“I couldn’t think of a better place to see our boy. For us, it’s where James is. It’s his resting place. Imagine looking out at that every day, watching your heroes train. I know he will be looking down and he’ll be so proud.”
Russ Greenop is talking about his son James. James has a plaque with his name on it at Everton’s Finch Farm training complex. That’s because James, heartbreakingly, is no longer with us.
A tragic accident in October 2013 saw him pass away, aged just 10 years old.
Now, four years to the day, his name and his legacy live on through the tireless work of his father Russ and his family, who set up The James Greenop Foundation in his memory.
Through the Foundation, Russ and the Greenops have directly influenced dozens of young lives throughout the Liverpool area, with the support of Everton in the Community. They work with the mantra that everyone has the potential to achieve their dreams. By providing small grants and financial assistance, the charity aims to support and empower local children, young adults and families who are experiencing difficulties and disadvantages that prevent them from achieving their full potential.
Indeed, over the course of 2017, The James Greenop Foundation has supported a number of projects across a multitude of sporting and recreational initiatives that support young children.
From offering free football sessions via their KICKS programme, to funding the W.I.K.E.D community dance project (who you may have seen performing on a match day) and providing money to help a Taekwondo group centred around kids with sight or hearing impediments purchase specialist equipment, the Foundation has also made donations towards a number of other schemes.
They have supported Love, Jasmine – a charity that aids families who have lost siblings through support groups and counselling – then contributed to a community venture designed to educate young people about road and bike safety. A donation of £500 to Metanoeo helped them train two teenage students to become life coaches in order for them to help their local communities.
Duncan Ferguson’s generous donation of £1000 – which has gone towards the creation of the Foundation’s KICKS programme that boasts around 50 participants each week - was just part of the organisation reaching an incredible £100,000 of total money raised back in June, with all funds going back into their projects and helping those within the local community who need it most.
It is a continuation of a legacy that grows year on year since tragedy befell the Greenop family in 2013. “In October 2013 I lost my son James in a road traffic accident in Speke,” recalls Russ. “We don’t know what happened. The ball he was playing with went in the road and he didn’t look.
“James had been to a game at Goodison Park as part of an Everton in the Community programme just three days before he was taken from us. He had the time of his life. He had a tour behind the scenes, a coaching session and he got to meet all of his favourite players and came home with the new shirt I’d bought him covered in signatures.
“James said it was the best day of his life. I’m 46 and I still haven’t had the best day of my life so I’m just so thankful that, at 10 years old, he got to experience that and that was thanks to Everton. The support of the Club was unbelievable; Sharpy, Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman came to James’ funeral and as a family that meant a lot to us.
“As a family we struggled to find ourselves after his accident as we never imagined that something so tragic would happen to us. We made a decision, as a family, to turn the most unbelievably negative thing that could ever happen to us into a positive – we wanted to do something in his name.
“We set up The James Greenop Foundation with the aim of giving opportunities to young people whether they be disadvantaged or disabled. I had connections with Everton Football Club with both James and I being Blues and I felt like when he died I lost part of his growing up. Going to the game at Goodison was our thing. Millie had her mum and James and I had our football and Everton but that was then taken away from me, I lost that.
“I wanted to do something for his friends and his old teammates so I spoke with Everton and we started doing some coaching in our local area on a Friday night. It started with six kids but quickly grew and in the summer months we get up to 70/80 kids coming down here from as young as six to 18.
“With the support and guidance of Everton in the Community we’ve been able to deliver a number of community projects and also sponsored the charity’s Powered Wheelchair football team. Everton in the Community have shown us the way and helped us see how it should be done. With their help we’ve been able to give these children a sense of belonging.”
As the relationship with Everton in the Community grew, so did the Foundation. Now, it is more than that. Words like ‘partnership’ or ‘collaboration’ just don’t feel right. Everton are family for Russ.
“For me, losing James was the most difficult thing any parent can go through. We had our tight-knit family unit but I needed something for me to focus on. Our journey with Everton in the Community was one of the most important things that could have happened to us. Everton in the Community is now part of our family - they are as important to me as any member of it. They are always willing to help, to go that extra mile, to look outside the box.
“As a family, we couldn’t have asked for any more and I don’t know where I’d be without Everton in the Community. I’d be rocking on a chair on my own in my house or perhaps even a participant on one of their programmes. But with their help, we’ve been able to make a difference.”
“Everything that we do is all part of building James’ legacy – the amount of people that we have helped to support so far in his name has been unbelievable. He would have been so proud.”