Let’s go back in time. It’s November 1978 and I’ve been promised a trip to my first ever live football match to celebrate my 10 birthday. I’d been pestering my parents for weeks about it, even more so when the bus passed Anfield or Goodison on its way into town. Finally, with the League Division One game between Everton and Chelsea coming up, the old man had relented.
There was an agenda in play immediately. My Dad was a lifelong Evertonian and, worried that his only son was showing concerning Liverpool tendencies (an entire bedroom devoted to Kenny Dalglish and Ray Kennedy, pestering him hourly about the European Champions etc.) he thought that the allure of Goodison Park would move me towards the light.
This was real football though. I talked of nothing else for weeks on end. Some of my mates were already regulars, but they had Red Dads so I had to make do with the Blues. I counted the minutes until we could get the bus to the ground and savoured every second of it. A live football match mostly played under floodlights thanks to it being winter amongst adults who called the lads in yellow ‘Cockney gobshites’. This was grown up stuff. This was what being a 10 year old was all about.
To finally be ten years old. What a year that was. So grown up that I might as well have started smoking a pipe.
Being a Red, I was automatically programmed to hate Everton and everything they stood for, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. For a start, my older cousins on my Dad’s side were all Blues and they were cool enough to play guitars in bands and call me ‘soft lad’. Plus, I really liked Bob Latchford – Everton’s striker who would score 30 League goals that season. I’d get to see him in the flesh. I also liked (and still like) Goodison Park, particularly the blue crosses on white paint on the upper tier of the stand as well as the church in the corner. All very picturesque.
But, I wanted to see someone else that day and it wasn’t a home player. No. Chelsea may well have had a few stars in the team such as Ron Harris and Clive Walker as well as brothers –one amusingly called ‘Butch’- but I wanted to see Duncan McKenzie more than anyone in blue and white.
McKenzie first came to my attention a season earlier when he briefly played for Everton. He looked great with his skinny arms and weaving runs leaving defenders in his wake. He could be bog average for weeks on end but when he shone he shone with a light of a thousand suns.
In one game versus Stoke in 1977 he danced around the midfield, not especially going anywhere, in figures of eight just to show off, in the same way older kids do when playing in a match with younger lads who aren’t big enough to take the ball off them. It wasn’t arrogance. It was fun. A laugh.
Have a look at this.
I’m sure the referee stopped the game because he was taking the piss and he wanted to give Stoke a go.
But there was even more to McKenzie than football and him being the Grimsby Johan Cruyff. There was one thing about Duncan McKenzie that everyone knew and had endeared him to my young heart.
Duncan McKenzie could jump over a Mini.
Everyone knew that fact to such an extent that it had to be mentioned anytime someone said his name. It’s the same with swans and broken arms.
My first thought about this incredible feat was ‘How could he know?’ I still think that now, to be honest. Was he just passing a Mini in the street one day and thought ‘I reckon I could get over that’? Maybe he’d become bored with clearing mopeds and progressed to a motorbike, then one with a pillion and then just fancied the next stage up. A piano maybe? Nah, that was too easy. He needed something about the size of a small car.
He just did it for no other reason than that he could. Nonsense for nonsense sake. That was tremendously attractive to someone who spent his summers jumping across the River Alt in Liverpool (a distance of 5-6 feet). This was a man after my own heart.
I mentioned this to my Dad on the way to the ground. He was a no-nonsense man, but he too saw the glamour. Then he said something which nearly had me on the floor of the 19c bus.
‘He’s always doing stuff like that. When he was at Leeds he once threw a golf ball lengthways across the pitch without it bouncing.’
What magic was this? A golf ball? Where would he get a golf ball from? How did he decide that the pitch was the best place to do it? Had he been practicing with five-a-side courts? I was a very practical child.
Here he is doing it.
I love the idea of other footballers contacting Brian Moore to say that they could do it too. Was there a league somewhere of golf ball throwing? Did they meet in the car park after a game with a bucketful of golf balls and a measuring tape? Please say yes.
It took McKenzie nine whole minutes to score that day though Everton won 3-2, so his became the first goal I ever saw live in the flesh. My Dad wriggled uncomfortably at the site of his former hero wheeling away with an arm in the air and muttered ‘Bloody Lee’. Everton manager Gordon Lee had sold McKenzie a year earlier. Rumour had it that there was a clash of personalities between them, possibly due to the latter throwing golf balls around the place and leaping over small vehicles whenever possible.
That goal was to be one of just four goals he scored at Chelsea before he was transferred to Blackburn Rovers, where he managed seventy four appearances – the most he made at any clubs since his Nottingham Forest days at the start of his career. He didn’t really settle at any club. He was one of Brian Clough’s more successful signings during his 44 days as Leeds United boss, but had even gone to Anderlecht for a few months before Everton. He ended his playing days in Hong Kong in 1983 after a spell playing for Tulsa in the emergent North America Soccer League.
I went home elated. Everton had won, so my Dad was happy, and I was allowed to eat fish rather than a fishcake from the chippy now that I was ten. A rite of passage. My only disappointment came from not seeing Duncan throw or jump over anything. I mean, he didn’t even have a crack at the crossbar.
One thing was for sure though. I was hooked on live football and wanted as much of it as possible. On the bus home I asked my Dad if we could go again the following week. He smiled, ruffled my hair and checked the fixtures in the back of the programme for the next available home game.
‘Hmm. Man Utd in a fortnight. Perhaps not that one, but we can maybe try the Cup game in January if we get a home draw.’
‘No, not Everton! Liverpool! Can we go to Anfield next week?’ We’ve got Man City at home.’
We spent the rest of the journey home in silence.