I was struck by Dan Meis’s comment about capturing the “lightening in a bottle” in relation to Goodison Park and what it means.
Although I am often very critical of much that the club does, they need to be applauded for the recognition that Goodison is a special place and the desire to take as much of Goodison with us when we move.
I think we all know in our hearts what the essence of Goodison is based on our individual and collective experiences, but it is difficult to articulate it precisely.
For me, and this may sound obvious or indeed strange, but the key association I have with Goodison is Everton – it is our home, it’s where we’ve made our history, seen the good and the bad, but it is ultimately about Everton. Many of the newer stadia I’ve attended lose that identity and association with their team. New stadia tend to become more neutral, at least to begin with.
We need to see the name, the badge, the motto, the Royal Blue, screaming out of every wall, beam, seat and part of the ground. We need to leave everyone in no doubt, this is where Everton “happens”. The stadium itself needs to shout Everton from the moment you arrive and enter. If we want to intimidate our opponents we need to let them know they’re on foreign turf. It’s no surprise for example that when putting the plans together for recent Ryder Cups, the European organisers made every structure, sign post, every covering canvas blue – the colours of the home team. They did so to remind the Europeans they had home advantage. For the last Ryder Cup in the US the Americans did the same using their colours, red and many players from the victorious US team commented on the impact.
Of all the features about Goodison the greatest special element for me is that every part of the ground is distinct, not only in appearance but also in atmosphere. Most Evertonians at least partially identify themselves by the part of the ground they sit in. Most are very specific, “Upper Gwladys Street, in line with the edge of the penalty area” “Top Balcony, just to the right of the half way line” “the paddock, close to the Gwladys Street”. There’s a real sense of identity and ownership of your seat but also the immediate surroundings. There’s the familiar faces who you’ve seen for years on end, may be nod to, but you don’t know their name, nor them know yours, they are all Blues obviously but they’re a bit more special because they sit near you, in your chosen area of the ground.
The interesting thing and what confirms the value of this is that in days of terracing, most fans would choose to stand in as close to the same spot as they always did for every match. It might not have been the best view, you might have got wet when it rained but it was your spot. I used to stand on the Gwladys Street two barriers up from the front wall, in line with the penalty box, on the Bullens side. Why? Because it was where my grandfather stood, and he stood in that spot from 1927 until 1974. I still look over to it every time I go to Goodison.
The local community element within the different parts of the stadium, the distinctiveness and local familiarity of each section of the ground is very special and extremely important. One of the biggest issues all clubs have faced when moving supporters is keeping that community together. It will an essential part of getting the new stadium right.
I think the physical relationship between the different parts of the ground are also important, the relative positions, proximity to the “Gwladys Street” or being in the “Bullens Road” to see the players run out on the opposite side to Z cars.
Not only must Goodison’s amazing history be reflected in our new stadium, it must be celebrated at Goodison before we leave. We have a duty not only to relive and celebrate the memories ourselves but to re-educate the footballing world to the significance of our home, a true cathedral to the world of football. Just as an oil painting by a master has depth, a football ground becomes iconic over time through the continual layering of events and memories for those present.
Fortunately for many of the 70 million plus that have gone through our turnstiles there are so many unique events from our time at Goodison, hundreds of matches played by Everton obviously including many, many memorable afternoons and evenings, but also an FA Cup Final, a final replay, hosting the World Cup in 1966, the only club ground in England to host a World Cup semi-final, the hosting of the home internationals in the 70’s.
Each of these are stories in their own right, and it will be interesting to see how the memories are transferred to our new ground. As well as physical, visual reminders, lounge names, concourse names etc, artwork and pictures perhaps the club can explore ways of telling the Goodison story on match days before the game. One of the objectives is to attract fans earlier to games, to eat, drink and relax before games – perhaps this is an ideal time through innovative use of technology to relive those memories, remind everyone of our past and significance to the game.
I guess most important though is the atmosphere during the game. Whilst the team’s performance is always going to be key, clearly the design, materials used will have a huge part to play. Assuming that is the case, certainly Dan Meis has talked about it frequently enough what else can be done?
One of the keys to atmosphere will be communication. The club needs to know which fans want to stand and sing throughout the game, and they need to make sure everyone understands the characteristics of each part of the new stadium when choosing season tickets or indeed just match by match tickets.
Sensible stewarding and whilst not permitted currently, the immediate provision of safe standing when permitted should be a key part of the design and planning once the stadium is built.
The Greatest Legacy
Finally (for now) one last point. Whilst we get excited for the preparation of a new stadium we should remind ourselves we have four more seasons left at Goodison. Sadly it is a fact that anyone younger than their late 20’s will not have seen Everton parade a trophy around Goodison. The greatest legacy the club can provide in those 4 years is a team that wins at least one piece of silverware, preferably but aiming for more.
For me, and I know others agree, the club, board, DoF, manager (new) and players should have one huge focus – ensuring that the club doesn’t leave Goodison in 2022 without at least one genuine “lap of honour” with at least one trophy.
The greatest start to a new life on the banks of the Royal Blue Mersey will be a trophy winning side, capable of mixing it with all the Premier League and the best of Europe too.