For me, away days are the best thing about being an English football supporter. They encapsulate and preserve everything that is brilliant about the game: The passion and commitment of supporters traveling to watch their team. The elation when you score a goal in another team’s back yard. And perhaps most importantly of all, having a brilliant day out and a few laughs with a great group of mates.
This weekend just gone, I made the short trip up the M62 motorway to watch Everton take on Manchester City. The game was the early kick off on Saturday, but I travelled up on the Friday to catch up with some friends from university days, both of whom are season ticket holders at the Etihad Stadium and had kindly agreed to put me up for the night.
Having slept on a couch and had a few too many drinks the night before, getting up on Saturday morning was tough, with the match a pretty daunting prospect. Especially after arranging to meet the rest of the lads traveling to the game at a pub a couple of hours before kick-off. But on arrival, pre-match chatter got going and I immediately felt much better.
It’s away trips like City that have always been my favorite. Yes, Everton have an excellent record at the Etihad in recent years, but in the main, you go into the game with little expectations because of the quality of opposition. I always think Everton can win, of course. But the day isn’t ruined if you do end up getting beat. Anything more than defeat represents a big bonus, and you really enjoy those results on the rare occasions they come around.
It’s a good job I do embrace that school of thought, as City ran rings around Everton for the majority of this contest. A Romelu Lukaku opener did make for some chaotic scenes in the Everton end early on, with some blue pyro being let off nearby. But City’s immediate response saw Everton’s hopes fizzle out in a manner akin to those last few puffs off blue smoke.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side took control and Everton never really looked like getting back into the game. The Toffees were on the end of some horrendous decisions from referee Jon Moss it has to be said, but City dominated after taking the lead before half-time and adding a two goal cushion not long after.
The game became increasingly scrappy in the last twenty minutes, and clearly not entertained by on pitch matters, City fans baited the traveling support with the age-old, monotonous chants about being ‘thieves’ and ‘jobless.’ All harmless in the main, and our fans did give a bit of stick back but being 3-1 down, it was muted in comparison.
There are a section of City supporters next to the visiting fans who seem to spend more time singing at the opposition than watching the game itself. In truth, it happens at quite a few grounds around the country, and something that I’ve never really understood. Why focus so much on the opposition and their supporters when you could be backing your own team!? Talking to my City supporting mates after the game, that corner has a particular name apparently, although I won’t repeat it here!
The final whistle blew, and we were obviously disappointed. But sometimes there isn’t much you can do against a side who have so much quality at their disposal. The likes of David Silva, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero are world class talents and I’ll admit, I thoroughly enjoyed watching them in the flesh — David Silva in particular. Whilst Everton could have perhaps shackled him a little better, Silva was absolutely magnificent. The Spaniard’s ability to find space, link the play and execute precision passes in the final third was nothing short of exquisite.
We trudged off to jump on a train back to Liverpool, all obviously a little disheartened in the immediate aftermath. But after a quick dissection of the game, the common consensus is that it’s been a pretty good start for Everton under Roberto Martinez.
For me, the most encouraging thing about Everton at the Etihad was how we looked to take the game to City, and in the early stages, did exactly that. In years gone by against the top sides, we’ve been attritional, pragmatic and looked to nick goals. But despite the result, it was refreshing to see us have a go. I’ve always said we should, Everton are a really good side!
It seems that Martinez has instilled some fearlessness into this team and whilst it will take a while to bear fruit, the early signs remain promising. No doubt it will make for a few more thoroughly entertaining away days this season and beyond.
We do have a great time on our jaunts around the country, but they are becoming increasingly expensive. So far, I’ve been to three away games this season and paid close to £130 ($209 at the current exchange rate) for match tickets (Norwich £45, West Ham £42, Manchester City £42). That’s before you even factor in the cost of travel, food and drink.
It’s OK for younger match goers like myself with little in terms of serious responsibilities. But for those with a family to support, bills to pay and rent or mortgage payments to meet, it must be a massive financial strain. I suppose I should enjoy these trips whilst I can!
What do you think? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter: @MattJFootball
Editor’s note: The column is a new weekly series by Matt Jones entitled ‘The Heart Of English Football’ that gives you insight into what it’s like to be a supporter who lives in England — capturing the experience, rituals and everything we don’t get to see or feel via the television set.