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My introduction to blogging…

This is the post excerpt.

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A life-long Evertonian, keen fisherman and nature lover, I’ve spent my working career in the automotive industry with over 30 years associated with Mercedes-Benz in the UK before working abroad in Sudan and Ghana.

My passion is sport and for over twenty years, as a hobby that turned into a job, I was heavily involved in professional ice hockey – a sport that afforded me the chance to write, broadcast on the BBC, travel and meet many sporting heroes and legends.

Football and Everton have always been number one and these days, I contribute match reports and occasional feature articles to the biggest independent Everton fan website at http://www.grandoldteam.com

I am also a keen environmentalist, Greenpeace supporter and Green Party member – in my opinion, it’s high time everyone – governments, businesses and the general public – thought more about the damage we’ve done and continue to do to the planet and its wildlife.

This, my first attempt at a blog, will therefore contain my thoughts on a variety of subjects (probably most about Everton) that I hope will be both readable and entertaining.

They’ll be purely my views on things that interest and concern me, thanks for reading.

Andy

The Schneiderlin Conundrum…

Morgan-Schneiderlin-Everton-577878

We’re just a few short weeks and a Yuletide period from the opening of the January transfer window and for many Evertonians, one question that probably needs an answer is… what’s the future for Morgan Schneiderlin?

Signed by Ronald Koeman from Manchester United in the corresponding transfer window of 2017 for in excess of £20 million, after a decent start to his Everton career the French international has failed to maintain the early levels he displayed.

Losses of form, injuries and doubts over his attitude and commitment to the cause have been major factors in his slide from grace, particularly with large sections of the crowd, while a conservative, defensive midfield role that rarely sees him venture beyond the halfway line doesn’t appear to fit very well into the more attack minded game plans of Marco Silva.

Under both Koeman and his successor, Sam Allardyce, Schneiderlin was all too often played alongside Idrissa Gana Gueye and their similarity in being primarily defensive midfielders proved too stifling for a team and crowd crying out for ideas and invention of how to get forward quicker with attacking intent.

Schneiderlin failed largely to re-produce the form he showed for Southampton, under Koeman, that saw him selected for France and was to lead to a big money, circa £27 million, move from the south coast to Manchester United. And he patently didn’t fit into the plans of Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford and so the chance to link up again with Koeman at Everton seemed an ideal opportunity to resurrect his career.

After a decent first season, the fortunes of Koeman nosedived after a disjointed 2017 summer transfer window in which money was splashed around like confetti with no apparent structure to said spending. Koeman was sacked in October 2017 as Everton slumped in the Premier League and crashed, in embarrassing fashion, out of the Europa League.

The boring, cautious and ultra-conservative Allardyce didn’t do much after his initial month that saw Everton solidify their Premier League status. A terrible style of play coupled with a complete and utter failure to grasp the nettle and push the club to seriously chase down Burnley for the chance to qualify for Europe again sealed his fate… as if there was ever really any long term aspect to it anyway?

Marcel and Marco

Enter the new Director of Football Marcel Brands and new manager Marco Silva and a new way of thinking for the Everton squad. Brands and Silva clearly had defined and strong ideas about how they wanted to progress the club and the initial need to massively trim the size of the squad they were dealing with, while looking to strengthen and improve key areas.

The preferred formation for Marco Silva is 4-3-3 and with Gana Gueye and Gylfi Sigurdsson seemingly shoe-ins for the midfield right from the start, the burgeoning question was who would be the link between the hard-working tackling of Gana Gueye and the silkier, more offensive prowess of the Icelander?

With Andre Gomes signed on loan from Barcelona, but recovering from injury, the remaining slot in the midfield was up for grabs between the enthusiastic and young, but still learning his trade Tom Davies and the more experienced, proven international, Morgan Schneiderlin.

With doubts over his future and unpopularity among sections of the fan base, Schneiderlin was boosted by Silva in June 2018 as the Portuguese outlined he still had a future with the club. The ball was proverbially in Schneiderlins’ court – it was down to him to prove he was the player to cement the Everton midfield and look to return to something like the form he showed for Southampton that saw him net 15 goals in 260 appearances… compared to just two goals in 102 appearances for United and Everton prior to this season commencing.

Disappointingly Schneiderlin, like Allardyce before him, failed to grasp the nettle and push himself to greater efforts. For whatever reason it is within him, he’s slipped so badly down the pecking order at Everton that he’s made just seven appearances this term. He’s completed only two games this season and now doesn’t even make the substitutes bench for Silva and his attack minded style.

Andre G

The forward motion, quick passing, more energetic, positive, attack minded and more pleasing to the eye play of Andre Gomes has been widely welcomed as not only a ray of sunshine, breath of fresh air to the team, but also a massive catalyst in bringing even more from Gana Gueye and allowing Sigurdsson to truly express himself as an attacking midfielder, linking smoothly and effectively with the front three of Bernard, Walcott and Richarlison, and scoring important goals.

With the likes of Tom Davies and Beni Baningime biding their time, waiting in the wings and newspaper speculation linking Everton to another exciting French talent in Tanguy Ndombele from Olympique Lyon, coupled with the fan base crying out for a permanent deal for Gomes to be completed as soon as possible, there appears to be only one course for Morgan Schneiderlin… a move away from Goodison in January.

Morgan Schneiderlin is not a bad player, but his natural conservative, safety-first, style of play and instincts don’t appear to sit well with the more expressive mantra of Marco Silva.

With the Everton team growing in confidence and the crowd appreciating the quite stunning turnaround in both form and style since the early September showings against Huddersfield and West Ham at Goodison, a move for Morgan Schneiderlin would likely suit both parties.

At 29 years old, he needs to be playing regularly and right now nobody, and I suspect privately he includes himself in this, can see him regaining a regular place in this current Everton set-up. With a fairly heavy investment made in acquiring his services, Everton would probably prefer a permanent deal to recoup as much as possible rather than agreeing to a loan deal.

With the ever-growing call for the loan of Andre Gomes to be made permanent and the rumoured interest in Ndombele, the answer to the Morgan Schneiderlin conundrum probably lies with the transfer market skills of Marcel Brands.

Sixty Grand, Sixty Grand, Bramley Moore Dock…

Maybe not quite to the tune of the song for Seamus Coleman, but much has already been written and spoken about where the capacity of the new Everton stadium at Bramley Moore Dock should finally end up.

