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PHIL JAGIELKA believes Everton FC must keep their foot to the pedal until the season’s end – for the benefit of club and country.
The Blues are still battling to finish above neighbours Liverpool for the first time in seven years, while Jagielka and team-mate Leighton Baines are also trying to be part of Roy Hodgson’s England squad for Euro 2012.
And with only Sunday’s visit of Newcastle remaining before the European Championship campaign, Jagielka said: “We’re trying. We don’t know what the squad is yet and the Euros are just around the corner. It makes it interesting.
"You’ve got to keep going to the end of the season, not take your foot off the gas and give Roy Hodgson the headache of who’s going to go in his squad.
“Hopefully I’ve played well enough in the last few weeks to at least be in with a shout.
“It’s nice to finish at home and it’s nice that there’s something on the game. I’m sure the fans will be looking forward to it. We still might need some sort of result come Sunday and if that’s the case I’m sure the fans will get behind us and we’ll send them home quite happy.”
Jagielka has welcomed the appointment of former Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson as national manager.
“I think the appointment is really good. We needed it doing as soon as possible,” he added. “Look at his CV, look at the successes he’s had. Okay he didn’t have the best of times at Liverpool but one bad experience doesn’t make him a bad coach or a bad manager.
“There weren’t too many people out there who could have taken the job, but the FA have gone with Roy and time will tell.
“We’ve not done amazingly well in the championships in the past 40 years or whatever, so hopefully Roy will do as well as he can and the boys can do well for him.”
While Jagielka and Baines must wait to discover whether they are going to Poland and Ukraine, Everton FC midfielder Darron Gibson will be part of the Republic of Ireland squad, while team-mate Seamus Coleman will only be involved if there are injuries.
Gibson, who ironically has missed Everton’s last two matches with a knee injury, was yesterday named in Giovanni Trappattoni’s 23-man squad for Euro 2012, but Coleman is one of five players on stand by.
Coleman has won five full international caps.
Leighton Baines, Darron Gibson and skipper Phil Neville, meanwhile, ares in a race to prove their fitness in time for Sunday’s final game of the season against Newcastle.
Left-back Baines has been out with a hamstring problem since Everton’s FA Cup semi-final defeat to Liverpool last month, while Gibson and Neville have sat out the last fortnight after picking up knocks.
But the sidelined trio are set to resume full first-team training this week and could be pushing for recalls for the visit of the Magpies.
“We believe they will all probably start training this week,” said Everton assistant manager Steve Round. “Whether they will make Newcastle, we will see. But we are hoping that each of them becomes fit to train during this week.”
DAREDEVILS slid down a zip line suspended over Goodison Park, the home of Everton FC, in a bid to raise £500,000 for Alder Hey.
Fifty fundraisers from the ECHO’s Liverpool Unites charity slid from the top balcony of the main stand to the Paddock of the Bullens Road stand watched by family and friends.
They were joined by yet more thrill-seeking volunteers raising cash for Everton in the community.
Liverpool Unites Fundraising Manager Katie Harrison said: “A huge congratulations to everyone who took part.
“I spoke to all of the participants and everyone was very excited and were taking part for lots of different reasons.
“Some people were avid Everton fans who relished the opportunity to zip across their much loved Goodison Park.
“Others wanted to take on the challenge to help us raise money for Alder Hey because they know a child who has been treated at the children’s hospital and received excellent care, so it was their way of giving something back.
“Whatever the reason it was a great event with a fantastic atmosphere and well done to everyone involved.”
PRINCE CHARLES isn’t renowned for his sense of humour, but he understood the joke when David France gazed wistfully at his OBE and quipped: “I’m very proud, Your Royal Highness, but don’t you have one with a blue ribbon?”
David was only half-joking. He was at Buckingham Palace by royal appointment, but his blood flows Royal Blue.
“He got the joke,” explained David. “He knew all about Everton and he understood Everton was a compassionate club. He said that it was tremendous how Everton is showing other clubs in Europe the way forward when it comes to showing compassion.”
For Everton, read David France, this former gas fitter from Widnes who left school at 14 labelled a ‘slow learner’ – but became an advisor to NASA, an author, an innovator, a philanthropist and oil industry inventor – and last Friday a proud recipient of the Order of the British Empire.
Not that his acceptance of the honour was a formality.
“I found out in November last year that I was in the New Year’s Honours list,” he explained. “I live in the United States and I received a phone call from the British ambassador to ask me, if it was offered to me, would I accept it?
