I always seem to start these posts with the same line from a Courteeners song, mainly because it’s always the case that I have been away because I have been working, really hard as it happens.
Lots has gone on recently; some good, some bad. Time travel would have made the last month better, and, given that we recently celebrated Back to the Future Day, it was perhaps to be expected to be more up and down than usual, so a DeLorean and Flux Capacitor might have helped me deal with it all better.
There came a birthday, one of the best I’ve had for ages, the in laws even got me a signed EFC ball from a charity auction – something I’d always wanted for all my 36 years, and set me up nicely for the West Brom game, a few beers on a school night made that comeback all the more enjoyable… Again, even at 2 0 down I had a strange feeling we could come back into it.
And, Great Scott! How we did!
But, none of this mattered a couple of weeks later, when I found out Howard Kendall had died.
“A bolt of lighting. Unfortunately, you never know when or where it’s ever gonna strike.”
I’d had a really good week: being observed as an apparently ‘outstanding’ teacher of geography for the first time, off to see Richard Hawley, half term coming up… walking home from my little girl’s ballet lesson in which she’d shown progress, all was good in the world. We were even going to beat Man Utd that afternoon, I thought.
I tried to put her down for a sleep but she wouldn’t settle. I sat watching the fawning build up to the Spurs game, listening to her tears thankfully drowning out the Norbert Klopp love-in… then, as the texts came through and I checked Twitter, the tears were my own.
Say it isn’t true.
Alan Ball, Brian Labone, Andy King: many of those deaths upset me because they were part of the Everton I grew up reading about, watching on videos, learning about through WSAG or older fans but this time it was real – my first proper departure of a hero.
When I started following Everton, Howard was the boss.
I remember watching him on the official BBC video, and how well he spoke on it.
I remember noticing how proud and emotional he looked on the same video when watching the team go up the stairs to get the FA cup after beating Watford.
“If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything…”
I suppose if I had a time machine, I’d go back to those halcyon days of the 60s to see him on the field alongside the other great names. Then, I would fast forward to the early Eighties, probably starting in the bleak days of Christmas ’83 so that the good days would be even more cathartic and enjoyable.
That I just missed those glory days, will be a long time regret, and that our main link between then and my supporting time has now left this mortal coil has, admittedly, left me reeling a little.
His memory certainly will live on, and not just here.
He left for pastures new in 1987, and I’ve pretty much convinced Mrs G that for her birthday next year, we should go to Bilbao – not just for the pintxos and Guggenheim but also to frequent Kendall’s Bar, and share stories about the dome.
Fast forward a few years, and I also remember my mum picking me up from school aged ten, telling me he was back as manager and my spending ages on teletext when we got home, then watching the game against City on the Big Match Live. I had my first live game a couple of months later, and wrote to him to inform him, getting a nice letter back.
The stories of drinking excess, not just with us but also at his other clubs, are legendary and do not need repeating here: whatever his taste for the finest things in life, or habits, he remained a hero for somehow keeping us up that season when it seemed nobody else wanted to.
“We all make mistakes in life, children”
“Although, if it wasn’t for him… We never would have fallen in love.”
After leaving for a third and final time, I actually encountered him more often. His daughter was doing a PGCE at my local teacher training college so he would call in to the pub restaurant I worked in at weekends, when visiting. He gladly signed an order slip one day. That daughter, funnily enough, graduated the same day as my then girlfriend, and he attended the ceremony alongside everyone else, proud as punch and in his Everton tie, at the same cathedral his funeral will be next week.
Years later, a couple of fleeting glimpses at the match or in Tesco Formby, and his book comes out. A new father, I excitedly arrived at the bookshop to meet him with her. He signed the book to her, posed for photographs, laughed as I told him that the previous week’s Oviedo-inspired win at old Trafford was down to her pink Everton vest, saying that he loved it when fans told him a victory was somehow down to them.
The meeting resulted in one of the best photos I’ve ever taken:
The last time our paths crossed, was back in May this year. He was drinking pink Cava with Lil and their companion one Tuesday morning, and as we enjoyed a quick drink next to them whilst the baby slept, I didn’t want to interrupt him, he looked relaxed and in his element and he’d done enough for me in the past to be left alone this time. I’d bother him the next time I saw him, I was sure.
Back to the Future has been the theme of this, but really, it’s about much more. I really wish I could go back in time once more to that bar. I’d swallow my pride, introducing myself and then thank him, telling him exactly what I thought of him and what an influence he had unknowingly been on my life. I’d buy him and his wife a drink and let him know just how special I thought he was.
For now – just thank you, Howard. I will always remember.
“I’m really gonna miss you.”
We simply have to end on an upbeat note, so I’ll leave you with some more positive news. Richard Hawley was immense, our own Enchantment Under the Sea Dance, if you will – and coincidentally, at The Dome. The shopping lists are definitely coming back this week, I have now found my hundredth list so have lots to share with you. Also, I mowed a lawn for the first time ever today, whilst a vat full of Tom Kerridge’s ragu bubbled away on the hob using some of our homegrown tomatoes.
Domestic bliss indeed.
Meanwhile, a certain young man reaches the double figures milestone. Ten years ago, I was in the Krazy House toilets and checked my phone to read a message wondering if I’d be godparent to a new born boy. As I mentioned in my wedding speech the pride I have had since day one of being asked to be Aidan’s godfather, it gets stronger every time I see him, especially now he’s taken up rugby and started doing Pollockesque canvases.
He is wonderful with B too, and she loves him back. As I was reminded by this evening CBeebies bedtime story, when you give love it grows and grows and both of them are evidence of that.
As was Howard Kendall, in a different way.