Everton Independent Supporters Association
The loyalest fans in the land? Well, they think so. Ian MacDonald reviews six eventful years since the formation of the Everton Independent Supporters Association.
|The Birth – It all started at the Winslow Hotel|
|Fans Focus – EISA becomes the fans' mouthpiece|
|Good Deeds – Its not all high jinks, drinks and malarkey|
|The Highs – Memorable away trips|
|The Characters – The Rogue's Gallery roll-call|
|Footnote – A final wish from Ian MacDonald|
IT has been over six years now, and over 200 coaches, that a group of Evertonians decided to organise themselves for away travel. At the beginning, that's all this group was interested in – travelling as a football fan should.
We've all had experience of being treated like cattle by local coach companies (Barnes etc). You know the feeling you get on the coach in the morning travelling down to London with no breaks. As you get to near the away ground you sit and wait for the escort; you get off the coach outside the ground, get herded in with no chance of a drink in a local. And after the match, you are shepherded out directly onto the coach and straight back home... all the while dreaming of a break somewhere on that long journey – especially if you have just won.
The Independent Blues stated off as the Winslow Blues. The Winslow Hotel in Goodison Road was the first base for this extraordinary group of fans. But gradually the members were diminishing from frequenting this pub – mainly because they were getting barred all the time... rightly or wrongly. So a mammoth decision had to be made on re-locating our watering hole.
A lot of thought went into finding our new home: all the local breweries were contacted, ordinance survey maps searched, and the Which report on best Alehouses consulted. After a lot of debate, soul searching, meetings and voting, we came up with a pub 200 yards away. The Stanley Arms – affectionately known as the 'Blue House'.
I honestly thought it was a mortuary! It was always dead before we came to roost; now we just get dead drunk win or lose. Charlie Hengler and his wife Doreen have made us welcome since we cut the umbilical cord from the Winslow, and we always thank Doreen for the extra salt and spices on our free food.
Don't get me wrong – there have been many happy times at the Winslow. Who could forget the parties we had after that Wimbledon game in 1994 and the 1995 Cup Final win? Both times we beat the odds which were stacked heavily against us... and we partied accordingly. The player of the season award nights, so infamous now, were great occasions and give Julie and Gary Pepper, the licensee's at the time, their due they paid for the spread and the Disco.
However, it is both bizarre and worrying that every player chosen – from Barry Horne to more recently 'Judas Barmby' – has upped and left the following season. Even Duncan Ferguson. Who'd have thought he would leave? It's come to the point that a lot of the members and non-members are calling for us to scrap this albatross, the Black Spot Award.
Over the last few years, the Independent Blues have built up a relationship within the corridors of power at Everton. We now have a unique and unprecedented level of dialogue with the club. It's not lip service – more an atmosphere of respect and acknowledgement of the work we all do for the club – with no hidden agendas. The communication barrier under Johnson (ad before!) has definitely come down like the walls of Berlin. Communication was the biggest downfall of the previous owner. Now, hopefully, we can have a say in our club's affairs.
There are still about 15 of the original members who are regulars on the away coaches; membership fluctuates from about 100 to 150. We take at least one coach to every away game – including pre-season games and mid-season friendlies, such as Yeovil away on a Friday night were Barry Murray was doing his best to look like a Panda. He had two black eyes from falling over off the table in the supporters lounge, in front of a astounded Everton team including Gary Speed (his last Everton appearance, by the way).
We were also the only coach to go to Kilmarnock on a Tuesday night. Barry has a somewhat brazen motto on his calling card 'We go when others don't', but it is true. We could fill more coaches but its bad enough getting the money off the lads and ladies for just one. It is sad but true that a lot of Evertonians live from week to week and our spending money is less than for many of the more affluent Premier league clubs' fans. But for FA Cup games, such is the demand for our services that more coaches are laid on, with our trusty stewards – such as Paddy Ando and Ray 'Sparks' – taking charge.
I have to mention a couple of unsung committee members, Tony 'Blaky' Batty and James 'Baby faced' Lyon (James is the spit of the big baby who plays the drums in Reeves and Mortimer). These two lads never get the credit their hard work deserves. They collect monies for the coaches and tickets the weekend before the travel, get the balance off the sharks on matchday, and clean up the mess the less-responsible members make on the coach. Remarkable, since they pay like everyone else – and their services are given freely.
