My sincere apologies for that inelegant opener to what is supposed to be a charming travelogue, but what else can you say after a derby that ends like that? That’s not how a three-week overseas jaunt for this dazed Yank was supposed to end, but we can’t always write our own scripts.
But hey, I got to see a derby in Mordor, and I not only survived, but right up to that last minute I was having a blast.
As to how I got there, here’s a condensed background for those not aware, and which the rest of you are welcome to skip: I first visited Goodison in April 2017, taking advantage of a surprise remission in an incurable cancer. I was enveloped in a bear hug of Evertonian hospitality by ToffeeWebbers Peter Mills, Kev Johnson, Rob Halligan, Keith Harrison and so many others, culminating in being smuggled onto the Goodison pitch by Kev The Conspirator with a signed ball and banging a pen into the Park End goal (which I suspect got Kev in trouble). I also saw two comprehensive Everton victories from Row EE.
That’s me up front on a Kirby Shaw pop song in Italy
Having somehow remained in remission (medical science is miraculous sometimes), I signed up many months ago for the 2018 European tour of my community choir, bound for Italy, Germany and Poland. I planned to jump off the end of the tour to revisit Merseyside and catch whatever game we were playing the first weekend of December. Then the fixture list came out, and that game turned out to be Anfield, the toughest ticket of the year. This time my hero was the magnificent Dave Abrahams, who with son Tony organized a massive intelligence operation that ended with a ticket for me. Surrendered by a Red, no less.
Our partying priest and our tour coordinator, both slightly sauced, caper down a sidewalk in Italy. I’m at far right, cracking up.
So on November 17, my 62nd birthday, off I went with the choir in a blur of planes and buses and accommodations in convents. We performed at a mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, an occasion that had the devout Catholics among the group in tears, and several of us illegally struck up a Hebrew song in the Sistine Chapel. We also sang at four other basilicas in Rome, the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, the Duomo in Florence, community gatherings in Germany, parties in Poland and even a baptism – about 21 performances, scheduled and impromptu, in 12 days.
The trip also featured a day-long restaurant takeover on a rainy day in Rome (we kept singing to the owners and they kept bringing us new rounds of food and Limoncello), a party-loving priest who relentlessly marketed his family’s gullet-scorching vodka (“Didn’t you order five bottles to take home?”), and a leprechaun-esque character who jumped up in front of the choir in a Polish church and began entertaining everyone with four-note folk songs on an accordion. It was a memorable trip, by the end of which I could barely croak out a note.
The rest of the choir flew home from Wroclaw, while I scrambled through a two-plane, three-train marathon to Liverpool. After a badly-needed night’s sleep in The Liner, I was picked up by my host Peter Mills and his older brother Charlie, an Everton trustee and a completely delightful fellow, and it was off to the Liver Building where Rob Halligan awaited (awesome to see you again, mate!). Charlie had arranged a tour of Everton’s new offices conducted by Christine Prior, the explosively enthusiastic outreach officer for the club. The new headquarters take up an entire floor and are beautifully corporate in design, and they leave absolutely no doubt of Mr. Moshiri’s big-time ambitions for this club. Trust me, “Plucky Little Everton” is no more.
An impromptu barbershop performance in Germany. Note that I’m rocking an Everton ball cap.
The next stop, to my surprise, was Goodison, where we reunited with Kev Johnson and took a stadium tour conducted by former Blue Mark Higgins and a firecracker named Lill. When we got down to the changing rooms, I discovered that Kev the Conspirator had done it again – on display there was a painting Kev had commissioned from a local artist of the iconic photo he had taken of my Park End pen in 2017. As usual with Kev’s magic moments, I could barely get words out. All I could do was pose with the painting opposite Mark, with a goofy grin on my face. Kev Johnson is a very thoughtful man.
Stunned again by Kev’s imaginative generosity as Mark Higgins unveils the painting.
The evening was reserved for the get-together Peter had arranged at The Midland, where I was privileged to meet more ToffeeWebbers I had known only as online pals. I was particularly honored by the presence of John McFarlane Sr., whose posts have taught me so much about Everton’s history. For a gent of 80 to make the effort to come out on a damp evening for a drink and a chat was a lovely gesture. Peter, Rob and I were also joined by Brian Williams, Dave and Tony Abrahams, Derek Knox, Andy Crooks, John Raftery, and a story-telling retired sailor named Jimmy.
It was a blast putting faces with the names I’ve seen so often here, and sometimes being surprised. Andy, for example, often comes off as a bit of a crotchety crank in his posts but turned out to be a delightfully jolly Irishman who had come all the way from Belfast for the occasion. Derek is just as entertaining in person as he is in his posts. And I was finally able to tell Brian directly how much his posts about surviving cancer had cheered me during my dark times in 2016.
