25th January 2020 marks the 40th anniversary of ESCLA – Everton Supporters Club London Area. This piece written by Mick Upfield, originally published in Issue 20 of The Black Watch, details the founding of one of Everton’s largest supporters clubs.
The weather on 25th January 1975 was awful. Gales and torrential rain battered the South West and Everton were due to meet Plymouth in the 4th Round of the FA Cup at Home Park. I arrived early at Paddington that morning to meet up with a few lads that I had been travelling to matches with for a year or so to catch the train.
There was an air of excitement as it was a cup day combined with a nagging doubt that the match would be postponed. No decision was going to be made on that front until we were well on our way. The papers reported that Bob Latchford was ruled out of the match due to injury which was a major blow to a struggling side that had scraped past Altrincham in the previous round.
As departure time approached, I noticed there were more Evertonians than normal travelling. The most I had seen travelling to away matches until then was about 20, this particular day there were probably 200.
As was the norm we made our way to the buffet car and made ourselves comfortable. The beers started to flow and I noticed a continuous queue to buy beers. The singing started and the party began.
In 1975, without mobile phones, we had to get information on handheld transistor radios that would drift in and out of reception but once we left London we lost the signal completely. Every time we stopped we asked station staff if they knew if the match was still on only to be met with blank stares.
What I did notice was the police presence on the platforms increased at every station we stopped at. About thirty minutes out of Plymouth we stopped. We were there about three or four minutes when a train pulled up alongside. It was one of the ten specials that had been put on from Lime Street to take the Merseyside-based Evertonians to the match. They looked amazed to see so many Blues on a train that wasn’t a special. Leaning out of the window we were asked if we knew if the match was still on. We didn’t, but we did hand over a few beers to them.
We got to Plymouth about one o’clock and the full extent of the number of Evertonians travelling from London could be seen. I think the police meeting the trains almost shit themselves as they hadn’t planned for so many travelling independently and they quickly tried to coral us into a group to escort us to the ground. They failed miserably and within minutes we were making our way towards Union Street.
The rain was relentless but, after some sterling work from the Plymouth ground staff, the game went ahead. The match was a tight affair and we eventually ran out 3-1 winners with Mike Lyons grabbing two and Jim Pearson getting the other.
Walking back to the station we witnessed what looked like a mass attack from the Plymouth crew who came charging down a grassy bank at us only to see a few moments later that they were actually being chased by a large group of scallies.
Back on the train we made our way to the buffet again and celebrated. We were joined shortly before departure by the BBC Commentary team including Barry Davies and the actress Rita Tushingham.
They were surprised at the number of Blues on board and were quite happy to chat to everyone. There were a few “just look at his face comments” (check out Derby v Man City December 1974 on YouTube) which Barry Davies took in good humour.
It was on that long journey back that an idea was first mooted about forming an official supporters’ club in London. Numbers travelling were steadily increasing season by season and it was felt that booking rail travel in bulk would reduce costs. Over the next few months the interest grew and forming a London based supporters club was an inevitability.
As I remember a provisional committee was cobbled together to organise trips for the rest of the season and a date was duly set for the initial meeting to elect an official committee.
This took place in a pub near Moorgate Station in London and ESCLA was officially born.
For 45 or so years ESCLA has been the go-to conduit for South East-based fans getting to matches, both home and away, with numerous sorties across the world. Discounted trips to matches home and away attracted many Evertonians and membership regularly passed the 1000 mark.
Over the years lifelong friendships have developed through ESCLA and it has also been the catalyst for a few marriages too. It still amazes me the number of people ESCLA has touched over the years, what with exiled Blues, people working away and those born in the South who just saw the light.
I have been a member of ESCLA since its conception and seen the ups and many downs in the fortunes of our great club and I wouldn’t have been able to have witnessed so much without the help and support that this fine institution has given me.
There are so many stories that I could tell about travelling with ESCLA and the characters that travelled with me, but those are stories for another day.
For more details on ECSLA, visit: https://www.escla.org.uk/
This article was originally published in Issue 20 of The Black Watch.