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Goodison Park | 8th August 2012 19:45

Everton v AEK Athens

Tony Hibbert can’t wait to celebrate with his ‘Everton family’ on Wednesday night.

The long-serving right back is being honoured for 11 years of first-team service with a testimonial against AEK Athens at Goodison Park.

But the defender’s association with the Blues goes back even further, with the former Academy star admitting he ‘grew up’ at Everton.

A boyhood fan, he got his first taste of life at the Club aged just 10.

Now he can’t wait to mark his achievements with the players and staff he has worked alongside for more than two decades and the supporters he labels the best in the country.

“I have grown up at Everton,” said the Huyton-born player. “I guess I have stayed here so long because of the Club being what it is.

“My family had a big say in it. It's just a family-based Club. I wouldn't say there was an individual person, it's the whole Club.

“The manager has stuck by me for the 10 years that he has been here. You see a lot of people come and go.

“Also the fans have been absolutely brilliant. I think over the years, the support they have given us and me as a person, I couldn't ask for more.

“I think with Everton, the supporters are up there with the best of teams by far - home and away. They are different class.”

Indeed, Hibbert used to stand among the supporters he holds in such high regard.

And in the build-up to last season’s FA Cup semi-final he spoke fondly of childhood trips to Wembley with his dad.

For Hibbert, the dream of playing for ‘his’ team, came true when he made his debut against West Ham in March 2001.

Some 308 appearances later, he said: “I only thought about getting in the first-team and playing as many games as I could. It's frightening when you look back. It doesn't feel real. It has flown by.

“The Club has changed a lot, everything about the football side, the training, the facilities, developing the players and the football itself – it's all changed.

“The way you prepare yourself and go into games - what is available for you as a player wasn't available and wasn't even thought about in those days.

“I don't think I've changed much as a player,” he added. “I like a tackle and I think that's what I've kept – that and just giving 100 per cent.”

Tickets are available for Hibbo's testimonial priced £15 for adults and £5 for juniors/seniors. Click here for more information.

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