(Full disclosure: I disgracefully skated on my promise to buy the first round for all TWers who showed up. Who knew English pubs don’t take credit cards? Everybody but me, apparently.)
After a night in the world’s most comfortable digs at the Mills Hotel in Crosby – Peter and his wife Sheila are warm and wonderful hosts – on Saturday it was off to Marine AFC, where Pete, Charlie, Pete’s son Ben and I were hosted at a hospitality luncheon by Crosby legend Joe Wright, who unaccountably took a liking to me and gifted me with a Marine scarf. The food and hilarious anecdotes they shared were far more enjoyable than Marine’s result against a superior Warrington side. This year’s Marine is a team of good, hardworking lads who, to use an old Texas expression, couldn’t score in a two-bit fancy house. I seriously think Everton should loan them Oumar Niasse as a neighborly preventive measure against relegation. (Nobody could tell me exactly where one goes when relegated from the 7th-level Ivo Stik league, but it can’t be good.)
Sunday was The Day. Pete and his buddy showed me around Anfield, including a stop at the Hillsborough memorial – it really is quite affecting, especially when you see people who evidently lost family or friends put their hands on the names displayed and offer a quiet prayer. We then met up with Dave and a mate of Tony’s named Steve who steered me to the person who had my ticket. I was never quite clear on how the precious ducat wound up in my hands – it seemed to involve multiple people doing generous things – but the seats Dave and I occupied were primo, right on the midfield stripe.
With Dave Abrahams in Mordor. What a magnificent Evertonian he is.
The Red noise at the start was deafening, but as the game went on and the fans around us grew more and more nervous and agitated, it became so quiet that Dave and I were able to converse in normal tones as if we were watching it in the living room at home. As Everton’s assurance on the pitch grew, so did the apprehension around us. By the 80th minute some of the fans around us were actually walking out (on a nil-nil derby?? Really?), waving disgusted hands towards the pitch as they departed. They honestly thought they were going to lose.
I told Dave I felt a gamewinner coming, and that it would be an accident. I really didn’t think it would be Pickford’s accident. As I said before… ah, shit.
Pete’s grandsons sporting Chicago Cubs caps. You’ll be seeing a few of these around Merseyside.
After the game, Dave vigorously walked me all the way to Lime Street Station – he is seriously pacey for 78 – and then it was off into a nightmarish blur of trains and planes that eventually got me home to Oregon, exhausted but again glowing with the kindness I had encountered on Merseyside. I truly cannot believe the good fortune I experienced in choosing Everton to support in 1986 (if Sheeds had missed that second free kick against Ipswich, who knows who I’d be cheering today?). Or perhaps, as so many have told me, I was chosen.
Either way, I’m a lucky man. This trip cemented lifetime friendships I could not have imagined only two years ago, and renewed beyond measure my appreciation for all things Everton. We may not have had the storybook ending on the pitch that I got last time, but for a guy to whom every healthy day is a fairy tale, Everton and ToffeeWeb are the greatest storybook of all.
So my heartfelt thanks again to Peter and Sheila, Kev, Dave and Tony, Charlie, Rob, Derek, Brian, Andy, John M., John R., Jimmy The Sailor, the eminent Mr. Wright, Mysterious Steve and the Unknown Red who gave up his ticket for gifting me another spectacular adventure. (And thanks also to the US Reds who let me share their Uber to Heathrow at 2AM when I got stranded.) I love you one and all.
And yes, I’ll be back for the Cup final. Might even bring along the leprechaun with the accordion.
Reader Comments (43)
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1 Posted 04/12/2018 at 21:22:13
2 Posted 04/12/2018 at 21:35:05
3 Posted 04/12/2018 at 21:46:46
4 Posted 04/12/2018 at 21:49:07
5 Posted 04/12/2018 at 21:57:07
When I explained we were all of ToffeeWeb, he said, "Hey I'm on that." I said, "Are ye?" He said, "Well, I read it." So I told him he'd be reading about himself next week.
Turned out he was an ex-seaman who became a taxi driver.
When our Tony sat down later, Jimmy said, "I fuckin' know him!" I said, "So do I!" We found out he knew quite a few fellas that we knew: all bluenoses.
By the way, Mike, you do realise if Tony hadn't have got that ticket for you, then I wouldn't have got one; it was you who did me the favour.
6 Posted 04/12/2018 at 22:12:50
I've been spending more time on ToffeeWeb recently to stop my brain from exploding and of course the mood this season is a lot better on these pages these days. Great to see you were looked after; sorry for that last minute you had to endure but I'm very pleased that you've been well looked-after and Ihope you make it again in the not-too-distant future (maybe to Wembley). All the best!
