David Unsworth has hailed the efforts of 23 Evertonians who completed a 230-mile bike ride in just two days to raise nearly £40,000 for ‘Home Is Where The Heart Is’, saying, “We’re all very proud of them”.
The team of brave Blues set off from Sligo Rovers FC, the former stomping ground of Toffees right-back Seamus Coleman, at 6am on Saturday morning, cycling across Ireland, north Wales and Wirral without sleep before arriving back at Goodison Park just over 36 hours later.
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Their efforts have helped significantly boost the fundraising pot for the ‘Home Is Where The Heart Is’ campaign, which is aiming to raise £230,000 to fund and develop a supported living initiative for homeless young people in Liverpool, delivered by Everton in the Community.
“It’s an incredible achievement,” said Unsworth, who set up ‘Home Is Where The Heart Is’ along with his Under-23s players last December. “They’ve only gone and done it on the hottest day of the year, as well, which is even better. The camaraderie, the feeling watching them all embrace at the end, it’s just fantastic and I’ve been round to every one of them and told them that we’re proud of them, and we are.
“Who would have thought we could generate this sort of money for such a great campaign? Again, I’m in awe of these people, these cyclists, and all the crew behind the scenes as well. It was a fabulous joint effort by everybody and I’m just so proud of them and proud that they’re Evertonians as well.”
After two gruelling days, the team of riders were welcomed back to L4 by Unsworth, friends and family, and Club ambassador Ian Snodin, while hundreds of messages of support have been left on social media.
“We got the ferry over the Mersey towards the end and it was amazing,” said cyclist Tasha Roks. “Just seeing the skyline, it was like, ‘Wow, we’ve actually done it’. And then seeing Goodison on top of that, the way we all came in together - I got really, really emotional. It’s just been amazing.
“There were so many points where I wanted to just stop and get in the van but the messages that have been coming through from people have been amazing and really helpful."
After setting off from Sligo, the team were met towards the end of their first 30-mile leg by members of Leitrim Cycle Club, who rode alongside them towards a community centre where locals had put on a full Irish breakfast and other refreshments.
At the end of their first day and some 100 miles later they were then greeted in Dublin by the Irish Toffees Supporters' Club, who had arranged a special event for them at the ground of Bohemians FC and some respite ahead of their 2am ferry to Holyhead.
“I could go on all night about the support that we’ve had,” said rider Jayne Leonard. "On Sunday, coming up to Connah’s Quay, there was a guy who’d just pulled over in a lay-by and got out to clap as we went past singing ’60 grand’. I was crying that somebody would do something like that. The support has just been incredible.
“We’ve got loads of money in our pockets we’ve picked up from people along the way, euros and pounds that people have just given us, so all that’s going to go towards the final total as well.”
It is hoped the fundraising figure will now continue to rise towards the initial target of £60,000
, with other events planned to help the planned facility for homeless youngsters become a reality.
"We know which house we want, we’re edging closer and closer and we’re nearly there, so any last donations would be very much welcome,” added Unsworth. “We’re so close to doing it and I cannot thank these guys enough. From all the staff, all the committee and all the Under-23s players, I’d like to say thank you.
“I’m not surprised they did it. I knew they would and I knew the spirit they had on Friday night would get them through. They’re a great set of people, great Evertonians and we’re all really, really proud of them.”
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