The Grand Old Lady – Goodison Park
As Everton FC prepare to move from Goodison Park, I ask The Grand Old Lady herself, for her memories of her atmospheric old ground. The picture shown was taken when she was a bit younger.
How I’ve grown. From my early years, opening in 1892 when I was a replacement for Anfield until now when I’m reflecting on the wonderful times I’ve had and looking to a future which, for me, is far from certain. You see my wonderful football club has decided to move to a brand spanking new ground near to the banks for the Royal Blue Mersey. When will it happen? I’m not 100% sure, maybe 2022 or 2023. I don’t think anyone truly knows the exact date but this time, after many false alarms, it looks like I will no longer be home to Everton FC.
The Early Days
I’m not bitter although I am quite happy to accept that, together with the fans that arrive each match day, together, we may be a little bit. I always smile to myself when I think of myself as bitter, twisted and proud like the supporters, but at least we admit it. Time moves on and I’m not immune to change. I remember my early days when I was the first purpose built football ground in England, with three stands surrounding the pitch. We were good enough then to host a number of FA Cup finals, unique in the city of Liverpool. The site of the diminutive Fred Geary tearing through opposition defences on his way to scoring his numerous goals. Fred was the quickest player to 50 goals, taking only 46 matches to do so, which is still an Everton and Anfield record.
The Women’s Charity match
I was particularly excited when following WWI in 1920 I was asked to host a fabulous charity game between Dick Kerr’s ladies against St Helens Ladies in a charity match. Yes! a women’s match with a fabulous crowd of 53,000 turning up to watch and we raised over £3,000. Ridiculously, the FA banned women’s football shortly after giving various spurious reasons but being a threat to the men’s game was seen as the main reason. The ban stayed until 1970. Crazy! I may be an old lady but I’m against sexism, even though I was named after a man (George William Goodison).
Bit by bit they added bits to me making me particularly attractive by 1938 when I was fully two-tiered on all four sides. A guy called Archibald Leitch was the architect and you can see his design in the distinctive criss-crossed balustrades all along. He designed stands in over 20 grounds in total but only three of us still have the balustrades – Rangers and Portsmouth are the other two. With the original No.9 Dixie Dean exciting my passionate crowds week by week and Tommy Lawton following on before WWII stopped him playing, Alex Young, Alan Ball and Neville Southall I was spoilt for choice. We even had a TV film made here called ‘The Golden Vision’ all about the great Alex Young, those were great times.
I was a real catch at the time. A grand old Lady becomes even more special when she adds qualifications to her beauty. OK, I know I sound a little arrogant but when 60-70,000 people come to visit you every week out of love, I like to think that ‘confident’ may be a more appropriate word. For example, I was the first club ground in England to have dugouts, under-soil heating (which made me particularly attractive in the winter), A World Cup semi-final and an electronic scoreboard. I hosted the first No.9 in good old Dixie, the first regular match day programme, European Cup penalty shootout (which we won) as well as 100 top flight seasons playing over 4,000 top-flight games. We also had the first televised match back in 1936 V Arsenal. We even hosted home internationals both early and late in the 20th Century. Phew!
There was always a fabulous atmosphere within my terraces and stands and whether there was over 78,000 there or less, we added another dimension when four large floodlight pylons were added to each of my corners. Night matches at Goodison are particularly atmospheric, we even had a floodlit cup up for grabs for the first game against Liverpool. This was the start of the very special atmosphere at this ground of a night. The 1967 defeat of Liverpool sticks in the memory as there was a combined attendance of over 100,000 attending both grounds with Liverpool showing the game on big screens. The clinching of the title in 1970 and defeat of Bayern Munich in 1985 stand out for me, but of course, there have been many more. One that was different was Tony Bellew’s World Title win in May 2016. He’s a frequent visitor to see me and I was overwhelmed when he was not only awarded his fight here but that he won under our lights.
