It was 1966 and a wonderful feeling. We’d won the FA Cup, England had lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy…oh and the other lot had triumphed in the league. You might have thought that the sight of the three trophies doing a circuit of Goodison to roars from Red and Blue would ratchet up the passion. It did, yet I doubt we will ever again hear the unison chant of ‘Merseyside’. It was a purple patch that the fixture did not live up to. Maybe, in that most sentimental of games, events on the pitch should not have mattered, but they did. A single goal bagged the Charity Shield for the Reds.
It was a dowdy Everton performance, and did not augur well for the league campaign to come, or the ‘real’ derby fixture that was only a couple of weeks away. Of course those few weeks were a long time in football. Mr Catterick, backed by a big chequebook, splashed the cash. He bought us another World Cup hero to add to our two fine defenders. This man though was no stopper, but a potent and imperious midfielder whose impudence was backed up by a reputation for banging the ball into the opposition’s onion bag.
To score two goals in your first match for a new club is wonderful (thank you Mr Jô), but to score two goals in your first derby game makes canonization seem appropriate. This is exactly what Mr. Alan Ball did, and at a stroke opened his saint-holder account. The gloom of losing to a Roger Hunt strike two weeks earlier was swapped for optimism.
The capacity to bedevil the Reds is what we dream about in our Everton players, but we had no right to expect that he would do it right away. Our new man of the 60s made sure of his hero status. Not content with his explosive derby debut in the league, Alan Ball went further down the line to sainthood by scoring the only goal in the 1967 FA Cup Fifth Round tie that sent heavy-favourites Liverpool out, and us onward.
Even the wind-tattered screens used at Anfield to receive the relayed live game could not detract from a miracle that was watched for real by 64,000 a few hundred yards away at Goodison. At the end, we conga-chained out of Anfield Road to the mantra of, ‘What’s our name? Everton’. The chant was in mimicry of another supposedly unequal sporting contest, this time in the arena of heavyweight boxing.
Alan Ball is no more, yet I have felt just as good about our present day hero. Tim Cahill, like his sixties’ counterpart, is a colossus, even if he is also a little short on physical stature. No matter, he too has bedevilled the Reds. This season alone he has made them pay for it, whether by sneaking in to snatch a goal, or through supplying the skill for someone else to make it count.
Alan Ball won his spurs on the pitch with his technique and epic performances, and then he took the next step to greatness in earning the accolade of being ‘a fine ambassador for the game.’ In recent weeks it is almost as if our current hero realised that he must do more than just play anywhere he’s asked, not to mention create and score goals. He now speaks about the spirit at Everton. He metaphorically kisses the badge when he tells us it is a privilege to play for our club, our manager and our fans.
It’s great stuff to listen to, but more than that, and once again echoing our other heroes of the sixties. He’s not alone, his peers reinforce the message, even if it is instead couched in Mancunian, or must be picked from amongst the debris of English with a Basque intonation.
Let’s hope that as in the mid 60s, the words of our present day heroes are the calm before a storm of moving on to greater things. We need our team to emulate the event that happened right at the end of that decade. Wouldn’t we all love a rerun of May 1970 and a return to Goodison of that most prized of trophies?
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