7 Posted 04/12/2018 at 22:15:06
What a pity though that the trip ended with the match culminating in such a manner, but more than encouraging signs that things are changing dramatically for the better.
I think I share the feeling that other ToffeeWebbers did on the Friday night, by meeting you in person at the Midland, indeed a privilege and an enjoyable experience, what a nice guy and a credit to TW.
Hopefully we will be able to repeat it Mike, in the not too distant future, so take care and kind regards.
8 Posted 04/12/2018 at 22:51:56
Next time you come back please bring the admirable Jamie Crowley with you. I reckon this man could sink some ale.
Mike, it was an honour to meet you and the rest of the lads. Let us, as John senior said, do it again.
9 Posted 04/12/2018 at 23:11:16
10 Posted 04/12/2018 at 23:25:45
Please include me in your plans for a Cup Final gathering! I have a feeling this might be our year! I think we all deserve it but you most certainly do.
11 Posted 04/12/2018 at 23:34:12
And what wonderful people pulling to make that a great trip for you. I'm full of admiration for you all. Scousers are a wonderful lot.
If only our lads could have got that result for you on Sunday, if only.
12 Posted 04/12/2018 at 23:44:31
Hope you, and the rest of us, make it to the Cup Final.
Best wishes for continued good health.
13 Posted 04/12/2018 at 23:55:17
Rob Halligan, Brian Williams, Derek Knox, Andy Crooks, and John Raftery, I met for the first time, and by the time I had to leave the Midland, they felt like old friends, this is what Everton does for us.
I'm only sorry that I had to leave early, my 'young lady' is recovering from a complete knee replacement operation, and I had promised to be home early. I'm counting on somebody suggesting another get-together, it really is great to be able to put faces to names, and to reminisce on bygone days.
It's good to hear that you arrived home safe and sound, and I shall add you to the list of people of an Everton persuasion, who I have met through our love of Everton Football Club. Best wishes.
14 Posted 04/12/2018 at 23:58:26
As I balanced on my barstool at the ToffeeClub up until the last minute, I thought of you often and how fortunate you were to pop your derby cherry with a good performance. And then... well, you put it best.
My first derby was the Clattenburg and so we likely shared some similar emotions in some respects. Really made up for you though on what sounds like great times amongst remarkable Blues.
15 Posted 04/12/2018 at 00:01:01
16 Posted 05/12/2018 at 00:35:01
David, Im so sorry to hear about what youve been dealing with. You were one of the folks I was looking forward to meeting, and you were definitely missed at the Midland. I hope the sunshines a little brighter on you soon.
Andy, I think that qualifies as a cranky and crotchety comment. But you and Brian would be most welcome at the beach house. Ill put the Guinness on ice just in case you show up out of nowhere. But if you want me to bring Crowley on the next trip, youll have to arrange it yourself. Hes about 3000 miles closer to Liverpool than I am.
17 Posted 05/12/2018 at 00:58:51
18 Posted 05/12/2018 at 01:41:00
They'd misdiagnosed him for 18 months. Anyway...
I've often felt I had a love-hate relationship with ToffeeWeb but it's helped me recently to take my mind off things and – ya know what, some things you can't help smiling broadly about.
So you being looked after properly, getting your ticket and Kev Johnson (I don't know anyone personally on here, I've been in Canada the best part of 30 years; currently in Wales) getting that painting made makes me proud to be a blue.
This is what being an Evertonian was all about for me growing up, of course I was spoilt aged 14-17 when we had some sustained success. Last year all the bickering and finger pointing was possibly the worst I could remember. I've enjoyed this season because, so far, the turnaround has been miraculous.
I know I'm going soft because I'm even missing Eugene Ruane, one person who used to wind me up no end... but I miss his posts. Anyone know what's become of him?
19 Posted 05/12/2018 at 03:52:22
Apparently that's a thing with the Cubs. Remind you of anyone?
Great article. May your remission long continue.
20 Posted 05/12/2018 at 04:28:01
Fantastic you were able to meet so many people. You deserve it Mike.
A shout out to Everton's greatest all-time striker, Kev Johnson, for such a nice gift.
The Abrahams boys did you a solid.
A quick thought for Steve Ferns. He seemed, through posts, very fond of you Mike, and he's been MIA on these pages as Derek Knox pointed out a day or two ago. I can't believe he wouldn't have met up with you if things were right. I really hope he's well.
Andy Crooks, can I sink some ale? Yes, yes I can. When I get over there we'll test our tolerances together, if you can make it over from your island. And a great gesture making that journey to meet Mike. Very, very cool.
