Merry Christmas Blues!
With Santa’s night-shift fast approaching I thought I’d share some memories of watching Everton over the festive season.
With quite a few Christmases enhanced through the blues, and even more ruined with a performance right out of the bottom drawer.
Got Those Festive Blues
Always a crucial period of the year league wise, there have been times were we have turned the corner in our ambitions, confirmed our malaise as happy to do nothing, or simply left us outright depressed.
My earliest memory of the blues during this time of year came at the age of nine. Presents such as the Spectrum 2ZX and two player Super League were left at behind to go and watch the blues at home to Coventry City on New Years Eve 1988.
Everton won comfortably 3-1 with my brother and I sitting in the Family enclosure alongside my step dad.
But halfway through the first half Paul Bracewell slid into a challenge near the touch-line and with his momentum taking him into the gravel just below us, the crushed rock went straight into my right eye – like a Michael Van Gerwen shot at a double.
I swear it near blinded me. My eye felt like it had consumed half of Miami Beach. If memory serves, a St Johns ambulance man was close at hand and treated me there and then, but it seemed he was trying to get the gravel out for ages.
Being a kid, I was gutted I was in the ground but unable to watch the game and having missed a goal, I was grateful the medic had sorted me out in time to catch Paul Bracewell drive home to make it 3-1 and seal our 5th win in an unbeaten 8 games. Sending us up to 4th.
Coventry City taken care off, it was time to go home and work out how to defeat the giant duck in Chukkie Egg. Once I could get the infernal thing to load in the Spectrum tape deck. Kids just don’t know they’re born these days.
The first Boxing Day match that sticks out in my mind was in 1990 against Aston Villa. The 1990-91 season had started with reasonable expectations – thank the lord Twitter didn’t exist back then – just three wins later we entered the Boxing Day game sitting more uncomfortably than Bill Kenwright when asked about Investment.
Fair to say this was a must win for an Everton side in 16th position with just 15 points from 18 games. The title, only three years earlier was now a distant memory. After the Christmas presents had been opened, no I phones or tablets back then, we went to the game leaving our Skateboards and Scalextric behind.
We visited my Aunty in Tees Place, Kirkdale. Two or three mince pies later we walked up to the ground past the old Sportsman and Tramways pubs and the old bus depot on Carisbrooke road.
None of them are there now, just to highlight how old I am actually becoming. I always remember Barnies Sport on County Road and always seeing an Everton shirt in the front window. Sounds stupid but the sight of that shop, the last thing I’d look at before the iconic St Lukes Church on Goodison Road came into view, was a thrill that still hasn’t left me.
The game sticks out because my uncle Ron, who was always the personification of calmness and never flustered said worryingly: “We’ve got to do something today.” Doesn’t sound much but that was almost panic stations for Uncle Ron.
“Bring us back three points lads,” was his familiar leaving note.
Everton thankfully won the game thanks to a close range bullet header at the Gwladys Street from Graeme Sharp. A great late finish from a tremendous ball in from none other than Eddie Youds, following a Seamus Coleman style run. Youds is probably a great quiz question around the pubs now.
The blues win was vital and the Gwladys exploded when Sharp headed home. Three points were ours and the blues won the next three games against Derby, Chelsea and Man City to ease any relegation worries. In true bipolar Everton fashion, we only lost one of our last 12 games to ensure an albeit unsatisfactory 9th placed finish.
My Christmas memories from Everton are varied, like everyone else’s, but it was never quite a great Christmas unless the blues won on Boxing Day. My mum and step dad would always give us the best Christmases. Very fortunate with my immediate family all local to make the festive season a truly exciting time.
Yet all their efforts wouldn’t quite be recognised if Everton didn’t do the business on Boxing Day. So Sheffield Wednesday in 1994, a 1-4 defeat right out of nowhere after we had been transformed under Joe Royle since his appointment in November 1994, ensured my face represented a smacked arse despite having an otherwise great Christmas with a Teletext TV for me and my brother and FIFA 94 the standout gifts.
The Blues quite simply made me look ungrateful. A stupid excuse I know, but such was my disgust at the defeat. Bad results have affected my mood ever since, but thankfully not to this extent.