BMD2

Goodison Park used to hold nearly 60,000 back in the days of mass standing on the terraces and has hosted crowds in excess of 70,000 during an illustrious career as one of England’s premier football venues.

It’s seen eight league titles and trophies paraded, never forget, we won our first in our first home across the park. It’s seen a veritable galaxy of footballing stars, legends, the incomparable W.R.Dean and his 60-goal season, a Golden Vision who was deified in his own tv show, and the Holy Trinity, the best midfield combination ever.

Goodison has had too many memorable games to even begin listing them here, with a never-to-be-forgotten European Cup Winners Cup semi-final victory over Bayern Munich arguably the greatest. The Grand Old Lady has hosted FA Cup semi-finals, world title boxing fights and a World Cup semi-final in 1966

Germany Take The Lead

and throughout it all, it’s been a glorious home to Everton Football Club.

But the sands of time are, for Goodison, sadly running out and the club is rightly looking to re-locate to the best possible location to host our football for the next hundred years… and maybe longer.

Bramley Moore Dock has been selected, acquired and pending a successful consultation process that everyone on Merseyside and with any interest in Everton should complete – https://www.peoples-project.co.uk – and subsequent planning application, sometime in the next five years, a new dawn will break for our much storied and revered club, down on the banks of the Royal Blue Mersey.

I won’t try to blind you with the science of financial arguments for as big a capacity as possible, others far more eminently qualified and well-versed in these matters have already ventured well-researched and reasoned arguments and to that aim, I heartily recommend everyone reads this https://theesk.org/2018/07/26/the-case-for-60000/ to appreciate the complexity of the issue, but in relatively simple terminology.

So what’s my angle?

It’s simply one fans passion to see Everton once again back at the vanguard of English football. I want to see Everton competing at the very highest level, Everton going toe-to-toe with the best, not only in England but Europe and yes, the world… and winning!!

To do that, we need the best possible team on the field of play and in Marcel Brands and Marco Silva, I have a growing confidence that we might just have stumbled on a partnership to lead the club back to trophies and the glory we all yearn for.

But we also need a world class, iconic, state-of-the-art stadium, perfectly located on the riverfront, the gateway to the city and a stadium that can hold as many people as possible, and for me that has to be a minimum of 60,000 with a leaning towards a nostalgic 61,878 as a mark of respect to the year of our founding.

Everton_Stadium

Unless we ultimately face overwhelming evidence of design and construction problems that would make it impossible, anything less than 60,000 would, in my opinion, be a capitulation to negativity, to a lack of faith in the loyalty of Evertonians, and a lack of belief in the aim of returning Everton to the very top.

Some have suggested that there are or may be people within the club who may be hesitant about building 60,000 at BMD and that there’s doubts because currently Manchester City fail to completely or regularly sell out the Etihad.

My suggestion to any such doubters would be… don’t concern yourself with the problems of others, concentrate and focus on the demand and passion of Evertonians.

Thanks to continued enlightened Season Ticket pricing initiatives and the just announced freezing of ST prices for a fourth season, the Sold Out signs at Goodison will be regularly if not constantly displayed for the next 18 months and almost certainly longer still.

The club themselves are proud to advise that there is a waiting list in excess of ten thousand for season tickets, and that would take home game attendances to beyond 50,000 in the blink of an eye, before the need to go out and market ourselves to even more Blues.

Could we find another ten thousand?

I honestly and truthfully cannot think of one reason, good or otherwise, why Everton could not achieve this in a brand new home a few minutes from the city centre. A brand new home that will be infinitely better served than Goodison currently is with corporate and hospitality facilities, the kind of facilities that will attract greater numbers of corporate clientele and command premium pricing structures that will go a long way to justifying the costs of building the stadium to as big a capacity as possible.

As has been posted this past weekend on social media, if we look forward over the next three to four years, stadium capacities are destined to grow and ironically, Manchester City – often cited as a good reason to be conservative – have announced plans to expand the Etihad to 63,000 in time for the 21/22 season.

If we look at the numbers for the current biggest and proposed new build or expansion planning… Man Utd 75,640 (with plans to further expand); West Ham 66,000; Man City 63,000; Chelsea 63,000; Spurs 62,062; Liverpool 61,000; Arsenal 60,260; Wolves 60,000 and Newcastle 52,338.

Why on earth would Everton even begin to consider a brand new stadium to be less than that of at least eight others is incomprehensible to me.

Now as I said earlier, the science of the financial arguments is not my personal forte, and I’m sure that the financing of BMD is not an easy thing to achieve. But I would urge the powers that be within the corridors of Goodison fully examine and reach out to as many options as can be considered, the need for Everton to get the move to BMD as perfect as possible cannot be compromised by conservatism, fear, negativity or pessimism.

Mr Moshiri, together with the board of directors, needs to be bold, brave and tenacious in finding the ways and means to build Everton a new home that truly befits the future it will launch us upon.

Our club motto is Nil Satis Nisi Optimum – Nothing But the Best – let’s live up to it with every decision made, that’s all I’m asking, and I think I’m safe in saying I’m asking on behalf of many thousands of others too.

Too early for comparisons ?

Goodison goal

The sleeping giant of football that is Everton is stirring, the drudgery of last season where we appeared clueless, disinterested and where we were certainly without the kind of off-field leadership needed to raise spirits is quickly being banished to the back of our minds.

With a new Director of Football in Marcel Brands and an innovative young manager in Marco Silva, huge strides have already been taken in righting the wrongs of the Koeman/Walsh/Allardyce regimes.

Football with a swagger, pace and excitement for the watching fans is very much back on the Goodison menu and the method with which Brighton were despatched last weekend had some older fans harking back to the mid-1980’s sides of Howard Kendall.

Back then of course, we didn’t have Directors of Football, we had managers and coaches and in Howard Kendall and Colin Harvey, Everton were blessed with two men who knew each other inside out as players from an earlier golden period, and who complimented each other perfectly as a management duo.

So is it too early, even presumptuous to start drawing comparisons with an era of success every Evertonian yearns to see again?

To do so, let’s look at the 83/84 Kendall/Harvey squad and see how the 18/19 Brands/Silva squad fares.

In goal, Kendall had the blossoming talent of future legend Neville Southall, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the finest goalkeepers ever to play the game. Southall was signed in 1981 but had to wait till the 83/84 season to become a fixture of the first team that lifted the FA Cup and went on to become a dominant force.

