Leighton Baines says Everton’s trailblazing pre-season trip to Kenya was “bigger than football”.
The left-back captained Marco Silva’s side in their SportPesa Trophy clash with Kariobangi Sharks.
Prior to Sunday’s encounter, however, Everton’s players dedicated their time in Africa to engaging in a series of community events.
And Everton in the Community coaches spent the week before manager Silva’s squad touched down in Kenyan capital Nairobi on Saturday morning delivering training sessions across the city.
Former Everton stars Steven Pienaar and Leon Osman similarly arrived in advance of the team to participate in a number of community activities.
Baines recognised the benefits of contesting a match early in pre-season – but, above all, hopes his club’s visit will leave an enduring impression on the East African country.
“We travelled a long way and jumped straight into a game,” said Baines after Everton drew 1-1 with the hosts in front of more than 60,000 supporters.
“It was about trying to enjoy the match and know this visit was bigger than football.
“It is very important. It is not just about us coming out and promoting Everton. It is what we can do for people out here as well.
“These little visits are great but it is about doing something with more longevity; doing work in the community and something which lasts longer than these fleeting visits.
“That is the main priority and it is nice for us to be able to come out here.
“People enjoy having us here, it is exciting for the local people and the kids, so it is win-win for everyone.”
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BLUES' HEARTWARMING VISIT TO SUPPORT KENYAN CHILDREN
Everton’s meeting with Kariobangi came only six days after pre-season preparations began at USM Finch Farm with the first batch of players to return from their summer break.
As such, a fairly seasoned starting XI was heavily changed for the second half in Kenya.
One of the players introduced at the break, Joe Williams, struck Everton’s 52nd-minute equaliser after Duke Abuya’s goal had given the home team a half-time advantage.
Kariobangi claimed the silverware up for grabs following a penalty shootout victory.
Baines, who last month penned a one-year deal to extend his Everton career to a 13th season, insisted the younger members of Silva’s travelling party would benefit from featuring in a high-profile clash, played to the backdrop of a party atmosphere.
“They will have enjoyed it,” added Baines, who will be joined back at Finch Farm this week by a fresh wave of players reporting for pre-season.
“One of the lads said to me when we went to look at the pitch and do the warm-up that it was not what he was used to.
“I told him to enjoy it, it was a fun game, really.
“We did a lot of hard work through the week, training a couple of times a day, and covered a lot of ground.
“That is the bulk of our work.
“We wanted to enjoy the game and atmosphere.
“I enjoyed the short time we had out here. It was a good experience for the younger players. And good for the Kenyan lads as well, you saw how happy they were and I am sure it will stay with them.
“There was real excitement among the fans, it was something for them to enjoy and I am sure they will have done that.
“It was good experience and the game at the end of a long week was a nice way to round it off.”