Lost in…Everton

Everton v Swansea City

Goodison Park / Premier League / 12th January 2013

I spoke about my affection for the city of Liverpool when I wrote about my trip to Anfield, so I won’t get into all that again, but safe to say, I was excited about my return to Merseyside. The city of Liverpool (I’m beginning to sound like Brendan Rodgers – I’ll just refer to it as ‘Liverpool’ from now, minus the ‘city of’) had been kind to Swansea so far this season with the Swans triumphing at Anfield in the League Cup on Halloween, so I was hoping that that the Swans could come away with something once again. Undoubtedly, getting a point was going to be a tough task with Everton being the sort of team the Swans have historically struggled against (16 encounters before today’s fixture came out as 12 Everton wins, 4 draws, 0 wins).

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Tom and I at the gates to Goodison Park

My first ever trip to Liverpool coincided with a trip to Goodison Park to watch Everton defeat Blackburn Rovers 3-0. It was actually this trip to Merseyside that made me consider doing my teacher training in Liverpool in the first place. My only other visit to the old ground came on a cold Wednesday night in the first week of January 2011, 4 months after I had moved to the city. The 2010/11 season, the year in which I lived in Liverpool, had seen me going around the country watching Brendan Rodgers’ Swansea chase promotion to the Promised Land of the Premier League. Having watched Championship football for the majority of that season, it was great to go to a Premier League game. The game between Everton and Spurs was unbelievably good and I still rate it as one of my favourite games in regards of quality on the pitch; it was also on this night, which Everton won 2-1, that I really began to see the gap in quality between Premier League and Championship football. Despite Spurs losing on the night to goals by Louis Saha and Seamus Coleman, the star performer on the night was Luka Modric, closely followed by the equally talented Rafael Van der Vaart; from my seat high up in the heavens of Goodison Park, they were an absolute joy to watch.

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Stepping out of Lime Street station – welcome to Liverpool

Today’s Manchester to Liverpool journey began at Manchester Piccadilly station (as always) and by 11 o’clock we were standing outside Liverpool Lime Street station with all the familiar sights of Liverpool ahead of us. I had Tom for company today, so I first stop was Subway as Tom has developed a strange tradition of having a 6 inch Subway at the start of any away day. My 11 o’clock snack was a pasty from Sayers; for those not familiar, Sayers is basically the same as Greggs, but much, much better quality – ‘The Better Bakers’ as the sign outside arrogantly states. With food in our stomachs, we headed to pub number one of the day: The Ship and Mitre.

The Ship and Mitre is one of the best pubs you will find in Liverpool. The pub, located just away from the main shopping high street, was actually one of the first pubs I remember visiting in Liverpool and seems to be best known for their huge variety of German lagers, which can be bought for £10 for 3 bottles. I can’t even recall the names of the lagers we opted for, apart from I chose one purely because it had the word ‘Dortmund’ in it’s name. When some of the Jack Army began to flood in, I spilled my New Year’s resolution to the gang; I go all over the country watching football and people always say to me “nice beer here” or “they have brilliant ale there”, which I always reply with “I don’t really drink real ale” – I’ve decided to remedy this for 2013 by drinking more ‘real’ beer. The plan was to begin this pledge in the coming weeks, but with my resolution now out in the open, Medwyn pushed me towards buying a pint of Liverpool’s local ale, Higsons, claiming it was the perfect introduction to drinking ale. I went along with it and have to say that I enjoyed the beginning of my New Year’s resolution – the Higsons must have been good as the pub soon run out.

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The Ship and Mitre pub

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The New Year’s resolution begins: my first pint of real ale of 2013 – a pint of Liverpool’s local ale, Higsons

Soon we were in a taxi across Liverpool to the Royal Oak, a pub about 5 minutes walk from Goodison Park. Drinkers were already spilling out onto the street outside the pub and it soon became apparent why when we saw how full the pub was inside. There was a nice mix of home and away fans in the pub, but obviously the pub was heavily Everton-orientated with the walls being brandished with Everton flags. When we found our small pocket of Swans fans in the corner, I got to meet Lyn, a Swansea fan who was attending his 400th away game with the Swans. Fairplay to that man!