Marco Silva has the current England No.1 Jordan Pickford as the bedrock of his defence and at still only 24, the £30 million signing has years ahead of him to further hone his already considerable skills. It would be a brave man who would rate Pickford above Southall, but with time on his side, who’s to say the current Everton ‘keeper cannot go on to emulate his esteemed predecessor?

Kendalls’ primary fullbacks were the athletic and elegant Gary Stevens on the right with the more workmanlike, but equally reliable and more robust John Bailey on the left. Stevens was to enjoy an illustrious career with Everton and England while Bailey was eventually replaced by another tough-tackler in Pat van den Hauwe. Neither Stevens or Bailey featured regularly on the scoresheet but both were important elements in the first Kendall era that saw trophies arrive regularly.

Silva has a fan favourite and bargain-of-the-century in the sixty-grand man Seamus Coleman on his right side and, together with Brands, recruited French international Lucas Digne to replace Leighton Baines as the first choice left back. It’s probably fair to say that Digne looks more of a natural athlete than Coleman, but the Irish international plays with unsurpassed passion and barring an extra time penalty shoot-out loss at Brentford, Everton have never lost when he’s been on the scoresheet in normal time.

At the heart of the defence, Kendall was blessed with having Kevin Ratcliffe and Derek Mountfield as his twin centre halves. Ratcliffe was lighting fast and an uncompromisingly physical tackler while Mountfield ventured forward at every corner and free kick and scored crucial goals as the team strode to glory. In reserve, was Mark Higgins, a solid and reliable if somewhat injury prone deputy whose Everton career was coming to a close.

The current squad has even more options in having Michael Keane, loanee Kurt Zouma, Yerry Mina, Mason Holgate and veteran club captain Phil Jagielka for Marco Silva to choose from.

Keane endured a nightmare first season under Koeman and Allardyce, blighted by serious injury and loss of form, but has recovered superbly under Silva and now looks every inch the player we expected when signed from Burnley.

Zouma, whilst on loan from Chelsea, has made a big impression on the Goodison faithful with a string of impressive performances and many Blues will be hoping his loan will lead to a permanent move.

Mina, the Columbian international is still to prove his worth having now recovered from a post World Cup injury, but his availability and size will give Silva a nice headache of choosing his defensive formations.

In Holgate, Everton have one for the future and one who’s served us well in Jagielka, who is surely under no illusion that his future game time will now be limited to being cover for any of the others getting injured… a similar situation Leighton Baines is also in with regards to Lucas Digne.

It’s the midfield where things really begin to get interesting. Kendall in 83/84 had Peter Reid, Kevin Richardson, Alan Irvine, and Alan Harper with the emerging right winger Trevor Steven and the ever-popular Andy King to call upon. And with both manager Kendall and coach Harvey having been superb midfielders in their own right, they got fantastic results from their charges.

Reid was the heart and soul of the midfield, a canny, wily, tough-tackling battler who made up for a lack of pace with superb positional play. Around him were the more than capable jacks-of-all-trades Richardson and Harper. Both played a huge part of the Kendall era successes as exemplary squad players, never assured of a start, but never failing to play their vital part when called upon.

It’s important to remember that the dynamo of Paul Bracewell didn’t arrive till the 84/85 season, when the Everton revival under Kendall and Harvey went into full-on overdrive, but I include him because of the presence in the current squad of Andre Gomes.

Bracewell

There are similarities in the midfield options Marco Silva has at his disposal. For Reid, substitute Idrissa Gana Gueye; for Richardson and Harper, substitute two of Davies, Dowell, Baningime and McCarthy; and for Steven we have Icelander Gylfi Sigurdsson. And, as mentioned, in the (future) Bracewell role, Silva has Andre Gomes in early, albeit on loan from Barcelona.

Gomes has brought memories of Bracewell flooding back. With his upright stance, eye for a pass and always looking to go forward, the Portuguese international should be a top priority for Brands and Silva to complete a permanent deal for next summer if not before, such has been his immediate impact. His presence in the midfield has already been a massive help to Gana Gueye who now has an offensive outlet to feed as he breaks up the opposition attacks.

Gomes

And the presence of Gomes has also provided Sigurdsson with the freedom to get further forward into areas where he can hurt the opposition with incisive passing and his undoubted shooting ability.

The assured calmness and more naturally offensive tendencies of Gomes has seen game time for Morgan Schneiderlin all but disappear and the Frenchman will need to adjust his game hugely… or potentially, seek pastures anew.

In the forward positions, Kendalls’ 83/84 squad was well served with Graeme Sharp, Adrian Heath, Andy Gray, Kevin Sheedy and Trevor Steven. Sharp and Gray were both archetypal British centre forwards – brave, combative, fearless and physical. Sheedy and Steven on the flanks were pacey, superb crossers of the ball and deadly finishers in their own right.

That leaves the diminutive, but hugely effective and popular Adrian Heath. Inchy was a marvellous foil for both Sharp and Gray and in the 83/84 season, he top scored for the Blues with 18 goals in 54 games, a 1-in-3 ratio in his first full season.

Silva perhaps isn’t quite so blessed as was Kendall in that despite the goals to date of Brazilian Richarlison, he doesn’t have a nailed-on No.9 in the mould of a Sharp or a Gray to lead the line and take the hard knocks week in, week out.

He does have width and pace in Theo Walcott, Bernard and Ademola Lookman to call upon and in Cenk Tosun and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, two willing strikers desperate to stake a claim. But to stake that claim Cenk and DCL really do need to make an impact every chance they get.

Ademola

In the summer with Leipzig making overtures, Brands and Silva were determined to retain Ademola Lookman, a young man with pace to burn and an eye for goal… talents that need to be nurtured and moulded into a dynamic option for years to come.

Kendall endured a couple of seasons of trying to find the right combinations to turn Everton around, and under Sir Philip Carter, he got the time and the support that eventually paid huge dividends. Kendall conceded that his early squads lacked the important ingredient of having a winner, someone who knew how to win and could inspire others.

Many thought he had made a huge error of judgement in signing the veteran Andy Gray, but the Scot was exactly the winner character that he needed to turn a competitive squad into a dominant one. Gray only played 49 games for Everton scoring 14 goals, but his impact was much greater than those numbers would suggest, his charismatic, physical presence proving vital in securing the clubs first trophy in well over a decade, the ‘84 FA Cup triumph over Watford.

