Last week’s trip to Goodison and the long trek home following our Capital One cup exit afforded me plenty of thinking time and a chance to reflect on a number of questions:
‘What the hell was I doing in Liverpool at 11pm on a Tuesday evening?’
And… ‘Will I ever get to see Norwich win a penalty shoot-out?’
The first point was covered by fellow columnist Chris Young who speculated that the motivation for away fans is a mix of passion, loyalty, excitement and camaraderie.
However in my case I concluded it’s actually a by-product of my marriage.
I believe that over the years Mrs C has ‘conditioned’ me to a point whereby I’ve become utterly compliant. Whilst this normally works in her favour, it also means that when a friend suggests that we go to Everton away and that I should drive, I’ve become programmed to the point where I simply shrug my shoulders and say “yeah go on then”.
Of course the correct response should have been “sod off, that’s a stupid idea”.
With regards to penalty shoot-outs, I’m resigned to failure. When Redderz blasted his kick high and wide, I consoled myself that unlike the Millennium Stadium in 2002, at least this time I wouldn’t have to share the roads back east alongside car-loads of gurning Brummies.
Instead what occupied my mind on the long trip home was the conversation I’d had with an Everton fan as we made our way back through Stanley Park towards the carpark.
The conversation was prompted by an ill-conceived remark on my part along the lines of “Goodison is a bit of a dump isn’t it”?
Now with hindsight it wasn’t the smartest or most gracious of observations. It’s a bit like going round to someone’s house for tea and then stating that you don’t like the wallpaper and that the carpet smells a bit musty.
As the lights of Goodison faded behind us and the cranes orchestrating the redevelopment of Anfield came into view, I made things worse by suggesting they should knock down both grounds and create a new shared stadium in Stanley Park. It could be the San Siro of Merseyside as I put it.
Neither my marketing skills nor my reasoning were enough to impress my scouse companion. In fact he became so incensed that his voice ascended to an octave range that is normally only the domain of Maria Carey and in which I could pick out roughly one word in twenty.
“How would you like sharing a ground with Ipswich?” he retorted (I believe).
I muttered something about the logistical nightmare of creating a stadium on the Norfolk-Suffolk border which would have to cater for 70,000 (35,000 members of the Yellow Army plus an additional 35,000 empty blue seats).
“Goodison is our home” he continued “and there’s no place like home”.
It’s a line made famous in The Wizard of Oz and at that moment I wished I could have clicked the heels of some magic red slippers to avoid both the long haul back to Norwich and an increasingly irate Evertonian.
Of course it was also the strapline in the marketing campaign for this year’s kit launch, with this season marking the 80th anniversary of our move to Carrow Road. The marketing video hinted at our retro-themed home shirt whilst projecting various nostalgic images on a scantily clad Bradley Johnson. Goals from the ‘59 cup run; Jeremy Goss scoring AGAIN against Bayern; Fashanuuuuuuuuuuuu beating Clemence; and (perhaps my favourite moment of all time) Steve Bruce’s header in the Milk Cup semi-final.
Unfortunately the full reveal of BJ in the home shirt was spoiled somewhat by the presence of both a massive yellow sponsor’s logo and a man-bun but that’s neither here nor there.
The point of the campaign is that a club’s stadium is full of treasured moments throughout its history. It’s a place where memories are made and as such it becomes an integral part of the club’s identity.
As I made my way along the A14, I passed signs for the Ricoh arena in Coventry and it struck me that in recent years we’ve seen the creation of a whole number of ‘identikit’ stadia; The Riverside, The Stadium of Light, St Mary’s, The Amex and even the Etihad. These are all grounds which can boast increased capacities over their predecessors with better access and facilities.
However to the casual away fan it often feels that there is something missing – a key ingredient which can make them seem slightly soulless.
Back in the summer I wrote a piece on MyFootballWriter which prompted a discussion over the need to increase our current capacity.
What I find interesting looking through the comments is that nobody suggests we should build and relocate to a new stadium. That may be due to simple economics in that financing such a move probably doesn’t stack up against redevelopment options.
However I wonder whether it’s also that we all feel a deep-rooted attachment to Carrow Road? We all want the club to move forwards but what if that meant leaving behind the place where we’ve played for the last eighty years?
The stadium has changed significantly since my first match perched upon a milk crate on the terraces of the River End. My seat in the Upper Barclay from which I’ve watched us play for the last 15 years didn’t even exist back then. The stadium has undergone significant change with more facelifts than Burt Reynolds. We even have a vaguely unsightly hotel in one corner. But as with Burt Reynolds, most facelifts result in something that doesn’t look quite right by the end.
Carrow Road is the place that my dad took me when I was a small boy and it’s the place where he still takes me now albeit with my own son in tow. The ground may have changed but it’s still our home.
I wondered how the City fans felt back in 1935 when their canaries flew from The Nest. Did they feel a sense of loss at leaving their ‘spiritual home’ or were they just pleased that they weren’t running the risk of falling into some old chalk workings?
Anyway, back to last Tuesday night and I still maintain that I was right.
Goodison IS a bit of a dump.
The countless pillars and posts create a full range of restricted viewing and there’s an uncomfortable but undeniable sense that the top tier is audibly creaking above your head. There were old wooden seats but then again who cares? We stood for the whole match anyway.
For all of its faults, Goodison is a ground which is rich in history and character and I get why Everton fans wouldn’t want to move. After all there really is no place like home.
For the travelling Yellow Army, it’s just a shame that it often takes so long to get back to ours.
You can follow Steve on Twitter @stevocook