I remember being obsessed with Teletext. It was wondrous and absolutely ridiculous given how technology has progressed since then. But it was the dogs back in the day. Everton’s thumping defeat made me less inclined to press 302 so off I went to the fictional world of FIFA 94 instead.
Everton made up for it a year later with me, now ageing impressively at 16, listening in on Radio City as the blues beat Middlesbrough 4-0 at Goodison in a Boxing Day clash with one of my favorite sides of recent years.
I simply loved the Limpar/Kanchelskis combination with Big Duncan upfront. Royle’s second season side was more than capable of winning trophies but had an aversion to lower league teams including going out to Port Vale after limping past Stockport in that season’s FA Cup.
I was unable to go the game as my mum wanted the whole family together on Boxing Day. We made the short trip up the road to my Nanna’s. This place was the beating heart of my family and everyone gathered there.
Sitting next to my Nanna’s stereo, I had to get down to below sea level to hear the speakers as she had the whole family round.
Graham Beecroft was right on cue to deliver four moments of elation: Goals from Short, Stuart (2) and my all time fave Kanchelskis, started a run of five wins in seven games as the blues and Kanchelskis clicked into gear. Back in Nanna’s the feel good factor had well and truly arrived.
My Grandad loved Boxing Day, it was his favorite day of the year. Probably because it was the one day he had carte-blanche from my Nanna to truly go for it on the drinking side. Never shy to have a drink but by no means the alcoholic that this may read as.
A frown free day ensured my Grandad was walking around the house absolutely bladdered singing Everton songs from back in the day as we put Middlesbrough to the sword.
‘We are the Goodison gang’ getting multiple renditions, much to my Nanna’s ire. “Stop making a bloody show of yourself.” I can still hear it to this day.
I loved it and on top of that every five minutes Grandad was asking me and my twin Ben if we were alright for ale while no-one was looking. These were great times, even if the lager was Hofmeister.
Three points, a Buffet big enough to cater for an Indian wedding and sneaky cans of ale on offer from my extremely merry Grandad made for a great Christmas. It’s truly all about the little things.
A Festive season that stands out for all the wrong reasons came just a year later in the 1996. Having started our league campaign like world beaters in the 2-0 victory over a Shearer/Ferdinand led Newcastle and a first half to remember at Old Trafford, with Big Duncan looking world-class, we entered the festive period on the back of a hugely encouraging 1-0 win at Derby.
A result that at the time gave genuine hope to a title challenge, but then #EvertonThat happened, rearing its ugly head 90s style with 6 consecutive defeats at the likes of Wimbledon and Sheffield Wednesday.
The implosion began on Boxing day in a 4-2 defeat at a Ravanelli inspired Middlesbrough. We can’t have Evertonians getting upbeat and optimistic now can we. A drop in form so alarming we ended up embroiled in a relegation battle in a season we were fancied to challenge for the title.
Personally I had a terrible Christmas. Purely down to having the flu throughout. Not Man Flu, this was hardcore Influenza!
I never got out of bed on Christmas day, missed Christmas dinner and barely had enough strength to open my presents. A lot more clothes and Lynx gift sets now my youth was rapidly leaving me.
My state had hardly improved by the time my uncle came home a few days later to tell me the news that we’d signed a player from Chelsea and asking me to guess who. Yes, I was even too ill to put my teletext on but a potential dreamy signing had improved my condition.
I started thinking Petrescu or even Mark Hughes. Hopes now firmly raised, my flu-like state intensified ten fold when my Uncle said Terry Phelan had signed.
Classic Everton and an anti-climatic ending to a Christmas best forgotten.
Everton and the board attempted to finish me off altogether by adding Claus Thomsen to the squad a few weeks later. To call this guy a yard dog would be insulting to, well a yard dog. An utterly depressing attempt to improve our squad obviously didn’t work and the blues won just three of their remaining 14 games ending the season in 15th place.
The Walter Smith years soon followed and a cure for insomnia had been found. This guy made David Moyes tactics against Liverpool in the semi final look gung-ho. It’s the festive season so I wont dwell on this coma induced time for our great club but there are a few standout moments. My first match day kip being one.