And the rest is history as Howard Kendall went on to become our most successful manager with a host of trophies that would probably have continued had the club not been cruelly and unjustly denied entry to the European Cup in the aftermath of Heysel.

In this modern era of the need for almost instant success, Marco Silva is fortunate that in Farhad Moshiri, he has an owner who wanted him and made sure he got him, so he’s probably in as safe a position as any current manager in the Premier League.

This 18/19 Everton squad stacks up pretty well to that of Kendall in 83/84, with the addition of a true No.9 potentially the one key signing Brands and Silva need to find to take the squad to the next level.

Can Brands and Silva find a latter day Andy Gray type talismanic character to transform this good looking squad into one that can go on to confidently and consistently challenge for silverware and return Everton to the top table of English and European football?

Evertonians are hungry for silverware and success, and after the utter dross of last season under Koeman and Allardyce, that hunger is positively painful. However, Marcel Brands and Marco Silva have made a good start to their Everton careers and with the evidence of the last month, success-starved Blues will be willing to cut them some slack as they continue to right the wrongs and instil fresh belief throughout the club.

A respectable finish in the Premier League will build confidence, top eight would be good, top six and Europe would be a superb achievement… and come January, were a true No.9 to be signed, Evertonians will turn their eyes and desire towards a long, dare we dream of a successful FA Cup campaign?

Eddie Kavanagh

Blues, Reds – only shirt colours count…

Colour, apart from team colours, creed, race and religion and any such related animosity have no place in football.

Arriving at Goodison for the Southampton game last week, we were greeted by people handing out leaflets. Single page leaflets about the need to combat racism and fascism in society.

It seems a group has formed – the Democratic Football Lads Alliance – determined to stir up bigotry around the country. And the DFLA are apparently aiming to use football as a conduit to spread their bigotry and stir up division.

My first thoughts took me back to the days when the first black players really began to make their mark around the Football League. Some of the abuse they were subjected to was absolutely outrageous.

Horrendously worded chanting, banana throwing, monkey imitations… and I can’t honestly think of a ground where this didn’t take place.

Sadly, it still occurs in international games but, thankfully, such abhorrent behaviour has largely been eradicated here in the UK.

My second thought took me back more recently, to 2012, when I was living and working in Khartoum, capital of the Sudan.

Footie in the sun.

Khartoum is a huge city with a population of over five million and not surprisingly, it has more than one football club. The Blue and White Nile rivers meet in Khartoum, dividing the metropolis into three main areas.

Bahri or Khartoum North lies north (obviously) of the Blue Nile; Khartoum itself lies south of the Blue and east of the White Nile, while the sprawling Omdurman lies to the west of the White Nile.

The smaller Al Khartoum and Al Ahli clubs share the Khartoum Stadium, not far from the city centre in the Al Mogran district. This stadium only holds 23,000, massively different to that of the two main clubs.

They are the Al Merreikh and Al Hilal clubs whose home grounds are both across the White Nile in Omdurman. Between them, they’ve won 42 Sudanese league titles and 21 cups, they’re way out in front as the two biggest clubs in Sudan.

Imagine the proximity of Goodison Park to Anfield and fairly intense rivalry between Everton and Liverpool, half a mile apart across Stanley Park.

The home stadia of Al Merreikh and Al Hilal are less then 750 metres apart as the crow flies. Literally either side of Al Ardha Street with only two university facilities separating them.

Castles and devils.

The Al Merreikh Stadium, the Red Castle, holds 43,000, while the re-developed Al Hilal stadium hosts 62,000, both mostly standing.

My first game was a friendly in March 2012 when Al Merreikh hosted a touring Brazilian club. Al Merriekh – the Red Devils – had a Brazilian coach, Heron Ricardo Ferreira, and he’d obviously helped in arranging the friendly. Sadly I cannot recall who the tourists were. There was no matchday programme to refer to but suffice to say, they weren’t Santos or a major club side.

I’d been invited by one of the Sudanese directors of the company I was working for and as my wife and youngest daughter were visiting at the time, they too came along.

Even in March, the evening weather was hot. The sun set at 7pm as it does almost year round, but the daytime heat lingers on. The temperature was in the high 70s as we crossed the White Nile heading for the Red Castle.

Red Castle

Alla, our Sudanese host, dressed in a traditional jalabiya while I wore an Everton polo shirt. My wife and daughter wore long skirts, respectful of the local Islamic dress code for non-Muslim females.

Approaching the turnstiles, we drew some looks and welcoming smiles from locals queuing to get in, nothing untoward at all. Inside the ground, we took our seats – Alla had wisely taken us into the ‘Main Stand’. And having purchased soft drinks to keep us hydrated, we enjoyed the pleasant evening.

The ground was about half full, with the singing section on the opposite side of the ground. As the teams emerged onto the pitch, loud cheers went up and the inevitable red and yellow flares billowed smoke.

Al Merreikh scored an early goal, the crowd were happy and all around us, people high-fived. We were offered more peanuts and water – they realised the white folks were maybe overheating.

Down on the touchline, the coach of the visiting team was a sight to behold. Talk about animated, this guy was a St.Vitus dancer on steroids and highly entertaining.

We laughed and those sat around us wondered why. Alla explained to them in Arabic and they quickly cottoned on. The visitors coach was duly targeted for Sudanese footie banter. By half time though, the visitors equalised and took the lead. The visitors coach and the crowd banter both calmed down.

The half time interval coincided with the p.a. system of the local mosque calling the faithful to prayer.

As the Imam wailed ‘Allahu Akhbar’ and the rest of the call, all around us, people removed their sandals. On the terracing and even the police on the pitchside running track, people turned to the east, knelt and prayed. We’d never seen anything like this at a football match before.

We sat there quietly and then asked Alla if they would have prayed for the team. He replied that they’d probably prayed for their young star striker to make an appearance off the substitutes bench. We laughed with him at that.

More water and orange juice came from the friendly folk around us and the second half began. The visitors had the better of the play and were coped well with the well-grassed, but apparently bone hard pitch.

As the chanting from the crowd opposite increased in frustration – Alla was translating – the crowd favourite came off the bench. The cheering and support increased markedly, flares returned too. And when with ten minutes to play, he laid on the equaliser, the Red Devils fans exulted. Their prayers had been answered.

The visitors coach returned to doing his whirling dervish impersonations, and the crowd responded hilariously. Even the dignitaries in the ‘posh seats’ including the Mayor of Omdurman joined in the heckling.

