In the footballing hotbed of L4, a Grand Old Lady is entering her final few years with a fresh lease of life.
With its wooden seats, timber flooring and obstructed views, Goodison Park has become such an anachronism in modern-day football that Everton’s departure from its 127-year home has long been inevitable.
The club will soon make their move in search of bigger and, touch wood, better things down by the docks, but one fans’ group, The Originals 1878, is doing its utmost to reinvigorate a stadium too often lacking any semblance of an atmosphere in recent years.
Owen and Ste are two key members of the group, which formed in 2015 and is now beginning to make an increasing impact on match day atmospheres on one side of Stanley Park.
The real nadir, they believe, came in last season’s Europa League home defeats to Atalanta and Lyon; the former saw the Italians trounce a managerless Everton 5-1 in front of just 17,000, and the latter saw a desolate Goodison numbed by the French outfit.
“Lyon only took about 200 people and outsung 30,000 of us. I always knew the atmosphere was bad anyway, but those games were the ones where we said ‘we have to start doing something here’. It was embarrassing,” Ste says.
“It’s the whole culture of it; you just want to turn up at five to three, go down for a coffee ten minutes before half-time, then go home five minutes before full-time. They just expect the win, whereas if you go, your priority should be to enjoy the game with whoever you go with.
“This generation don’t know anything else. They want to sit there and only sing when it’s 1-0 or 2-0. It’s not really their fault, it’s just how they’ve been brought up. They’re paying £40 – £50 to go, so you may as well get the most of it.”
Through meetings with the club – who Owen says have been ‘very helpful’ – for several years, the group have been offered a platform to get their ideas across; most recently, the introduction of an air raid siren before Z-Cars blasting through Goodison’s speakers at this month’s goalless Merseyside derby.
“We said to them a few weeks before [the derby] if there was any chance we can play the sirens before it, and there was no messing about, they just did it straight away,” Ste says.
“Since the Liverpool game, things have really picked up. People have finally realised that you can play a big part in helping the players by being a supporter. We’re getting more support now, which is obviously a positive.”
Clearly, more Evertonians are beginning to take notice. Their call for fans to arrive in the stadium half an hour before kick-off paid dividends, with many following their lead and helping Goodison generate the sort of volume rarely seen since arguably the days of David Moyes.
They replicated this in last week’s 2-0 win over Chelsea which, coupled by the excellent mosaic of past Everton number 9s from fellow group Gwladys Street 1938, again rendered the old stand a far more colourful, vibrant setting.
Their latest reward for their tireless work was Thursday’s announcement from Everton of the introduction of a singing section from next season, situated in GT8, a corner of the club’s Gwladys Street stand, which was received with almost universal positivity.
Having now reaching one of the group’s first goals, Owen hopes the section will enable those determined to be more vocal in their support to come together, rather than be dispersed in various pockets of Goodison.
A follower of the Blues on the road too, he singles out the feral atmosphere in the away end in Everton’s 2-1 win at Leicester City in October as a benchmark for what he envisages a singing section at Goodison could provide.
“When we first started, it [singing section] was one of our main priorities. Now that we’ve reached that, that’s a really high point. We’re really proud of what we’ve done and hopefully we can kick on next season,” he says.
“GT8 isn’t the most ideal place in the ground but we can’t say straight away ‘we want GT4, straight behind the goal’. It has to build momentum. If GT8 is good this year, they might open GT7 for us next year.
“We had between 2,000 and 3,000 at Leicester. If we had that core group in Goodison, it could be like that every week.”
Already congregating in GT8 for the remainder of this campaign, Owen and Ste hope the work put in by The Originals can prove wrong those who disparage the sort of fan culture they hope to bring back to Goodison.
With the move to Bramley-Moore dock now only a few years away, both believe that an improved Goodison atmosphere will make the transition into the new stadium far easier, in a way that West Ham United, for instance, failed miserably when they left Upton Park for the London Stadium in 2016.
“It’s a stigma in England about singing sections and ‘ultra’ groups – you can’t use the word ‘ultra’ in England because of the amount of stigma behind it,” Owen says.
“We’ve only got three or four seasons left at Goodison Park; that’s only about 60 games. We want to cherish these last games that we have at Goodison and make them games to remember.”
“If you start now, then you’ve got a head start for when you go into the new stadium. We’ve made a start in Goodison now, so we can take that forward to the new stadium,” Ste adds.
A vociferous Goodison seems to be affecting those on the pitch, too. Delighted by the relentless derby atmosphere, Blues manager Marco Silva said even 70 per cent of those noise levels would do 30 – 40 per cent of the team’s job for them, and Seamus Coleman added after the Chelsea game that a raucous stadium has definitely lifted him and his team-mates.
And Ste feels that replicating those levels of support over an entire season could be the difference between potential European qualification for a club like Everton.
“If you’ve got a good atmosphere throughout the season, I’ve always said you get at least ten more points a season,” he says.
“So, say we finish on 50 points, I reckon if we had a good atmosphere week in, week out at home, we could finish at least on 60. That could play a big part in getting into the Europa League.”
With a singing section secured for next season and the group’s reputation growing rapidly, there is, rightly, great excitement about what the immediate future could hold for Goodison.
But what do the group see as long-term success in terms of rebuilding the stadium’s atmosphere?
“In a year’s time, we’d just like to see Goodison being at its best again. We saw it against Liverpool; it’s very clear that there’s a laziness in the fans and we just want to get that laziness out of them,” Owen says.
“We want people to go to the game and enjoy themselves. It’s becoming a chore now for some people, and going to the football shouldn’t be like that.
“We’ve just got to carry on with the momentum that we’ve got currently. The Originals have gathered quite a bit of interest, and obviously with the newly-announced section, that will pick a lot more interest again.
“For the rest of the season, the main lads who were in GT8 for the Chelsea game will be doing that. We encourage people who want to sing at the match; just for the rest of this season before we get an actual section; to come down.”
The changes may be gradual, but the impact is proving huge. Slowly but surely, Goodison may be becoming a bear pit again.
Our thanks to Owen and Ste for their time and contributions.
Any season ticket holders interested in joining the singing section next year must renew their season ticket regardless of where they are sat. If you do not renew, you will not be eligible. The deadline for existing season ticket holders to renew is Thursday, April 4.
The Originals 1878 are also collecting donations towards improving Everton’s atmosphere. To make a contribution, visit their GoFundMe page here.