My First Game: The Great Escape

I can still picture it to this day. Every time I go the match and look over to the Park End I can still see it clear as day, as if someone is holding a photograph over my eyes. The sight of a half built stand, propped by white RSJ’s with a great big mobile crane sitting idle in front. There is a banner hanging from one of the uprights, fluttering in the spring breeze, vivid royal blue that says “WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED” , and there are residents sitting on the roofs of the houses of Goodison Road that can be clearly seen from my seat in the lower Bullens. The date is May 7th, the opponents are Wimbledon, the Vinnie Jones led gang of cunts, and the match is known by many Evertonians as The Great Escape.

We turned up on the last day of the 93/94 season 1 point behind Ipswich Town, Sheffield United and Southampton in the relegation zone. The manager was the ever popular Mike Walker. And within 5 minutes we’ve conceded a penalty and were 1-0. My brother, who was 16 at the time, had grown up in the golden era of Everton history, basking in the glory of his school years with us being one of the best teams in the land, turned to me, aged 5 and said “we’re fucking shite mate”. 15 minutes later we are 2 nil down, thanks to the late Gary Ablett turning the ball in a bizarre moment of defensive comedy into his own net, and Everton’s 40 year tenure in the top flight is officially on the bombie. The look of complete horror is visible on faces young and old. That was the first time I’d felt the Goodison gloom, that sinking feeling that spreads through the ground and pierces everyone with a cold shiver. Step up Graham Stuart, tucking home bottom left the first Everton goal I had seen in person from the penalty spot. I remember jumping up wildly with youthful over exuberance while my brother, a tad embarrassed, tried claiming me down, knowing we were far from out the woods. Two Dean Holdsworth headed sitters rounded off a nerve shredding first half in which Everton were close to flat lining. This was also my first experience of the Goodison toilets, a terrifying cattle pen with the haze of ciggy smoke and the vomit inducing whiff of arl men farts. So far, so bad.

 

 

Second half and everyone around me are looking at their watches every 30 seconds, the sense of impending doom inching ever closer. Wimbledon are ruthless in their intent to condemn us to the drop and very nearly score on a couple of occasions, one in which a clear handball by Stuart on the goal line goes unpunished. And then, out of the blue, Barry Horne does a couple of keepy ups with his knees and twats the ball dead hard and dead far on the half volley into the top corner. Its mayhem, its chaos and I’m being thrown all over the place. Everton once again have life. Now the crowd are alive, the Gwladys has once again sucked another famous goal in and the ground is bouncing. But 3 points is needed to give us the best chance possible of staying in the league, and the blues have their tail up. The pressure continues until Stuart does a 1-2 with Tony Cottee and somehow slides the ball into the bottom corner. Pandemonium ensues. Fans are running onto the pitch while Mike Walker screams for calm. I’m lapping the whole thing up. Final whistle blows and the fans are on the pitch, chasing the match winning hero off the pitch who is holding onto the match ball. My brother, knowing he would feel the wrath of my mother if she knew we had partaken in a pitch invasion, resists the urge to get involved.

If you walk around of a Sunday afternoon in the town centre, nip into one of the quieter pubs and clubs and you will no doubt bump into legends of yesteryear. Many years after the craziness of the Wimbledon game, I was enjoying a pint in the Liverpool on James Street when none other than the diamond himself Graham Stuart walked in, the hero from my first ever Everton game. As he staggered towards me, the little kid inside got ready tell him how much he meant to me as a blue. Once we made eye contact, he looked me dead in the face, and in a drunken south London accent he said “you cunt”. To this day I have no idea why, but what a man. What a hero.

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