped for better things.
Alas, we imploded after just two bloody minutes.
Our captain dithered and Richarlison pounced.
Everton 1 Chelsea 0.
A little voice inside my head : “yep.”
Howls from the Chelsea sections of the Bullens Road. Yet again a moment of huge indecision in our defence had cost us dearly. When Tuchel came in last season, our defensive errors seemed to magically disappear. The current trend is so worrying.
Just after, Everton really should have been two goals to the good but Vitalii Mykolenko shot high and wide at the Gwladys Street.
We tried to get back into the game but the movement upfront was negligible. But, to be honest, there was more room on the Goodison Road at 12.30pm than there was in the Everton final third. We were met with block after block, tackle after tackle. They harried and chased like their lives depended on it. Which they probably did.
There seemed to be more than normal amounts of time-wasting. Richarlison went down for cramp twice, as did others. The away fans howled some more.
On the hour, we howled again as a Marcos Alonso cross picked out Havertz who did well to head on to Mount. His shot not only hit both posts but the follow up from Dave was saved – magnificently, I cannot lie – by Pickford.
From the resulting corner, a header was knocked on and Rudiger raced in to smash the ball goal wards but the ball hit Pickford’s face.
The Evertonians seemed to relish a new-found love of England.
“England’s Number One, England’s, England’s Number One.”
We kept going, but I wasn’t convinced that we’d break them down. Two headers in quick succession from Kai and Timo amounted to nothing.
Tuchel made some substitutions.
Christian Pulisic for Dave.
Hakim Ziyech for Werner.
There was a little injection of skill from Pulisic, wriggling away and getting past a few challenges but there was no end product. We enjoyed another barnstorming run from Ruben, even better than the one in the first, but we lacked invention. Everton appeared to take time-wasting to a new level. A scally in the paddock on the far side simply shoved a ball up his jumper rather than give it back.
A hopeful but hapless blooter from Rudiger.
A rising shot from Ruben after a neat run again.
A shot from Gray was smashed just over the bar up the other end. I envisioned seeing the net bulge on that one.
The noise was loud now alright.
Seven minutes of extra time were played but we could have played all night long without getting a goal.
A scuffler from Kovacic proved to be our last effort but Pickford collapsed easily at the near post to smother.
The home crowd erupted at the final whistle and we shuffled out along the wooden floorboards.
Everton are still not safe.
I wonder if I will ever return to Goodison Park?
We met up outside and I summed up the game and the season.
“No cutting edge.”
I overheard an Evertonian from South Wales talking, rather exuberantly, to a friend as we walked back to the car.
“Best game I’ve ever seen. And I’ve been to a few.”
He was about the same age as me too, maybe a tad younger.
Bloody hell, mate.
I made good time getting out of Stanley Park, Queens Drive, then onto the motorways. I dropped Burger home and then headed, once more, to “The Vine” at West Bromwich. We were joined by Michelle, Dane, Frances and Steve, Chelsea supporters all.
I had honey and chilli chicken, chilli chips and a peswari naan.
It was indeed a bloody long way to go for a curry.
Next up, Wolves at home.
See you there.
This Is Goodison.
The Blue Garden.
Flags And Flares.