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In the late 1970s, watching weekly English League games on American television, I began searching for a team to support. It wasn’t going to be any of the regularly presented clubs – Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool – because they wore red, and as a Chicago Cubs fanatic I had to find one in blue.
Thanks to Kevin Sheedy, I finally did. When I saw the famous double free kick against Ipswich in that 1985 Cup tie, I pointed at the TV and said, “That’s my player, and that’s my team!”
Since then, I've followed Everton faithfully, especially as the occasional TV appearances became more regular and I interacted with Merseyside supporters on the unofficial fan site ToffeeWeb. I always planned to make the Goodison Park pilgrimage. Someday.
And suddenly, in 2015, Someday was gone. I had stage 4 cancer. Incurable. Surgery, treatment, complications. I had waited too long. There wouldn’t be time for Goodison...
Just as suddenly, a year later, someday was back. A new, breakthrough treatment had checked the cancer. And when I posted the news of my temporary remission on ToffeeWeb, my online friends offered everything from travel guidance to tour services to game tickets if I would just get my US Blue derriere on the plane.
So I did. It took three flights and four trains to get from my little Oregon beach town to Liverpool Lime Street Station.
I wore my prized Everton ball cap all the way, and it generated conversations with a British Airways steward, the immigration officer and several folks on the train.
My TW friends met me, squired me around for a couple of days to see the sights – the Liver Building, Bramley-Moore, Hope Street, even a Marine AFC game in Crosby.
And on April 8 2017 - 32 years after Sheedy had made me a Blue - I sipped an obligatory beer at the Winslow with my new friends, took a photo with Dixie Dean, and walked up the ramp into the Park End to see the sacred green grass for the first time. Through tears.
From my seat in Row EE, I heard Z-cars and sang Grand Old Team and mentioned to the gent next to me that it was my first Goodison game. But he didn’t have time to answer, because Kevin Mirallas was slicing through the Leicester defence and being pulled down, and Tom Davies followed the loose ball and slotted it home.
The Park End levitated, and while I was still in midair, I glanced at the clock and it read 32 seconds. That’s right, 32 years, then 32 seconds. You couldn’t write that into a movie script.
I was sobbing like a five-year-old. My neighbour must have thought it an odd way to celebrate an opener, but he was kind enough not to say anything.
The glorious 4-2 victory over Leicester that day would, by itself, have made every dream come true for me… but my pals had more in mind. One of them, a Club volunteer, actually walked us onto the holy turf after the game, along with an autographed ball he had given me as a gift from the club.
I took a highly improper penalty into the Park End goal (pictured above). Right where Sheedy had placed his second free kick in '85 (I probably should have been arrested).
Only my first kiss with my wife ranks as a greater moment in my life, and I don't have a photo of that. I do have one of the illegal penalty.
The following week is something of a blur – a train trip to Scotland, more precious time with my generous new friends, and then another afternoon in row EE cheering a victory, this time 3-1 over Burnley.
Afterwards, the Club was kind enough to arrange for a brief visit on the touchline with Leighton Baines (I'm second from the right in the Everton scarf in the main image of this story) and Tom Davies, as well as the legendary Duncan McKenzie, whom I had seen play decades earlier in the US.
And then I went home to resume my fight, empowered by having been “touched by Everton” and by the wonder of the welcome I had received. Slogans like The People’s Club, family and community are easy to recite, but the way the Club and the supporters went out of their way to share the Everton experience with this pilgrim still astonishes me.
The coda, of course, is that I’m still here to savour those memories. The supposedly brief remission has now lasted nearly six years. That I became one of the first survivors of that particular kind of cancer is certainly down to brilliant medical research, but I haven’t the slightest doubt that the miraculous healing touch of Everton was what put me over the top.
By Mike Gaynes, Evertonian