CLOTH CAP nostalgia is a popular pastime among football folk as inner cities continue to be purged of their old football stadiums, replaced by smart, antiseptic structures of white steel and plastic. Horse manure no longer squelches underfoot as fans tramp through the streets and past red brick houses, the mildly eccentric fan with a transistor radio clamped to his ear has long gone. Like the street corner pub, the skeletal floodlights that once towered above tight rows of back doubles have largely been torn down.
The authentic football experience that characterised the 1950s, 60s and 70s is hard to find, but Everton’s Goodison Park encapsulates some of the endearing elements from a gentler, less commercially-driven era. Goodison is still something of an old fashioned football home that acts as a magnet for the local blue and white-scarved population.
It was a joy to visit a stadium that has witnessed some memorable football matches. Everton’s triumphs aside, the ground hosted five games in the 1966 World Cup, including the quarter-final between Portugal and North Korea, which saw the great Eusébio net four times. In 1894, Goodison staged the FA Cup final between Notts County and Bolton Wanderers.
The locals couldn’t get much closer to Goodison if they tried. Residents of the houses on Goodison Road stare at the backside of the triple-decker stand, erected between 1969 and 1971 and one of the first of its kind in Britain. Some occupants stand in their doorways, watching the matchday hubbub as vendors move into place and the human traffic scatterguns in different directions to various turnstiles. The Winslow Hotel, which calls itself “the People’s Pub” rests in the shadow of the stand. Goodison’s unique nature also extends to the famous church that was once very visible in the corner of the ground, sitting between Gwladys Street and Goodison Road.
It’s good – and heartwarming – to see that Everton’s legendary trio of Alan Ball, Howard Kendall and Colin Harvey is remembered in the form of a statue outside the church. These three players were pivotal figures in Everton’s 1969-70 league title winning team. Sadly, only Harvey is still around.
Everton remember their heroes. Dixie Dean, he of 395 Everton goals, including 60 in 39 league games in 1927-28, sits outside the stadium’s main entrance, adorned with flowers and still cutting an imposing figure. Dean was part of Everton’s golden era in the late 1920s and early 1930s when they won the league in 1928 and 1932 and the FA Cup in 1933. Their last trophy was in 1995 when they surprisingly beat Manchester United in the final. If they are potless come the end of 2019-20, it will be the longest barren spell in the club’s history – 25 years.
It is Everton’s misfortune that Liverpool, their rivals from across Stanley Park, are going through a renaissance at the moment. When Liverpool began their concentrated period of trophy winning in the mid-1970s, Everton fell away after being crowned champions in 1970. In 50 seasons since 1970, Everton have finished above their neighbours just six times – 1970, 1985, 1987, 2005, 2012 and 2013. Yet until Bill Shankly arrived at Anfield, Everton had the better record and bigger crowds.
At the moment, Everton have a consistent 39,000 watching their games at Goodison. For all its charm, Goodison doesn’t generate enough income for the club. In today’s environment, like it or not, to be truly competitive you have to have money and diverse revenue streams. The days when young talent can be nurtured and save a club millions have gone, perhaps forever. When Everton won two league titles in the 1980s, they had a young team that should arguably have won more, but it was impossible to sustain, especially as European football was denied to English clubs after the Heysel Stadium disaster. By the time the Premier League came along, Liverpool were no longer were not longer the eminent force but Manchester United had risen to the top, boosted by the financial advantages the club enjoyed at the time. As the Premier League became richer and billionaires moved in on the major clubs, Everton got left behind, becoming the seventh or eighth club in a league that became the jealously guarded property of half a dozen clubs.
But Everton have plans for a new stadium, a gleaming, ethereal super structure that could take the club back among the elite. Not everyone is happy about moving from Goodison, but if the club is to become Champions League compatible, they will need to place pragmatism ahead of nostalgia.
Everton have spent a lot of money on their current team, but they have yet to hit on a winning formula, or the right manager. Marco Silva was appointed in May 2018, joining the club from Watford. His two predecessors, Sam Allardyce and Ronald Koeman, between them, managed the club for less than 100 games. Before meeting West Ham United on October 19, Silva had been in charge for 52 games and had a win rate of little more than 40%.
Everton’s fans were a little worried as their club was sitting in the bottom three after a lack lustre start to 2019-20. They had lost four successive games, including disappointing results against Bournemouth, Sheffield United and Burnley. In today’s climate, Silva’s job could be at risk if performances and points remain elusive.
Everton bought around £ 100 million of talent in the close season, including £ 22 million on Barcelona’s André Gomes, £ 28 million on Alex Iwobi of Arsenal, £ 25 million for Jean-Philippe Gbamin from Mainz and most interestingly, they paid £ 27.5 million for Juventus’ Moise Kean. On paper, Everton’s squad looked good enough although there were some concerns about their defence.
Silva made a number of changes in a bid to end Everton’s dismal run, including the reintroduction of Tom Davies, a player who should really be starting to come into contention for an England cap. He burst onto the scene in 2015 but struggled in Silva’s first season at the club. He’s still only 21, but this is the time for players like Davies to impress England manager Gareth Southgate.
Davies was impressive against West Ham and Arsenal misfit Iwobi had plenty of energy. Another Arsenal refugee, Theo Walcott, who has yet to win over the Everton fans since joining the club in January 2018, was recalled and did well. Everton took the lead after Walcott slipped the ball to Bernard and he eventually shot past West Ham keeper Roberto Jiménez after almost losing control. That calmed the Goodison nerves and before the result was settled, the theatrical Richarlison and Walcott both hit the woodwork. The second goal came in the 90th minute, a crowd-pleaser from Gylfi Sigurdsson, who rose from the bench and secured the three points for Everton.
There was a sense of relief from the home crowd as West Ham’s “I’m forever blowing bubbles”, which had been sung with gusto, faded away. Everton had responded well, but the gulf between two teams who form part of the middle ground of Premier league football and the top two or three is significant, certainly on the evidence of this game.
That couldn’t take away the pleasure of being at a ground where the fans have passion and the atmosphere is stimulating. Everton will need to bottle this intoxicating mix when they eventually move to a 21st century stadium. Relocating a club is one thing, but successfully exporting the spirit or essence is an altogether harder task.
Photos: Game of the People, Press Association.