It’s going back a bit and it wasn’t under floodlights but in November 1964, ‘dirty’ Leeds United came to fight a war instead of a football match. What they didn’t expect was our team to stand up to them. What resulted was the ‘Battle of Goodison Park’ and the ground shook that day. Everton finished with ten men with Leeds unbelievably keeping their full compliment of players until the end. The referee took the unprecedented move of taking both teams off at one stage to calm down. That day, we held our own!
A few times I have added to my wardrobe, sometimes whether I wanted to or not. In 1970 my new 3-tier main stand, the first in the country, towered over the city and in 1994 my new Park Stand, I thought looked quite attractive, even if I do say so myself. The 1975 Safety of Sports Grounds Act was a bit of a shock. They asked me to make all these improvements, including such things as turnstiles and barriers before they would let the people back in. They cut my attendance to 38,000 for a while before they eventually got us back to 52,800, I was most put out.
The boy’s pen
One of my more interesting ideas was for a ‘boys pen’. I’m not sure how many other clubs had such a thing but ours was at the back of the Gwladys Street end with the idea that kids could get into the ground cheaply with pocket money prices. It seemed a good idea at the time but maybe it wasn’t so. Apparently (that’s my disclaimer) it seemed to be run by wannabe gangsters who intimidated, beat and robbed any newcomers who arrived. Like a cage in Chester Zoo where they keep their most ferocious animals. A story goes that Millwall fans tried to enter there in the early ’70s but were quickly ‘ejected’ by the inhabitants in no uncertain terms. Not one of my best projects but memorable for so many people before it was eventually closed.
The World Cup
How many English club stadiums can claim to have hosted a World Cup semi-final, not to mention four other World Cup games? I entertained Eusebio and Pele and disappointingly, having been told we would host the England semi-final it was taken off us. No one gave a proper explanation but one source said FIFA had argued that an England semi would attract a bigger attendance due to Wembley holding 100,000 as opposed Goodison’s 62,000 or so. Why they didn’t realise this before is another question. It left a sour taste. West Germany Vs Soviet Union was a great game though.
St Luke’s Church
Our church stands on the corner of Goodison Road and Gwladys Street and is well known to football fans either attending or watching on TV. We don’t have football matches early on a Sunday so that services can take place uninterrupted. Even though I’m not religious, I do enjoy listening to the hymns being sung and It’s quite relaxing given I usually only ever get to experience the passion of top-level football. Fans would often sit on the roof to watch games in the past. They can’t anymore and anyway we have those massive jumbotron screens in the way these days. I’m fortunate to count the Reverend Harry Ross as a personal friend.
As I age, I hear some quite unsavoury comments from opposition supporters who I look after in the Bullens Road Stand. Sometimes they mock my age, which is a bit sad because many fans tell me they love the older grounds as they have more atmosphere. Some are really noisy which makes for a great spectacle. I will continue to look after them until the team move on. I may not be as young as I was but I’m very aware of how much I mean to blues everywhere. People propose and get married here, their ashes are scattered here when they pass on. Greats, Harry Catterick and Dixie Dean both died here while watching their team play. It will be with great sadness when the club moves on.
I’m not sure what will happen to me when it happens but there have been rumours that our magnificent ‘Everton in the Community’ may have some sort of role here or that part of the club may stay. Whatever happens, the atmosphere generated in traditional grounds is slowly being eroded. When they made me all seated I understood the reasons but a little bit left. We still have a great atmosphere but I reluctantly accept it’s time to move on. I deeply appreciate the Keep Everton in our City campaign who wanted to keep me here. I realise the Kings Dock project was a mess and the Kirkby project misguided, to say the least, and we should never build on public parks but this Bramley Moore Dock idea sounds fabulous. It will be set on the banks of the ‘Royal Blue Mersey’ and I’m confident that the ground will not only be good for Everton but the city of Liverpool. I sincerely hope that the many Liverpool fans that fly their kites at that location find somewhere else to enjoy their hobby. I honestly didn’t realise they did this until the new ground was announced.
Time moves on but I have my memories as do the people who visit me. It’s with a heavy heart that I accept the future. It’s a long time since the players lived next to the ground – They all have big fancy houses these days. The fans however, still love me as I love them. As the phrase goes, Nil Satis Nisi Optimum.