It is 45 minutes until kick-off under the lights at Goodison Park when lifelong Evertonian Mike stops for a chat on the new accessible platform in the heart of the Sir Philip Carter Park Stand.
The Blues are set to take on Premier League champions Manchester City and that unmistakeable pre-match buzz crackles through the night air.
This season, his matchday experience has been transformed.
Back in March 2018, Everton began works on the Park Stand to improve accessibility provisions for the Club’s disabled fans.
A new balcony was built in time for the Toffees’ first home game of the 2018-19 campaign against Southampton, offering some of the best elevated viewing facilities in the Premier League.
“You’re not exposed to the elements and it’s the best seat in the house,” explains Mike.
“Going to Everton means the world to me. The Club are like family and this new platform means I can go every week.”
Access to the balcony is through two towers which house two 17-person lifts with adjacent emergency staircases.
The platform offers 45 wheelchair positions and is serviced by two concession kiosks, four accessible toilets and two companion toilets.
As part of Everton’s commitment to its disabled supporters, each fan can bring a companion to the game free of charge.
Colin, Mike’s close friend and personal assistant, explains how the positive effects of the new provisions do not simply extend to matchdays.
“Before [the platform was built], I was only bringing Mike to very few games because, if the elements got to him, he could be very susceptible to pneumonia,” he says. “He has had a heart transplant, and his immune system is suppressed.
“Now, he’s up here, the seating is covered, and the facility is phenomenal. It’s got everything you could want.
“It has lightened his life up unbelievably. He can come to as many matches as he wants. I’d bet he is the happiest man in Goodison Park.
“And if he’s happy, I’m happy.”
A palpable sense of community is evident among the fans on the viewing platform. As kick-off draws closer and more Blues take their places, friendly embraces are shared, and enthusiastic conversations struck up - predominantly surrounding all things Everton.
When youngster Oscar is asked to describe his new vantage point at Goodison, his answer is succinct and definitive.
“It’s amazing!” he says. "Everybody talks to each other. I love singing the Everton songs with them.”
The platform is spacious, with ample room for wheelchair users to manoeuvre around, speak to fellow supporters and enjoy a hot drink from the kiosks, which all have low-level counters, so fans can easily peruse and purchase.
The Park Stand works round off two years of a phased development programme aimed at improving accessibility for disabled fans at Goodison.
Two elevated viewing platforms have also been developed within the Main Stand, along with additional accessible seating in the Howard Kendall Gwladys Street (Lower) Stand.
For Rachael Lomax, Everton’s Accessibility Advisor, hearing such effusive feedback from supporters regarding the accessible provisions represents a significant source of pride.
“We’ve had people just saying they didn’t think it was possible, that they’d never seen a view like it,” she says.
“It’s really important for us to be inclusive and make sure anyone as an Evertonian can come and watch games.
“That is how it should be. I’m really glad we, as a Club, are leading the way in making these improvements.”
As the referee’s whistle gets the game under way, a collective guttural roar emits from the platform as the watching Evertonians aim to inspire their beloved Blues against Pep Guardiola’s formidable City outfit.
Throughout the 90 minutes, yells of encouragement and the typical matchday oohs and ahhs reverberate as the energetic Toffees go toe-to-toe with the Premier League champions.
The electric atmosphere is enhanced by the location of the platform – slap bang in the middle of the Park Stand.
“I’m immersed with all the other fans,” explains Mike. “I feel included.”
An energetic Everton are just edged out by City on the night. There is no huge rush to the exit door upon the final whistle though - the team’s spirited, ambitious performance is recognised by a rousing ovation from the supporters and is cause for a post-match debrief.
As the fans on the platform eventually head for the state-of the-art accessible lifts, warm farewells are exchanged as they go their separate ways.
“See you at the derby!” they shout.
For these dyed-in-the-wool Evertonians, coming to Goodison Park has been given a new dimension.
An unrivalled view of the action. Comfort. Atmosphere. Inclusion.
“Because I have a Season Ticket now, I get up in the morning ahead of every game and think ‘It’s matchday’,” Mike summarises.
“It’s an excitement that’s hard to describe. It means everything to me.”
Everton FC is celebrating Level Playing Field's Weeks of Action, which is taking place from 2-17 March. Weeks of Action aims to celebrate the positive initiatives undertaken by clubs, sporting venues, and their governing bodies in partnership with disabled sports fans and disabled supporters’ associations. Click here for more details.