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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

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Matthew Jacobson, “On the Streets I Ran” With former Everton Footballer – Ronny Goodlass

It was an aggressive rain that could have cut and sliced stone, or chiseled the shape and grandeur into mountains. But, on this day – the sky scattered torrid torrential rain across a North Liverpool field and more importantly across the field and pitch I was playing football on.

The pouring rain hammered the ground. A gallant and gritty driving force of nature zapped energy from the legs and ensured the heavyweight football zipped around with pinball pace and venom.

The penalty spot was extremely distressed by the uncomfortable conditions and decided to slide five yards away from its home, turning itself inside out, upside down and into the shape of a volcano.

The waterlogged six yard box was sodden heavy. For the brave goalkeeper, survival – not ambition, was the dominant aim.

Only the wind and rain watched this waterlogged game of football. No spectators, no referees and no managers.

It was just a game for two 14 year old friends in the 1980s, friends since the early 1970s and still friends in 2020. Two lads on a pitch, with a ball, enjoying the beautiful game of, “trying to score a goal past my mate Dave”. A format not recognised by FIFA….yet!

Full sized goalposts soared and towered in height. On reflection, we should never have attempted to cover the range and distance between the goal posts, especially covered in mud and unable to run due to heavily soaked burdensome training clothes and a pocket full of less burdensome strawberry Bon Bons.

Behind the goal, a makeshift mound was built with a makeshift plastic roof. It stood several inches above the river forming on the ground. The mound ended up the home for a lemonade bottle naturally full of diluted orange juice, sandwiches and a side order of crisps and biscuits.

The wind and rain become more intimidating, but the empty field, dark sky and silhouettes provided a poetic vision, scene and theme – all enhancing our footballing dream.

My imagination turned the field and pitch into Goodison Park. I am a blue, Dave is a red. And on this day, Dave was also every rival goalkeeper I could think of, from every rival team I could think of.   

For every goal, I heard the net ripple, yet there was no net. I also celebrated with thousands of Evertonians behind the goal and listened to them singing my name – yet it was just Dave and I.

For every save, I congratulated Dave, but I also told him he wouldn’t save another – but he did. And when I did score, Dave, at times questioned the goal, raising his arm, gesturing towards a nonexistent linesman, demanding offside. But the goal always stood….of course it would, I just didn’t tell Dave or Dave’s imaginary linesman.  

On this day, we were four miles from Goodison. We spent four hours on a field and for those four hours, I dreamt I was on the Goodison pitch.  

Our dedication and determination was evident. Our imagination avoided the wind and rain. The mind was never drenched, cold or splattered in mud.

We were the players, the fans, the ball boys, the linesman, the referee, the kitman, the manager, the commentators and just two young teenagers loving the beautiful game…..with seventeen drink breaks and four cheese and onion sandwiches. But sadly, two sandwiches were ruined by savage rain. Damaged and distressed with tin foil trapping the ingredients and turning them into a mess of messes, but we still ate them.

The trek home was harsh with clothes so heavy. Shoppers and drivers stared in disbelief that two teenagers had been out in such weather, covered from head to toe in mud, but still eating the remainder of the strawberry Bon Bons.

As I waved goodbye to Dave, I felt like we had played a cup game at Goodison. We didn’t make the grade – we never ever thought we would. But my dreams were always wrapped around a football and my imagination always made the grade.

My dream just had that punishing knack of not coming true.  

For you, the dream may well have been Goodison Park, Anfield or Prenton Park or somewhere else. Dreams can still be rewarding, mine brought me closer to the football club I adore.  

That afternoon, playing water/mud football in the field, with our own FIFA rules was no different than many other teenage experiences across the city, nation or the world.

But for some the dream is real…. 

Ronny Goodlass is a former Everton footballer and legend. A glowing career of football took him to his beloved Everton and across the world and Ronny now commentates on Everton games for Radio Merseyside. He is still passionate and loyal to the game he loves. 

I met up with the man himself to discuss the early Ronny Goodlass, team ethics and Goodison Park.

The younger Ronny Goodlass, was football a big part of family life at home?

Yes Matt, very much so, it stemmed from my Grandad and Dad really – they were all big Evertonians. I was born and raised locally, and in our day it was just football, no dreams of being a popstar or anything else – it was just football!

You would play football at school, and then from the moment you arrived home from school, you were playing football outside in the street, and playing football until it went dark, or until your Mum or Nan called you in for tea! 