The game against Derby County was easily the most mind numbing experience I have ever witnessed at Goodison Park. Having only scored three goals in 10 league games it was no surprise we added our 6th home 0-0 draw of the season on Boxing Day. A statistic that says it all about Walter Smith and his watching paint dry tactics.
The moment the sandman struck came midway through the second half with Everton playing like Mike Bassett’s England v Egypt. We looked like we were playing in an airing cupboard such was the sluggishness of the players.
No attempt to score or even attack, it was dreadful stuff and the guy sitting next to me in the Gwladys said I hadn’t missed anything when I awoke a few minutes later. I was feeling recharged even if the players were not.
It was the only time I have ever took the knock at Goodison. It truly was awful stuff. Bakayoko and Cadamarteri up top with Branch on the bench. Recalling that line up would help the guy in the upper Gwladys – Lukaku’s nemesis – to realise how much things have improved for us.
Thinking of times such as this puts into perspective what’s happening at Goodison now under Roberto. I still believe, although it has been tested that we are on the cusp of something special, and I’m hoping we will start to see the real Everton stand up as we enter 2015.
It has been a shaky start to the season but there are reasons to be optimistic and the belief I have that we will end with a trophy is still as strong as it was entering into the season.
Keep the faith blues, having witnessed sides like Walter Smiths 1998 coma inducing Everton makes me appreciate all the more just how far we are progressing under Roberto’s class of 14.
I could go through all Boxing Day fixtures and Christmas periods supporting Everton in my 28 years as a fan but I don’t wish to lose the audience. There will always be highs and lows, beating Man City to go 3rd in the Champions League season and my ex-wife buying me a PC computer was a special Christmas.
The fact that we were going through a divorce with the blues clinching a Champions League spot just 5 months later made that a particularly great season. Not bitter, just better. Honest.
My single life meant more opportunity to go the game. Yes, she was a nightmare at times and didn’t understand my emotion towards our club, but with all that behind me the 2005-06 festive period was exciting for me but not for our club.
The European hangover of getting knocked out of the Champions League and the UEFA cup by September, meant the blues headed into the Christmas period in 16th place.
Tickets for Bolton at home and Villa away purchased I looked on in disgust as the blues were thumped 4-0 in both games. Who pays £60 to watch zero goals and eight conceded? The sight of Per Kroldrup unable to head a football was comical as ex-red Milan Baros ran riot. This resulted in a less than happy Boxing Day trip home.
I felt like Clarke Griswald after discovering his hard earned bonus was an all year round gym membership.
Hey ho, at least I was single and I had my dartboard off my mum.
Looking back I was clearly going through a mid-life crisis. Had I asked for a dartboard? It barely got used as I found the pool table in the pub next door much more appealing.
Thankfully the blues recovered significantly winning six out of the next eight after Tim Cahill’s never to be forgotten late, late winner at Sunderland to eventually finish 11th in a season that started with such expectation. Yet again classic Everton.
The last one out, Sunderland at home, was the most ridiculously one-sided defeat since Grimsby Town in the 80s, saw the ten man blues go down to a Ki Sung-Yueng penalty after a howler from Leon Osman.
This year sees Stoke City come to Goodison Park with a huge opportunity for us to progress up the table. We could yet be eating our pigs in blankets with genuine hope going into 2015.
It’s a huge game for us and about time we made our mark in the Premier League this season. Having played under the radar for the most part, a clear run of games without the added congestion of Europa League football has to be turned to our advantage and help build the momentum going into the February clashes with Young Boys Bern.
Fingers Crossed Stoke are on the receiving end of a pasting most blues feel is coming from this Everton side. With presents all over the shop back home, let’s hope the blues have the Potters in similar disarray at Goodison this Christmas.
It’s been a memorable year by and large. The trips to Lille and Wolfsburg will never be forgotten and with Young Boys up next, the possibility of booking flights to Warsaw begins to grow. But there’s no place like home and here’s hoping we all have a Merry Christmas with the blues feeling generous this time around.
So have a great Christmas blues. I truly wish everyone all the best and if Santa wants to hold on to our big present until May 27th, then that’s fine by me.