Overall it was a truly memorable experience, and it exceeded all of my expectations. Well, where do I start? For ages I have been wanting to make the trip to watch the Blues at Goodison, but something or the other always came up and it never materialized. However, at the start of this season, I eyed the Merseyside derby as the perfect opportunity to finally fulfill my dream of attending a game at Goodison Park.
Originally it was just gonna be me alone who made the trip but the missus got her way and we decided that we would make it a family vacation to the UK, as it fell right in the middle of school holidays. So we decided to do 5 days in London and then travel by train to Liverpool for the weekend of the derby.
Everything was prearranged and I didnít take any chances and booked the match tickets way in advance through Thomas Cook Sport Match Breaks. I even prearranged all of the hotel accommodation in both London and Liverpool together with the train trips . As I was travelling with the little kids, I didnít want to leave anything to chance. I even arranged, through a close friend from South Africa, a personal meeting for my son and I with Steven Pienaar for the day of the match. My son was really excited and we were all set to go!!
Our few days in London were amazing (even though the weather was quite cold!!!). We stayed at the Park Plaza Westminster in London, which really was a superb hotel with excellent amenities and quite centrally located for touring of London (right opposite London Eye and up the road from Big Ben). There is really so much to do in London and the kids had a real blast. I'm a huge sports fan in general, so together with the usual attractions (Buckingham Palace, Madame Tusaudes, Big Bus Tour etc), I managed to fit in guided tours of both Lords and Wimbeldon. The tours were really impressive and if you a tennis or cricket fan definitely worth it.
So to the weekend, and as the anticipation for the Derby grew, we left on Saturday afternoon from London Euston to Liverpool by Virgin Train. It was a really good idea going by train as the ride was just 2 hours and the kids truly loved it. We arrived in Liverpool on Saturday afternoon and my spirits were lifted after I received a call from my mate in South Africa, confirming that my meeting with Steven Pienaar was all confirmed and that he would meet me an hour and a half before the game at Goodison Park. So I thought to myself, I get to watch the derby and meet one of the players, could it get any better!?! Well it certainly did, and what was to follow on match day exceeded all of my expectations.
We were really impressed with the City of Liverpool as it obviously wasnít as fast and EXPENSIVE as London was, but had a real cozy feeling to it. Everyone from the cab drivers to the hotel staff were talking about the game and excitement was building. After checking in at Premier Inn Albert Dock and enjoying Nandos for lunch (South African favorite!!), we went to Liverpool One for some shopping. And there in front of us, was Everton 2 shop. I was like a kid in a candy shop and I went crazy trying on everything!! Back at home we donít usually get a huge variety of Everton merchandise as the more popular clubs are Man Utd and Liverpool, so even though I spent a little fortune in the shop, it was a one-off and I didnít mind. My son now had his Pienaar replica ready for the autograph and picture the next day!!!
So match day arrived and we were up bright and early in anticipation. It was freezing in Liverpool with rain and after wrapping up the kids well, we took a cab to Goodison a couple hours before the game. As I reached the stadium I gave a call to Steven Pienaar who told me to meet him at main reception an hour before kick off. So we made our way towards main reception and the steward at main reception noticed that we had 2 little kids and a stroller so let us in.
From this point onwards it was a dream come true. As we waited for Pienaar, we ran into most of the players and former players. I had the pleasure of meeting Graeme Sharp personally, and the warmness and sincerity with which he spoke to me and my family even though he had never seen us before, was truly remarkable and now I understand why Everton is always referred to as the People's Club. He is a living legend and a true ambassador for the club!!
As we waited for Pienaar, I ran into Phil Jagielka, Victor Anichebe and Jose Baxter, and they were all ever ready to have a quick chat. Thereafter, Steven Pienaar arrived and my son's day was made. He was so warm and friendly and even offered us players family lounge tickets for after the game. Steven Pienaar is a true gentleman in every sense of the word and even offered us a lift back to the hotel after the game!! What struck me the most was how down to earth and humble all the players were and I have a new found respect for all of them. It was already turning into a dream day and the game hadnít started as yet!!
