I will be delighted to welcome back Evertonians to Goodison Park on Monday for what is one of my favourite games in any season. Supporters of all clubs will tell you there is something special about the tradition of Boxing Day football. Following six weeks with no Premier League action to savour, never will that feel more the case than for the visit of Wolves. I'm sure, like me, you're looking forward to hearing the Goodison roar once again.
It is natural at this time of year to reflect on the year gone by. Without doubt, 2022 brought unprecedented challenges for our football club. However, I strongly believe it was also a year of resilience and progression. On and off the pitch, vital groundwork has been laid through hard work, collaboration, and unity to set us on a more positive path driving forward. The rewards for some of that work will take time to materialise, but we are confident we have put in place the building blocks for a more stable, robust future. And, as we reflect on the past 12 months, I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you a little more detail about the changes implemented and the work delivered.
The strategic review initiated by myself and the Board this time last year provided a roadmap for change in our footballing operations and our approach to recruitment. As part of that process, Kevin Thelwell was identified as the perfect candidate to deliver the transformation needed across our football operations. Following his arrival as Director of Football, he initiated a root and branch assessment of all our operations to shape and guide structure, process and culture.
There has already been significant change to the way our football departments operate, reflecting the scale and quality of work Kevin is delivering. Most notably, new roles have been created and diligently recruited for, providing a structure that has enhanced our approach in areas including - but not limited to - coaching, analysis, player welfare, player development, governance, and recruitment. In fact, as a result of Kevin’s work, 26 positions have been filled over the past nine months. They are appointments that tie in with the 120-point action plan for our footballing operations strategy that Kevin is delivering, with short, medium and long-term actions and objectives clearly defined.
Beyond the names who may be more familiar to fans - such as Kevin, Frank Lampard and Brian Sorensen - new appointments this year have included the positions of Academy Director, Head of Recruitment, Loans Pathway Manager, Head of Sports Science, Senior Manager of Scouting Operations, Head of Academy Coaching, Set-Piece Performance Analyst and Physical Performance Coach.
There have been many other roles filled. But that list provides an illustration of the scale of change being implemented across our footballing operations, with every marginal gain and enhancement focused on delivering success for our Club.
It has also been a year in which much work has been done to improve our commercial performance and to maximise the opportunities that will be presented by Everton Stadium. We have strengthened our International and Partnerships teams significantly, adding senior staff with expertise and experience from top-level European football clubs, F1, the Football Association and a broad range of sporting and international business sectors.
The commercial team has also delivered a Club-record main partner agreement with Stake.com and brought on board the likes of BOXT, Christopher Ward, Marc Darcy, Vera Clinic and Fancurve, while also extending and enhancing some of our existing partnership agreements. I am also pleased to be able to tell you that two incoming partners related to our new stadium project will be confirmed in the coming weeks, further evidencing the scale of work being undertaken and the game-changing nature of having such an iconic new stadium to call home.
Alongside this commercial growth, steps have been taken to review and analyse financial structures across the Club to ensure we remain financially prudent, channel our spending in the most effective and impactful ways and, ultimately, ensure we are adopting best practice to deliver vital long-term stability.
An overarching strategy outlining our vision and goals across football, commercial growth and engagement has been revised and communicated to all staff. At the heart of that strategy is an exhaustive set of plans and objectives that will successfully lead us from Goodison to our new home on the banks of the River Mersey.
Twelve months ago, Bramley-Moore Dock was still being filled with sand. Today, the dock is buried beneath what is an increasingly imposing and impressive structure - a stadium with four emerging sides and, at two ends, the outline shape of a roof. Our city’s skyline is already transformed by our new home, and it is spectacular to witness.
Alongside the stadium structure, the necessary welfare facilities are in place to accommodate the hundreds of additional workers that will be required once the internal fit-out phase begins during 2023. Our Chief Stadium Development Officer, Colin Chong, will be providing a more detailed update on stadium progress via a podcast to be published in the coming days.
In the new year, and following the questionnaire circulated this week, we will continue to reach out to our Fans' Panel with an ongoing series of surveys. The feedback received will ensure the voice of Evertonians continues to shape and guide each of the decisions we make as our move to Everton Stadium draws closer. Our Fans' Forum has already helped inform some of the survey questions and, alongside the Club, will host focus groups in the coming months to gain vital feedback.
Following the publication of the findings of the government’s fan-led review, we worked closely with fan groups to support the creation of a fully independent and democratically-elected Fan Advisory Board that has already met twice with the Club's hierarchy. The group has been quick to demonstrate their drive to bring about change - not only for Evertonians, but all football fans - illustrated by their recent campaigning for consistent away match ticket pricing across all domestic competitions. Our engagement channels have also been further strengthened this year by the creation of International Supporters' Club Committees that will help us better reach and understand the needs of Blues in all four corners of the globe.
This year allowed us to continue growing our fanbase across the world, with games played in both the USA and Australia. The recent Sydney Super Cup was a unique opportunity afforded by the World Cup break and one we maximised through a series of well-received fan engagement events.
Closer to home, the absence of Premier League football gave our players extra time to give back to the community. Both Anthony Gordon and Dwight McNeil are examples of players who approached the Club and asked us how they could support initiatives helping those in need. Their efforts have not only directly supported hundreds of people this Christmas but raised essential awareness of some of the region’s most vital outreach programmes.
Everton in the Community has continued to support the vulnerable and those in need across the region throughout the year. Indeed, recent figures demonstrated that 2021/22 was the charity’s most impactful season to date, with more than £64 million in social value created for the local area. That provision will be improved again in early 2023, with the launch of The People’s Place – a mental wellbeing hub that will further enhance some of EitC’s most important work.
And it was emotive and heartwarming, too, to see players back at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital this week - the first time they have been able to visit in person since 2019.
Finally, I want to take this opportunity to thank you once again for your incredible passion and support – this year and always. I wish everyone health, happiness and the very warmest wishes for 2023.
Enjoy the game.