Category Archives: Personal

Andy King 1955-2015

Hero

Hero

I was in The Paddock with my father standing in our usual spot, half way back and level with the Park End’s penalty area. As the ball was nodded back to Andy King lurking 20 yards from goal, I recall the wait for the ball to drop far enough for his right foot to meet it flush on the instep – he must have felt it too, but King had a finisher’s instincts and knew what a difference that tenth of a heartbeat makes. The ball flew into the top right corner of the net and what felt like an earthquake exploded around me.

Seven years is a long time when you’re 15, but, in the ecstatic faces of the dads and granddads around me, in their bearhugs and their lifting of someone, anyone off their feet, I learned that it was a long time for anyone. Everton had the goal that would give us our first win over Liverpool since 1971, and I had been physically closer to another human being than I would be until the sweet sting of alcohol, lipstick and tobacco was my gateway to the mysterious world of girls some twelve months later.

King’s non-interview in the chaos that greeted the final whistle has entered Goodison folklore and now, at the age of just 58, he has left the pitch for good, a sudden and terrible blow for Evertonians who lived through the grim 70s, the better to appreciate the glorious 80s.

Andy King was a shining light in the often pragmatic teams that suggested that The School of Science had found places for rather more dunces than its reputation demanded. He was not a Scouser, but he immediately found a home at Goodison, his blond head always driving forward, his keen eye for a goal getting him on the end of chances and his smile lighting up a club that had moved, just a little, into the shadows. He had the air of a Sunday morning footballer at times, but heart and passion counted a lot more in the late 70s than a silky first touch and a Beckhamesque physique. He was good enough for us.

“Oh, Andy Is Our King / Oh, Andy Is Our King / Oh, Andy Is Our King” the faithful sang, ironically really, because he was one of us, not a man from another planet as today’s footballers seem so often to be.  He left to go to QPR and came back, but it never quite worked out. He did some managing, coaching and scouting round the lower leagues too, but he never hit the headlines like he did when he played in Royal Blue.

Everton, and Evertonians, were enriched by Andy King’s short but memorable time at Goodison, all the more so now we know that it was part of so short a life. Goodison will stand to its departed hero in August and men will hug each other again when that goal is shown on the big screen, as it is before every home game, but this time it’ll be slightly out of focus – just a speck got into my eye son, just a speck…

Four decades and a funeral – Everton as my spiritual home 10 October 2013

4876_98203816134_6375503_nI write on my way to my mother’s funeral: more specifically, on the way to the house where I grew up – now largely gutted of the stuff acquired over 52 years – under the roof of which I shall sleep just three more times. This severing of my last connection to Liverpool, the leaving of which did not grieve me 30 odd years ago, and the final goodbye to which does not grieve me this weekend, has caused the inevitable “mixed emotions”.

For all that, I am not really leaving, because, despite distance, despots and a diversity of opportunities never open to my father’s generation, football pulls me back, Everton the last remaining link in the chain that stretches for forty years of “going to the match” and 250 miles. Why?

Well, notwithstanding Everton’s proud history and its oft tearful owner, I’m not one for the slightly sickly sentimentality that can overflow on the other side of Stanley Park. Evertonians don’t miss the binding to the cause that comes with iconography of The Kop, the folk history of European nights, the heartbreaking, endless search for Justice For The 96 – we have other compensations. It’s not the chance of winning something these days that matters either. We gathered few gloryhunters even when glory really was ours, and the “Everton brand” is about as robust as it sounds. Best of all we’re unlikely to catch the wandering eye of an oligarch looking for a trinket with a convenient helipad either – so no £80M men for us, with perhaps a twentieth anniversary FA Cup the most we can hope for. We’re turning into a Cult!

None of that matters to me. Everton now occupies a space that others may reserve for religious convictions, photographs of weddings, graduations, holidays or the thudding tradition of the extended family assembling at Christmas. Everton is my fixed point, the object of an irrational, atavistic devotion, the “thing” that has been with me longest now I am shorn of both parents and soon the house in which I went from baby to boy to man. I have come to understand why Elton John and Rod Stewart would run up astronomical transatlantic phone bills just to hear the match described by a man in their crowd. When change swirls around – as exhilarating and scary as ever – one needs to look at something and be able to say, “That’s me”. When “Everton” – as a concept more than a football club – swims into my mind, that’s what I can do. Because that’s me. 

It helps that the club has changed so little, while football has bloated into a hideous hydra-headed monster, bellowing its gaudy importance all day every day everywhere. It helps that Leighton Baines and Ross Barkley play for the team, that Phil Jagielka is captain, that our manager is a decent man. But, actually, none of it matters – it only matters that it’s there and so am I.