My Everton #47: Boardroom Surprise and Tears Of Joy For US Blue

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You learn about the substance and character of a football club in adversity.

When I continued my fast-track Everton education by flying 4,000 miles to watch my first matches this year, our club was locked in one of the most testing periods in its history.

I was always going to love every element of a visit that was two years in the making after my plans to watch the Merseyside derby in March 2020 were defeated by COVID.

But nothing could have prepared me for an experience when I gained a first-hand understanding of why Everton is The People’s Club; of the classy, kind, warm and genuine institution we follow.

I will explain how this first-time visitor to Goodison Park ended up in the boardroom with his son pre-match, chatting with Everton legends and senior club officials who made time for two Americans giddy with excitement over the whole adventure.

But first, I should clear up how somebody from St. Louis got hooked on Everton, to the point where that trip in March ended in tears of relief and elation.

St. Louisians are traditionally devoted to the Cardinals baseball team and the ice hockey club St. Louis Blues, who won the 2019 Stanley Cup.

Certainly, in my circles, Premier League football was an unknown quantity.

But I began noticing a few close friends dedicating weekend mornings to watching soccer teams I’d never heard of from the other side of the Atlantic.

What intrigued me initially was the deeply entrenched sense of identity and culture and history rooted in these clubs. 

Playing for the badge had real meaning and while there are big personalities in European football, it felt different from professional sports in America, which, I feel, are increasingly about the individual and the brand, rather than the team and the community. 

There is a strong soccer pedigree in St. Louis, every kid grows up playing the sport, and there is a swell of excitement over our St. Louis City SC team, which is due to join MLS next year. Watching the club’s new stadium emerging downtown is providing me with a glimpse into the joy and excitement of seeing Bramley-Moore Dock come to life.

When I learned Preki, who played indoor soccer for St. Louis Storm, was the first American to play for Everton, my interest was piqued. 

I remembered Tim Howard's influence on the USMNT, particularly at the 2014 World Cup, and was captured by the Men in Blazers host Roger Bennett’s tale of his own love for the Club – and it all added up to the beginning of my own Everton obsession.

My son Cooper and I increasingly committed our Saturday mornings to watching Everton. And it steadily grew clear to the rest of the family that weekends were planned around Everton’s schedule.

We finally had the opportunity to cross the Atlantic to watch our first match at Goodison in March 2020.

But barely 24 hours after we landed, the fixture was cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

That disappointment didn’t dull our excitement over experiencing the city. We instantly fell in love with the place and felt a connection with the people. Walking through Stanley Park and visiting our unique home stadium for the first time was no less special for the eerie quiet.

We had to wait another two years to return for the games in March against Wolves and Newcastle – the conversations with Cooper’s teachers, explaining why he would be absent from school for a week were interesting – and this was another stay that unfolded in a way we couldn’t have scripted.

For the Wolves match, we were never going to be anything other than the first two people through the turnstiles.

We dashed for our seats the moment the Family Enclosure gates opened.

I was lost in reverie, soaking up the magical Goodison feeling, when I was disturbed by a steward, grabbing my arm and telling me to find my son, who was talking to someone very important.

I rushed down to the concourse where I'd left him, to discover him deep in conversation with Bill Kenwright.

On his way from the parking lot, the Chairman heard Cooper’s accent and was curious where we’d come from.

Before we knew it, he swept us up and told us he had some folks he would like to introduce to us. 

Following the Chairman's lead, we walked straight into the Boardroom where we started truly comprehending what The People’s Club was all about. 

Mr Kenwright walked us around the room and introduced us to Denise Barrett-Baxendale, Kevin Thelwell, Richard Kenyon and Graeme Sharp, as well as Tom Davies and Leighton Baines, who were nothing but welcoming and friendly and genuinely interested in these two lads from America who made it over to support their club. 

Besides the introductions, we were invited to eat with Club personnel and treated to a new view of the pitch with seats close to the directors box, which was surreal.

The match ended in the wrong result, but it was clear to us that the sense of community that originally attracted us to Everton was true and authentic. 

The experience of casually meeting Club hierarchy and the kindness and hospitality shown to us by stewards, staff and leadership was unlike anything we had seen or expected. 

We were still on cloud nine when we nervously settled in for the St. Patrick’s Day game against Newcastle four days later. 

Down in the Family Enclosure near the corner flag, we soaked up the atmosphere and energy of the crowd under the Goodison lights. 

It was staggering to hear and witness, the Everton faithful singing songs, waving flags and doing whatever it could to pull the team over the line. 

We underwent the full rollercoaster of emotions as the game wore on, remaining 0-0 until the ninth minute of time added on. 

And then… 

Alex Iwobi - the hero of the night - swatted in the winner. The crowd came unhinged, as we hugged, laughed, even cried a little bit with sheer joy. 

We will never forget that moment, Cooper and I.

What we hoped, but only knew for certain after that week in the city, was that Everton Football Club, from top to bottom is filled with the character of a People’s Club. 

In defeat and in victory, during a very difficult time in the Club’s history, every individual connected with Everton – in the boardroom and in the stands and on the streets – acted with dignity and class and kindness. The absolute, unmitigated love for the Club was evident in every one of them. 

Evertonians are like no other supporters. 

Our experience on Merseyside, then watching from afar as fans showed up in every sense of the term when the Club needed us most, through to that electrifying Crystal Palace game, made us prouder than ever to call ourselves American Evertonians. 

By Josh Hogan, Evertonian

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