Goodison Park Everton
The brother of a friend tells a good story about Everton’s football ground.
In the days when he worked for a Spanish bank, he decided to take one of the bank’s bigwigs to a European night match, perhaps against one of the Spanish sides. The fact that it was November 5th and bonfires were raging across the city didn’t raise any alarm bells, until they drove through one of the rougher parts of the city that now resembled a war zone.
If a little concern showed in the Spaniards ruddy cheeks at the sight of all these fires, they went positively white when it was explained to him that this was the night Britain celebrated burning Catholics.
This brought a barely concealed smirk to the face of the Evertonian, who apparently didn’t like working for the bank anyway (try celebrating the burning of anyone but a Catholic at yer peril!).
Home of the Blues
Everton’s Goodison Park is stubbornly clinging to both the Gwladys Street pavement and communal significance. I love going to Goodison, and those match night hours are a real treat, even though I spend them shivering on the outside of the ground waiting for the fans to re-emerge into the night light, to complete the atmosphere for my next image.
There’s a buzz around any footie ground, but the atmosphere at older grounds like Goodison Park is incomparable, because the place was lived in well before Everton moved to Goodison in 1892: as such, it hasn’t been constructed so much as evolved brick-by-brick. And what it lacks in plentiful car parking and leg-room, it makes up for a hundredfold with heart and soul.
I mean, where else on the planet will you find a church pretty much built into the corner of a sports stadium?
Hundreds pack into St Luke’s church hall before every home match, especially in Winter, for a cheap cuppa and a warm. The son of the previous Vicar showed me the garden out back, which is tucked beneath the Goodison Park floodlights and in the 60’s you’d often see supporters sitting on the church roof watching the match between the gap in the two stands.
These days, the view has been blocked by a huge screen, though not being one to overlook any potential vantage point, I enquired about the chances of getting up there now?
He looked at me with some concern, before a wry grin broke free.
‘Well its possible in theory. And in the event of an accident, we do a very good funeral here, you know…..!’
And with another 35,000 comedians packed into the ground, you’re never far from a good one-liner.
‘Are you from the Social?‘ shouted someone heading towards my lens after the match.
‘Is that why fifty of you have just started limping?’
Scousers can usually dish it out and take it.
A few years ago, in a deep blue twilight, I’d set up my tripod in front of the ground. It was a night match in the Europa Cup, against a team from the Ukraine (I think) and a drunken Evertonian had been eyeing me whilst eating his doner kebab and chips. For some reason, he’d arrived at the conclusion that if I was taking pictures, I must be a foreign a tourist. And if I was from far away…I must be hungry?
‘There y’are. I’ve saved y’half. Geddit down ya. I’ve been eat’n all day… here….’ave it‘, all the while speaking slowly and gesticulating, as if to someone who didn’t speak the native tongue (which I suppose is partially true).
The episode was bizarre and also rather sweet. He took some convincing that I was neither hungry nor foreign, before shrugging, polishing off the other half of his kebab and wobbling off into the ground.
Ten minutes after the start of the game, I was approached by a tall, thick set lad with a skinhead and my usual guard went up. But he just poked a match ticket at me.
‘Want a ticket mate? Here. You can have it.’
I don’t suppose he was going to sell it ten minutes after kick off (and I wouldn’t have got in with a tripod anyway). Even so, no tout has ever offered me a free seat before: which goes to show that you should never judge a ticket by its cover.
Bricks and double glazing don’t make a community, but within the honeycomb of terraced streets around Goodison Park, many of the houses are still infused with real pride and you won’t find many dirty windows. Sure, there will be tenanted neighbours who make too much bloody noise. And there will also be those with rotting teeth and lost grey eyes, who daily seek out their next unsavoury bag in the tell-tale frenzied shuffle (and who somehow get the daily coin to fund it). But these are not the symptoms of badly designed streets, but rather those of a rudderless society that is clueless as to how to cure the heart’s malaise.
The greater problem for Everton – like many another football club – is the often unrealistic expectations of football fans, who place winning above pretty much any other consideration (and usually on the two shoulders of one Chairman).
Hence the club will be damned if they don’t leave for greater commercial heights (and achieve nothing for the trophy cabinet) and doubly damned if they do, (similarly achieving nothing, and in the process wiping out Everton’s sizable historical and communal footprint in the great leap forward).
As a for-instance, what would you choose if only one of the following options were possible (and this could and perhaps should be asked of all football supporters):
You could have a winning team and move to new pastures, or
You could have a thriving community and stay put?
The latter would only be of immediate benefit to those who live there – but how many of those Evertonians would take a knowing drop for the sake of their own streets?
The irrational power of winning colours is strong!
If you want a glimpse of Days of Future Past, go look at the desperate area that was once Burnden Park, and view the differently desperate Reebok Stadium (or whatever the **** it’s called now), and know that the likeliest chances of the Everton streets ever flourishing again are if EFC stay at Goodison Park.
And so, I raise one last difficult question, which kind of adds to the true perspective: if the only way to save the streets (and/or the club) was to go home, would diaspora Evertonians all move back?
For impartial folk like me, the whole Everton, Stanley Park and Anfield area should have been taken off the Monopoly board a long time ago, and afforded some kind of World Heritage status that to my eyes its uniqueness deserves. But many football fan’s lust for reflected glory – and only a specific shade and colour of reflected glory will suffice – is arguably a prime obstacle to that ever having happened, for glory needs paying for, and home-grown, Billionaire Gandhi’s have always been thin on the ground.
In a money-mad sporting world and an increasing selfishness game, Goodison Park (reluctantly) gains in Alamo-like significance as it moves ever-closer to the upgrade to extinction.
The People’s Game is all but Dead – Long Live the Old Blue Home!