Something funny happened to me on the way home from Goodison Park

by Dave Goodwin

 

Thatcher’s Britain. 1987. My first trip to the old dart, with my lovely young bride. A rite of passage.

 

We were scheduled to drive from Oxford to Scotland. A diversion was needed and I had consulted the draw. A single ticket was procured – Everton v Manchester United at Goodison Park. Everton were then a top team.

 

The bride drove the hire car right up to the ground, as close as the crowd barriers would allow. A peck on the cheek and I hopped out. This was going to be fantastic. “I’ll see you back here at 5.30pm. On the dot. OK? Don’t be late.” No mobile phones in 1987. The bride headed off for her afternoon of shopping in Chester.

 

It began to rain. That harsh north-of-England sleet. Fortunately I had my Adidas waterproof jacket with me and I put it on. It was red.

 

My seat was excellent. Under cover. Thirty rows back in one of the stands that ran along the sideline. About level with the edge of the penalty box, so I had a good view of play and an even better aspect on the standing room area behind the goal to my right. In those days the fence behind the goal at Goodison curved back in a shape which mimicked the semi circle on the edge of the penalty area.

 

The surging, pulsating, anarchic melee behind the goal helped shape the rhythm of the day. The standing group fought, spat and threw things. My God, you would have to be raised in an Estate on Merseyside to even contemplate spending an afternoon down there.

 

Bryan Robson played for Man U that day. What a thrill to watch him lope about the pitch, threading passes. But Everton under Howard Kendall were hard and well-drilled, masters of wing-play and had the best defence in England.

 

A great day for the local Toffees, posting a 3-1 win over their abject enemies from down the highway. Therefore, crowd behaviour was probably several notches higher than its worst. It was impossible to know – I had no gauge.

 

Football hooliganism was at its peak in the late 80’s and I knew to be alert for strife after the game. No problem – I had a plan. I would remain in my seat for a quarter of an hour after the end of play, read my program and then quietly depart after the trouble had dispersed a little.

 

Bad plan. Within three minutes of the whistle a burly steward was by my side, gruffly instructing me: “Everybody must leave. Now.”

 

Plainly I did not understand crowd management, UK style. I stood and joined the procession down the stairs, which led me inexorably through an exit gate. Two huge blue wooden doors had been thrown open.

 

The exit spilled into a large plaza area, a roundabout really. Suddenly, as I stood there part of a human sea, I wanted to lose the red raincoat I was wearing. But it was pelting down. My hair was saturated, my cheeks bright pink and my glasses fogged.

 

But across the plaza I could make out the outline of four double decker coaches. They were crammed with United supporters who had been removed from the stadium several minutes before the end of play.

 

The buses were a natural magnet for the buoyant Evertonians who gestured triumphally in their direction and yelled abuse in their strange dialect. The Man U folk leered angrily out of the bus windows and then struck up what seemed to me an amusing chorus, to the tune of the Liverpool club song: “You’ll ne-ver get, a JOB!”

 

This was too much for many of the home supporters. They breached the too-thin line of stewards and began forcefully rocking the buses, lowering their shoulders to the task. The buses swayed back and forth.

 

An innocent abroad, I was agog at the spectacle. Where was this headed?

 

Suddenly, the strong arm of the law materialised. Fifteen mounted policemen, who had been garrisoned half a mile down the road, charged right into the middle of the scene. Behind them trailed at least 50 police infantrymen.

 

The locals knew what to do. They were familiar with this routine. It was part of their weekend ritual. They scarpered and ducked for cover.

 

But I was non-plussed. This didn’t seem real. Was it a dream? I was being charged at on horseback!

 

Almost too late, my mind and legs synched up. The horse was about two metres away when I finally vaulted on to the top of a low hedge lining a garden bed. Then I dropped off it into the garden and found myself sitting there surrounded by about a dozen adrenalin-charged skinheads.

 

Next thing the mounted policeman who had charged me was towering over us, instructing our little group to stand and get moving. He adopted the same grim aspect his great great great great grandfather may have employed at Waterloo. His uniform was black and leathered, armoured really, and his helmet was space age. The horse was absolutely enormous, straight out of Lord of the Rings.

 

I had never encountered a situation like this. Imagine being pigeonholed as a hooligan, just because I was there. Where was the evidence against me? The presumption of innocence? I proffered something pathetic: “But … I’m a lawyer from Australia.” He cocked his baton and commanded me: “Get in that F’n line and start marching!”

 

These policemen were not to be trifled with. You could tell from the way they carried themselves, and by the way the locals complied with their instructions. Some kind of respect there, born of bitter experience. They were seasoned troops, trained to understand violence and to nip it in the bud. Where are they now? They are needed in Hackney and Nottingham, Bristol and Birmingham.