Over the years, the Indie Blues have become more than just a travel club – they have arguably become the bastion of Evertonians' political views. Somewhere along the line, this supporters club has been chosen by the media as a barometer of feelings on all sorts of Everton issues. Every time anything happens regarding Everton, they're at the fore.
I think respect maybe too strong but these hardcore supporters have done more than most in the name of Everton. Over the years, the Indies have raised many thousands of pounds for charities. A few years ago it was found out that one of our members, Tommy O'Grady, had twins who were premature. This led to complications and the charity Scope are helping these special children. So Scope were adopted for that year's charity and such events as beard-shaving and head-shaving for sponsorship were embarked upon. Marty from that time still sports a near-shaven head and he had the thickest head of hair you've ever seen.
Another good cause close to my heart is the Deaf Children of Merseyside charity. Paddy Ando goes on bike rides every summer all around the country for Scope. He cycled from Merseyside to Lands End so for the Deaf children he decided to go the opposite way. We were having a pre-season game at Aberdeen that year so we arranged Paddy to set off from Bellefield to start his task. Gary Speed and Nick Barmby pushed him off – ironically they have now both pushed off themselves! Paddy took about ten days before meeting us at Pittordrie. We even collected money outside the ground in buckets.
A few memorable things occurred at this particular away game. One was the sheer number of fans there to support the Blues – over two and a half thousand! Apparently nearly all kids made the trip or at least that was what the turnstile said. The locals had never seen away support like it except for the 'Old Firm'.
The other notable point from this journey was the coach stopping off on the way home at Stirling – the home of one Duncan Ferguson. What happened here was chronicled by the Echo, such was the occasion. When this 50-odd-strong party walked into the local pub in Stirling, the bartender quite innocently asked were we here to see where Duncan 's parents live. Well, when the entourage was given the location of this shrine, all the glasses dropped onto the bar and the party walked out on their pilgrimage. It was like going to Gracelands to see Elvis's birthplace. I was left with Barry Murray and thankfully Paddy Ando otherwise I would have had to get all the rounds in.
After about half an hour, Barry said "Ian, you'd better go and see what they're up to". So off I went up the road to Duncan's family home. As I got closer to the house, I could see the large party of fans shaking hands with his mum and Dad and taking mementos from the garden (Mad Alex still has a stone from Duncan's house in his wallet, it's his pride and joy). I introduced myself to Mr & Mrs Ferguson and asked them to have a quick look round to see if anything was missing – videos, medals, etc (only joking!).
They asked me in for a private showing of all of Duncan's keepsakes his shirts for Dundee, Rangers and of course Everton. His medals were there from Rangers and Everton's FA cup wins. The Ferguson's were as pleased as the fans were of each other's company – you could see the pride in their faces as they spoke of the big fella. At the time, Duncan was branded Duncan Disorderly – he was the target of the gutter press; you know – high profile young footballer enjoying life... But I told these proud parents of the things you don't get to hear about – like the numerous visits to Alder Hey, and giving money to good causes – things that their son did on the quiet.
Before I leave the Aberdeen trip, I must tell you of the time Paddy was trying to put his bike under the coach locker and the driver said "Oh no you don't! You lot have robbed enough towels and the like already – you're not taking that bike". I had to show Paddy's picture from the Echo before he would believed me it was his bike.
There have been many, many laughs on these trips; they are days out – it's not just about watching Everton. In the past, it's the 90 minutes in between that mess them up. But it's always great when we win away from home. The highs?
And the lows... I don't care to mention!
A couple of years ago, on a Bank Holiday we were at Wimbledon. We had a great time on the long journey down – so much so that, when we stopped, I had to have a good look around... The surroundings were unfamiliar but familiar in a strange way... The new coach driver had only stopped outside Wimbledon tennis arena by the old Plough Lane stadium! But Wimbledon hadn't played there for years and Selhurst Park was a good half-hour away! DOH!
