GOODISON PARK: The Late Late Show

Last month, everything was perfectly set up for a groundhop in Liverpool. My friend, Brad, lived in the city, while a member of my girlfriend’s family could get us discounted Everton tickets thanks to her position at Wirral council.

Circumstances changed, however, when Brad re-located to Glasgow… and then Manchester. Snap decisions like these are not uncommon for a man who’s always squeezing every drop of fulfillment from his surroundings. But with the reduced tickets for Everton’s clash against Crystal Palace already paid for, it meant Liverpool would be a day out for both of us.

I looked forward to discussing his next venturesome moves and seeing some Premier League action in one of the world’s most famous footballing cities.

The Highs

Unexpected pleasures

Heading into Liverpool, I sent Brad a message to see which station we’d be meeting at. His response was unexpected, and yet not surprising in the slightest.

He’d been out in Manchester until 7am and had only just woken up (it was midday at this point). He said he’d be there in a couple of hours so I took the sudden change in plan as an opportunity to explore Liverpool – a place I’d only been to once previously.

The centre was full of Sunday shoppers, along with a band who apparently had a number one album in their native Ireland… I didn’t stick around for either, though, and headed to the more serene setting of the Albert Docks. There, I admired the Royal Liver Building, looked out across the River Mersey and had a nose around the Liverpool Museum – which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Every display, room and exhibition was free to enter and gave a real insight into how the city and its people have developed. There wasn’t as much football memorabilia in there as I thought there’d be (I guess that’s all found at Anfield and Goodison Park). But I did discover the first sign to address homophobia at English football grounds. And at the poignant John Lennon and Yoko Ono exhibition, I found a Crystal Palace fan had left a real impactful message.

Britain’s number ones

After my learning experience, I headed out into the rain and awaited Brad’s arrival – which was eventually outside Goodison Park, 20 minutes before kick-off. We talked about our lives as thousands of blue shirts surrounded us in and outside the ground, before the sound of the Z Cars theme told us the teams were walking out and we entered game mode.

There were quite a few interesting names in both squads that I looked forward to seeing live. The big-money talents of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Richarlison started in attack for the Toffees, while I also had interest in seeing experienced Premier League pros like Theo Walcott and Seamus Coleman. Meanwhile, Palace’s biggest draw – as well as Brad’s – was Wilfried Zaha.

But as the game panned out, all of the above were outshined by the two men between the sticks. Especially Jordan Pickford, who produced a match-defining moment deep into the second half by saving a penalty.

It was a strange decision to award a spot-kick to begin with. Zaha had been legitimately fouled throughout the contest, in my eyes, but he could have easily carried on his run into the box when Michael Keane made contact with him. Instead, the Ivorian international fell to ground and neither myself, Brad or the home supporters could believe that the referee pointed to the spot.

Thankfully for all of us, though, Pickford continued to add to his rising stock level by getting a foot on Milivojevic’s strike to keep the score even. It felt like justice had been done and sparked wild chants of ‘England’s number one’ from the Everton supporters.

Soon after, opposing goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey produced his own heroics to deny Walcott and the Palace fans sang ‘Wales’ number one’ in response. With both international players in such fine form, a goalless draw felt inevitable.

Super subs

All credit to Marco Silva, though, his substitutions single-handedly stole three points from a certain stalemate. He introduced Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ademola Lookman in the 82nd minute, at which point I turned to Brad and sarcastically summarised: ‘oh yeah, Calvert-Lewin, he’ll change the game’.

Five minutes later, Lookman’s cross found the youngster free in the box and he powerfully headed past Hennessey from close range. It ignited a Goodison Park roar that emphasised their relief and ended an afternoon of frustration.

Two minutes later, their roar bellowed louder. Cenk Tosun – also on from the bench – burst into the penalty area and smashed the ball between Hennessey’s legs to double the lead, the decibel levels and the agony for Crystal Palace fans.

Remarkably, the pressure on the Palace goal didn’t relent after that either and the match could have ended with an outrageous 3-0 scoreline. The fact it finished 2-0 was bizarre enough and didn’t reflect the game at all. Brad and I were just pleased to finally have some goals… and a bit of atmosphere.

The Lows

Not so Good-ison

As much as I enjoyed the late introduction of atmosphere, it only highlighted my problems with the stadium.

Everton’s long-standing home is steeped in history. It holds the record for hosting the most first division matches in the country, is the ground where Eusebio scored six of his nine goals on the way to winning the Golden Boot at the 1966 World Cup and was the first club ground to host an FA Cup final. But for all the records its acquired over the years, I didn’t really like Goodison Park that much.

Being located in a residential area made it a difficult stadium to get to and – on a personal note – one of the worst to photograph from the outside. But it was the inner workings of Goodison that gave me the most grievances.

Sitting in the Goodison Road Stand was like stepping back in time to when some of the ground’s World Cup records were made. The concourse was very tight and dingy, the seats were metallic, and the views around the ground were obstructed by pillars or the stand’s roof. I wouldn’t have really minded if the prices reflected this flashback but, in my experience, Everton’s been one of the priciest clubs to get a ticket for. Even my discounted tickets were £30 each and not in a fantastic vantage point.

I’m sure many people will love the fact an old stadium like Goodison still retains its original set-up. But I didn’t find it enhanced my day, particularly with the crowd so quiet. It made me yearn for Everton’s long-winded plans to build a new ground to be finalised. The club have been searching for a new home for over a decade and no concrete plans to move or re-develop have been sorted.

For me, re-developing the current ground is probably the best option so it can modernise whilst also retaining its history. But I can understand the difficulties around that idea, as 35,000 Evertonians would need a home every week and a groundshare at the neighbouring Anfield could create a number of headaches. I will watch any future plans with much interest as I think the club could thrive in a modern stadium.

The Verdict

I’m quite gutted that Everton didn’t grip me. My dad used to attend a lot of games at Goodison Park and I thought I’d find a place for them in my heart too. Maybe the standard of the game played a part. There just wasn’t that much electricity for such a well-established and hugely-backed club.

I will always remember walking out with the Z Cars theme playing. I could feel the history of the club, and thought about all their prestigous former players and passionate fans who would have heard the same song playing whenever they entered the field of play or geared themselves up for a big match. That felt special. But unfortunately, nothing as impactful happened thereafter.

I really like Liverpool though. It’s not the biggest of cities but I feel it requires a re-visit to get through all the museums, galleries and – indeed – football teams that can be found there. I look forward to sampling Anfield one day and taking in parts of the city yet to be uncovered. Or even having another walk around the docks while I await travelling to Southport Football Club.

As for Brad, he seemed to enjoy Bakary Sakho’s performance (and pink shoes). But Zaha could now be as far down as Liverpool on his list of things to see again.

Everton 2 – 0 Crystal Palace
Premier League

Ground rating: 6.5/10

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