As a teenager, I looked forward immensely to Everton away games, the travelling, new grounds to visit, the banter and terrace humour. And that’s how it’s supposed to be.
January 20th, 1973 was no exception.
Everton were away at West Bromwich Albion. Living in Salford, I had a plan. I’d saved two weeks pocket money and school dinner monies. Get the train to Lime Street and then the ‘football special’ at just £2. The combined ticket costs being cheaper than going on normal service British Rail from Manchester to Birmingham and then getting to the Hawthorns.
Simplicity itself eh, what could go wrong?
Saturday dawned and it was snowing in Salford, but donning my duffel coat – Mum insisted I ‘wrap up warm’ – and scarf I wasn’t deterred. Bus into Manchester Victoria, day return ticket to Liverpool bought and waited on Platform 10 for the 11.00 express arriving from Newcastle via Darlington, York, Leeds and Huddersfield.
The appointed hour came and went, no train appeared and the snow continued to fall.
Twenty minutes later than scheduled, it arrived and I eagerly boarded the forward most carriage – to cut down on the running when we got to Lime Street to get another ticket and change platforms.
The big diesel engine roared as it carried us west across a snowy Chat Moss and beyond until passing Edge Hill station, it stopped in the series of tunnels that lead into Lime Street.
I was getting edgy – and then passing us in the opposite direction was a train with blue and white scarves flapping from umpteen windows… we’d stopped to let a footie special leave!!
Finally, in the station, I raced to the ticket window to check if there was another special train only to be told the one that had passed us was the last one.
‘Stone me’… or words to that effect of a more Anglo-Saxon and agricultural persuasion.
So I asked about a ticket to the nearest station to West Brom and ended up buying a return ticket to Wolverhampton, from where I had to catch a bus to Smethwick.
The snow was still falling and my limited supply of cash was considerably more depleted than I’d intended. But at that moment, I was more concerned about the train leaving on time.
The train left five minutes late and by the time it passed Runcorn heading for Winsford, the Cheshire countryside was blanketed completely in snow. Cheshire became Staffordshire and the train stopped at Stafford… for what seemed an age and a half.
The snow was still falling and I was now biting my fingernails.
Ten minutes went by before the train finally headed south at what seemed a snail’s pace, eventually to reach Wolverhampton. I alighted and raced from the station as quick as my legs would carry me, desperate to find the bus station and which one to take me to Smethwick.
I’m sure it’ll come as no great surprise, therefore, to learn that there was no direct bus and I’d have to change somewhere I’d never heard of. I was almost past caring. Just give me the sodding ticket and tell me where to get off and which bus to take next – time was cracking on!!
Buses, unlike mainline trains, stop almost everywhere and I had no idea where I was. By the time the conductor said, “Yow need to get off and change here son,” I was seriously fretting I might miss the kick-off.
The second bus was better. Quicker and even though the snow was still falling with flakes the size of saucers, the driver seemed to understand the worried face I was undoubtedly portraying. I’d asked him to let me know when we were at the nearest stop to the ground and he eventually gave me the nod.
Pointing up another road, he said, “Yow need to leg it up there, will take you about five minutes if ya get ya skates on.” I thanked him but thought, ‘smart arse’ for the skates line given the depth of the snow on the pavement.
I legged it up the road, seeing the floodlight pylons of the ground in front of me… Ten to three… Hardly anybody about… Still snowing… Silence…
Two rather large – aren’t they always – policemen were approaching me, snow on their shoulders and helmets.
“Yow can turn round son, the match has been postponed.”
“Yer kiddin’ me right? Aren’t you?”
“No son. Grounds’ shut and all yer mates are being marched back to the station.”
“Which way’s that?”
“Yow’ll have to go back the way yow came son, only football special tickets allowed at that station.”
I turned, thoroughly dejected, and trudged through the ever-deepening snow, back to the bus stop. Two more buses. I got back to Wolverhampton station, bought a pie and took to the platform, finding a large number of policemen and dogs on it.
About five minutes later, a train with LIVERPOOL in its destination indicator and with blue and white scarves in the windows pulled in and stopped. The policemen formed a line between it and the passengers on the platform – it was a football special!!
“Hey, can I get on that train?”
“Bugger off, it’s football fans going back to Liverpool.”
“I know, that’s where I’m going too.”
I pulled out a fistful of tickets to show I was travelling to Manchester via Liverpool, and after some heckling from the Blues on the train to let me on, the sergeant in charge relented and let me through.
An hour and a half later, we arrived back in Lime Street. I said goodbye to the lads who’d heckled on my behalf and waited for a train back to Manchester.
I got home around 6.30 and Mum said, “you’ve made good time. Dad said you might not in for at least another hour or so. Good match?”
She hadn’t watched Grandstand and listened to Len Martin read out, “West Bromwich Albion versus Everton, match postponed.”