You know, those games in the street, 25 a-side at times, coats down and playing until you would hear the shout to get yourself home. But around the area, we all felt the same, it was a football area….just football 

Those games, 25-a-side – even I remember them from growing up!

Yes, most kids in streets play them. One person turns up and you need to find another! So, it went from 11 a-side to 25-a-side. And it was kids of all ages, but you didn’t care, you just wanted to play football.

What was it about playing football that excited you, the fact you were enjoying developing your craft, controlling the ball, scoring goals etc, or was it a social thing, in terms of you could play out with friends?

I think it was socially. As a lad, of course you enjoyed it. I was a winger, a dribbler, I enjoyed beating people and it was lovely to go past someone and maybe score a goal, or create a goal.

But out of those 25 players on the other team, they may have lads who enjoyed defending and stopping me. It wasn’t 25 wingers against 25 wingers, it was a mixture of abilities and positions. Some lads did not like being a winger, but they could defend, they could head a ball.

I always say to kids, it’s a team game, not just about you, it is a social thing and it was a community for me. I enjoyed it and I was getting better at same time.

So you realised from an early age it was a team ethic needed?

Yes, definitely, although you can be a little bit selfish in a game. As a kid, if you own the football, you lend it to everyone else to play with! And in a game, it is the same, you can own it, but help the team utilise it. Do the best you can in a team environment – help them play as a team and you will then have the support of others. But, also, at the end of the game, it is more satisfying when someone recognises you played well for the team

At school, was there a turning point, or defining moment, when you thought, you were capable of playing at a higher level?

We moved up to Cantril Farm when I was 8 and I went to Cantril Farm Primary School. I played football for the school when I was 8,9,10 and 11. I wasn’t the biggest but, then again, I am not the biggest now! We had a good team. I captained the team when I was 10 and I remember playing at Everton’s training ground – Bellefield. We won 4-0 and I scored 2!

But I didn’t at ten years of age think that one day I would be training there, I just loved the game and the crowd was full of family and friends. That feeling of winning a trophy and being captain at the same time felt fantastic and I wanted that feeling again!

And when did you realise it had potential as a career?

I signed an apprenticeship contract at 15 and cleaned Alan Balls boots! I was on 6,7,8 pound, which doesn’t buy much these days. I was sub at 17 and desperate to play at Goodison for the first team in a league game

But, I did play for Everton first team at 15, in first against reserves. I was asked to go on by Harry Catterick for Johnny Morrissey! And there I was, with the Everton Holy Trinity in front of a Goodison crowd!

The Holy Trinity Statue at Goodison Park – Photograph by Michelle Marshall

I’m getting shivers just thinking about that!

I was the only change from the team that won the championship in 1969/70. There I was Matt, with all my footballing idols; Jimmy Husband, Brain Labone, Joe Royle, Gordon West, Tommy Wright and Harvey, Kendall and Ball. I went from climbing up lampposts to peak at my heroes playing at Bellfield to playing alongside them at Goodison Park at 15 years old – it doesn’t get much better ….oh and we won!

I believe you waited a few years before your debut?

I was sub a few times beforehand, but my debut finally came against Manchester United. Billy Bingham spoke to me on the morning of the game and commented on how well I was doing. He then said – “you are playing tonight against Manchester United”. I floated home after morning training. I told my Dad, Brother and everyone else, there was no social media then, so it was word of mouth. On the coach, going to the game, I knew I was playing. I was so excited to see crowds of blues heading to the game. 

Goodison Park – Photograph by Michelle Marshall

Goodison Park under the floodlights is very special. I started well and the crowd supported me. And then……the floodlights failed!! I had waited all this time for my debut and the floodlights go out!

We stood in the tunnel and I was hoping an electrician was in the ground, or I was planning on finding a screwdriver to fix it myself. Fourteen minutes we were off the pitch when we got the all clear to go out again. I dragged everyone out. In the end we drew   1-1, I played well and I hit the post. It was a remarkable day and remarkable feeling.

Did you feel the pressure to perform that day, to stay in the team?

I have always had the aim of feeling pride in my performance, for me, my team and my family. My family travelled everywhere to watch me. I always wanted to play well in front of my Dad. When I was younger, I would say to him, he didn’t have to go the game. He would sometimes tell me he wasn’t, but then I’d see him hiding watching me! He would give it away when we got home, I’d say “I scored two today Dad”, he would say – “well your left foot goal was good“ and then give it away he had travelled to watch me! But, I always felt I should always have a real pride in my performance regardless.

