After the match, I walked home, as for some reason all the buses were full. I remember cars hooting outside the ‘Miller, and people in blue and white dancing at the top of Kremlin Drive. It was so easy to be part of the action. Indeed, only ever knowing life in the ‘Pool made it impossible to imagine being divorced from the fortunes of our team. After all, if you couldn’t see the match live, you could always stand outside Goodison and listen. If it was raining, we’d go into Bob’s house, which was close enough to the action for the vibes of an Everton goal to bring a soot fall onto the living room carpet.
Yet growing up and moving into the world of work made it a lot more difficult to keep up with events, especially if you were a Blue who’d gone to live in The Solomons. The islands are very far away... so far that. if you travel west from the UK, by the time you have reached the archipelago, you’ve started to come back. There I was in a mid-Pacific world of the 1970s, without TV, video or even a reliable phone link. We depended on the BBC World Service or snail post newspapers to bring us news. Did it matter being isolated? Well, maybe not, for Everton were not doing much to get excited about — not until, that is, they made it to Wembley.
Sadly the 1977 League Cup Final was dubbed the most turgid in history. Worse still, those Blues supporters not rendered immobile by the lousiness of the first two games, saw us get beat in the third. I can still recall the Echo’s photo of a miserable Terry Darracott set against a backdrop of jubilant Brummies. That copy of the paper must have been sent by biplane, as it took two weeks to reach the islands.
1977 didn’t get any better, even if I was now sitting on the white sands of Ontong Java atoll, a few degrees south of the Equator. All we had to do was beat Liverpool to get into the FA Cup final, and I needed to get the score. A Peace Corps friend obliged with a short wave radio-set. Funny on World Service, how they all seem to speak as if they have their noses pinched between their fingers. We lost the station, but not before the nasal bleat from the commentator told us that Liverpool had got a third to put us down and out.
As we all know, in the years that followed, Everton bumped and ground along. If there was any soot on Bob’s mother’s carpet, it was caused by the victory howls of the away fans. Anyway I moved on, swapping life in the humid tropics for the blasted heat of the Mexican desert. This time I’d got my own radio, but it didn’t help. We made it to the semi-final of the Cup again in 1980, yet there was more disappointment. It started well enough with Brian Kidd scoring, but then he got himself sent off. That was all the encouragement West Ham needed to first equalise, and then finish us off in the replay.
A year on and the Blues were in the foothills of another Cup run. Yet there was a big obstacle: we’d drawn Liverpool in a fourth round tie at Goodison. Unfortunately I was once more overseas, marooned this time in Tegucigalpa, with no way of finding out the score. Our survey team though had been invited to the British Consulate, surely they would know? They didn’t. In desperation I chatted up one of the secretaries who’d come along for the Scots Country dancing, that was to follow our reception. She obviously didn’t follow football, beyond knowing that in Liverpool we were all mad. Despite that she offered to find out the result, and whilst doing so put two and two together to come up with five.
A few minutes later she reappeared to tell me the news, bad news. They’d lost. She saw my despair, but blundered on telling me that some player called, ‘Henry Vivaldi’ had scored the winner. As if to confirm all she had heard was true, I set off doing the Gay Gordons, between the plates of cucumber sandwiches.
The awful dancing was all in vain, as we didn’t make it to the final that year, but did in May 1984. The trouble was I was working in an isolated corner of an isolated continent. Everton v Watford didn’t mean much to the rank and file in Angola; however, a Danish Evertonian came up trumps and finagled a video of the match. There we were in Luanda, lobbing down the local beer and watching Andy Gray head the ball out of the keeper's hands, whilst Elton put his head in his.
The mid 1980s brought some of our finest hours, and I was able to enjoy several of the 1985 triumphs at first hand. However, in early May 1986, I set off once more to Africa.
It was just two days before Everton were due to play the Reds in the Final, but what did that matter to the people of Mauritania? We sat in a depressing hotel in Nouadhibou. There was no TV, and worse still, the government had tightened up on selling alcohol. It was just like that famous song from ‘Os, ‘…there’s nothing so lonesome, there’s nothing so drear...’ In keeping with the gloomy lyrics the only other customer in the bar was an overdressed lady, nursing a tonic-water and a black eye...
Anyway back to the dinner. The hotel boasted an excellent range of dishes, but the reality was it was a choice between camel’s liver and ham salad. What the hell, I thought I’d be adventurous. After all, we were in the count down to the Cup Final… … They managed to find a French doctor to treat me. I was lucky he had all the right stuff. Even so, I was still too sick to join the others sipping orange juice and listening to the match on the World Service.
Yet my colleagues didn’t let me down. They kept me going with bulletins on the game. With just a few minutes of play left there was a tap on the door of my hotel room. The marketing expert, a Kopite from Basingstoke, started off. ‘You look green. You should have ordered liver like the rest of us.’ The second comedian, another Red by correspondence course, did what the food poisoning hadn’t done, and added the coup de grace. ‘Ian Rush has scored again. It’s all over.’
It just got worse for, as we all know, the early nineties were tough for Evertonians, and I, like many others, discovered the power of prayer. What a relief then in 1995 to be free of relegation, and in the last four of the FA Cup. Only Jürgen Klinsmann’s men barred our way to the finals, but the odds were stacked agin’ us. The footballing world was banking on the Premiership’s aristocrats sending us Dogs of War away with our tails between our legs.
On the day of the semis, my wife and I were in the Californian coastal town of Seal Beach, and were once again out of touch with the action. The game came and went without any news. Surely the best place to try and get the score was a bar? We fetched up at a small saloon close to the beach. It had wall-to-wall TV, but it seemed to be all golf, American football, basketball... no… wait a minute. There it was, a single screen showing Matt Jackson taking a throw-in. And at the bottom right-hand corner of that golden vision was the score Everton 1 Spurs 0.
The replay of the game rolled on, and so did the glasses of Michelob dark... We were now 2-1 up, but there was more. I did a star-jump to celebrate Amokachi’s first. The barmaid nervously unfurled a ‘we-don’t-want–any-trouble-in-here’ smile. However, she joined us in a celebratory drink when, a few minutes later, our boy got his second and she realised I was too far-gone to cause any bother.
By the time the final came about, I was in Lisbon, but within reach of TV and already airborne when Paul Rideout headed in the rebound, spraying my spare escudos all over the other customers.
This May I’ll be far away from the Blues, but thankful that in 2009 the excellence of modern communications means that wherever we are, we can be linked to our club’s fortunes.
So now it’s up to us to sort out United, and then hand out capital punishment to whoever else makes it to the final. I hope I’ll be the one to bring down the soot in a living room somewhere in Kansas.
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