Leaving the ground after the 2-2 draw, once again, the sight of three white people raised the odd eyebrow. But not one word of abuse came in our direction. The famed friendliness and hospitality of the Sudanese people was there in abundance.

Proper, serious footie.

The following month, April 29th, another of the local guys invited me to go to see Al Hilal play, I gladly accepted. Abubakr Gafar, Bakri for short, lived in Bahri, north of the Blue Nile. After work he drove home to change and then back to Amarat near the airport to pick me up. Then we drove through the city to cross the White Nile to Omdurman. He really went out of his way.

The match was a CAF (Confederation of African Football) Champions League second round tie. The first leg, saw ASO Chiefs of Algeria the visitors, and Bakri said a good crowd was expected.

The streets around the ground were crawling with cars and fans, blue flags abundant everywhere. We parked in a side street and walked to the ground. Again the sight of a white man drawing glances and friendly smiles… I had a blue Everton polo shirt on.

Bakri had sorted tickets towards the back of the Main Stand just to the right of the directors box and media area. There we met his father and uncles, all rabid ‘Blue Wave’ supporters.

Al Hilal old

Introductions done, soft drinks and peanuts bought, we chatted while people walked around the terracing handing out complimentary blue flags. The game was televised and the Al Hilal hierarchy obviously wanted to make an impression for the watching millions (?).

One of the flag distributors spotted me and made a huge effort to attract my attention. He launched a flag in my direction. Someone caught it and the thrower went nuts. He animatedly yelled something in Arabic and I caught the word ‘khawaja’ – foreigner, or more colloquially, white man.

The catcher took his verbal tongue lashing well and the flag was passed back to me. I happily thanked them by waving it.

The ground was filling up. The redevelopment  – see the picture below – that subsequently took the capacity to 62,000 hadn’t taken place,

Al Hilal new

but I guesstimated over 30,000 were packed in. It was another very warm evening, the mercury well in the 80s.

As with their neighbours Al Merreikh, the Al Hilal ‘ultras’ were on the opposite side of the ground. The noise was loud to say the least. Flares were lit, scarves and flags waved enthusiastically, this was a proper football atmosphere.

Barely ten minutes in and El Tahir opened the scoring for the home side. The Al Hilal stadium went absolutely mental… more flares, more flag-waving. To say the least, the Blue Wave fans were happy. But they couldn’t add to their lead and one nil up at half time, Bakri said they’d lost their chance.

He was right. Less than ten minutes after the restart, Ali Hadji levelled with a twenty yard screamer into the top corner. It was no less than the Chiefs deserved, they’d been the better team.

The Algerians dominated and it took some stout defending and no shortage of luck for the game to end level. However, the final ten minutes saw the atmosphere around the directors box get very hairy to say the least. Police in riot gear surrounded the home dugout and the directors seating. Bakri advised that many supporters were unhappy with the French manager Diego Garritto, his tactics and the board.

We left right on the final whistle. Bakri wanted a quick getaway to get me back to Amarat and himself back to Khartoum North before midnight. Leaving the ground and in the streets, the ‘khawaja’ again drew looks, but no adverse comments or observations.

The following day in work, someone asked if I’d enjoyed the match. Assuming Bakri had told them, it was amusing to learn I’d been spotted on TV when the cameras had panned around the crowd.

I never got the chance to witness an Omdurman ‘derby’. Both Alla and Bakri told me those games are not for the faint-hearted, and tickets are always at a premium.

The somewhat obtuse point of relating these memories is to illustrate it is possible to go to football without encountering racism.

Mafi mushkila – no problem.

When I was in Sudan, a closed country you can only enter by invitation, I was the immigrant. I was the infidel, the ‘khawaja’ taking a job that maybe could have been filled by a local. In my 18 months in Khartoum, I never felt unwelcome. Never vilified for my skin colour. Never vilified for not being a Muslim.

My wife and daughter thoroughly enjoyed their visits to Khartoum and their night at the footie. There was never a mushkila (problem) never mind a mushkila kabeera (major problem).

We have to hope that the unwanted appearance and actions of groups like the DFLA are quickly denounced. We have to hope that they themselves grow up and accept the modern multi-cultured world we live in. And we have to hope that the days of racial discrimination and abuse everywhere, will soon be behind us.

Originally published on https://taleoftwohalves.uk

Everton need a ‘real’ captain…

GP 2018

Over the course of the last few seasons, there has been much comment and debate on Everton websites, forums, chat rooms and social media. In pubs, on matchday, inside Goodison, in fact just about everywhere, there’s been opinion over a crucial role within the club – its captaincy.

In the final season of David Moyes, he appointed Phil Jagielka as club captain, and many saw this as Moyes showing loyalty to a tried and trusted player. Jags has indeed been a loyal and trusted player, but never appeared to be a follow-into-battle kind of captaincy candidate.

Subsequent managers – Martinez, Koeman, Allardyce and now Marco Silva – have stayed loyal to Jagielka… or chosen to shy away from the subject of change in this vital on-field role.

I’m not meaning this to be a vilification of Jagielka, but Everton need to be honest with themselves and the player – he’s past his best and very likely to see his playing time this season reduced.

With the arrival of Yerri Mina and Kurt Zouma, and the decent early season form of Michael Keane and Mason Holgate, the elder statesman of the defence will not be so naive as to think he’s a shoe-in for an immediate and long-term return to the first team once his current suspension is served.

Let’s look at the question purely from the dawn of the Marco Silva era.

Set aside the stroll in the park against Irdning, the pre-season was a huge disappointment as not one victory was achieved in the five games that followed the Austrian training camp.

The defence, Jags home patch, leaked goals, looked nervous, and looked like strangers with each other. Maybe it’s down to the adoption of a zonal marking system – it’s certainly a system that gets cruelly exposed if the players aren’t familiar or comfortable playing it.

For me, a defence needs a dominant character, a genuine leader, an organiser… a captain.

We don’t need a Roy Keane bullyboy or a John Terry gobshite type. When did Bobby Moore ever clench a fist? But we do need a captain the other players truly take notice of. A captain who commands on-field respect and more importantly, a captain the others will follow into battle.

Sorry Jags, that isn’t you old son.

Marco Silva has indicated that Everton have more than one captain, and with Jags suspended following the Wolves game, Seamus Coleman – the almost universal choice amongst the fanbase to take the armband – and Leighton Baines have had the honour.