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Lyn (on the left) at his 400th Swansea away game today, along with Medwyn and I in the Royal Oak pub

We decided to escape our cramped conditions and went to see Tom’s Everton supporting Dad (who had joined us in the away end of Swans’ win at Fulham) who was drinking in the brilliantly named pub, The Brick. Not a Swans fan in sight around here, so I decided to zip my jacket up to cover my Swans badge just in case. We found Tom’s Dad and his pals drinking out of plastic glasses in the street outside The Brick. It was clear to see why when we entered another packed-to-the-rafters pub. With our Budweiser in our plastic glasses, we joined the Evertonians in the street, and the incongruous man playing bagpipes in a kilt, and discussed the fast approaching kick off. Tom’s Dad made his complaints about how we had placed him in a stand at Craven Cottage where he got soaked, but ultimately he confessed to enjoying his day in West London. The Brick was at the end of a street of terraced houses and at the opposite end was Goodison Park, towering over the housing surrounding it. We said our goodbyes and began the walk towards Goodison Park at the other end of the road.

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The Brick – the pub just down the road from Goodison Park

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Drinking in the street with the Evertonians (Tom’s Dad in the middle)

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The walk to Goodison Park; the Goodison Road Stand dead ahead of us

As we arrived behind the Goodison Road Stand, we began our circumnavigation of the ground to get to the away end on the opposite side. I love the way that the club has pictures and flags of former heroes and great Everton moments emblazoned all across the Goodison Road Stand, along with a timeline charting the history of the football club going around the whole exterior of the stadium.  After Tom had had his now traditional photo with a police horse, we were at the near corner of the Bullens Road stand where Everton always house their away support.

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The Goodison Road stand

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‘Welcome to Goodison Park …The Home of the Blues’ – the back of the Park End stand

Goodison Park was built in 1892 and has been home to Everton ever since it’s completion with the ground hosting more top flight games than any other stadium in the country, as Everton have only been relegated from the top division twice in their long history. Everton, originally named St. Domingo’s FC, were formed in 1878 and originally played in a corner of Stanley Park, before moving to an enclosed ground at Priory Road and eventually to Anfield in 1884. The Anfield we see today may have never existed if it wasn’t for Everton building the stadium up from a small brick field to a ground that could hold 20,000 within it’s stands during their tenancy. The Sandon pub, which I’ve mentioned on a few occasions on this website, was actually used as Everton’s changing rooms. After a rift between Everton’s committee and John Houlding, the man who owned Anfield, Everton departed the ground and moved to the newly-built Goodison Park in 1892. Houlding now had an empty stadium, so decided to form his own club – the club that would go onto become the Liverpool FC we see today. Goodison Park still has a very traditional feel to it without any really noticeable modern renovations. As anyone that has read any of my previous accounts of visits to other grounds knows, I’m a sucker for an old, traditional ground and this is no different with Goodison.

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The very tight and compact concourse in the away end

After going through the turnstiles via one of those fancy ticket scanning machines, we were greeted by a very tight and compact concourse, which was already a little congested with the Jack Army in decent numbers today. I had heard that Goodison Park offered ‘scouse pie’ (scouse is a sort of stew that is famous in the area – hence the term ‘scousers’), which got me very excited, so I was bitterly disappointed to be informed that there was only steak or meat and potato pie on offer. I went for the steak pie, which was fairly average, to go with my pint of Chang beer – the beer that is advertised on Everton’s kits. I thought it was a nice touch that the plastic glasses provided had the Everton crest flaunting itself across them.

