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A Famous Night in Oldham

By Tony Onslow   ::  11/02/2013

Our next FA Cup tie is due to take place on a ground that holds fond memories for many of the senior Everton fans, myself included, who remember that famous night when the club, in 1954, won promotion to top flight of English Football. Their form had fluctuated somewhat during the season and as the Easter Holiday approached; Everton were laying in third place behind Leicester City and Blackburn Rovers. The fans did all in their power to assist their favourites by backing the promotion campaign in great numbers and over 60,000 were packed inside Goodison when, on Good Friday, Everton defeated Lincoln City by 3 goals to 1. Next day the Everton players then made an arduous journey to London were they fought out a 0-0 draw with Fulham at Craven Cottage before resting up in preparation for their return game with Lincoln City that was to be played on Easter Monday.

The country was, at this time, enjoying a bout of warm weather and this encouraged many people from Liverpool to spend the day at the seaside. I found myself, along with the rest of my family, in Southport but my mind was with Everton in East Angelia.  As five o clock arrived, I was anxious to know the outcome of the game. This, in 1954, was no easy matter. Television consisted of one channel, the BBC, which gave very little coverage to sport so most football fans, in order to know the scores, were dependant up on their wireless in their home. The only other option, if you were out and about, was to read the stop press column which appeared on the front page of the Liverpool Echo.  The time had reached 6 pm when our family found themselves standing in the long queue outside Chapel Street Railway Station waiting to board the Electric Train that would take us all back to Liverpool. Suddenly, as we got near to the barrier, a newspaper vendor shouted “final football scores echo”.  My dad quickly handed him two one penny copper coins and I took a newspaper from his pile. I quickly focused my eyes on the stop press column and saw the words, Lincoln City 1 Everton 1. Not the best of results but, nevertheless, promotion was still possible.

Once again there was a crowd of well over 60,000 waiting the greet Everton when, next Saturday, they stepped out to face Birmingham City at Goodison. Victory was imperative if the promotion challenge was to be maintained but, to achieve this, Everton first had to find a way past the formidable barrier of Gill Merrick who was present in the visitor’s goal. The England International goalkeeper proved to be in great form and pulled off a string of great saves before he was finally beaten by Dave Hickson who, with the only goal to game, earned both points for Everton. They now needed to win their final game, away at Oldham, to be certain of promotion. Their opponents, who were bottom of the league, had already been relegated.

Leicester City and Blackburn Rovers, who were still ahead of Everton, had now completed their fixtures. The Midland club, who were top of the league, had secured 56 points while the Lancashire men had 55 points but their goal difference was far superior to that of the men from Merseyside who now had 54 points. Drawing the match at Oldham was not going to be good enough to gain them promotion, Everton simply had to win. Local pride was also at stake. Liverpool FC had recently been relegated from the top tier of English football which, since its inauguration, had always contained a football club from the City of Liverpool. Everton, to maintain this proud record, simply had to win.

Football under floodlights was still in the future when the re-arranged fixture between Oldham Athletic and Everton took place at Boundary Park on Thursday the 29th of April. The kick-off, it was decided, would take place at 6:50 in the evening. The exodus from Liverpool began early and from lunchtime a great number of Everton was reported to be in Oldham town centre. I travelled there in my uncle’s car, as we approached the town of Oldham; I noticed that the skyline was dominated by a forest of tall chimneys which adjoined the many local cotton mills. Avoiding the centre of town my relation found a good parking place, (no need to worry about double yellow lines in those days) and we arrived at Boundary Park in good time and, while queuing for admission, I noticed that parameters of ground, where the wall could be breached, had been covered with a thick layer of tar.

We did, eventually, get through the turnstiles and in to the ground which, as the kick off approached filled up rapidly. The enclosure was soon full to bursting point and people were beginning to spilling on to the cinder track that surrounded the playing area. Elsewhere, people could be seen scaling the boundary walls having failed to gain admission by the legitimate process until they were, eventually, prevented from doing so. The local newspaper, the Oldham Times, had two journalists present who left us with this account of what they experienced…   

He was just like a character from an Al Read monologue. “You’ll never get in.  I say you’ll never get in” he called through the car window. We shrugged him off and drove on. When we neared the ground, we saw his point. Rochdale Road was blocked by a seething mass of people, buses, cars and cyclists. The buses were disgorging their beribboned loads and getting thankfully out of it. The acquaintance who had given me a lift groaned when he saw the sun glinting from the rooftops of the hundreds of cars in the first parking ground. I left him to his parking problems for the paddock where a familiar face of a Policeman friend loomed up out of the mass.