Besides the players and former players, Every single member of staff that we met at Goodison, from the steward at the ticket gate to the security personnel, was extremely friendly and went out of their way to assist us with whatever we needed. I would like to share with you one particular incident which really impressed me and it demonstrated the extent to which Everton FC are embracing both cultural and religious diversity. I am a Muslim, and as Muslims we pray 5 times a day at specified times. Around 30 minutes before kick off I was trying to find a quiet spot to perform my prayers. So I approached one of the security personel at the ticket gate to enquire if i could get a small quiet spot to pray for a few minutes. Her response was amazing. She went out of her way to contact a senior supervisor who arranged a quiet room close to one of the lounges where I had the privacy to perform my prayers.
In times where we are faced with so many negative headlines relating to racial and/or religious discrimination, it was so refreshing to see the genuine compassion showed by staff at Everton to accommodate my religious needs. In 25 years, I had always longed to visit Goodison, and besides the excitement of the derby and the electric atmosphere of Goodison(which was amazing), what will stay with me the most was the genuine warmness and compassion showed by all those that I interacted with. As you know, the game itself started poorly for Everton, but the comeback was amazing, and the atmosphere when we scored the equalizer was unbelievable. We should have gone on to score more in the first half, but overall I will take the result considering what might have happened had the ref correctly allowed Liverpoolís winner in the dying seconds.
After the game, we made our way to the Players Lounge and this was amazing as I got to see most of the players together with their families close up. It's such a warm and close knit atmosphere amongst the players and now I truly realize why Everton is different. Thereafter, Pienaar took myself and the family onto the Goodison pitch for some photos. He went out of his way to accommodate us and drove us back to Albert Docks after we were done. No egos, no arrogance... just a truly humble guy who was so friendly and down to earth.
A big thank you from the bottom of my heart to him, and all the other players and former players who made our day a truly memorable experience. Having been a supporter for 25 years, my first trip to Goodison Park and Liverpool exceeded all my expectations. As they say ó "Once a Blue always a Blue"!!! Now I understand what that means!!
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453 Posted 27/11/2012 at 14:42:05
460 Posted 27/11/2012 at 15:00:49
468 Posted 27/11/2012 at 15:11:37
Outstanding day at Goodison. I think your prayers helped us!
470 Posted 27/11/2012 at 15:23:07
Great story though, really pleased the experience lived up to (and surpassed) your expectations.
476 Posted 27/11/2012 at 15:27:36
477 Posted 27/11/2012 at 15:25:56
549 Posted 27/11/2012 at 19:03:02
552 Posted 27/11/2012 at 19:14:45
562 Posted 27/11/2012 at 19:39:07
574 Posted 27/11/2012 at 20:22:17
593 Posted 27/11/2012 at 21:42:54
Just one point though, if the referee had done his job properly a certain Uruguayan wouldn't have been on the pitch to have a goal disallowed. No need to be so generous in accepting the bit of luck we had there.
603 Posted 27/11/2012 at 22:45:15
I have actually converted people from Yemen, Iraq and Sudan into Evertonians while I was working in their countries years ago.
Some still keep in touch!!
619 Posted 28/11/2012 at 03:26:38
638 Posted 28/11/2012 at 08:39:33
689 Posted 28/11/2012 at 15:16:50
851 Posted 29/11/2012 at 11:59:32
As a child growing up in Limerick, Ireland, supporting the Blues was a rarity. All my friends supported the more fashionable sides. But I didn't care. Everton was like another limb attached to me. Everton was me. My room was covered with posters of my heros like Mick Lyons, Bob Latchford and the exotic (at the time, lol) Duncan McKenzie. And who could forget Graham Sharp's goal against Liverpool in the 1984 derby?
Anyway, I digress. Your article Zaid brings back the painful reality for me that I have never been to Goodison Park in my 54 years. It's now a "Bucket List" item. Living vicariously for a moment through your article, I could almost taste it. Thank you!!
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