As mentioned previously, our seats were in the lower tier of the Bullens Road stand and the seats were of the classic, ‘old school’ wooden bench variety; although, even when offered the uber-comfy seats at the Emirates, you won’t find the Jack Army sitting down in the away end too much. Before the game, I had heard that there are some restricted view areas in the Bullens Road stand with the upper tier being held up by a series of supporting pillars, but despite being near one such pillar I found little problem. Opposite our stand was the huge Goodison Road Stand, a stand which is three-tiered with the usual array of conference and press rooms; it was from this stand that I had enjoyed the Everton v Spurs game a couple of years ago, from the heights of the ‘Top Balcony’. To our left stood The Park End (where I had sat for the Everton v Blackburn game in 2009), the most modern of the stand of the four, and finally to our right behind the far goal was the famous Gwladys Street Stand, the stand that holds Everton’s more lively supporters. Wedged between The Goodison Road Stand and Gwladys Street Stand is one of Goodison Park’s more interesting a features: a church – St. Luke’s Church to be exact. The church has been there since before the ground was built, but is slightly out of view these days, thanks to the erection of one of the ground’s two jumboscreens right in front of the famous church – although you could still make out the church poking out from behind it. The club never have early kick-offs on Sundays, purely so the church can have it’s regular Sunday service undisturbed and the church even opens on match day to accommodate fans with hot drinks on offer. There has been talk in the past of trying to move the church away, so that the club have room to expand the ground, but the idea has always been quashed.

The iconic Evertonian tradition of the theme of British cop drama ‘Z-Cars’ blaring out of the sound system signaled the two teams entering the field of play with Swansea lining up in their patriotic red/green/white away shirt for today’s clash. Swansea’s record against Everton has been woeful over the years and earlier in the season Everton had trounced Swansea 3-0 at the Liberty Stadium. On paper, Michael Laudrup’s team looked rather conservative with two right backs, admittedly very attacking ones, on the right side of the pitch to counter the attacking threat of Pienaar and Baines. I was also worried about the lack of Leon Britton in the starting line up, but I decided to have faith in Laudrup’s choices after guiding us to a series of impressive away wins so far this season.

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An Everton corner during the first half

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Our view from the lower tier of the Bullens Road stand

Everton were attacking Swansea from the very first minute with a series of chances falling to Everton’s Nikica Jelavic. Michel Vorm was back in the Swansea goal, after Gerhard Tremmel had been between the sticks in midweek for Swansea’s League Cup triumph at Stamford Bridge. Vorm would certainly be kept busy. First of all, he made two great blocks to deny Jelavic and then Anichebe outside the box, before moments later watching a scuffed Jelavic volley bounce just wide of his goal. Jelavic then missed with another header, which was followed by an Anichebe header being cleared off the line by Ashley Williams, after Vorm had got a touch on the ball to take the sting out of the effort. With the Spanish national team coach, Vicente Del Bosque, in the stands watching Swansea’s Spaniards, Michu almost provided an inspired chipped finish over Tim Howard, only for his chipped shot to be finger-tipped onto the crossbar by the American goalkeeper. Everton continued to battle but Swansea, thanks to their solid centre back pairing of Williams and Chico Flores and goalkeeper Vorm, held out until half time.

Tom needed the toilet and had headed down to the concourse a minute before half time, so I instructed him to beat the queues and get our pints in early, but when I headed downstairs I began to wonder: “Where the hell had he gone?” I spent a good few minutes looking for him, but to no avail. However, on my search, I found another familiar face instead: Swansea legend Lee Trundle! After having my photo taken with him, having a brief chat about the game and wishing him luck with his comeback from injury, I eventually found Tom clasping two pints.

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A real Swansea legend…and Lee Trundle.