David Pearl - I hope Lyndon and Michael read your post about TW being a respite for you. I often wonder if they realize how this site can bring people together, and be such a welcome distraction to the world at times. I also wonder about Eugene Ruane, among many, many others whom I do not see post any longer. The list of names is endless.
Great read Mike. Be well friend. Shame we're almost as far apart as England is to America. When I finally do make the trip - and with three kids in college next year it'll be a few years - I'll reach out and see if we can't coordinate. A two man Yank invasion would suit me just fine. Be forewarned, the missus will be coming with me. I'd not go without her. Only down side to that is I'll have to go see a Burnley game as that's her team. But that'll be fun so why not?
Wonderful stuff. Made my day. TY Mike. Happy for you. So sorry the game ended the way it did. Gut wrenching finish. But you experienced the Blues in Mordor, lived to tell about it, and my God what an experience that must be.
The endless ocean of hospitality shown to Mike is mind-boggling. You all should be proud. It's heart-warming.
22 Posted 05/12/2018 at 04:58:58
Thank you for sharing it.
24 Posted 05/12/2018 at 06:11:51
"After the game, Dave vigorously walked me all the way to Lime Street Station – he is seriously pacey for 78".
Perhaps the answer to our striking problems is right under our noses!
25 Posted 05/12/2018 at 07:33:57
I'm confident the good times will be with us again and I hope to share some of them with you next time you pop over, or if you end up this side of the border.
26 Posted 05/12/2018 at 09:53:55
Although I have been in England for over forty years, I was originally from the Dundee area, and Everton were always my 'English' team.
I can also re-iterate what many have already mentioned, that it is great to put faces to names that you feel you already know as friends on TW.
While it was a very enjoyable experience to meet Mike, as John McFarlane Snr suggested we should do it more often. So Paul, let us know when you are next down here, and we can have another get together.
27 Posted 05/12/2018 at 10:03:39
But, seriously, it's interesting to see so many TWers drawing solace from the stories and postings here.
Having lost both of my parents, and my brother-in-law, in the last few months, I found myself, at odd hours of the day and night, reading almost everything posted here. It definitely had a 'healing' effect, getting to know quite a lot, about people you've never met; ... apart from Rob Halligan, who probably doesn't remember being at school with me; but he was!
The Pickford incident showed us, that anyone who thinks they can predict, either sport or life, is a mug.
Hope you'll be back soon.
28 Posted 05/12/2018 at 10:04:42
I know, I know but someone's gotta do it!
29 Posted 05/12/2018 at 10:17:20
So, so glad you had such a great time and were “spoilt” rotten – ha, loved it. Your story-telling is brilliant and I envied every bit of your adventure except for that soul-destroying result…
As Paul Tran mentioned, you need to get yourself up here to Scotland, Aberdeenshire in particular (Aberdeen v Everton Europa, nee, Champions League) – some of the most majestic and wild scenery and we can all have a great sing-song together tromping through the local Dalgety Woods or Dunnattar Castle whilst walking the dog 😊
We could even ask the Crowley bird to join us – sounds a plan. All the very best to you and yours – and again, thanks for the great stories – and to TW for bringing everyone together.
30 Posted 05/12/2018 at 10:19:06
The joy and pain of being a footy fan!
You can't have it good all the time, but the hope is at some point you will!
31 Posted 05/12/2018 at 10:57:58
Great story by Mike. Being with him most of the day on the Friday, I know how much he enjoyed the whole time he spent in Liverpool.
Mike forgot to mention in his story, we paid a visit to Prince Rupert's Tower, and Pete got a couple of good photos of Mike by the tower. A small lock up, but very big part of Everton's history for Mike to see.
As stated by others, it was a great meet-up in the Midland on the Friday afternoon. Another one must be planned ASAP, and maybe even Nick might turn up!!
It was fantastic to meet you again Mike. You almost squeezed the life out of me with that bear hug outside the Liver Building!! Sorry I couldn't see you after the match but I know how tight your schedule was. Scouse humour and hospitality cannot be matched anywhere in the world, and I think all those who met you will be happy to call you an adopted Scouser.
So Mike, take care of yourself and hopefully we will all see you again soon. Down at Wembley in May will do.
32 Posted 05/12/2018 at 11:44:00
I was soooo looking forward to seeing Mike and Dave Abrahams pictured in the promised drag, in all their glad rags and high heels, as they went into enemy territory as 'undercover' Blues.
Mind you, the stilettoes would probably have hindered the pacy return to Lime Street post-match.