Coleman has captained the Irish national team, patently ‘gets’ Everton and is massively popular. Baines has been a loyal and trusted player, however like Jagielka, is past his very best and with Lucas Digne signed, the writing is on the wall for former England man.

I might be wrong, but both Coleman against Southampton and Baines against Bournemouth looked burdened by the responsibility of being captain.

Coleman is more vocal than either Jags or Baines, but somehow he appeared overawed at being the club captain, if only for a day.

At Bournemouth, it seemed a strange quirk of football that neither enjoyed anything like their best form. Coleman first half had arguably his most disappointing 45 minutes in the Royal Blue of Everton, while Baines was culpable for both the home sides goals – giving away the penalty and failing to put Cook under sufficient pressure to deny him the header that led to Ake scoring. I’m probably wrong, but neither Seamus nor Leighton looked like natural club captains.

What I m sure of though is, this is an issue that needs sorting.

I think back to some previous Everton captains and the types of player they were… competitors, leaders, warriors, winners.

Brian Labone

Brian Labone, the centre half Harry Catterick dubbed ‘the Last of the Corinthians’. Not a screamer or a shouter, but very definitely a captain and player who commanded respect, who dominated, who led, who organised, who others would follow into battle… and a winner.

Alan Ball

Alan Ball, little curly Alan Ball. Very definitely a screamer and a shouter, but like Labby, Bally commanded respect. He was a firebrand, as likely to get sent off as score but, never less than totally committed to the cause. Bally would never accept second best, least of all to ‘them’ across the park and he was, every inch of him, a winner.

Mike Lyons

Mike Lyons, arguably one of the best Everton captains to never lift a trophy. Mike bled blue blood and led his sides with a fierce conviction. In all but the silverware stakes, Lyons was a commanding figure.

I remember an FA Cup replay at Maine Road (that we lost 3-1) and John Gidman getting hurt right in front of the Platt Lane stand where lots of Blues fans were encamped. Gidman was holding his arm to his side and Lyons bellowed at him, “It’s only yer fucken hand, gerron with it.” No kid glove treatment from Lyons, but Gidman quickly followed him back into battle.

Kevin Ratcliffe

Kevin Ratcliffe, the clubs most successful captain. Commanding, quick, powerful, a tenacious – at times dirty – tackler and superb organiser. Rats was blessed with having Derek Mountfield and then Dave Watson as his centre back partners and the incomparable Neville Southall as the last line of defence behind him. But Ratcliffe was an inspirational captain and another the troops would unquestioningly follow into battle.

Dave Watson

Dave Watson, who superseded Ratcliffe as Everton captain and led Joe Royle’s Dogs of War side to FA Cup glory in 1995 – the last silverware Evertonians celebrated. Waggy was another strong, powerful, vocal leader and a warrior, always up for a battle, he led by example.

Getting back to the present squad and we have some very talented players, pacy, skilful, and already showing a much better mindset than last season for sure.

But and it’s a huge but, other than Coleman who appeared somewhat overawed against Southampton, I don’t see a commanding, natural, organising, stand-out, follow-into-battle type leader amongst them.

A captain who two-nil up at Bournemouth would either have driven the team on to bury the opposition or a thoroughly organised them to shut the game down with a rock solid defence of the lead.

I hope I’m doing Seamus Coleman a terrible injustice in thinking he was overawed at being captain of Everton, and that he makes me eat these words if/when he dons the armband next.

Football nowadays is a different animal to yesteryear, but I think back to 1968 when Brian Clough, then manager of Derby County, signed 33-year old, allegedly over the hill, Dave Mackay from Spurs. Clough, and his sidekick Peter Taylor, were convinced that the character, presence and leadership qualities of the veteran Scot would help Derby. They weren’t wrong.

Mackay was a Derby player for three seasons, ironically leaving the season before Clough took them to the old First Division title but the part he played in taking Derby from nowhere to the title season was immense.

It’s that kind of leadership, organisation and strength of character, the type Evertonians have seen in Labone, Ball, Lyons, Ratcliffe and Watson, that’s needed now.

As the club embarks on this new Marco Silva/Marcel Brands era they, and we, need a captain to ensure their philosophy and plans are enforced and upheld on the field.

They, and we, need a latter day Corinthian or Ratcliffe to bring genuine organisation, leadership and steel to the Everton of today.

Find that player, that true captain and he’ll lead this project we’re on and return us to the glories we all yearn for.

(Originally published on http://www.grandoldteam.com)

Upton Park or bust…

Upton Park

The 1974/75 season was my fifth supporting Everton on an every game basis, with hitch-hiking now a fixture of my away day travels.

The relatively easy hikes to Sheffield, Leeds, Birmingham etc. had all been successfully completed, but long-distance trips to London and beyond remained train journeys. Until August 24th, 1974 and the Blues third game of the season, away at West Ham.

Together with three mates I’d returned from hitch-hiking to Paris, for a camping holiday in the Bois de Boulogne, in time for the opening two games at Goodison. So confidently and more importantly ever so slightly short of cash for train fares, West Ham would have to be my first London thumb job.

Saturday dawned gloriously sunny and a ten-minute walk saw me on the East Lancs Road by Swinton Park Golf Club for just after eight o’clock, thumb at the ready.

I always kept my scarf out of sight when setting out from Salford for away games, on the assumption there wouldn’t be too many Evertonians around. With it tucked inside a jacket, I was delighted when after a few minutes a Ford Consul 375 pulled up.

The lady driving it – unusual for a female to pick up hitch-hikers even back then – leaned across to wind the window down and asked if I knew the way to Birmingham?

I confirmed I did as I was going that way and she invited me to join her. A terrific start to the day, and off we went towards Liverpool and the M6 junction at Haydock Island.

It was a warm morning and something of a surprise that she had the heater on full blast, it was like riding in a mobile sauna. She chatted away, but I was sweltering and before reaching Haydock, I decided it was time to remove my jacket and scarf.

Rumbled…

Bizarrely, my pulling down the jacket zip seemed to raise an alarm within her and she suddenly asked,

“You’re not an AA man are you?”
“Er no, I’m hitch-hiking to London,”
“You’re not a football fan are you?” she rather worriedly enquired.
Pulling my zip back up I lied, “No, I’m going to see my brother.”

It turned out that parked behind where she’d picked me up was an AA van and she’d assumed I was its driver.

We joined the M6 and despite the intense heat, I relaxed. I figured if I could be near to Birmingham by about half nine, that would be a great start. The lady though was somewhat spooked by my not being an AA man and she went rather quiet.

