The search for the next generation of football superstars took me to Liverpool on Friday evening. It wasn’t as scenic as Lake Como, but it was no less entertaining.
Chelsea, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest had already booked their place in the last four of the FA Youth Cup. I’d even seen Chelsea get through at Derby a few weeks back. But for some reason this fourth and final quarter-final between Everton and Norwich had taken an age to organise.
Eventually a mutually-suitable date was agreed and I found myself at Goodison Park on a night when everyone else in Liverpool cared only for the following day’s Grand National.
The city was swamped with racegoers; groups of smart-suited lads, swaying, shouting and swigging Stella lurched from one bar to another while trying to make head, mane and tail of accumulators and betting slips.
Tarted-up women bathed in an ocean of fake tan tottered around in their four-inch heels and fascinators trying to make sense of the cocktail menu.
It was great to watch, a city unhinged and enjoying itself, the Scouse race happy in itself and with itself. I always enjoy my visits to Liverpool anyway, but the overheard Craic was worth this trip alone. Mind you, travelling alone on this occasion, I wasn’t going to be persuaded to get in the thick of it.
Besides there was work to be done, and while all others headed for the strip of bars in the city centre, I was stepping quickly through the unwelcoming maze of terraced streets to Goodison Park, a ground I hadn’t been to before. I’ve watched football at Anfield and seen Boston play at Marine and Vauxhall Motors in this area, but Everton was a new one.
The streets I rushed down to get there echoed with the sound of domestic strife. From behind one door, a man screamed “I’ve had enough, I’m leaving this time” in thick Scouse as his wife shrieked. I looked down at the pavement and shuffled onwards. What can you do?
Eventually from this labyrinth of boarded-up windows and abandoned patches of green, a temple to football since 1892. Its surroundings don’t give Goodison much room to breathe and talk of a new home elsewhere seems to have dragged on ad infinitum.
You can kind of see why, with the antiquated wooden seats in the press box and the pillars of obstruction. Still, despite being only a fraction full on this occasion, you could tell it was one of those traditional and characterful venues, like Craven Cottage or Hillsborough, where watching the game is still a real pleasure because of the little quirks and design flaws.
A great Youth Cup tie unfolded. Players at this age seem to play with wonderful joie de vivre whatever their team, whatever the opposition and whatever the situation in the match. Norwich, whom I would have fancied as underdogs, were simply outstanding.
To the fore were the twin brothers, Jacob and Joshua Murphy. The Norwich press team said the pair were totally indistinguishable in looks and if they were to swap shirt numbers at half-time, nobody would be any the wiser. I’m hoping they didn’t, because both featured heavily in a six-goal thriller.
If the Murphys showed a law fostered since the womb, then Joshua also seemed to have a telepathic understanding with frontman Carlton Morris too. Powerful and clinical, Morris scored three times, with the elusive Joshua having a hand in all of them.
First, on 13 minutes, a languid opening was enlivened when Jacob slipped Joshua in behind the Everton right-back Matthew Pennington and his low cross was tapped in at the near post by Morris.
Then, 10 minutes shy of half-time, Joshua lofted a magnificent ball over the defence and Morris beat goalkeeper Mason Springthorpe with a delicious chip. Two minutes into the second half and `Joshua was clear through, smashing a shot which proved too lively for Springthorpe and he pushed it into the path of Morris, who had time to take a touch before completing his treble.
We always want to know from these occasions which players we’re likely to be watching on Match of the Day in two or three years’ time. On this evidence, I’d wager that the Murphys, who both signed two-and-a-half year professional deals back in January, have a decent chance of ‘making it’, as does Morris, who needs to define his role between either an out-and-out goal poacher, or a number 10 dropping back.
Not wanting to be outdone by his siblings, Jacob Murphy lashed in the fourth late on to settle the contest and allow me to finish my match report without fear of further revision.
What of Everton? Well they had twice reduced the arrears to just one, first when Chris Long replied just a minute after Norwich’s second with a powerful strike which ricocheted through the legs of Canaries’ keeper William Britt.
By the time Long bundled in his second to make it 2-3, Everton were down to 10 men. Ibou Touray had gone in with studs showing on Cameron Norman and could have no complaints. Norman was lucky he emerged unscathed.
Pennington impressed me for Everton, as did the smaller-than-average centre-back Jonjoe Kenny, who has plenty of spring, and also Matthew Kennedy, who wasn’t frightened to cut in from the wing and have a shot.
Next Match: The short hop to Chester to watch Boston United try and deny them the Conference North championship