I voted for the move. I didn’t mind if it were to Kirkby, which is part of us no matter where the bureaucrats draw their lines on maps. I felt that it was time for something new, something more attuned to the needs of football’s changing fanbase, something better than Anfield. I’d even have been happy with my version of a ground-share. But most of all, I voted to forsake Goodison Park because doing so would improve our chances of staying in the Premier League. I was wrong to vote for the move.
I’ve changed my mind for three reasons.
I never thought I’d say it – not after the Wimbledon game – but there are more important things than staying in the Premier League. Once I decided that I did not want Bill Kenwright to sell out to Gillett and Hicks types or the latest oil baron wanting a new toy, I had to look at what else I’d prefer Kenwright refuse to do, even at the cost of relegation. Leaving Goodison would also be too high a price to pay for Premier League status.
Visiting my second favourite ground side-swiped me – the sense of loss greater than I ever expected. Highbury had so much in common with Goodison – and now it’s all gone, replaced by a superbly appointed stadium that has all the charm and atmosphere of (appropriately given its name) Stansted Airport. Sure it works, sure it’s good for the club’s bottom line, but football isn’t about comfy seats, great views and escalators – it’s about the irrational, the abstract, the dreams. And if the ghosts of Highbury haunted me , then how much more would the ghosts of Goodison?
The last reason is personal but it’s one shared by many (and more every year) – Goodison serves as my father’s grave. It’s where I connect to his memory, where I can see him, hear him, feel him more than anywhere else, including the home in which I grew up. It’s where the sharpness of my own responsibilities to my two sons cuts quickest and where I honour what my father did for me, by trying to do the same for them. Outside and inside Goodison are hundreds triggers each waiting to be set off by an eye straying to a section of the ground or a player acknowledging the crowd coming across to take a corner or even a free-kick to be taken, just… there. I try, without being too obvious, to convey this to my own sons, but I fail because it’s not susceptible to verbal description – it’s, in a literal sense, visceral.
When Dave Hickson died a few weeks ago, I recalled my father’s face when he realised that his boyhood Everton hero would be our guide on a visit to Goodison. The two old men have gone now, but The Old Lady is still there, ready for her 111th season. And good for 111 more.