“I put him on hold and I had to talk about it with my wife.
“Some of the people I admire, the artists David Hockney and Francis Bacon, they’ve turned it down, but of course they didn’t have to live with Elizabeth France once they’d done so!
“So I can assure you it was a very fast response once I’d spoken to her.”
The award was bestowed for “Services to Football” – on the same day that former Aston Villa chairman Doug Ellis was knighted “For Services to Charity.”
David could argue to have filled both criteria. Amongst his many achievements outside his successful oil industry career was the creation of the Everton Former Players’ Foundation – the first registered charity to look after the needs of old footballers.
The model proved so successful that the idea spread across Europe and was embraced by giants like Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
David explained that one of the most respected of old Evertonians helped him with its genesis.
“I had tremendous friends at Everton,” he said. “I’ve followed the club for 55 years now and travelled more than two million miles from my home in America to Goodison. I had a season ticket for years and during that period of time I had met some of the old players. Brian Labone, in particular, became a great friend of mine – and Brian would point out some of the old players who life had not been kind to – I’m talking about players from the 30s, the 40s and the 50s, who needed a bit of a helping hand, some encouragement.
“I took care of that on an as needed basis and it proved so successful that we decided we’d better do this on a more formal business-like way. So it was 1999 that we decided we’d register a charity.
“It had never been done before, a charity to look after old footballers who had chronic injuries and other hardships, and we were knocked back a couple of times.
“The Charity Commission didn’t think it was an appropriate area initially and through perseverance – as an Evertonian you learn perserverance – we got it accepted. I then went round and encouraged half a dozen businessmen, people from the Merseyside community who had the skills to run a charity, and we went out looking for people to help.
“Old footballers are very proud, but we went out looking for them, in order to make their lives pain free.
“Everton was the first club, the first family let’s say, to introduce such an organisation, but other people have copied it and it’s spread across Europe now. Most of the leading clubs have embraced our idea and in some cases have certainly improved upon it.
“Barcelona take one per cent of every player’s wages – that’s one per cent of the salaries paid to Lionel Messi and co. – to fund their own former players’ foundation.”
David’s own payback came at the Palace – and predictably he wanted to share the honour. He was accompanied by his devoted and astonishingly understanding wife Liz, loyal friend Norman Jones and myself – one of the original trustees invited by David to help run the Foundation.
He strode into the Palace as Dr David France. He left it, David France OBE – One Big Evertonian.
Further honours will surely follow.
DARRON GIBSON has been included in the Republic of Ireland squad for the Euro 2012 finals – but Everton team-mate Seamus Coleman is set to miss out.
Gibson was confirmed in Giovanni Trapattoni’s 23-man party for the tournament that will be held in Poland and Ukraine later this month.
However, Coleman has been named only among the five standby players by Trapattoni while Shane Duffy, who earned his first senior call-up earlier this year, has not made the cut.
Gibson could come up against Goodison colleague Nikica Jelavic in the finals, with Ireland facing the striker’s Croatia in their opening group game in Poznan on June 10.
The Irishman has sat out Everton’s last two games at Stoke City and Wolverhampton Wanderers but could return along with Leighton Baines and Phil Neville for Sunday’s final Premier League fixture at home to Newcastle United.
Baines suffered a hamstring problem in the FA Cup semi-final defeat to Liverpool last month, while Neville has been sidelined for the past 10 days.
All three are expected to resume full training this week and may be in contention for the visit of the Magpies, with Everton looking to secure seventh place ahead of their neighbours.
“We believe they will all probably start training this week," said Everton assistant manager Steve Round.
“Whether they will make Newcastle, we will see. But we are hoping that each of them becomes fit to train during this week.”
Both Jelavic and Denis Stracqualursi saw goals disallowed in Sunday’s goalless draw at relegated Wolves.
But stand-in skipper Phil Jagielka believes Everton should have won the game regardless given the host of chances they fashioned.
“We scored a goal which was offside and we've scored one which wasn't but was flagged offside, so we're a little bit frustrated,” said Jagielka.
“It's tough but it happens. We created a number of chances – or near chances – and maybe selected the wrong pass or maybe had the chance to shoot and didn't and stuff like that.
“We've got to look at the season on the whole now and we're guaranteed to finish at least ninth and hopefully seventh if we can get the right results and have results go for us between now and next Sunday.”