This coming Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of my first visit to Goodison Park: 28th of February, 1959, Everton 2 Tottenham Hotspur 1... Bobby Collins got the winner. It was the reverse fixture to the 10-4 drubbing at White Hart Lane the previous October.
I was 7 years old. Being a blue was no foregone conclusion. My dad was a regular match-attending red,my granddad a blue. Most of my mates in the part of Wavertree I lived in (Plumer St, near Picton Rd railway bridge) seemed to be Liverpudlians (I shouldn’t think it’s like that now unless it’s just been invaded by vikings). But Liverpool had just been knocked out of the cup by Worcester City so how good were they?
As my dad explained it, Everton were a poor 1st Division team who couldn’t win away and always finished near the bottom whilst Liverpool were a good 2nd Division side who always just failed to make promotion; remember, dad was a red. I was sensible enough to realise that crap 1st Division was better than good 2nd Division, whatever my old man said... but would Everton win often enough to bring me joy?
I started pestering my dad to take me to a game. I’d seen Brazil and Pele win the World Cup the previous year on the tiny telly. I knew all the positions. I understood how the League worked. I was ready. My dad’s biggest concern was safety. He announced that he was going to take me Goodison because that was a modern safe facility suitable for a scrawny 7-year-old and Anfield... er, wasn’t.
Dad thought I’d be bored but of course I was captivated. Bullens Rd stand. 4s/6d to get in. No child concessions (of course the club provided the Boys Pen for a tanner, generous to a fault). Some bloke ran onto the pitch and presented Danny Blanchflower with a packet of Shredded Wheat (Blanchflower advertised this product on TV) and my dad said it was probably empty although at that time I didn’t get the joke.
At the end of the game, I was a dyed-in-the-wool Evertonian. One of the biggest mistakes in my dad’s life... although I did get out alive, which was to him the main point of the excercise. My little brother and my two sons — all blue (as it turns out, my dad’s only Grandsons). Only last week, my 28-year-old son rang his granddad from London to take the piss re the Gosling game. I know he’s 82 but it has to be done.
The following season, on the 28th of November, we went to see the blues beat Man Utd 2-1. But this was an isolated performance. We weren’t very good, languishing near the bottom. Then, as 1959 became 1960, enter John Moores. My mum had met him once just after the war when she worked at Littlewoods Pools and she said he was a lovely man. That’s exactly what I thought...
We bought Micky Lill from Wolves and Tommy Ring from Clyde (Clyde, ffs... but he was bloody brilliant); Roy Vernon came from Blackburn and Jimmy Gabriel from Dundee Utd (great play was made about Gabriel only being 19 but, as a then 8-year-old, that seemed quite old to me). I couldn’t wait to read the Echo each night. I saw us beat Preston 4-0 (Finney at centre-forward for Preston) and put 6 past Chelsea. We still finished in the bottom half of the table but things were happening.
The following season, 60-61, I was now at Sefton Park Junior School (star player, Alan Whittle, 2 years my senior...) and going to more games. We beat Blackpool 4-1 away. Then my dad took me to my first away match at Bolton... Now this might not sound terribly exciting but when you regard New Brighton as exotic, trust me, I was beside myself. We won 4-3; abiding memory was Albert Dunlop in goal saving a penalty by trapping the ball between his legs.
More Echo reading: Billy Bingham signs in October and then the protacted transfer of Alex Young, which to my 9-year-old mind seemed to last forever. He arrived with George Thompson, a left back, but Young never seemed to be fit. He suffered from blistered feet... clearly he was finding the harsh dry tropical climate in Liverpool difficult to cope with! But when he was fit the next season — what a player!!!
We finished 60-61 in 5th position. The London papers were beginning to call us the “Mersey Millionaires”. The next season we didn’t start as well although I do remember us beating Forest 6-0 and Alex Young was sublime; the start of the love affair. Sometime around Christmas, John Moores took Johnny Carey for a taxi ride and sacked him, quickly installing Harry Catterick. In March 62, we signed Gordon West; at last, a goalie over 6ft tall and, fuck me, he could throw the ball further than Dunlop could kick it! We eventually finished 4th. Everything in place for 62-63....
We started like a train. A couple of hiccups away to Fulham and, would you believe, Leyton Orient — managed by Carey — and a dropped home point to Liverpool via a last minute Roger Hunt goal but otherwise plain sailing. Young and Vernon were running riot and Brian Labone was a rock but still Catterick wasn’t happy... He bought Alex Scott to replace Bingham and Tony Kay to play left half instead of Brian Harris (Tony Kay... now there was some player; crying bloody shame). Then the big freeze and hardly any footy for 2 months. We stuttered a bit on the restart but eventually got back into our stride. I went to most of the games but couldn’t get a ticket for the crucial Spurs game when Alex Young won it for us with a towering header.
And so to 11th of May, 1963: home to Fulham, final game of the season... a win would clinch the title. We now lived in Halewood and I went on my own. It took 3 buses to get to the ground but I didn’t mind. I was in the ground at 1 o’clock and got a spec in front of the Gladwys St terracing, a glorious hot sunny day. Vernon scored twice in the first 10 mins, or so it seemed, and we eventually coasted to a 4-1 win. What a day!
In just over 4 years since my first game, we’d gone from a crap 1st Division team to Champions of England! Of course, being an Evertonian, there is always downside; that came from our bastard offspring neighbours who were only one year behind us... but that’s another story.
Final anecdote; I left Liverpool in October 1970 to go to university and then lived all my adult life in the south of England. Whilst living in St Neots, Cambs, in the early 90s, I was part of a pub quiz team. One of my teammates was a guy named Dave who had no interest in football or any footballing affiliations (he came from Oxford). One night, we were discussing how old each of us was and Dave informed the team that he was born on 6th May of 1963. That was a Monday I told him.
The next week, having rang his mum, who indeed confirm he was born on a Monday; he said something like, “How the fuck did you know that?” I explained about the Fulham game and that the hardest part was extrapolating back 5 days to the Monday. Dave was intrigued. Over the next year I regaled him over Dean, Lawton and Mercer. Young and Vernon. The Holy Trinity, Reid and Ratcliffe. I explained about the countless injustices. He came to a game with me and my sons and, although we lost and were awful, he was hooked. Now he’s a true blue.
I now live with my wife in western Crete but occasionally see the blues (last time, home v Middlesbrough 1-1, goal off Yakubu’s shoulder... should have won). I’ve access to the internet, thus Toffeeweb, Blue Kipper and even the OS when you can see the Gosling goal over and over again and of course live streams to the matches. However, my blue mate Dave still texts me up-to-date news, although sadly the last one related to Arteta’s injury prognosis..
Still, let’s be positive. Next season, the Sky 4 will implode: Martin O’Neill will fidget himself to death and we’ll win the league and then the European Cup, which we would have done in 86. But before then, anyone reading this who lives in Crete — please contact me; I want to watch us win the Cup in a room full of Evertonians.
Who’s the Greatest of them all? Little curly Alan Ball...
Nil Satis Nisi Optimum
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