The second half continued in a similar vein to the first half, but with Everton creating far less chances. Despite a tepid Swansea performance, the Jack Army were in brilliant voice and perhaps the loudest I’ve heard them in a while. Particularly impressive was the hearty rendition of ‘Michael Laudrup’s Barmy Army!” which went without pause for about ten minutes. Everton’s fans were disappointingly quiet throughout the game. There were chances for Sylvain Distin and Phil Neville, but both failed to convert, and Jelavic went close with a left-footed half volley with the clock ticking closer to the 90 minute mark. Pablo Hernandez stung the gloves of Howard, but the game seemed almost destined to finish with it’s 0-0 final score. Vorm had done excellently to keep Swansea in the game, but Man of the Match for me was Chico Flores who stopped and blocked everything ahead of him – Del Bosque must have been impressed. I was also very impressed with Marouane Fellaini and Seamus Coleman for Everton; Fellaini seemed to be a magnet to the ball and won almost everything that came near him, whilst I felt Swansea had to work really hard to counter the attacking threat of the young Irishman Coleman, who was regularly surging down the right side. Amazingly  this was Everton’s first clean sheet in 4 months, but it was also the first time they had failed to score in 19 league games and the first time they hadn’t scored at Goodison since March 2012.

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The Swansea team are applauded off by a boisterous Jack Army at a floodlit Goodison Park

We exited Goodison Park and headed down Walton Lane and Everton Valley, giving a salute to Notre Dame Catholic College, the school I began my teacher training at, as we walked by it. On the corner past Notre Dame, was The Valley pub and it was here we decided to enjoy our post match frivolities. We had a great night in The Valley following that Everton v Spurs game a few years ago and we affectionately remembered the place as ‘the pub with the budgie’ as it had a bird squawking constantly in the corner of the pub. The pub may not be the tidiest but it is certainly good fun in there. I was only at the bar for a few seconds, when the barmaids had stolen my scarf and were offering me sambuca in exchange for it; I looked around and noticed the mass football memorabilia which they had taken off other visitng football fans and pinned to the wall, complete with the fans signature. I informed them that I liked the scarf too much to depart with it, but promised them I’d bring my other scarf when I return to Liverpool next month for Swansea’s league game against Liverpool at Anfield, although I did let the barmaid wear my scarf for the duration of my stay in the Valley. I then asked them what had happened to the budgie, only to be informed that it was in fact a parrot and they had evicted it as it was apparently giving too much abuse to punters! We were also joined by Jamie, Rachel and Ged, my pals from my Liverpool dwelling days, who were getting their first taste of The Valley. A few more pints were enjoyed before we decided to head back to  my old favourite drinking haunt, The Hope and Anchor. It was a bit of a task convincing the Valley bar staff to return my scarf back to me, but eventually we were in a taxi heading back towards the city centre and to the Hope and Anchor, which is situated just around the corner from the famous Anglican cathedral. My day in Liverpool ended with defeat in the final of our very own Air Hockey tournament in the Hope and Anchor to a victorious Jamie.

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The barmaids in The Valley pub still determined to claim my Swansea scarf

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The Valley – great pub

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There is football memorabilia covering most of the walls of The Valley – they did not add my Swansea scarf to it though

By ten o’clock, Tom and I were back at Lime Street and concluding our day on Merseyside; however, there was still one last bit of entertainment for us to enjoy before the day was out – it came in the form of our fellow passengers aboard the Manchester train with us. The four men sitting opposite us on our train were clearly speaking some sort of Scandinavian language and Tom and I debated whether they were Norwegian or Swedish. With a day’s worth of drink now in our system, shyness was not an issue and Tom shouted over to them and asked bluntly where they hailed from. “Sweden” came the reply. I’ll be honest and say I can’t recall too much of the actual content of the conversation (apart from a big debate about whether Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Henrik Larsson is the greatest Swedish footballer ever and something about a ‘fuck-ferry’) but I can comfortably say that the hour long train journey flew by and there was a hell of a lot of laughing to be had as our comical Scandinavian pals kept us entertained for the whole trip back to Manchester.

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Our Swedish pals and I – such a funny train ride home

Highlights: The Ship and Mitre, beginning my New Year’s resolution with Higsons beer, good, traditional ground with loads of character, meeting Lee Trundle, The Valley, the crazy Swedish people we met on the way home.

Low Points: Few of the pubs near the ground were jam-packed, no scouse pie, generally not a great effort with the pie, very congested concourse, poor game, the battle to get my scarf back.

5 thoughts on “Lost in…Everton

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