One year ago today, at the time of writing, I embarked on a journey I will never forget. Since becoming an American Evertonian on the opening day of the 2012/13 season, it had always been my dream to make the trip across the pond to visit the hallowed ground of Goodison Park and watch my beloved club play in person. Last summer, my dream came true, and my years of enduring early mornings and countless heartbreaks finally paid off. In this article, I am going to tell the story of my football pilgrimage and the experiences I had along the way.
Friday: Arrival in England, Aston Villa 1-0 Everton
After an 11 hour flight from San Francisco, I met up with my father at the airport in Amsterdam. He works internationally and so our trip coincided with when he would’ve have been leaving work to come back home for a month. After touching down at Schiphol at 3:00 AM my time, I chugged a cup of coffee and we jumped onto another flight, taking us to Birmingham. We checked into our hotel and explored the City Center for a while before hopping in a cab and making our way to Villa Park. We were unable to acquire tickets in the away end, unsurprisingly, so I had to sit on my hands in Doug Ellis Stand while Everton fittingly ruined my first ever Premier League game. Despite the awful performance, the atmosphere at Villa Park was incredible that night, and my frustration and anger were not enough to keep me from admiring the noise the Villians made. Villa Park is an awesome old ground and although at the time I was furious about the game, looking back, it was still a great way to kick off the trip.
Saturday: Arrival in London
We woke up the next morning and took a train down to Euston, and after checking into our new hotel for the next few days, we explored Covent Garden and enjoyed some footie on the TV in the pubs.
Sunday: Tottenham 0-1 Newcastle
The next day we enjoyed a nice lunch and explored a bit more before hopping onto the tube and heading to North London. As we exited the White Hart Lane station, the unmistakable shape of the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium towered over us to our right, and my dad remarked that it looked like a UFO had touched down in the middle of a suburban London neighbourhood. The stadium is undeniably magnificent and after a few pre-game pints and a walk around the new ground, we climbed high into the north stand and watched as the visiting Magpies stunned Spurs 1-0 thanks to one of Joelinton’s two league goals all season in the 27th minute. I could feel the stadium grow frustrated as wave after wave of Spurs attacks came to nothing and a few potential penalties were not called in their favour. The atmosphere was tense but in the end, it was the travelling Geordies who made the most noise, breaking into rapturous celebrations upon full-time. Despite a disappointing performance from the world-class players I had gone to see, visiting Spurs’ new stadium was fantastic and it was a remarkable upset to behold.
Monday: Tourist Activities
I’ll keep these touristy sections short, as they don’t pertain to football, but I did enjoy visiting Bath and Stonehenge via bus tour, and our tour guide was incredibly informative. We learned a lot about English history and heritage. Upon our return to London, I also got to try Nando’s for the first time, and it did not disappoint.
Tuesday: London Tourism, Fulham 0-1 Southampton
After a boat tour of the Thames and a trip up to the top of the London Eye, we made our way into West London. We strolled along the river and through Bishop’s Park before winding up at Craven Cottage for Fulham’s Carabao Cup tie with Southampton. Although the Riverside Stand was under construction, walking through the halls of the old stadium and sitting in the Johnny Haynes Stand with a steak and ale pie in hand felt like a true British football experience. In the end, the visiting Premier League club was too much for a highly rotated Fulham squad to handle, and Michael Obafemi’s tap-in from Nathan Redmond’s accomplished cross knocked the Cottagers out of the cup. It was a beautiful night at a truly historical ground, however, and I was glad to see Fulham win the Playoff Final a few weeks ago after such a lovely visit at the beginning of this season.
Wednesday: Train Ride North, Lincoln 2-4 Everton
Although we were forced to sit in the Villa end on Friday, I had managed to buy some tickets for our Carabao Cup match in Lincoln off a great Evertonian named Bryan. He managed to sort me out with face-value tickets in the away end at the Sincil Bank Stadium. Cheers again, Bryan. We packed our bags and departed London, heading up north on the train. Inevitably, we got on the wrong train, which ended up taking a trip over to Manchester before dropping us off at Liverpool Lime Street, and so we jumped in a cab and made it to Goodison on time to jump on the coach by the skin of our teeth. I barely had time to take in Goodison Road before the Falcon Blues arrived, and off we went to Lincoln. We met some awesome people on the bus, including Kevin and his son Jack, who asked my father and me as many questions about America as he could. We sat with them in Everton end at the game and after the whole trip, my Dad and I ended up sending Jack a jersey from our local MLS club, the San Jose Earthquakes. The game, of course, was a six-goal thriller that saw a couple of stunning goals, and luckily we ran away 4-2 winners. We had to walk about a mile back to the coach in the pouring rain, but we were singing and smiling all the way. What a night.
