It is just before 3pm on Saturday and this is a game Everton realistically have to win.
Goodison is filling up, a melange of anticipation and anxiety. Fans flood through the turnstiles more in hope than expectation given opponents Brentford are unbeaten in their last 12.
Then, just after Spirit of the Blues, it hits. For the first time this season, the Goodison siren is back and immediately the atmosphere in the stadium changes. The decibel levels rise as the players come out to Z Cars and a crescendo is reached 35 seconds after kick-off when Dwight McNeil fires in a spectacular opening goal.
“I’d always assumed the atmosphere in the ground doesn’t translate to what you see on TV,” says Jacob Holton, an Everton fan from Cincinnati, Ohio, who attended his first Goodison game on Saturday.
“The build-up was cool but then the first siren hit. My eyes bulged and I had a tingle from the bottom of my spine all the way up. I couldn’t believe it.
“The noise when the teams came out of the tunnel was like nothing I’ve experienced. It went from low-key and jumped about 10 levels. It was just pandemonium when the goal went in 35 seconds after kick-off.”
The return of the siren, scrapped after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has been in the pipeline for a while. It had been requested by supporters’ group The 1878s, with the matchday experience being part of the discussions between club officials and the Everton Fans’ Forum.
Everton were mindful not to do anything until after the one-year anniversary of the invasion in late February, a significant milestone in the conflict. They consulted with Ukrainian defender Vitalii Mykolenko to understand his views on the situation and explain the broader context around the siren. Mykolenko eventually gave his blessing for the siren to return.
What followed was a reminder of the power of their home support. McNeil’s early strike helped Everton to a crucial 1-0 win despite a second-half Brentford onslaught.
Everton will need more afternoons like this at Goodison before the season is out. If they are to stay up, it will likely be on the strength of their form at home, where manager Sean Dyche has won three of his opening four games. They have toiled on the road, in comparison, tasting victory just once all season.
Goodison is important but there is also a sense the clock is ticking. With a move to a new stadium on the city’s waterfront in the offing, next season is set to be Everton’s last at their home of 131 years. It would be a stain on the stadium’s legacy — and indeed the club’s history — if their last season at Goodison took place in the Championship.
Ask any Everton fan and they will tell you Goodison is special; a historic throwback in a time of identikit modern stadia. As long as Everton are there, it will be cherished.
Eyes are already starting to turn to the future and what comes next, but first, there must be one final push. Goodison, they hope, can help them over the line once more. Just as it did last season.
As a fan of U.S. sports franchises, including FC Cincinnati and Cincinnati Bengals, Holton offers unique insight into the Goodison experience and how it compares.
“The connection with the fans is what sells it,” he says. “Everyone is connected, seeing each other every home match for decades. The only team remotely close to that in Cincinnati is the baseball side. But then the connection between fans and the club is nothing like this. The facilities at Goodison aren’t great but whatever.
“It was seeing everyone on Goodison Road. Going to the chippie before the game. The protests (against the club hierarchy) beforehand, which are a historic moment for the club.
“I thought it (the impact of Goodison) was a bit overplayed. Then you go and you get it immediately. They’re egging the team on from the first whistle to the last. Everyone is pushing.
“The U.S. has nothing compared to this. I’ve told everyone I’m chasing the dragon sports-wise from now until the end of time. I don’t know if anything will come close to it. It was the greatest sports moment of my life.”
Lynn Choo is an Everton fan from Malaysia. Until recently, she was the president of the Everton Malaysia supporters group.
A fan since 1985 — “I was watching casually and chose the blue team. Kevin Ratcliffe and Gary Lineker were my favourites then” — Choo attended her fourth game at Goodison on Saturday.
“I’ve been to the Bernabeu and Camp Nou and they are much more impressive, but they are colder and impersonal,” she says. “Goodison just feels like home. It’s cosy.
“My first visit was in 2012 during David Moyes’ time as manager. I went to watch Everton against Newcastle with my cousin who was a Newcastle fan. My cousin was surprised that I was really quiet during the game, but I was just dumbfounded. I couldn’t say anything… I was soaking in the atmosphere.
“The atmosphere on Saturday was electric. It was a game we had to win. It’s like a fortress.”
Holton recalls how he came to support Everton and the importance of Goodison in his decision.
“It was random,” he says. “I was captivated by the 2014 World Cup and I spoke to a friend who was a Manchester United fan. I sat down and watched for a month or two with a view to picking a team (that resonated). It was between Arsenal and Everton and nothing pulled me towards Arsenal.
— Lynn Choo (@lynnckl) March 12, 2023
“There was just something when I watched Everton that called to me, particularly when they were playing at home. I’ve been trying to pinpoint what that was for years but I just can’t. It was just an instinct.
“I first started supporting in 2014 but, as the years went on, the fandom just got deeper and deeper. When the new stadium was announced, the clock was ticking and I knew I had to get here.”
For many, there is an acceptance that moving stadium is for the best. As emotional as it will be to leave Goodison, the conventional wisdom is that Everton need to increase revenues if they are to claw back ground on Premier League rivals.
“Saturday could be my last visit to Goodison,” says Choo. “We’ll always love the Grand Old Lady but we have been left behind already, so it’s time to move on.
“We have to progress somehow. We can’t always be stuck in history.”
First, there is one chapter left to write. A key juncture in Everton’s history. Goodison again stands ready to play its part.
(Top photo: Jake Kirkman – CameraSport/Getty Images)