Since it is the summer the editor has agreed that I might share with you memories and thoughts on my forty years odd of visiting over thirty grounds in England. I’ve never lived there and apart from the first game never travelled over specifically to watch football for myself. I only do that with my own team.
But if I’m there or anywhere I’ll try and fit a match in or a concert. I do like visiting different grounds, not so much to see the real estate of it but football grounds are where the local community exposes its personality. You can glean more than you think from that platform but I’ll test myself all the same. It has even extended to me watching Saracens against Wasps en route to Germany for an international. I even enjoyed it.
Bearing in mind I have visited some grounds multiple times due to time and circumstance I will probably regionalise this but we will see how we go. So where to start? How about Merseyside which will be more than familiar to most for those of us west of there. Merseyside by and large means Liverpool F.C. to the hordes that visit from Ireland north and south. However it was Goodison Park which was to be my first visit in December 1978. So we’ll do my Everton visits first of all.
I will skip fairly briefly on this match as I covered it in great detail in our previous guise (That Football Daily). Essentially it was a visit to see Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricky Villa from Spurs who had been part of the Argentinian side that had won the World Cup that summer. It is hard these days to convey what a massive thing that was in the world at that time – the football world and the real world because it was a much bigger place then than now.
A 1-1 draw it was with a goal by Blues stalwart and centre – half Mick Lyons and a reply by later England manager Peter Taylor. Taylor had always fascinated me playing for England whilst with Crystal Palace who were in today’s equivalent of League One.
Moving on five years I found myself back in Liverpool visiting a mate at university before I got the boat home. It was November 1984 and it was a grim old Wednesday night and a League Cup match against Grimsby Town. This Everton side would win the league that season and for me one of the most identifiable teams of my football life. A minimal squad but the team of Southall, Stevens, Mountfield, Ratcliffe, Bailey, Sheedy, Reid, Bracewell, Steven, Sharp and Heath (Andy Gray as sub) had every aspect of a successful team.
They deserve a bit more analysis. First of all strong spine. Southall – one of THE keepers of the eighties ….man of the people before you talk about his goalkeeping skills. In the centre of defence you had the speed and reading of skipper Kevin Ratcliffe and the height, goals and physicality of Derek Mountfield. How many goals did he get that season – fifteen was it? Stevens and Bailey as full backs did as solid a job as you would expect.
The midfield was one of legend that almost matched the Holy Trinity of 1970’s Ball – Harvey – Kendall. Sheedy had a tin opener of a left foot and was deadly at free – kicks. Bracewell was the solid steady metronome rather than out and out playmaker and Peter Reid was ball – winner, Scouse heartbeat and warrior complemented by consistent (for they are rare) wide man on the right Trevor Steven.
Sharp and Heath were the little and large force and box fox. I have rarely watched a game that was played so much in one half such was Everton’s dominance but unbelievably Paul Wilkinson grabbed a late winner for the men from the East coast. 0-1.
It would be twenty-one years before I returned to Goodison almost to the day. I was taking my eldest boy who was a Bluenose. I don’t follow an English team myself but certainly have a soft spot for Everton. When I was a kid their shirt was the most royal of blue and latterly they are a club that is perhaps as far from the Premiership circus as it is possible to be.
I remember a survey once having them at the top of a list whose fans lived closest to the ground (he says as a tourist). I love that and it was certainly tangible that night and other visits to the School of Science.
There was a strong local angle to that Everton v Newcastle Utd fixture on a Sunday afternoon. George Best had just died that weekend and the minute’s silence floated heavy above the nearest port to Northern Ireland. It was a fairly nondescript game settled by Joseph Yobo’s header from a corner for 1-0. Players of note that day would have included Alan Shearer, Gary Speed, Shay Given and Tim Cahill.
My last visit there was thirteen months later where somehow a match against West Ham took place in the teeth of a gale that should have had a name even before it became trendy. My youngest lad was a Hammer due to a distant relative playing for them in the twenties of the last century. Eight years old and proud as punch with his WHU scarf on in the Park End he watched them lose 2-0 to a Vaughan and Osman tag team. This was the year Tevez and Mascherano had joined West Ham amidst much ownership bally-hoo and the former played whilst the latter was sub.
It is still my favourite English ground though I would give the best to Arsenal. But it has football character in buckets as befitting one of the first clubs to have a ground simply built for watching football. Surrounded by Victorian streets painted blue on a night match the history of the club bubbles hard at you before you enter the ground. It has that rare mix of just the perfect amount of history and success so as not to be polluted by football lightweights.
It is a ground that throws all sorts of memories at me. From Pele getting kicked out of the World Cup in 1966, the championship winning side of 1970, Latchford’s thirty goals in 1978 and the last minute relegation escape of 1994 v Wimbledon. Probably the daddy of them all was the 1985 Cup Winners’ Cup semi- final v Bayern Munich where the TV literally shook such was the energy coming across the Irish Sea.
There is always something at Goodison to warm the football heart. I look forward to my next visit.