Goodison Park; the tunnel – when you are lined up in the tunnel and you hear the crowd singing and Z cars playing, does it intimidate opposition players?

Yes! Very much so!. Back in the day, it was a concrete floor and studs were virtually aluminum. Mick Lyons would bang his feet, stamp his studs against the concrete floor and slam changing room doors, the sound would echo through the tunnel. Goodison Park is intimidating – it really is. And when the opposition players come out, they would feel it, the eight or so steps from the tunnel to the pitch would frighten them.

The noise was incredible. And at home, that gives you a lift, an extra yard, extra energy. If you do the best, the volume of the crowd was amazing. If you weren’t built to survive in those stadium atmospheres, football isn’t for you!

Memorabilia, do you have any from your playing days?

Well, my brother, shall we say – in the nicest possible way, took them when I wasn’t looking! I gave them to my Dad and he now has them, he has my tracksuits and Wembley shirt, but it’s fine, he still has them. 

When commentating for Radio Merseyside – during the game, do you ever think back and recall taking a free kick, taking a corner or flying down the pitch? When I am there, I recall being a ball boy for the day, with my heroes on the pitch – and even recall being hit by a cheese and ham sandwich, thrown by an away fan!

Ha ha – well I gather you don’t like those sandwiches now?!

Well. I’m now a vegetarian … maybe that’s the reason I am!

I kick and head every ball Matt, I really do, I still feel like I get involved. I still feel like I’m experiencing it, I still enjoy it! I am still passionate about the game,

On the radio, I am honest. I tell the truth, especially for the people who can’t go, whether it be financial or health reasons. I just say how I see it and fans from both sides appreciate that. 

And finally Ronny, can you name 3 Liverpool Streets that mean the most to you and why?

Canton Street 

This street played a massive part of my life, I grew up there. It was off Everton Road so there was only one team I was going to play for or support. Around 100-150 yards from where I lived is St Rupert’s Tower, I would travel past it and I would glance up and wonder if I would ever wear that crest on my chest. Thankfully I did!

In that street, there were mainly blues, but also some reds, but all through my career, that community wanted me to do well, which is special. What a lovely community that was. I love the rivalry as long as its banter, but I don’t ever want it to cross the line. A community should stick together and that community really did. A lovely community

Gwladys Street

Gwladys Street – Photograph by Michelle Marhall

Again, this is massive for me, just the name brings the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Everyone knows about it. When you were a kid, it’s the place you want to watch the game. When you finally make the game as a kid and stand in the Gwladys Street, you feel like you have arrived! The only better place after that is on the pitch!

However, I had my first season ticket in the Bullens Road with my Dad and Grandad. But Gwladys Street is the one, Gwladys Street is Everton Football Club. And you don’t get a better tribute to Howard Kendall, when you see it named the Howard Kendall Gwladys Street End – which is lovely for Howard, his family and the club. Joe Royle is a mad blue and when you mention Gwladys Street, he has a smile on his face, it really is Everton.

Howard Kendall Gwladys Street End – Goodison Park – Photography by Michelle Marshall

My Dads ashes are in that end. And when I hear the siren, I always think of my Dad and at the end of the game, I give a little nod to him. On match day, I am there and my Dad is there. The club laid wreaths there for him, for us, but that is Everton, it is a special and wonderful club.   

Seel Street

We did have a second life! .After the game we would go the clubs down there. It was the place to be! And when the bouncers let you in without queuing and straight into booths, you felt you had made it! The clubs down there were great, it was a great life. 

Overall, when I think back Matt – it was a special time, it really was…..

Thank you to Ronny Goodlass from Matthew Jacobson and all at Explore-Liverpool….

Please take a look at Ronny’s charity; www.healththroughsport.co.uk/

Disadvantaged Youngsters

Using your donations, Health Through Sport provides sports coach training to disadvantaged children and young adults across Merseyside.

Helping Homeless

Partnering with local charities (such as the Whitechapel centre), we use your donations to help homeless people get back on their feet.

Other Initiatives

Health Through Sport helps raise awareness and funding for other initiatives such as Decembeard (bowel cancer),

Ronny’s book – Blue Nose is available at; www.healththroughsport.co.uk/bluenose/

READ MORE: Health Through Sport

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