I was seven years old and driving my mum mad. My younger brother had been born just over 18 months earlier and was occupying most of her time. Match days always followed the same routine in our household: my dad would put on his suit and leave to meet his friends in the pub, prior to going off to Goodison to watch Everton. Occasionally he would depart a few hours earlier to catch a bus or a train to an away match in nearby destinations such as Bolton or Blackpool.
This November morning in 1962 was no different. My dad was getting ready to leave at the earlier time of 10am and, as was the custom in those days, was putting his suit and tie on ready for the match, looking forward to a few pre-game pints with his friends and an escape from any troubles in life.
Sadly for him, I was to unwittingly scupper his plans. My mum insisted that she couldn’t spend yet another Saturday on her own looking after two needy kids. Faced with the possibility of not being able to attend a match, my dad came up with the perfect solution: he would take me with him. To watch Everton, away at Blackburn Rovers. My first live football game.
The bleak and bitter winter of 1962 was yet to fully envelop the nation, but there were already snow showers on Merseyside and, like most other impoverished urchins, I was suffering from chilblains, a very irritating condition only made worse by having just one pair of shoes to my name. Suitably prepared for the elements in my duffle coat, my Everton scarf, a pair of moth-eaten gloves and my Sunday best trousers, I almost skipped with joy as I left the house.
I am sure my dad would rather have been with his mates, but I did consider myself to be the excellent match companion. Every week I spent every penny of my pocket money on Soccer Star magazine, which provided the most in-depth coverage of all matters football. It was closer to a weekly newspaper than anything else, but it had the league tables and all the results from the previous weekend.
On Saturday afternoons, sitting glued to the teleprinter on Grandstand as the results appeared, I would produce a handwritten version of the First Division table for my dad to check when he got home. If I was lucky, he brought the after-match Liverpool Echo Football Pink home, which I would read from cover to cover over the weekend.
In November 1962, the Beeching Report, which was to decimate the network of railways in Great Britain, was yet to be produced, so we boarded the steam train from one of our many local stations in Liverpool. The seating accommodation was arranged in the old-style compartments with sliding doors that allowed access to two padded benches with space for three to four passengers on each.
Everton were currently top of the First Division and under manager Harry Catterick looked set to achieve their first league title in 25 years. Most supporters I encountered wore suits, as well as blue and white scarves. Several had pinned rosettes to their jackets and most of the adults appeared to be drinking bottles of a hideously coloured libation, which I later found out was called Brown Ale. Everybody smoked – mainly Woodbine cigarettes. I assume not many made it past the age of 50.
We managed to find two seats in a compartment full of Blues, who were probably in their late 20, and my Dad started chatting to them about Everton’ s prospects. Roy Vernon had already scored 11 goals for Everton and was playing against his former club today. The fans were in confident mood as Everton were unbeaten in their last nine games and the ‘Golden Vision’ – Alex Young – was also scoring for fun.
Mid-conversation, to prove a point, one of the lads pulled down a small suitcase from the rack above him. He opened it and pulled out a stack of football programmes. Everton, Manchester United Tottenham Hotspur; they were all there. To me, it was the equivalent of being present at the opening of the Arc of the Lost Covenant. I was mesmerised, and sat in silence for the rest of the journey reading these sacred scrolls in an absolute trance. I have no idea who the bloke was but he started my love affair with programme collecting, which has continued to this day.
It was snowing when we arrived at Blackburn as we trudged through the cobbled streets lined with terraced houses bound for Ewood Park. It was now just past 1pm but we suddenly we came to a halt as we went past a pub. My dad stopped and told me to wait outside as he would be back in a minute. I was not the only urchin there. At least two other young boys were waiting patiently.
I was new to this ritual and the others explained to me that the dads were having a drink inside with their pals. Then, my dad popped out, gave me a bag of cheese and onion crisps and a bottle of pop and told me he wouldn’t be long. Pop and crisps on a pub doorstep – heaven. Little did I realise that this was to be my pre-match ritual for the next few years.
About 2pm, we trudged towards the stadium and already the snow flurries were starting to make their presence felt. Outside, the street vendors were calling supporters over to buy a scarf, a bobble hat or even a rattle. My dad must have been concerned about us both getting totally soaked so he paid for seats in the cramped, wooden stand, giving me a perfect view of the other Everton fans who were huddled, wet and shivering on the open terraces behind one of the goals.
I had some form of pie which I was assured was a local delicacy, but my biggest joy was when he came back with a programme. My very first one. The primary colours were blue and white and it featured a graphic of the stadium with the floodlights illuminating the pitch. On the left hand side, a portrait of a Blackburn player was featured with him holding the ball ready for the day’s encounter. The bottom half displayed an honours board that seemed to confirm the home side had won nothing of note in decades. The cost? One penny.
Despite the inclement conditions, there were over 30,000 hardy souls gathered. Blackburn were lying in mid-table but still had two England internationals in their side in defender Ronnie Clayton and winger Bryan Douglas. Also in the team were two players who Everton would sign in the future, defender Keith Newton and the prolific goalscorer Fred Pickering.
It is fair to say that Everton weren’t the most popular club in the country at the time. With a spending spree funded by the largesse of pools magnet John Moores, Everton had been dubbed ‘The Mersey Millionaires’ and every side wanted to stuff them. The Toffees featured goalkeeper Gordon West, fiery midfielder Jimmy Gabriel, centre-back Brian Labone, and, of course, Roy Vernon and Alex Young as the strike force. Apart from Labone, they had all been big money signings.
The home crowd were hostile but still outsung by the vociferous away contingent. It is fair to assume that I learnt a whole new spectrum of vocabulary on that afternoon. It was an undistinguished first half and at the interval, the score was 0-0. Still, I was loving every second of it, totally engrossed by the action taking place in front of me.
As the last embers of daylight disappeared, the floodlights were called into action and the game suddenly exploded into life. The near Siberian conditions in the second half forced the match official to insist on an orange ball. Blackburn took the lead through Ian Lawther but left half Brian Harris equalised for Everton. Then inside forward Dennis Stevens put Everton 2-1 up just as the snow made playing seem almost impossible. Another Everton win was on the cards.
Next, Fred Pickering scored a second for Rovers and in the final minute of the game, the referee controversially awarded Blackburn a penalty. In the blizzard, Bryan Douglas stepped up to score to guarantee the win for his side. As darkness enveloped Ewood Park and the snow laid siege to the stadium, it was time to head home. But what a magical experience it had been, despite the defeat. My dad, however, appeared to be in the depths of despair and was struggling to deal with my ebullient enthusiasm.
We somehow fought our way onto a bus after the bewildered conductor had lost all control of the queue waiting to board and headed towards the train station. It was absolutely freezing, and a stampede ensued as the train pulled in. It was impossible to find any where to sit so my dad took me down to the Guard’s van, where I sat on the floor with fellow dismayed and frost bitten Evertonians. The Guard seemed to take pity on everyone and started to dispense cups of a hot brown broth, which tasted as vile as it looked. I later realised that was my first and last taste of hot Oxo.
We climbed off the train to be greeted by news vendors selling the evening’s Football Pink. I nervously explained that the defeat meant that Tottenham, and not Everton, were now top of the table. My dad smiled and just said that when you support Everton, you learn to expect disappointment. This turned out to be an ominously prescient statement.
As we arrived back in Liverpool, the buses were still operating despite the incessant snow flurries. I think we arrived back at 8pm. I was soaked through, my feet were frozen, but as I opened my duffle coat, the programme was still there, dry and intact. It was the start of a long love affair.
By Paul Mc Parlan @paulmcparlan