Everton v Manchester United was my game for Setanta today. It was a cracking game too, despite the ungodly hour. Kick-off was 12 noon, a time decreed by Merseyside Police, not the TV people. I was a bit worried about Everton's propsects when Louis Saha was quoted in the match programme that he isn't much of a morning person, but it was obvious that David Moyes had got their alarm clocks working. Everton were well wound up and gave United a real contest. Darren Fletcher scored a lovely goal, expertly set up by Ryan Giggs who had a fine game in centre midfield, but Everton equalised with a header by Marouane Fellaini and nearly grabbed all three points when Yakubu hit the post. Exciting game, fair result.
The Everton crowd is one of the most under-estimated in the game. People talk in awe of the impact of the home fans at Anfield and St James's Park, but the Everton crowd creates a passion which takes some beating. It was like that today - massive, unequivocal encouragement tumbling down from the stands from the moment the teams appeared in the tunnel, a vibrant accompaniment to the robust approach of the players. Goodison Park is not modern, it doesn't have uninterrupted views from every seat, and there are no hotels embedded in the infrastructure - but it is still a wonderful place to experience a game of football. Of course, it helps if the opposition includes a hate figure, and today it was Wayne Rooney who played the part to perfection. Making a big show of kissing the United badge in front of the fans who used to worship him could not be better calculated to raise the temperature. Not long after that Sir Alex hauled him off.
I bumped into a number of ex-Everton players from the days when I spent more time reporting on the club than I do these days: Graeme Sharp, Ronnie Goodlass, Ian Snodin, Mickey Thomas, all good lads who were great company in their playing days and are just the same today. The first person I encountered was Duncan McKenzie, whose magical home debut for Everton against Birmingham City still lingers in the memory more than 30 years later. Dunc has a regular gig hosting guests in the VIP lounges. A couple of weeks ago I encountered him doing the same job at Blackburn Rovers, another of his former clubs, and last night he was on a speaking engagement at his very first club, Nottingham Forest. Which made me think that players who clock up a good number of clubs in their career are laying a valuable foundation for the future - no shortage of places to earn a living when talking the talk becomes easier than walking the walk.