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When Leighton calls

Over the past few weeks, the Merseyside clubs’ staff have been calling up local people who are self-isolating to check how they’re doing and offer assistance such as delivering groceries or picking up prescriptions.

Everton Football Club, a club that has been a staple of footballing life in Liverpool since the birth of professional football.

The Blues were one of the 12 founding members of the Football League. The City has only ever seen the closure of the blue gates twice in its history, In 1914 and 1939. Everton and the city of Liverpool have prided itself on its ability to come together in times of need and support for their fellow person.

The rapid spread of Coronavirus has sadly closed the world-famous Goodison Park. But with this season crashing to halt, The DNA of the club has kicked in. Over the past few weeks, the Merseyside clubs’ staff have been calling up local people who are self-isolating, to check how they’re doing and offer assistance such as delivering groceries or picking up prescriptions.

“He offered to visit for a cup of tea when all this is over! He even asked if my husband would give him a guitar lesson!”Jan, Everton Fan

Jan is Evertonian and has been going to Goodison Park since 1966.

“I hate to admit that, I don’t remember who played other than Alan Ball and Alan Whittle – both easily identifiable by the colour of their hair.

To my embarrassment, as a small girl, my main memory was of a day out with my dad and big brother, wearing a blue and white beret knitted for the occasion by my mum and stroking the huge police horses. I’m happy to say that I did fall in love with Everton FC and have supported them ever since.”

Jan was one of the supporters who received a call from Everton, but not any old call!

Level Playing Field Fans Liaison Officer, Liam spoke to Jan about the mysterious caller while also checking in to see how Jan is getting on in these unusual times.

But first, lets get to know Jan…

Liam: Hey Jan, I hope all is well. How long have you been going to watch Everton?

Jan: My first visit to Goodison was in 1966/67. It was love at first sight!

Liam: What kept bringing you back to watch Everton?

Jan: Nothing beats the thrill and excitement of a live match. From the scent of fresh cut grass to the atmosphere of the crowd and banter with other fans who soon become friends. Being a wheelchair user, watching the game is one of the few instances when an experience is fully accessible and, as with all fans, we are able to share the emotional outlet of the highs and lows of the match.

Liam: How are you holding up with the suspension of football? Have you found it’s affected you?

Jan: I am not just only an Everton season ticket holder. I’m currently Secretary of the Everton disabled supporter’s association (EDSA), a member of the Everton Fans Forum and belong to the Everton in the Community Spirit Choir. With meetings and practice, my life usually revolves around the club. The suspension of games, and other related events, has hit me hard. Social media allows us to keep in touch, but I am finding it very difficult to keep motivated. Like many of us, I am to ‘shield’ myself for 12 weeks. If I allow myself to imagine this, it is easy to find my eyes leaking a little. However, I am very fortunate, I have good friends who keep in touch and several hobbies to keep me busy. I do think it’s important to limit your time on social media though, sometimes, stress is contagious.

Liam: I’m sorry to hear that Jan, but I understand you had a friendly chat with a player from the club?

Jan: Yes, I was extremely fortunate to receive a phone call from Everton player Leighton Baines. The club are doing their very best to contact vulnerable supporters to raise their spirits. I couldn’t believe it when I received a phone call, introducing themselves as from EFC and asking if I was going to be at home and able to receive another call – they wouldn’t say who from.  What a surprise when Leighton introduced himself! What a lovely, chatty, kind person he is. Obviously, we discussed football and then how I was managing to keep myself occupied, our dogs and then he offered to visit for a cup of tea when all this is over! He even asked if my husband would give him a guitar lesson!

Liam: The Club has the nick name as ‘The Peoples Club’ How have you found the clubs response to these strange times?

Jan:  I believe the phrase ‘The People’s Club’ was coined by former manager, David Moyes, when he saw children wearing football kits, playing in the street near the ground. Everton may not have the size of international following that its neighbour does, but we are recognised as the club which best supports its community. Due to the crisis, the club have started up their Blue Family Campaign. There is an online referral form which people can complete for themselves or on behalf of someone else. If somebody needs support of any kind, access to food or medicines or even a friendly phone call, a team of volunteers will arrange it for them. The club website is a fantastic resource too. Each day there are new items – football training hints, language lessons from players, dietary advice, chair-based exercises, even educational worksheets compiled by teachers from the Everton free school. I think this proves that the club is well worthy of the title.

Liam: You’re a member of the DSA, has the DSA been active in supporting its members?

Jan: Our DSA finds themselves limited in what we can actually do for our members. Most committee members are also included among those who need to self-shield. We do utilise several social media apps to keep in touch and share the link to the Blue Family Campaign so that Everton in the community can support vulnerable DSA members. Recently, we held a competition on social media to win a copy of the Howard’s Way DVD – delivered directly to the winner. Hopefully, we can come up with some other ideas.

Liam: What’s the one thing you’re most looking forward to doing at Goodison once the suspensions been lifted, apart from watch Everton?

Jan: For twenty years, I lived in Scotland. We were unable to attend the match regularly with having a young family. However, after every absence, the thing which brought tears to my eye whenever I entered the ground was the scent of cut grass, smell of hot dogs and the feeling of anticipation – no matter who the opposition. I can’t wait to find bay number 8 and see the friends I’ve missed so much.

Liam: Finally, what message would you like to give to people reading this?

Jan: To anyone reading this I would say, please keep occupied. Take up a hobby. Some libraries are allowing people to access books free online. Take up drawing – YouTube has free lessons. Use the backs of envelopes and old letters to practise. Download Sudoku on your phone, check your club’s website or even visit Everton FC’s website for ideas. Anything to distract yourself from this awful situation. Reach out for help if you need it – this isn’t forever.

Thank you to Jan for taking the time to talk to Liam.

If you would like to know more about Everton DSA please give them a follow-on Twitter @EfcEdsa

You can also go back and read more about the work that Everton are doing in the community by reading an article written for Level Playing Field by the club’s Access Advisor and Disabled Liaison Officer, Rachel Lomax.

Rachel talks about the new ‘Blue Family’ campaign that provides local people with food parcels, gas and electricity vouchers and mental health advice, among other services and support.