GOODISON is something of a guilty pleasure for me. I don’t like to say it out loud too often but it’s a ground with a wonderful feel to it. I like the way it smells. That’s the timber not the Blues. It’s a living museum. One of the last links to another age of football. I will be deeply saddened when its torn down. If Kenwright ever finds the Arteta money down the back of his sofa, and raises the cash to buy them a new stadium, I’d like to see Goodison sold to the National Trust and turned into some kind of football museum. An homage to the Victorian golden age that spawned the beautiful game.
A place for contrasting memories, too. It was a sometime semi-final venue in the 1980s, and getting to use their facility when we took on Manchester United there in 1985 was great. It felt hugely disrespectful to them somehow. What a day and what a game that was (a 2-2 classic, look it up).
I remember us going for the league in 1997, and Jamie Redknapp scoring at the Gwladys Street end, but then Duncan Ferguson levelled from way out. Robbie Fowler and David Unsworth were sent off. We drew and the league was gone. I was in their Main Stand and got spat on for standing up when Jamie scored. They celebrated denying us that title like it was the end of days. I’ve never before or since witnessed such hateful glee. Even the German word for it won’t suffice.
Then so many incredible days. Winning at Goodison is always a place beyond mere victory. It always feels like a madly glorious claustrophobic celebration. Under and over those Victorian pines. That hemmed-in place. You’ve stormed the castle and planted your flag. There’s blood everywhere. You’re delirious in triumph but still senses so heightened. Not sure how you’re making it out of here alive.
Strangest derby? The Hodgson one. Because we didn’t care if we got beat really. We know Goodison is always a watershed moment in a season. We knew it would be his Waterloo.
And so we come to a kind of full circle. It’s Brendan Rodgers’ turn to get thrown to Goodison lions. This time, as with Hodgson in 2010, there is no hiding from the sense that so many in red want the current Liverpool manager to fail. Go ‘ed, Brendan, lad. Take your team to that Goodison, lad. You’ll be fine there. They’ll be no bother there. He he…
Then they/we push him up and out of the tunnel and into the Derby day light. Into the Goodison cauldron. Wet and blue and green in the autumn. Steam coming off the pitch. Go ‘ed, Brendan. It’ll be fine. Don’t worry, mate. He he…
But it won’t be fine. I feel guilty and you should, too. He’s a good man who has done his level best for us.We’ve laughed and cried with him. We near carried him shoulder high to our greatest ever title challenge. That we fell just short of Everest’s summit should never diminish the leader’s contribution.
So much has gone wrong since that heady spring of 2014. We are now where we are and the winds of managerial change are gusting up the Mersey with obscene haste. We push Brendan Rodgers out into that damp blue green Goodison tomorrow knowing we are sending a fighting man to his fate. Everton are buoyant. Everton are alive, kicking and full of jusitified belief. They don’t care a jot that we’ve cast them in the executioner’s role. The blood will taste just as sweet however it it’s proffered.
Roberto Martinez will know no other way than to harness their new-found belief by simply unleashing it. If Liverpool FC are to give their man one last hurrah they must summon the spirit of the Emirates, a month or so ago. They must subjugate derby ego, for a focus.
If there is to be anything for the Reds this weekend at Goodison, it must be won on the back of solidity and stoicism. Brendan Rodgers would love to cut loose. Just one last time perhaps. He’ll toss and turn the night before. He’ll remember how his team dismembered Bobby’s team just 18 months ago. The 4-0 at Anfield that could have been eight. He’d love to do that to them again.
Daniel Sturridge remains the symbol, one of the last standing, of that joyous night at Anfield. His presence a potent reminder. A temptation to give all-out unbridled-dicks-flapping in the wind attack, one last insane bash. It’s unlikely to happen, though. The Liverpool manager knows that if his pay masters are still dithering then he has a chance to save his day. He’ll know that a draw might come to be seen as a defining moment in his career.
Because of these stakes, expect nothing less than a compact focused Liverpool. Brendan’s challenge will be to keep them calm. To keep them fearless. Fear and hope kills teams in derbies. The spoils go to those who can freeze time. Those with icy veins.
This team will go out possibly for the last time in this manager’s honour. They owe him a chance. We owe him a chance. This will be his magnificent 11: Mignolet; Can, Skrtel, Sakho; Clyne, Lucas, Milner, Moreno; Coutinho; Ings, Sturridge.
Pic: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo