I well remember being taken to Goodison Park in the 70s by an Evertonian father who wished me to see the contrast between Third Division Tranmere Rovers and their more illustrious cousins across the Mersey. Football had a bad reputation; hooliganism was rife - even Rovers had a bad reputation when playing away.
As years passed we would make the journey to Goodison a few times a season and one of the more disturbing aspects of the trek would be the appearance of skinhead thugs outside Kirkdale station selling copies of Fascist papers (Bulldog or something) and badges with 'Everton are white'. The police did not seem to move them on.
Everton was indeed one of the last clubs to have black players signed on a regular basis. There was a certain section on the terraces who brought shame on what was to become the City of Culture; the bananas thrown on to the pitch when Liverpool secured the services of John Barnes were, in some respects, a turning point. Racism became socially unacceptable at the game.
Whilst it has not gone away completely, this was a welcome change. Of course, some clubs still seem to attract a certain element of Neanderthals. I've been to over 50 football grounds in England and only twice have I felt in fear - at Millwall and at Stoke City.
What those two clubs have in common can be explained by a little anecdote. After being beaten 3-1 by Millwall, we adjourned to a nearby pub for a commiserating pint of Fullers London Pride. The landlord, aptly, was the size of a large brick shithouse and refused to serve a glass of the popular beverage unless we asked for a pint of 'wallop'. Wanting to escape this bastion of friendliness quite quickly we supped up but on the way out spotted numerous National Front and BNP posters. Pride of place was given over to a union jack with a bulldog in the centre. The dog's face had been replaced by a picture of mein host.
Stoke has 11 BNP councillors. Enough said.
Therefore, it is interesting to note the latest developments on Merseyside. After strong pressure from the police, Everton's home game against Stoke City has been rescheduled to the following day as it clashes with a proposed BNP march of hate in the city. Now, the question is this: has the BNP scored an own goal here.
Speaking to many people in the area, it appears that the knuckledraggers are not aware of the importance of football to this area. Historically, the BNP has polled very badly in this area. It now feels it can win a seat in the next Euro elections with Holocaust-denier Nick Griffin likely to be the beneficiary if they secure around 8% of the vote. Good old Proportional Representation!
The Liverpool Echo - to its credit - has a leader comment attacking the decision:
- Football fans get heartily sick of fixture changes to suit the TV money moguls who essentially own the game. The TV firms pay the big bucks that pay the big wage bills and, like it or not, they demand the matches are played when it suits them and their armchair audience. They often switch at short notice and can have a real impact on family life and work shifts. Season ticket holders, in particular, get a raw deal. It is testimony to the liberal nature of this country’s lawmakers that the BNP are allowed to peddle their dubious politics, almost at will. Especially as their presence usually attracts the hard-line anti-Nazi brigade whose own tactics can create sickening violence when the two groups collide. Sadly we appear to pander to the negative forces and we just cannot see why that should be the case. Everton’s game has been set in the fixture list since last summer. Plans have been made. The BNP announced their intentions in January. They are the latecomers to this particular and potentially unpleasant party. Surely Liverpool’s police and civic leaders should have told the leafleters straight: Another day ... or, better still, another city.
Still, it does leave a nasty taste in the mouth that the BNP are deemed to be more important than the match.