Everton captain Phil Jagielka has been reunited with an Evertonian he helped become the world’s first virtual mascot - this time meeting the youngster face to face.
The Blues made history in March when 14-year-old Jack McLinden became the first person to benefit from technology developed by Norwegian start-up, No Isolation.
AV1, a telepresence robot, helps combat loneliness in children and young adults with long-term illnesses by allowing them to attend school and social occasions through the device’s connection to a smartphone or tablet, allowing them to see, hear and communicate with others.
With the help of Jagielka, Jack was able to experience the joy of being a matchday mascot for the visit of Newcastle United to Goodison Park - all from the comfort of his own home - having previously been unable to fulfil the role due to his heart condition, oxygen dependence and use of a wheelchair.
Last week, the pair crossed paths again as Jagielka joined Blues legend Graeme Sharp and Everton Ladies stars Chantelle Boye-Hlorkah, Kirstie Levell and Claudia Walker to deliver Christmas gifts to Claire House, a hospice for seriously and terminally ill children where Jack has spent time throughout his life.
Jagielka was unaware Jack would be among the children he was meeting and said getting to interact with the teenager directly made his visit all the more special.
“I got here and within a couple of minutes realised that my virtual mascot, Jack, was here,” said the Toffees skipper. ”Obviously I knew he’d had a great time but I got a chance to speak to his mum, Michelle, and she was absolutely delighted with it all.
“She thanked me and the Club for how well it went on the night and it was nice to get that little bit of feedback.
“It was a fantastic moment not only for Jack but for the whole family for him to be a mascot. They’re massive Evertonians and it was nice to put faces to the people behind the robot, if you like.
“I’m sure we’ll be doing it again and it’s fantastic to have made someone’s dream come true.”
Jack’s mother, Michelle, was inundated with interview requests in the weeks following her son’s history-making experience as media organisations across the globe sought to discover more about the innovative advancement.
The story also prompted other families to put forward ways in which their children could benefit from AV1 in future.
She said seeing her son presented with the opportunity to be a mascot at Goodison was “special” and that she was grateful for the opportunity to finally thank Jagielka in person.
“Everyone at Everton did so much for Jack when he was the mascot so to actually meet Jags in real life was just amazing,” she said.
“He spoke to that little robot like he was speaking to Jack. Even after the game, they had him in the players’ lounge and that’s something people didn’t get to see - that he was interacting with him for ages after the game as well.
“At the time, it didn’t really feel real because it was all brand new and we didn’t really know how it was going to work.
“It was just better than we could ever have imagined and the possibilities are endless now for people to be involved in a way they normally couldn’t before.”
As well as handing out gifts and posing for photographs with the children and their siblings, the Everton guests were given a tour around the facility in Clatterbridge before tackling a game of virtual football.
“Phil Jagielka was definitely the most competitive,” said Sharp. “To be fair, the little boy he was playing with took it to extra time - he wanted to play until he won! It was fantastic to see.
“The people do a fantastic job here day in and day out so it’s great to give something back.”
Striker Boye-Hlorkah added: “It’s amazing to come down and just see how positive everybody is. It’s Christmas time and we want everyone to be in a happy spirit and just to see the faces on the kids and on the families - on the parents - it’s amazing and a good feeling that we’ve given out an extra bit of happiness to the kids.
“The facilities they’ve got - the quiet room, the games room, the arts and crafts that they do - it’s all just amazing.”
Watch Jags meet Jack and the other children at Claire House in the video above or by clicking here
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