 

Then the Captain of the mounted unit rode into the middle of the roundabout and, from his lofty saddle, spoke forcefully into a megaphone: “Single file. One line on each side of the road. Move off.”

 

I walked for nearly two kilometres, head down, hair sopping, hands in pockets. Anyone who attempted to leave the queue was browbeaten back into it by the attending sentries from the constabulary. It resembled the procession of a retreating army, except that the locals, victorious, were in good spirits. This was just their way of getting home after the footy – a slightly more severe variant of the saunter down to Richmond station.

 

Suddenly I had a terrifying thought. I glanced at my watch. It was 5.23! My lovely bride! I was going to be very late. What was the more frightening prospect – the wroth of the lovely one, or should I singlehandedly tackle that mounted Captain?

 

Sanity prevailed and, like the Scotch ad advises, I kept on walking. After a while I noticed that people were peeling off into side streets and pubs with no police reaction. Apparently it was mission accomplished – crowd successfully dispersed.

 

I wheeled right and stood behind a lamp post for a few minutes. Then, after the copper bringing up the rearguard passed, I darted back in the direction of Goodison, retracing my steps at a light canter.

 

Breathlessly, half an hour late, I arrived back at my rendezvous point and was relieved to spy a lonely car and the forlorn figure within it. She was unimpressed and unforgiving: “Where the hell have you been, and who were all those people?”

 

In 2007 I went to the football on Merseyside again. Anfield this time. Corporate hospitality. Liverpool v Chelsea. Twenty years on, had times changed?

 

At first glance the crowd seemed more civilised. It should be. All seating now, and over a hundred pounds for a ticket. But all about the ground aggression and menace still seethed. And throughout the night before the game, in the corridors of my hotel – admittedly a modest establishment – the sounds of drunkenness, scuffles and abuse simmered.

 

The culture of violence I experienced first hand outside Goodison Park  is alive and kicking today. England – it’s a different place.

 

Comments

  1. Dave, I used to use the after game lock-in as my excuse for being late to work some Saturday nights….from memory the away end had to wait 20 or 30 mins then escorted to the train station.
    My first game (Div 2, March 1984, featured bricks thrown from buses, marbles rolled under police horses to bring them down and pitch invasions. Bizarrely, I was hooked!

  2. Just had the Smiths blaring in my car.

    ‘Panic in the streets of London, panic in the streets of Birmingham’.

    I am not wanting to make light of a very serious situatuion, just noting that there is a bit of deja vu here uncannilly articulated by an English cult band decades ago.

  3. John Butler says:

    Dave. good stuff.

    Interesting that none of the recent commentary I’ve heard has made the association between the soccer hooliganism and the current strife.

    It seems an obvious place to start.

  4. Dave – the mistake you made when the policeman on his horse towered over you, was not coming out with the line (said with great indignity) – “Do you know who I am?” or better still “Why aren’t you out catching real criminals?”

    The police love both of these.

  5. If you’re ever in Adelaide, the cops just love this one…

    “Why aren’t you out looking for the Beaumont children?!”

  6. John Butler says:

    Excellent advice for the young folks out there guys. :)

  7. There is a very funny story that Peter Cook (the now deceased comedian) once told (hope you haven’t heard it). Apparently some big shot, pooncy pop star was boarding a plane and asked for an upgrade. When he was rejected he came out with the “Do you know who I am?” line, whereupon Peter Cook yelled out:
    “Excuse me ladies and gentlemen but we need your assistance. There is a man up here who doesn’t seem to know who he is.”

  8. Apparently Margaret Thatcher asks that question a lot these days.

    I liked the Kenny Everett story on how got booted off live telly. He apparently did a skit on the relationship between Principalities and what you call their leader.

    It goes that a Kingdom has a king, a Duchy has a duke etc., but England was just a country and had Margaret Thatcher.

  9. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Dips, Peter Cook is one of my favourite comedians. He knew human psychology. The Derek and Clive sessions with Dudley Moore still stand the test of time.

    Dave, it is interesting that Everton v Liverpool does not have the same hatred as most other derbies in terms of fans congregating. Why is this so?

  10. The comic musings are OK, but I find myself scratching my head about this spontaneous combustion of an apparently civil society.
    It used to be said that soccer attracted violence because of the tension associated with the low scoring – there was no outlet for the tension from the week, and the game only built on that. Sounds a bit thin in light of recent event. So much disengagement. So much alienation. So much disrespect.
    Dave – your piece seemed to be saying that the ingrained hostility, cloaked in footy supporting is the same in 2007 as 1987. Want to hazard any guesses about what makes UK society and football so different to ours???
    As long as you steer clear of younger drunks, I have always found Aussie Football crowds essentially good natured, despite the verbal banter?
    What makes UK crowds and football so differerent to ours??

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