Some things haven’t changed. It says here, in this old-fashioned book, London: The Unique City, compiled by Steen Eiler Rasmussen in 1934 to educate and terrify Dane travelers on their first acquaintance with England, that a person could see mile after mile of terraced houses, dating from the late 1800s and early 1900s. A stretch of grimy stock bricks was an average introduction to the social and architectural history of locations such as London or Liverpool. Townhouses could likewise raise a few oddities. ‘From railroads intersecting the suburbs,’ Rasmussen wrote,
we see interminable rows of these swarthy little houses with all their protruding little kitchen wings. It is the most compact imaginable for a street house. The light in the rooms facing the yard is but spare, but the whole house is comparatively low. In order to use the narrow site each of these small houses has got a bay, and the brickwork is decorated with ornamented concrete details, columns, lintels, and other trumpery.
Backing on the railway of the Premier League, with its top-tier trumpery, there is a projecting kitchen wing of teams, in the middle of the table, which was (and remains) adequate for the needs of many football supporters who have lived in it, from father to daughter, ever since.
Everton is just such a swarthy little house, a slightly smaller version of a type otherwise seen in Brighton or Southampton (what the Liverpool neighbour of them insists on calling their ‘ballroom extension’). The house, made of a single large living room, has suffered a decline in being divided into flats or bedsitters. The doors to goal, the single one on the left wing leading to a landing and the pair on the right joining a front Position of Maximum Danger, indicate that the streets windows are behind you. Just what floor you are on is not clear; it could be the first, second or third. Like the team jersey, the fading blue wallpaper could perhaps be traced in a catalogue from Maples, Heal’s or Sanderson.
As for the tactical cuts of the actual rooms, excursions are routinely made into the loft with an anxious tape-measure to determine how many square feet of traditional man-marking can be won. ‘Not many’ is the usual answer. A more recent trick seen against Manchester City, ultimately disastrous yet quite dignified, if not, at times, heroic, has been to conjure up a whirl of blue Everton defenders every time David Silva got the ball, turning the playmaker’s range of play into a dingy backyard.
It was then that I realised, once more, the size of the coach-architect’s canvas mattered. Dividing the pitch up to single dueling areas presents problems and opportunities that often arise when one of Rasmussen’s ‘typical houses’ is the starting point. Half a floor down the common staircase, the Everton defense—presumably as worrysome as the one at Arsenal, once thought to be infinitely adaptable, but now the dwelling of nerve-wracking exercises from a set-piece—is certainly one of the coldest bathrooms the Premier League has ever lived with. When and how did a centre-back’s surges become regular features? To tackle Silva and leave Sergio Agüero completely unmarked, looking just old enough and odd enough, was the early evidence of a transition to a chilly building.
I hold on to these photographs, gazing at them like a landlady flipped through a reading in the flu epidemic of 1919, behind the basement glazing bars where the parlormaid was and the kitchen staff lived in. One guesses the age of the Everton house from the proportion of the adjacent windows. One does get curious, too, about how people live and teams shape themselves up. The blurred texture of these pictures, moreover, is the only sheet of plywood that stands between my morbid curiosity and the tactical surface where the untrained eye goes on—which does not imitate the fanciful Italian and Dutch styles (predominant, in England, like the Egyptian and Oriental plasterwork of an Edwardian architect) but, instead, bears resemblance to the infectious, bedazzled boogie woogie tunes that once spread from an old gramphone plate.
It’s been many years since we got here. The smoke from the chimney and most of the paint are gone. The overall shape is self-contained and silent like the staging of one of Harold Pinter’s plays: The Basement or even better, The Collection. Facing the threat of a wave of newcomers, the spread of the Everton garden is, perhaps, no longer adequate to its needs; in the garden itself the weed of man-marking is rampant. ♦