My Everton #87: 'Remember Me, Love?'

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My dad, Leni Cruickshank, chose Everton because they represented his values. He always loved being a community man, and Everton is a club for the community.

Often, he didn’t care about going for the result. He’d go to be around people who shared his values and loved the feeling of being part of a big community and family at Goodison.

Growing up in Toxteth, he had a tough upbringing. He was a smart guy but there weren't many opportunities.

After meeting my mother, they had kids together, before moving over to Derbyshire. However, after that, he saw what happened back in Liverpool with the Toxteth riots. 

I believe that was the moment that changed his life because, to him, it was Toxteth first, Liverpool second, and nothing else after that. 

He knew he needed to do something, so that’s when he decided to move back.

Toxteth was now an area in even more desperate need of regeneration and there remained a problem with people not having opportunities others elsewhere enjoyed. 

He jumped into action and created a not-for-profit organisation called Diggers, employing black people, ethnic minorities, ex-alcoholics, ex-drug abusers, and basically anyone who he regarded had been overlooked in life.

It gave them an opportunity to earn a qualification, while, at the same time, helping redevelop derelict land within Toxteth.

Every car journey I had with him in Liverpool was basically him pointing out every tree he’d planted, every roundabout and every park that he’d fixed up. They were my tours of Liverpool. 

Out of the car, we'd get stopped constantly. Everybody knew my dad to the point of it being hilarious.

Over the years, there were thousands of people who worked for my dad. 

After the upbringing he experienced, he wanted to make sure everyone had an opportunity, and he loved to see the impact those people could have.

Working to improve access to nature and animals, he was a part of the first city farm. It was a rare breeds farm, with the purpose of allowing impoverished children in the city centre to go to see farm animals and see how it all works. It was like a little oasis in the middle of Toxteth, with gardens, and fresh fruit, veg, bees, ducks, and chickens. 

Again, that was not-for-profit and was funded by him being able to rent out rooms for business meetings and things like that.

He also repurposed an old sewage works to set up a fish farm in Fazakerley in the 1980s. It was a disabled-access fishery and was also used for mental health therapy. With all this kind of work, I think he was ahead of his time.

The Garden Festival in the city was another big moment for him. He found out there wasn’t any local involvement in that, so he - through Diggers - built the Liverpool quiz garden. It won every single gold award, as well as winning the award for the best garden. That was quite a momentous thing, especially for a load of 'no-hopers' from Toxteth. All the awards were presented by the Queen, and when he got his MBE the following year, she recognised him. 

My dad, being my dad, said: “Alright, love, do you remember me?”

She said: “How could I ever forget you?” 

After refusing the MBE initially, he was encouraged to take it on behalf of the community. 

Well known in the 1970s for his folk music, he was even drinking buddies with some of the Everton players in that era.

He was a Season Ticket Member for the last seven years of his life. His mum was born in Everton and that's where it all began. 

He was a mad Evertonian, but I’ll never forgive him for 1987! We had the tickets for the last game when the league trophy was being presented. We didn’t make it and he said: “Don’t worry, son. It happens every second year".

His happiest moment were seeing Garrincha at Goodison Park in 1966, and his favourite Everton players were the likes of Mick Lyons, Joe Harper, Alec Young, Bob Latchford, Brian Labone, and Ray Wilson.

Anything of my era was "a load of rubbish".

You couldn’t really talk about him without talking about Everton, either, because it was such an integral part of his life, and of our life as dad and son.

He was the loudest and funniest person in the room, with a heart of gold. You knew when he was around. The epitome of a scouser: a massive personality, incredibly humorous, hard-working, and very principled.

By Tom Irwin, Evertonian, remembering his father – Leni Cruickshank MBE, who passed away on December 28 2022, aged 77

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