Ever since I was a young kid, playing for Everton was all I wanted to do. Playing for this club was living the dream.
Everyone knows the story that I lived a two-minute walk from Goodison Park, and I could see the stadium from my bedroom window.
I’ve been at Everton since I was nine years old. It’s a club I love, a club I was brought up on.
I’ll always remember the journey to Goodison for the Crystal Palace game at the end of last season. We were driving in from our hotel, and you go down Scotland Road and past the little football cages where I used to play as I kid.
I know that game was nerve-wracking and none of us wanted to be in that situation, but to go from that kid playing in those cages to playing for Everton Football Club in such a big match…I just had a moment where I thought, ‘You’ve done alright’.
I’ll never forget those last few weeks of the season. I think it was in that moment when I knew that I was ready to maybe move on for a new chapter, because I felt like I kept getting a bit emotional, especially when I was seeing the fans.
It did keep bringing a little bit of a tear to my eye because I knew that might be the end. They were lovely moments that were great for me and to see that reaction of everyone coming together. The funny thing was, I knew a lot of the people who were outside cheering on the team coach. I knew who they were and what it meant to them.
Just to be part of that, seeing the fans where I grew up as a kid…it was emotional. Now I look back and can be really, really proud of what myself and my family achieved. It meant so much to me to have played for Everton. There were tough moments, of course, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Looking back at my time in the Academy, I absolutely loved it. The coaches I had were brilliant.
I was a decent player, but my mentality was probably the biggest asset for me – that mentality of not giving up and working hard. I think that’s what the coaches looked at mostly in me.
I remember playing centre-back, and I was about five foot two, but I was adamant that no one would beat me.
Funnily enough, I had this conversation with my dad yesterday of what type of player I am and who I am and not to forget that. People might not look at me like I’m this fancy footballer, but I know what I can do and I’m sticking to my strengths.
Sometimes in life and in football you lose that but that’s why I think having the right people around you – like I did – is massive.
The staff and the way Everton dealt with me was brilliant, ever since I joined aged nine. They make sure they still let the kids be kids and enjoy their football. That was the best way for me and helped me a lot.
I’ve got so many coaches to thank for helping me throughout my time in the Academy. The likes of Colin Littlejohns, Paul Tait, John Doolan, Sean Lundon, and later on Kevin Sheedy and Big Dunc. I learned a lot from all of them. A strength-and-conditioning coach called Johnny Mac was also big for me. He got me in the gym and helped make me stronger and faster.
And obviously Stubbsy and Unsy were massive influences. Stubbsy was the first to bring me up to the reserves when I was 16. I loved working with him. Then Unsy really helped make me the man I am today in football. He made me be ruthless in training and playing – that focus you need to make it in the First Team. We had some great times and it was a massive honour captaining the Under-23s to the Premier League 2 title.
I must say, the current manager, Frank Lampard, has been different class.
He made me feel valued, really at home at Everton and a big part of the team. I felt like I could bring a lot more to the side because I was playing a lot more – I had a lot more to say in terms of leading by example a little bit because I had been at the Club for so long.
Frank and his coaching staff were fantastic for me. To have that backing from the manager was great.
I have loved every minute of being at Everton. But now I’m just ready to be a main part of a team and I’ve got more dreams that I want to go on and achieve.
I’m looking forward to the challenge at Hertha Berlin. It’s going to be completely different. New city, picking up the language again. It’s not like I’m on loan and you can just go back, you’re fully leaving Everton.
I really enjoyed my time on loan at Schalke. I got stuck into the language and the culture, and that’s exactly what I’ll be doing now.
To be able to speak a new language, a Scouser in Berlin, not many people do it! It’s something that I want to do, something that I want to achieve – to go there and perform and try to make yourself a better person.
I’ve had lots of lovely messages from people at Everton. Seamus rang me, I spoke to Dele, Dom, Davo, Mason, Ben… they’re all close friends of mine.
I’ve made friends for life, and I’ll always keep in touch. Everton will always be a part of me. I look back now on my time at Everton and at one point I thought, ‘Maybe I could have done more’, but I did everything I could, and I mean that.
This club is all I've known, all I've ever done. I’ll still be going to Everton games when I can and supporting the lads, always. Especially with the manager and the backroom staff, I want Everton to be brilliant.
I’m a Scouser who achieved his dream of playing for Everton. It’s been a fantastic ride and I’m so grateful to everyone at this great club.
Up The Toffees!