COLUMNIST JOE JENNINGS
It was 5pm and my Dad was home from work. I usually waited for him by the window, hoping he would deliver the football stickers I eagerly asked for when he left each morning around 7am. If he didn’t have them, I’d have a face on all night. He had to deliver, he nearly always did. He was my Arnold Schwarzenegger delivering the Turbo Man action doll every night.
He seemed in excellent humour, in high spirits, and very talkative. He told my Mum anecdotes and bits of news and gossip he had gathered during the day. I was overcome with sleep as he surged up the stairs.
“Alright son, how’s your day been?” he asked. I answered him with little half utterances.
From his suit pocket he took a fistful of crumpled bank notes and a good deal of coins, which he piled on my desk along with his keys and chewing gum. But his wry smile suggested there was more to come. There was. Out next was a white envelope. Was it a letter from school, maybe a stop form from the pigs? No, this was something better, much better. I opened it up, sedately. I looked on in stonewall amazement as I was struck by the words “Man City” and “Everton”. Everton faced a trip to the blue half of Manchester but I never imagined I would be in attendance cheering them on. But the envelope contained two tickets for the forthcoming clash, I was delighted. I held the ticket in my hand, as if lost in some inward maze of contemplation or thought.
That night — as I always did — I hit the streets with my football in hand, beaming from ear to ear. Nothing could beat this feeling, and I took great pride in telling my mates of where I was going. Everton meant that much to me. They still do.
By no means were Everton world-beaters back in 2002, but David Moyes had restored the pride in most Evertonians, my Dad more than most. He had illustrated, boldly, what Everton Football Club was all about. He had brought us hope.
Summer holidays are great as a kid. Football all day, football all night, chippy teas and ice creams on demand. As the end of August approached, my excitement grew. Not only a trip down the M62, for me, this would be a day to relish with gusto, a day of titanic proportions.
The day arrived and we would be picked up at The Rocket by our coach. A midday pick-up would allow a full English breakfast and a prolonged stay in bed. But the latter was never an appealing option. I just couldn’t wait, I just wanted to be there, taking it all in, living my Everton dream. I had been a season ticket holder for a few years but my Dad had never mentioned an away day out before, he probably thought I was too young.
We arrived at our pick-up point and I followed my Dad into the local bookmakers feeling on top of the world — the same sort of feeling you endure when you’re served at a bar despite being 16 and underage — as we scanned through the list of potential first goalscorers.
On to the coach we went as we set off on our Manchester mission. To the left of us two men, mid-to-late fifties, nattered away.
They chatted incessantly: about David Moyes and the squad, the hope for the future, the game in hand and our illustrious history laced with their own personal memories. I just sat, enchantingly, listening to two blokes I had never spoken to nor come across before in my life recoiling details of our fabulous history. I felt proud and part of something special.
The way the men spoke, you could be forgiven for assuming Everton was for many people the sole object of their existence. Maybe that should have acted as an early indication for me. Everton is a focal point for many people and the happiness of those in question hinges on the success or failure of our football club.
The coach arrived at our destination. Maine Road - the home of the not-so-successful Manchester City. Many will often draw lazy comparisons between Everton and Manchester City, the two bands of supporters in particular. I’ve never bought into that school of thought. We’re Everton, who the fuck are they, and more importantly, what have they accomplished to be even mentioned in the same breath?
It was late August, but heavy rain provided a reason to spoil the day. But it didn’t dampen my spirits. I still felt privileged to be there, and hoped Everton would deliver a performance worthy of my inflated expectation. Typically, they didn’t. It was 2-0 to the home side inside 16 minutes and I was fast discovering the exclusive disappointment that only Everton can serve up. David Unsworth’s penalty offered some solace, but from thereon in we were running on incline.
Anelka made it 3-1 shortly after half-time and while my side were sinking without trace, the sight of a disgruntled Evertonian launching a crutch towards the money-grabbing, conceited Frenchman brought a smile to my face. My Dad managed a laugh, too. There would be no way back for our underperforming Everton, but I just wanted to make the most of my day, nothing could ruin the excitement and build up that had preceded it. Opening that envelope was memorable in itself, it was my golden ticket.As we prepared for the journey home, my Dad could only assure me that our next away trip to see Everton would prove more fruitful. I needed no convincing. His assurance was consoling. We had performed appallingly, looked bankrupt of passion and failed to capitalise on the 10-men of Manchester City after Wright-Phillips had saw red, but being an Evertonian will always be the triumph of hope over actuality.
The picture I had earlier painted of the most perfect first away day imaginable bore no resemblance to the eventual reality, it was more smudged and littered with errors. But it was still magical, it was still memorable, it was still Everton. And that’s all I needed.
I was still infatuated by my beloved Everton, still proud to be part of the Everton family and, in some unaccountable way, still vying for more. I was fast turning into an Everton junkie…
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