Not at all surprised that you were once again totally overwhelmed by Scouse hospitality, kindness and humour, Mike.
Just a bugger about the result, eh?
33 Posted 05/12/2018 at 12:08:08
I was a bit gutted that I couldn't make it to the Midland to meet all the TWers as I'm recovering from a shoulder operation. Hopefully you'll be back over for a cup final and we can have a TW meet down at Wembley.
34 Posted 05/12/2018 at 12:26:20
Brilliant story Mike, “mysterious Steve is a cracker” with the biggest mystery being that he gave an Evertonian a ticket, because he absolutely hates Everton FC!
I enjoyed the company of everyone but Andy, coming from Belfast, was brilliant, and as it stands, Andy, I am away on holiday when we play Utd, at home. I get back on the Saturday night, but even if the game gets put back till the Sunday, you can still have my ticket mate, if you can make it over for the Easter weekend?
Thanks again Mike, “for a story of humanity, humility, and life, which is surely the greatest gift of all”
35 Posted 05/12/2018 at 12:41:07
Andy, get yerself back over here for a game, mate!
36 Posted 05/12/2018 at 14:27:09
Paul C, hope you didn't hurt yourself when you plummeted off that barstool. I assume Liam is still crying. Visit soon.
Jamie, glad you enjoyed this. Tell ya what, you and the eye-rolling spouse are welcome here at the beach anytime. You'll be comfortable in my neighborhood -- about a 3-1 proportion of Reds over Blues, if you know what I mean from the US perspective.
Darren, Paul T, Gerry, Frank, you're among the TW folks that I still hope most to meet in person. (Gerry, hope your Cathie is doing better.) David E., you as well, and you should know the Cubs did win it all two years ago after more than a century of trying, and most of us are still in tears of joy.
Tony, thanks for one more laugh, and again for your efforts on my behalf. Dave and I never did spot a taxi with its light on, except for one ill-fated sojourn in one that was stuck behind a barrier.
Nick, condolences on your losses... I've been through stretches like that in my life, and you find healing where you can. Glad you've reconnected with Rob at least!
Dave G, would have been great to meet you, feel better soon.
Jay, I only wear that outfit around the house. Maybe a few parties.
37 Posted 05/12/2018 at 17:58:13
38 Posted 05/12/2018 at 19:03:26
Also, a thank you to Lyndon and Michael. Without your great work on this great site I would never have met these top lads and had a night that was truly wonderful.
39 Posted 05/12/2018 at 19:17:25
40 Posted 05/12/2018 at 19:18:55
Next time, you will see us beat them!
41 Posted 05/12/2018 at 19:32:22
Shame about the result Sunday but let's hope for better things tonight.
42 Posted 05/12/2018 at 22:51:05
43 Posted 06/12/2018 at 01:25:54
Consider yourself banned from the apparently uncomfortable hotel, Harrison!!
I bet you didn't take Pete's cutlery or towels either! You can keep our towels for your birthday, but return the silver service for my 60th, which was 3 days after your birthday, and the reason I missed this year's Gaynes Gala.
Glad everyone enjoyed, nice stunt with the credit card 😎😎, and make sure you get back over for the home derby.
Offski now as I've just walked through the door after the Newcastle match. Hate Lee Mason and his blind linesman.
Striker desperately needed, and Gana's feet straightened in a vice.
Take care of yourself mate.
44 Posted 06/12/2018 at 05:34:48
Pete, I'm glad you reassured the lads. Trust me, they are now the junior fashion icons of Merseyside.
Keith, Pete and Sheila learned from your experience. They hid the good stuff. I did cast a covetous eye on Pete's comfy chair but it was chained to the fireplace.
45 Posted 08/12/2018 at 19:18:30
First of all, Mike, I just hope you're okay with that other caper. The lads'll know what I mean... But, once again, it just proves to me, as if any proof were needed, that we've got the best, most fanatical, warmest, happiest, loving set of fans in the world. I mean witness the generosity these great lads have shown to you!
What a pity them dirty bastards (well Pickford) had to go and spoil what should have been a win, never mind a draw, but hey ho...
Next time there's a meeting, I'm getting down the Midland – the 10A only takes half-an-hour so no excuse. Big mention to the Abrahams lads; Dave sounds as if he's got more pace than Sigurdsson although Dave, I will say, going by your pic, you've got the perfect face for radio, with all due respect.
I've also heard Tony his lad was a fabulous footballer but slower than his arl fella. Special mention to Kev, Rob et al, who made Mike's 2nd time around even more special. Them Red bastards might at the moment have a far better side than us But have they got far better people supporting them? Er... I think not.
Take care, Mike, and I hope you get back over the pond again some time soon.
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