“I don’t think you’ll make it he said, try the top end”. Up there a solid mass of humanity was moving towards the turnstiles. I joined it and became locked in the press. All around I could hear the slurred flat accent of the Liverpudlian and blue and white favours, blue and white balloons and blue and white scarves dominated my restricted horizon. They need not have been Evertonians. The Athletic, after all, sport blue and white as do the supporters of Blackburn Rovers, who had more than a passing interest in this game. But the Merseyside accent was unmistakeable. Pressure increased, and I decided I’d had enough. “I’ll try the stand”, I said lamely to no one in particular, and burrowed my way through to open ground, or, at least, to ground which had fewer than six people to the square foot. A turnstile leading to the Chadderton Road end offered far better prospects, and after some rather fierce pushing I popped through it like a cork from a bottle. Moreover, I secured a good position on the top step of the terrace in the corner. It was a good position for a few seconds.

Then I was the centre of a fight for breath and even life, I tremendously imagined, as hundreds more surged towards the envied vantage point I had gained.  The pressure and the heat became almost intolerable and unkind things were said to the people who were pushing from behind, though they too were being pushed by the unknown hordes behind them. Suddenly the pressure slackened in this bitter corner. A gate leading to the paddock had been opened to let some people through and, like a minnow in a millrace; I was caught up and swirled through. The next moment about a hundred of us found ourselves walking along the cinder track. The police were trying to fit us in to less -packed places in the stand behind the goal to the accompaniment of indignant hoots from the crowds, who view we were blocking. While I was directly behind the goal there was a flurry and a whoosh, and the ball hurtled in to the net not a few yards from my ear. Frenzied shouts of delight indicated that this was a goal, but I was too dazed to care. 

The second article reported that...

It is doubtful whether there has been such a scene at Boundary Park. The presence of Everton supporters in the town in the early afternoon might had been a warning, but such a tremendous invasion was never expected. Our newspaper says the club had 33,000 in the town.  The number of people who failed to gain admission was said to be seven thousand.

The match meanwhile had got under way and the large crowd of Everton followers were soon cheering John Willie Parker gave them the lead after 7 minutes of play. George Burnett, a former player with Everton, was in the Oldham goal and it was his two errors which gave Everton a 3 goal. The Oldham goalkeeper, when challenged by Dave Hickson, allowed long ball forward, played in to the goal mouth by Tommy Jones, to sail past him in to the net. Minutes the same player failed to hold a shot from Wally Fielding and Parker was again on hand to turn the ball past him in to the unguarded net. Everton then increased their lead thanks to brilliant solo effort by Dave Hickson. The Everton men picked up the ball on the half way line and ran towards the Oldham goal. He beat three opposing defenders before letting lose a fierce left footed drive to score the best goal of the night. Everton when half time arrived, were leading by 4 goals to nothing.

The talk amongst the Everton followers now turned to possibility of gaining promotion as champions because their goal difference was now plus six and another two goals would bring them level with Leicester City. Their opponents however, had other ideas.

George Hardwick, the Oldham player/manager, had, during the first half, been almost a spectator while playing a centre forward. The former England International was now nearing the end of his long career but he was still a formidable opponent. Hardwick, when play recommenced, had taken up the position at centre half. The home side now adopted a more robust approached to their play and the game began to develop in to a brawl with the referee having to caution several players from each side. An injury to Eddie Wainwright then reduced Everton to ten fit men as they laboured on towards the end of game while holding on to their four goal lead. The final whistle, when it arrived, was the signal for a mass pitch invasion by the Everton fans that then carried their players from the field and on to the first division. Boundary Park, as the local newspaper reporter had said, has never seen such a sight.

As for myself I returned home happy having supported Everton throughout their successful promotion season that had ended on that most memorable night amongst the mill chimneys of Oldham. It is doubtful, owing to modern safety standards, that such a sight will ever again be witnessed by the Everton away followers because the old method of first come, first served at the turnstiles, now appears to have vanished forever. I have never since returned to the Oldham Athletic football ground but, while watching them playing Liverpool on television, I was able to observe the many changes that have since taken place at the location.

The banks of terracing, which once stood behind each goal, are now been fitted with seats while the covered terrace, which once ran down one side of the ground, is now an unused area. Oldham Athletic, like our previous opponents Bolton Wanderers, has eliminated Everton on the last three occasions when the two sides have met in FA Cup tournament so; once again, we have a good opportunity to reverse the trend. So, COYB, lets make it through to round six and, hopefully, on to Wembley. 

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