We passed Knutsford, Sandbach and Keele services in relative silence but approaching the exit for Stafford, she told me she would stop and let me out there. We were nowhere near Birmingham, so I asked if she could at least drop me at Hilton Park services. She refused.

I didn’t argue and when she pulled over, I thanked her for the lift anyway.

Hitch-hiking from junctions rather than service areas is much less enjoyable. Nevertheless, the chance to loosen my jacket and enjoy the cooler air was welcome but, the Stafford junction wasn’t seeing a lot of traffic join the motorway.

It was a good half hour before a van pulled over and I was on my way again. The driver happy to drop me off at Hilton Park.

After a quick drink, it was back to the slip road and the big right thumb, but now showing my scarf hoping to catch the attention of any southbound Blues. A truck stopped and I climbed in, telling the driver I was heading for London. He said he could drop me at Corley services as he was only going to Coventry.

That was good for me, as I’d be about half way and by half ten, things were going well.

Halfway, but…

Corley proved to be a difficult stop. The sunshine was now baking hot and nobody leaving seemed the slightest bit interested in picking up hitch-hikers. Time was passing so I decided on a change of tactics.

I walked back to the café and started approaching guys who looked like truckers, but to no avail as there were no takers.

Returning to the slip road, eventually a MK1 Cortina with four guys in it, and with blue and white scarves flying, passed me, slowed down and as I ran towards it, sped away. I was livid and shouting obscenities after it, I threw the biggest V-sign ever.

The car stopped and reversed back, I feared a hiding for my actions.

One of the guys jumped out and asked what my problem was, they were only having a laugh. I retorted that it wasn’t funny for Blues to take the piss out of a fellow Blue.

He told me they were Preston fans going to Watford.

Oh. Oops, sorry.

Reprise…

To be fair, they all saw the funny side and offered me a lift as far as Watford. I gleefully accepted, piled into the back seat, and off we went.

The Preston fans were a hoot. We had a great laugh talking football as only down-to-earth terrace-residing footie fans can.

Oh-oh…

The car sped on, onto the M1 passing Watford Gap, Rothersthorpe and Newport Pagnell before disaster struck… steam started billowing from under the bonnet.

We pulled over, lifted the bonnet and clouds of steam greeted us – the radiator header tank had split.

After the radiator cap cooled down, we emptied a couple of bottles of water into it and set off again. Somehow, we made it, limping into Toddington services.

Four of us ran to the toilets to re-fill the bottles with water while one went to the shop. He returned with two packs of chewing gum and promptly stuffed the lot into his mouth. Ten minutes of relentless chewing, masticating like a donkey on a sack of carrots, saw him produce and spit out a huge ball of gum.

He moulded the gum all over the split in the header tank and we re-filled it with water, crossing fingers that the water wouldn’t pee out – it didn’t.

We re-filled the bottles, bought two more packs of gum just in case of another burst and after a long delay, gingerly got back on the road.

Time was now against me. The Preston fans suggested going into Watford and getting a train rather than trusting my luck with more lifts. I agreed.

The gum-repaired radiator miraculously survived and we made it to Watford railway station. I shook their hands, wished them well with their game and ran to the ticket office for a single to Euston.

And things just kept getting…

I’d just missed a train and next one wasn’t for another half hour. Time was now critical… I was looking like missing the kick off at Upton Park.

Sods Law says if something can go wrong, it will do. The train was delayed by ten minutes, I wasn’t going to reach Euston till just before three o’clock. I resigned myself to missing some of the first half.

At Euston, I dashed down the stairs to the Underground, checking how many changes I’d need to make. My brother had said East Ham or Plaistow were the best stations if I had to get the tube.

Northern Line from Euston to Moorgate; Hammersmith and City Line to Plaistow – I was back to sweating, it was past three o’clock.

Alighting the tube at Plaistow, I asked someone where the footie ground was and set off running.

I finally reached Upton Park, the Boleyn Ground, home to West Ham United as the clock reached 3.45. I found the half time turnstile as one of the locals came out scowling and cursing.

“What score is it pal?”
“Them fackin’ scarsers are winning two-nil,” he said in his best Alf Garnett voice.

He wasn’t blowin’ many bubbles.

Paying the half price gate fee, I emerged onto the main stand paddock terracing to learn Joe Royle with a penalty and Bob Latchford had given the Blues their interval lead. Both goals had come in the last five minutes of the half.

How unlucky… to go through what I’d been through to miss two goals by a matter of five minutes? All that effort to miss the goals, but I was still happy.

When yer luck’s out…

The game restarted and the ‘Ammers came on strong. And bugger me, in a two-minute spell midway through the half they tied the game up. Billy Bonds, with a penalty, and John McDowell with the equaliser.

Talk about feeling gutted, I felt like the contents of an offal bucket on a Grimsby trawler.

I was hot, sweaty, short of money and we’d blown a two-goal lead that I hadn’t even seen us take… gutted just isn’t strong enough.

All good things cometh to those who wait…

Everton steadied the ship and inside the final ten minutes launched an attack.

I honestly can’t remember the full move or indeed who played the final pass from the left flank.

But I have a blindingly vivid memory of my all-time Everton hero, Colin Harvey, firing an absolute beauty from the edge of the box. He’d met the pass perfectly and his shot flew into top right hand corner, giving Mervyn Day no chance.

Two-Three !!

And yours truly went absolutely nuts in amongst a sea of Hammers fans.

At the final whistle, with victory secured, I stuffed my scarf deep under my jacket before exiting the ground. Avoiding seething home fans searching for a ‘scarser’ to give a good kicking, I made my way back to Plaistow.

I got the tube into the West End, hoping to meet my brother in the Lyric, the pub at the back of the theatre he was appearing at. I needed some money for a train fare home, I wasn’t hitch-hiking home after the journey to get here.

He wasn’t there. I crossed the road to the stage door, the theatre said he wasn’t in yet for the evening show.

I went back to the pub to finish my pint and must have looked somewhat forlorn.

Telling the enquiring landlady my tale of woe, she kindly dipped in the till and gave me ten quid. Thanking her, I trundled off to Euston to catch a train back to Manchester.

I hope our George paid her back.

(also published on https://taleoftwohalves.uk)

Everton – first game memory…

1970 Champions

March 28th, 1970; Everton vs Chelsea at Goodison Park.

