Outside the English classroom at Everton Free School there is an acrostic poem taped to the wall.
It reads: “Excel and achieve nothing but the best; Value the potential of team work; Enjoy new ways of thinking; Revel in learning; Tackle challenges without fear; Open new doors of opportunity; Nurture your talents and never give up.”
For the facility, with its blue plastic chairs and lime green corridors, it is a mission statement. But, as a set of values, they could instead have been drafted for the football club to which the Free School owes its very existence.
On Wednesday, the state-of-the-art site on Spellow Lane, just a couple of hundred metres from Goodison Park, played host to a pair of players with whom the poem would surely resonate.
Ademola Lookman and Tom Davies, two of the heroes of Sunday’s 4-0 win over Manchester City, were the guests, there to learn how the school is turning around the lives of pupils who previously skipped mainstream classes or were at risk of being excluded.
Swamped at the doors by teenagers in some case just months their junior, many of whom had stayed beyond the stated home time just to get an autograph or a photo, the duo got an early lesson of their own - just what life is like for a footballer in the Premier League spotlight.
“Tom and I were talking to each other on the way here today about the amount of love we’ve been getting from the fans and the feeling - how it felt to score at Goodison Park in front of the Gwladys Street,” says Lookman, reflecting on how he passed his first Blues test - however short - with flying colours. “It’s just amazing really and nothing compares to it but Tom can obviously relate to how I’m feeling. Just watching the goal back now gives me goosebumps. Even just listening to the commentary, hearing my name - it’s surreal. Seeing the fans, seeing how much passion they have, it’s incredible.”
For Lookman, the sight of the classroom brings it all home. Only two years have passed since the south Londoner was a schoolboy himself. Now he is a Premier League goalscorer.
Presented with his big chance, the 19-year-old kept his head and fired through the legs of Claudio Bravo into the Gwladys Street net.
It was enough to suggest the giant step up from League One to the top flight is another examination the former Charlton Athletic forward is well equipped to pass.
“It has sunk in but some times when I’m at home sitting on my bed I just go into a daze and just think about it again and again, and the goosebumps come back.
“Just the sounds in the stadium and just how loud it was. Even when I was warming up, I was just thinking, ‘Wow, this is like a fortress’. And when we scored our third goal, when Tom scored, the fans went crazy. That roar actually hurt my ear - that’s how loud it was. For my goal, I saw the net ripple and just ran off to celebrate but, after that, it’s all a blur.
“I remember walking down into the dressing room after and all the lads gathering round. There was a big round of applause for me and Tom and everyone just congratulated me. To come on for your debut and then score is a big achievement and that’s what makes it so hard to put into words, even now. I was amazed, over the moon, delighted - all of those emotions.”
Accompanied by mum Adebimpe and sister Ololade as he exited the Goodison Players’ Lounge, Lookman took time to enjoy the moment, leading his family back to the scene of his earlier glory.
“We went out on the pitch and took some photos,” he explains. “The Club photographer was there and kindly took some pictures for us. After that we just went home and chilled really. I wanted to just sit and actually reflect and think about what had happened. I watched Match of the Day and I was just sat there smiling at my TV, over the moon. I got loads of messages, too. There was one on Twitter from Charlton. It was nice that they were looking out for me.”
Watch back the footage of Lookman’s celebrations and you will see Romelu Lukaku, hand cupped to the goalscorer’s ear, passing on a message long after their teammates have dispersed.
The pair then stroll back victoriously to the halfway line, the elder with his arm wrapped proudly around the youngster’s shoulder.
“He was saying, ‘This is just the beginning for you, you’re just getting started, enjoy the moment but look forward to the next moment and make sure there’s more of them’. Rom has been great with me since I arrived at the Club and that’s something like someone who’s a big brother would say to you really.
“Before I even came on he told me that if I got a chance, I should take a shot on goal, wherever I was on the pitch. To get that from him was a bit of encouragement.
“I spend a lot of time with Rom day to day and during training. We talk a lot and we’re just getting to know each other really. It’s the same with Yannick [Bolasie]. Obviously he’s injured at the moment but we’re from near each other in London and know some of each other’s people. Players who I’ve played with at Charlton, like Regan Charles-Cook and some of the players in the youth team at Crystal Palace who I’ve played against, he knows. Because of that, we’ve already got that understanding.
“All the players have been sweet with me, they’ve been cool. But to gain that connection with Romelu and Yannick, that’s something that I didn’t think would happen when I first started thinking about coming to Everton. It’s surprised me really, but it’s a good surprise.”
Like Lukaku, Lookman was thrust into the spotlight early and was immediately among the goals, netting 12 in 49 games for Charlton. Like Bolasie, he came from a non-league background, turning out for little-known Waterloo FC before being spotted by scouts at the Valley in 2014. Ask him who he models his style on however and the firm answer is neither. He’d rather take a little something from each.
“I’m not as physical at Yannick because Yannick is big, he’s strong and he’s quick. I’m not big and I’m not strong but I can use my body to my advantage and I am quick. I’ve got quick feet, too.
“Rom was young when he made his debut in Belgium, 16. He sees I’m young and I think he sees something in me. He’s always driving me on, always telling me to strive for the best - it’s that sort of relationship.
“He’s someone who loves football, 24/7, just drilled into football. He’s a fanatic. He’s always giving me examples of things that have happened to him and he’s always trying to improve.
“But I don’t see myself as a number 9 or a striker, either, I see myself as a creative player who hopefully knows how to score goals as well.”
Impressed by the Free School, Lookman admits he is proud to have joined a Club so committed to its community.
An attentive pupil himself - he achieved five As, four Bs and one C in his GCSEs - he hopes his example can motivate the youngsters to take heed of that acrostic and follow their dreams.
“The facilities are great and it’s great to see people looking out for youngsters who may have been kicked out of school or close to it or just didn’t get on in mainstream school,” he says. “I was good at school. I wasn’t the best - one guy got 12 A*s, it was crazy. But I didn’t mind school, I knew it benefitted me and I liked maths, history, PE, chemistry and RE.
“Every kid has to go to school but it’s not a punishment - it’s something that you take with you through your life and use day in and day out, so it’s beneficial.
“I’m still young and I’ve still got a long way to go but I want to be a role model and hopefully inspire young children and show them that if you put your mind to it, there’s nothing you can’t achieve.”
One very significant goal down, what will Lookman be putting his mind to next?
“I still feel like I’m dreaming,’ he beams. “It’s amazing to think that only three years ago I was playing on uneven pitches in parks near my home.
“I know about the great history Everton has and, of course, the big rivalry that exists with Liverpool.
“I can’t wait to really get started here. I want to establish myself in the team, but I also want achieve things and help the Club win trophies.”