I've got to mention the time when the derby game was rained off and we stayed on the ale all day. Mark Crosby fell out of the Blue House and took the short cut home through the cemetery in Anfield. Mark (who is a very intelligent lad, by the way) fell into a newly dug grave and, because of all the rain, couldn't climb out of the slippery sides. You can imagine a passing courting couple's horror then of seeing him dragging himself out of his muddy grave and moaning for help. Priceless!
Mark looks like a Skeleton to boot – or Blackburn's winger Gillespie. His mum and Dad, Charlie and Lily, are the salt of the earth. Charlie is our respectable Chairman, and Lily takes time out to make such things as our famous Blue Father Christmas. You should see the look on the kid's faces every year when they see a Blue Santa. We all know who is playing this year's Blue Santa – but we're not telling 'til after he walks around the pitch before the Coventry game with Mother Noblett, on Boxing Day!
There are many characters in the Indie Blues: there's Gary the Rat, Gary once asked me to mention his name in the Echo. I told of a story when Gary, who had recently taken up golf, saw Peter Johnson in the golf shop and remarked to him, "Haven't you got enough clubs already?" Gary can always be found at the back of the coach with John Leary (his dad is mad) and that womaniser, Jay Windrow.
We also have a George Michael look-alike, John Walker; he can always be found in the toilets... I mean back of the coach. Then there's Gary the Baker – named because he works in Sayer's the bakers – and his girlfriend Nikki; they met on our coach, like a lot of couples who have since married. Couple's such as Hutch and Julie; Tony Redfern and Linda; and Chris the Jeweller and Debbie who also met on the love-coach.
Then there's Tony the Flag – named due to his massive collage of flags sown together. His mob includes:– Julian from Warrington, who we call Tyrone from Coronation Street; Paul Melly who was caught talking and demanding a drink off the Tetley's Bitterman cardboard cutout whilst we were in Torquay.
Then there's Guy who works in a hospital and looks like he needs treatment there. Mick Gallagher – a regular when he's not on the rigs. Disco Dave Dawson – he's a private detective. Mick Jones – an ever-present Blue through thick and thin, a woofer from Kirby. Tony Iceland who we haven't see lately (we think he's got one of those Philippine mail-order wives and won't show her off). We met him in Iceland – you would never have guessed.
Then there's big Graham a Ford – worker by day and a singer/songwriter by night (F--K Off Red men – a classic!). Roy Gregory and Harry Wildman – two of the best Evertonian's I know – they literally live for the club; top men, and I have the greatest respect for them. Michelle and Cheryl – two young girls who have been travelling with us since secondary school – dedication to the limits.
Newer members include Jimmy the Coat (he keeps leaving his coats all over the place); Dave Charles – relative of that dummy Lord Charles ("I'm not made of wood only plastic"); Eddy Carter and his family – who are always late; Brian and Tracey – another Everton love match; and young Jenny – who's grown into a lady since they first came on our trips.
Mark Wilson and his brother Andy – Little and Large. Phil Pellow – our Jimmy the Cricket conscience and lawyer for the stickier times. Then there are lots of floaters who come with us periodically (or when there is no train available).
At the front of the coach sit two more people: one's named Barry and another named Ian... enough said about The Odd Couple. But I have to mention Barry's wife Karen – a real diamond; she is definitely too good for him. The things that girl puts up with are just amazing! Sure, she'll have something to say one day about all the hardships she's been through because of that crank of a husband of hers... and no-one could argue that she's just moaning for moaning's sake. "That girl's My World!" should be shouted from the rooftops by Barry, á la Freddie Boswell.
Lots of people have been touched by this group of fans – mostly for good deeds. Obituaries are always placed for anyone we know about that has passed away from the Blues contingent. We are always called on in times of trouble and looked upon as a voice by many. We may not be everyone's cup of tea but we enjoy ourselves and have always tried help the club we love. It's been a roller-coaster of a ride watching Everton these last few years.
It's been better hanging on in there with the Indy Blues.
In the words of Bill Kenwright, we are a big family; we may fall out with each other once in a while but we always make up. A strong bond occurs within this group. It will be a sad day when it all drifts away... For this is the best way to watch the Blues.
Happy Christmas and all the best your wishes could hope for.
Everton Independent Supporters Association (EISA), Christmas 2000