Not the first game of football I ever attended, that honour goes way back to around 1959/60 when my eldest brother took me, as a four-year old, to Burnden Park and he swears to this day I had the privilege to see Nat Lofthouse play.

Obviously I don’t remember that, but I do recall many occasions standing on the Great Lever End supporting the Wanderers before I got the calling that was to become my footballing passion and has remained so to this day and hopefully for many, many more.

Both my brothers had grown up as Bolton fans, having avoided the temptation of becoming just more United fans – back then – City weren’t a force, but while David remained a Trotters fan, George had switched allegiance to Everton when Bolton were relegated and Everton were riding high having won the League title in ‘63.

He regaled me with tales of Alex ‘The Golden Vision’ Young, Brian Labone, Alex Scott, Roy Vernon, Fred Pickering and more, and watching the ‘66 cup final victory over Sheffield Wednesday on television – with George in the Wembley crowd – my loins were stirred. This team in Royal Blue looked everything he’d said they were and more.

His match day programmes and rosettes began to adorn my bedroom wall and when he got a new scarf, his old one became mine.

The ‘68 cup final loss to West Brom was a huge shock, Everton were expected to easily dispose of the Baggies, but Jeff Astle thought otherwise… the ‘69 cup semi-final loss to a late Tommy Booth goal for City at Villa Park knocked me sideways… and I still hadn’t seen the team that was to become my passion in the flesh.

Season 69/70 dawned and so too did an inexorable Blue march to a magnificent seventh league title, backstopped by Gordon West, captained by the Last of the Corinthians Brian Labone, spearheaded by Joe Royle but the artistry, the magic, the power and the glory was the greatest midfield trio ever – the Holy Trinity – Colin Harvey, Howard Kendall and Alan Ball.

I’d seen enough of this glorious team on television, I had to go, but as George hitch-hiked down the East Lancs most games, at 13, our Mum forbade me from doing that.

I waited and saved pocket money, I would get there.

And so to March 28th, 1970… and the penultimate home game for Everton with Chelsea the visitors to Goodison Park. Everton were top of the table, Chelsea lay third, it was all set up for a terrific game.

Got the bus from Salford to Manchester Victoria station, bought my day return ticket and forty minutes later I exited Lime Street station.

I had no idea how to get to Goodison, George never went by train so hadn’t been able to tell me which bus to get.

As rain began to fall, I saw a guy sporting a blue and white scarf, ”scuse me mate, which bus do I need to get to Goodison?”

“Darn’t nar son, Oi’m a Chelsea fan, you tell me,” came the cockney voiced reply.

Together, we waited at the line of bus stops outside St.Georges Hall and jumped onto the first one we saw a blue and white scarfed passenger on.

Twenty minutes later, we alighted on County Road and followed the crowds up Nimrod Street and my first physical site of the Grand Old Lady, Goodison Park. I’d been to Burnden and Old Trafford with my United supporting schoolmates, but this felt special, it truly did.

It was raining, the streets were packed with Blues, the old Main Stand was in the process of being replaced by the new (current) one. I said goodbye to the Chelsea fan who I’d shared the bus ride with and while he headed off to the Park End, I entered the Gwladys Street End, bought my programme and a meat pie, and made my way out onto the terracing I was to stand on for years and years to come.

It was 2.30 and the ground was already filling. Despite the construction work on the new Main Stand, fans packed their way into the new seats – not sure H&S would allow that these days.

The teams emerged onto the pitch, first and third in the table, two teams of immense quality, skill and style.

Chelsea under the managership of Dave Sexton lined up… Hughes, Webb, Mulligan, Hollins, Dempsey, Hinton, Cooke, Hudson, Osgood, Hutchinson and Houseman – household names almost to a man, a team to be taken and reckoned with seriously.

Harry Catterick selected his eleven thus… Gordon West in goal, Sandy Brown at left back, Tommy Wright on the right with Roger Kenyon, deputising for the injured Brian Labone, at centre half between them. Howard Kendall, Colin Harvey and John Hurst would play the midfield allowing Alan Ball to push further forward to link with Johnny Morrissey on the left wing and Joe Royle at centre forward, with Jimmy Husband on the right.

As the rain continued to fall, Everton kicked off defending the Gwladys Street End, a cacophony of noise from the 58,337 crowd greeting the first whistle.

Royle to Ball, the ball played back to Sandy Brown, the burly no-nonsense Scottish fullback made five yards before launching a long ball forward where Ball had raced into space on the left. The ginger-haired World Cup winning dynamo controlled the ball, turned and laid it sweetly into the path of the onrushing Kendall who wasted no time in thrashing it past a forlorn and despairing Hughes from the edge of the box.

One – Nil, and just 14 seconds on the clock – Chelsea hadn’t touched the ball !!

Goodison erupted and I could barely contain myself.

Grown men I didn’t know hugged one another, hugged me, jumping up and down, cheering our heads off.

Bedlam… scenes… limbs.

Chelsea restarted as Goodison bayed for blood, it wasn’t long in coming… inside four minutes it was two-nil as Bally buried the second.

More hugging, jumping, cheering, bedlam, scenes and limbs, and cries of “Champions, Champions” rang, deafeningly, around the ground.

Everton were magnificent, and shortly before the break, Joe Royle bagged the first of a brace for a three-nil half time lead. The team in third place in the table had barely had a kick.

Everton, through Royle with his second and substitute Alan Whittle, made it a nap hand 5-0 before the hour mark, and nobody but nobody gave two hoots that Dempsey and Osgood scored two late replies to add a small measure of respectability to a scoreline the visitors quite frankly didn’t deserve.

Leaving the ground, wet and yet elated, the queues for buses long, I walked – for what would not be the first time – all the way back to Lime Street for the 6 o’clock train back to Manchester.

I got home safe and sound, much to my Mums relief, and basked in the knowledge that I knew I’d found my footballing destiny and yes I know it sounds corny, a spiritual home.

As Everton look to build a new, iconic and hopefully 60,000 seat stadium at Bramley Moore Dock on the banks of the Royal Blue Mersey for the 22/23 season, I look forward to another ‘first’ Everton game, but irrespective of who the opposition are that day and the result, March 28th, 1970 will never be forgotten.

I’d witnessed the School of Science put on a display of power, precision and nothing short of sheer footballing excellence, truly Nil Satis Nisi Optimum, nothing but the best.

It would and has remained etched no chiselled, indelibly, into my memory.