The below article appeared in the July edition of the Everton magazine. You can find out more about the monthly publication here.
“I can’t believe how fast it’s gone.” Tim Howard, dialling in on his drive home from training in Colorado, is once again casting his mind back to an afternoon he will never forget.
“I still get goosebumps thinking about being an Evertonian and thinking about that last game. Very few people get the opportunity to close a chapter in a book the way I did. That’s a huge testament to all Evertonians and those who backed me for 10 years. It was special, a moment that will live with me forever.”
Almost 15 months have passed since the American goalkeeper walked out at Goodison Park for the final time, fittingly keeping a clean sheet as the Toffees beat Norwich City 3-0 in his 414th Everton appearance. More than 36,000 Blues stayed behind after the final whistle to thank him for a decade of service. Howard fought back the tears as he delivered an emotional farewell speech in the centre circle.
Howard hasn’t had the opportunity to make a trip back to Merseyside since he returned to the United States with Colorado Rapids. He is, though, aiming to board a plane later this year when the MLS season concludes to be reunited with the many, many friends he still has at the Football Club.
“My intention was to come back in the last off-season, which was December and Christmas time,” the 38-year-old explains. “Unfortunately I got injured and needed surgery, so I had to rehab that every day. I had to hit that fitness work hard. My plan this year is that when the season finishes, I will head over to watch a couple of games, see the boys and come back to my old stamping ground.
“The soul of the Club will never change and it will be nice to head to the training ground to meet all the new faces and catch up with the old. I’m also looking forward to feeling that intensity at Goodison again – it’s something I want to do because I haven’t ever had the chance as a spectator.
“I do miss the place, I miss the camaraderie. It’s a place I called home for 10 years. I miss the boys, I miss the people around the place, I miss going to work every day. Obviously the games meant most to me, but I feel incredibly challenged here in my new role at Colorado.”
Howard may now be 4,500 miles away in Denver, based in the heart of the United States, but his passion for the Blues clearly still runs deep.
“It has meant a lot of early-morning get-ups to watch the boys!” he laughs. “Normally, Everton play on my matchdays, too, so I’ll wake up, watch the game, fall back to sleep and then chit-chat with Leighton and Jags to congratulate them on a good result. I’m still in touch with Ross Barkley, Seamus, Gareth Barry, too – all the guys who were there when I was. I like to tell them I’m watching.”
Baines and Jagielka still remain his good mates. After all, they shared a dressing room together for nine years!
“Jags is the best captain I ever played for and worked behind. He is a great friend, was an incredible teammate. The fee we paid versus the mileage we have got out of him, we got an absolute steal. I still speak to him quite a lot. Him and Bainesy, I’m in touch with them most out of everyone. Jags keeps me updated on all the good, the bad and everything in-between.
“Again, when you look at Bainsey and what he has brought to the Club, he’s a proper footballer’s man. He comes to work every day and digs in. I don’t think there has ever been a game in 10 years where anyone has been disappointed with how Leighton Baines has played. That’s how steady he has been. We have been lucky to have him and Jags together at the same time, particularly in defence.”
This is Howard’s first interview with the Club since he uprooted back home last summer. Weeks after he signed off with the Toffees, Ronald Koeman was appointed manager. Watching from afar, Howard is massively impressed with the ambition being shown and the progress made on-and-off the pitch over the last year. “The Club is doing some big things, especially in the transfer market – I know every team is moving up, but it’s special what is happening at Everton,” he adds.
Howard is well-positioned to offer insight on the acquisition of Jordan Pickford from Sunderland. The Blues have parted with £25m to sign the goalkeeper, a fee which could rise to £30m depending on team and individual performances. Money extremely well spent, according to the American, who joined the Blues, initially on loan from Manchester United in 2006.
“As someone who has worn that shirt for a long time, I’m proud to have Jordan on board,” lauds Howard. “Any time a player signs with a big price tag, people are looking out to see what is going to happen next, but he’s shown already he has all the ability in the world. Knowing what I know about the Club, he will be given time to settle in and find his feet. Talent-wise, he has got it all. He’ll be a great custodian for Everton.
“I like his movement, his ability to get about the goal and spring around. In a very tough season for Sunderland, he seemed unfazed which, for a young guy, is very good. He was probably their Player of the Season and that’s a tough thing to achieve when you get relegated. I think he has got the mettle to handle the ups and downs of the Premier League.
“If I could offer any advice, I would say to him to get down and work hard. Our Club is about loyalty and hard work. You have to put the kilometres in – that goes without saying – but if you do that, the fans will take you under their wing and love you forever.”
During his time with Everton, Howard starred at two World Cups for the United States: South Africa in 2010 and Brazil in 2014. Three years ago, he famously broke the record for most saves made in a World Cup match when he beat away 15 efforts on goal in a Round of 16 defeat to Belgium. With 115 caps to his name, he still has ambitions of bowing out of the international scene with an appearance at next summer’s tournament in Russia.
“It’s firmly set in my sights,” Howard declares. “The plan is to help the United States qualify, be a part of that process and then push on towards Russia. Hopefully we are having another conversation in a year’s time about the World Cup.”