Thursday: Liverpool Tourism and an Eternal Reminder
We woke up back in Liverpool, had a lovely breakfast, and set out to visit a few Liverpool landmarks. We walked to the Royal Liver Building, all the way to the Liverpool Cathedral, and then to Prince Rupert’s Tower, and I may or may not have jumped the fence for a photo op. After a visit to Bramley Moore Dock, I commemorated the trip and my love for EFC with a tattoo on my right leg, reading “NSNO” in the design used on the back of the 2015/16 kits. Forever True Tattoo did a fantastic job on my new ink, which I absolutely adore and wear proudly every single day.
The first tickets we booked during the planning process of the trip were for Friday’s tour of the Grand Old Lady herself, Goodison Park. On the tour, I laid my eyes on the Goodison pitch for the first time, and it is a moment I will never forget. For a minute I sat in Farhad Moshiri’s seat and gazed at the stadium I had longed to visit for so long. We got to enter both the home and away changing rooms before walking down the tunnel and up pitchside to the sound of Z-Cars. I couldn’t help but get goosebumps. After sitting in, at the time, Marco Silva’s chair in the dugout, my Dad reached down when the docents weren’t looking and managed to grab two little blades of grass and roots, which we somehow kept alive during our travels, and they have become a large plant now flourishing in a big pot at our house. I don’t know if I could think of a better souvenir, well other than the two kits and other gear I picked up at Everton One after the tour. Later that evening we went to the Royal Albert Dock, and as my Dad has been a Beatles fan since he was a kid, we visited The Beatles Story before enjoying a fantastic dinner on the water.
Saturday: Manchester City 4-0 Brighton
The next day we jumped on a train and headed to Manchester, passing right by Old Trafford on the way to the Etihad Stadium. What we saw there was a magical display of footballing brilliance; truly a joy to behold. City thrashed Brighton while we enjoyed the show from high in the Colin Bell Stand. It was such a pleasure to watch Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, and Sergio Aguero all at their best, and we got to see some stunning goals. City came out the gates flying, as De Bruyne put them 1-0 ahead after just 2 minutes. A fantastic team goal finished by Aguero made it two before halftime, and the win was sealed in the second half by a fantastic curling strike into the top corner from the Argentinian and a goal off the bench from Bernardo Silva. Watching the movement and ability of Pep Guardiola’s side in person was just a treat. However, the real treat was the game we would be attending the next day.
Sunday: Everton 3-2 Wolves
Finally, the day I had been waiting for. My first game at Goodison Park and my final game of the trip. We saved the best for last. After we returned from Manchester the night before, we went down to William Hill to throw a cheeky £20 on the game the next day. We put Richarlison to score first and Everton to win. Come matchday, we walked around the outside of the ground before kickoff and then checked out the memorabilia collection on the second floor of St. Luke’s, where I bought the signed photo of Richarlison celebrating his bullet header against Lincoln that is framed and on the wall above my head as I write. We then entered the ground, had a pint and a pie, and then took our seats in the Park End. We had the perfect view for Everton’s two first-half goals, the first of which happened to be scored by Richarlison (cha-ching). We also had a great view of Iwobi’s only league goal of the year and Raul’s second-half equalizer, but ultimately Richarlison’s superb header at the Street End won us all three points, and my bet at William Hill, in one of the greatest days of my life. My first game at Goodison was all I could ever ask for; exciting, nervy, and eventually triumphant.
Monday: Travel to Amsterdam and Johan Cruyff Arena
Bright and early the next morning we caught a cab from our hotel to John Lennon Airport, and sadly brought our time in England to an end. We flew back to Amsterdam, but this time we got to leave the airport and enjoy our one-day layover. I, of course, pushed the idea of going to visit Ajax, and so we did. We took a full tour of the Johan Cruyff Arena, which is a fantastic stadium. We went into the dressing rooms and then pitch side before heading into the museum, where I took photos with the Champions League trophies and the actual jersey worn by Cruyff himself. After more tourism later that day, we called it a night and prepared for our flight home the next morning.
Looking back on this trip, I am so unbelievably grateful that I had the opportunity to embark on this adventure and do so many things I had dreamed of doing since the age of 12. I got to travel all throughout England, going to football matches, and visiting historical landmarks and buildings. I got to explore the home city of my club that I had heard so much about, and I fell in love. I also got to forge amazing memories with my father and with the incredible Evertonians we met along the way. I would like to thank everyone who helped us out during our journey. I truly appreciate the incredible hospitality we were shown, from match tickets to the away day coach, and much more. The trip would not have been the same without you! Now, one year on, I again realize how proud I am to be a supporter of such a fantastic club filled with fantastic people, and I can’t wait to come back again soon. Although self-indulgent, I thought sharing the story of this incredible holiday might inspire you all, during these tough times, to appreciate the amazing Everton community that we are a part of and to appreciate the incredible experiences we have been afforded in life. I know that my pilgrimage to Liverpool truly changed my life, and for that, I am forever grateful. It truly is a Grand Old Team to support.