COLUMNIST JOE JENNINGS
I discovered a new Everton song yesterday (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5q73ieCA24s&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.thepeoplesblog.co.uk%2F=player_embedded). It really had me thinking. It forced me to take a trip down memory lane, and where it all began for me.
At an early age Everton supporters feel an irresistible desire, a yearning, nothing to do with the opposite sex, that comes later on, and it’s not as significant. You want nothing more than to go the match. Before you can walk you are quizzed by your elders "Is he blue or red? What foot does he kick with?"
You are told by your Dad of Andy Gray and Peter Reid - his heroes of the 80‘s. Of Howard, Kendall and Ball - his heroes of the 70s. You sit with the men at family parties, in the back kitchen, listening to their great football debates, the tactics, memories, stories, laughter. The banter with Uncle Emo, the mad Liverpudlian. You are, without knowing it, are being groomed for the grand day, your first ever match.
I recall very little of the action that transpired in my first game, barring a Chris Waddle lob that had Neville Southall clutching at thin air, but that doesn’t really matter. For me, all I can remember is the occasion. Slowly walking around the corner of the Park End for the very first time and being struck by the vastness of the Main Stand that renders you into the shadows, I beamed from ear to ear. There she was; bold, proud and imposing. It was then that the spark began to ignite.
It was little short of an astonishing experience, words couldn’t come out of my mouth. Love at first sight. For a wide-eyed toddler, I had never been anywhere like it in my life. I was in awe. An overwhelming sense of belonging overcame me.
By the time we left the ground, a profound stillness had fallen upon the broad and beautiful Goodison Road. It was with a wrench and a pang that I headed home. With speculative eyes, filled with excessive joy and fascination, I continued to gaze back. I walked away with the sound of the Old Lady’s roar and the smell of the pungent Goodison grass safely nestled within my heart. All along the journey homeward that presence lingered with me like the memory of a delicious song.
When I stand there now and look around the old girl when it’s empty, every vacant seat, blade of grass, beam, stairway - groans and aches with the weight of memories. The place is full of ghosts of the past on and off the pitch. On the great atmospheric nights we know how to tap into our past, I stand with my Dad, my uncles, I know Dixie and Bally are there, willing the Toffeemen on to victory. These nights feel spiritual, religious, a high mass, a holy communion of us all past and present. That’s how I feel about Goodison and what Goodison means to me.
Suffice to say, I was stirred on that cold and crisp January FA Cup afternoon. Bradford coming to Goodison was the day a five-year-old boy found the team that would become his obsession, and a crutch for the years to come. A previously great team that was down on its luck when I came along, I soon became a devoted watcher of even the team's worst defeats and disappointments. And while the years have wore on, and the matches have fluctuated from utter despair to unrestrained joy, I still get the same excitement as I did back then when I arrive at Goodison Park, the same shimmers down my spine. There is nothing that can rival the unique abstract warmth that only Goodison Park can evoke, the royal blue familiarity. It’s a spiritual connection, and it’s one of the best feelings of my life.
There is a famous quote attributed to Soichiro Honda; "The value of life can be measured by the number of times your soul has been deeply stirred".
As you get older, wiser, maybe more cynical as opposed to wiser...I guess I will find it harder and harder to encounter these moments. Your first love, your first car, your first house, your first child...these are the things that supposedly make you feel real, keep life interesting, make you want to get up the next day without feeling you know it all or have seen it all before.
In the end it is just as Honda said though, we are all searching for those moments in life that make us feel like a child again, sampling something magical for the very first time and the perfect feeling that brings. Everton Football Club has brought me many of those moments on the pitch over the years, as well as some of the real lows.
One thing that never, ever, fails for me though is the Gwladys Street at night.
The Sistine Chapel, The Colosseum in Rome...Niagra Falls, The Great Wall of China.....Gwladys Street, L4, on a cold, dark, winters night.
Given the choice, there would never be a choice to make. To practicing Evertonians Goodison Park is our Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo's ceiling or the simplistic beauty of Archibald Leitch's trademark criss-cross design that adorns the stands of the old girl? Again...no choice to be made!
To sum up how Goodison Park and in particular Gwladys Street at night makes me feel I will have to use the words of another. Bill Kenwright said that when Andrew Johnson scored the third against our lovable neighbours on that unforgettable day not so long ago that he looked above and thought "God, if you want to take me...take me now”! That's how I feel about the Old Girl. If it's good enough for Dixie, then it's good enough for me.
Goodison Park owes us absolutely nothing. We, as supporters, as a club, owe it absolutely everything.
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