On a damp, windy Thursday night in the iconic St George's Hall in the middle of Liverpool City Centre, Everton Football Club hosted its 7th Annual End of Season Awards. Sponsors, Commercial Partners, Executive Lounge Members and supporters who could dig deep enough into their pockets joined Chairman Bill Kenwright, some of the Directors, Chief Exec (and my mate) Robert Elstone, Manager David Moyes, his back room staff and most importantly the first team squad to celebrate and reflect on what has been another up and down season for this club of ours. And I was there to take it all in.
The event was presented by excellent co-hosts and Sky Sports News presenters Jim White and Natalie Sawyer, who began by welcoming guests to the room before introducing the first team who entered the room in two lines, splitting into two and making their way around the outside of the fabulous main hall, but disappointingly not to Z-Cars, but rather some tune blown out by the massive pipe organ. And then a special entrance following the passing of his 10th anniversary in charge of Everton for Manager David Moyes, who took his seat on table one with his family and the chairman, chief exec and a few directors.
Various videos were shown summing up different stages of the season. Victor's goal away to West Brom and his equaliser against Wigan, Darron Gibson's goal against City, Tim Howards saves at various games, Tony Hibbert snapping Charlie "best dead ball specialist in the world" Adam, Jelavic's goal at Wembley and Steven Pienaar's equaliser at Old Trafford, amongst others.
Ipads were placed in the middle of each table (50 of them), installed on which were auction items for you to bid on silently, from Leighton Baines' & Johnny Heitinga's boots, Marouane Fellaini's, Sylvain Distin's and Nikica Jelavic's shirts, to a VIP Box for 10 people to John Bishop live at the Echo Arena, Mohammed Ali's signed boxing glove and a Lady Gaga Guitar!! I passed.
There was a bucket of Chang on each table too, which was free. Again, I passed! Bottle of Bulmer's please waiter.
On to the awards. The 2012 Everton Giant was announced as Brian Labone, a "one club man and proper Evertonian." Brian's wife collected the award on his behalf and explained how "Everton was everything to Brian, but he would be wondering what all the fuss was about." A very fitting accolade.
Dinner was then served, and as Bill Kenwright entered the room, late, some clown on the table next to ours told him he was "lucky he was still standing." He was piped down, the idiot.
The fan of the year was awarded to Sarah McNabb, a lady who cares for her mother in between looking after herself and watching the blues. She delayed an operation on her knee because it was her dream to go to Wembley, and Everton got her there. A great achievement.
Dinner was served and then on with proceedings.
The Everton Ladies' Player of the Season was awarded to goalkeeper and England International Rachel Brown. Tim Cahill presented the award but before hand said "the Everton Ladies' player of the year is Phil...... na Rachel Brown." Rachel expressed her confusion at receiving the award given that it was voted on on the second half of last season. The Women's Premier League is now a Summer league and as such is only a few games old. However, knowing Rachel I'm sure she is well deserving of the award and will go on to have another good season for the blues.
Then came the auction, with a 5 a side game at Finch Farm managed by 2 Everton legends fetching £3000 for Everton in the Community as well as £1500 for a signed Wayne Rooney England shirt, and a similar sum for a signed Lionel Messi Barcelona shirt. There was also a raffle for various prizes including 2 season tickets, a signed David Moyes training top, a £500 watch, an iPad 2 and other things. Amazingly, the iPad 2 was won by boxer Tony Bellew and the David Moyes top by a member of his backroom staff, who received a bit of stick from the players for his win and also raised a smile from the manager himself.
On to the business end of the awards and the Academy Player of the Season presented by Alan Irvine and Neil Dewsnip was given to Hallam Hope, a young striker who has England honours and a very promising future.
The Reserve Team Player of the Season was given to young defender Adam Forshaw by Reserve team coach Alan Stubbs. Adam explained to host Natalie Sawyer how he had fully recovered from a broken jaw to finish the season well.
Then the pre-scripted madness happened! The Howard Kendall Award was presented by Chief Executive Robert Elstone and Manager David Moyes, the former explaining how this person has done everything in his power for the club, backing the manager in signing players when and where possible, wanting nothing but the best for the club in line with the club's motto....... The winner of the Howard Kendall Award was Chariman Bill Kenwright. Upon receiving the award from David Moyes, Bill began to well up. And then when Moyes praised his Chairman to the highest hilt for his honesty, integrity and passion for the club, Bill had to turn away to wipe his tears. An absolute PR stunt if ever I've seen one!
Then came what is in my opinion the Players' Player of the Season, which was presented by captain Phil Neville and Assistant Manager Steve Round, who explained why he agreed with my opinion that to be voted the best player by your peers is extremely rewarding and testament to the effort you put in, the dedication to the cause and your ability as a professional footballer. The winner, and a very popular one at that, Sylvain Distin. Sylvain explained that at Everton "you cant hide here, the lads praise you when you're good and let you know when you are crap, they see you working every day, so this is a great honour for me."
Jim White explained that the house would come down at the sight of the next two guests to present the award for Goal of the season. And it did. As Graeme Sharp and Duncan Ferguson walked on to the stage.
Graeme explained how great a club it was, especially in the successful times of the 80's and how honoured he was to play for the club. Jim White asked Duncan what makes the club so special and his response was simple and received rapturous applause. "It's the fans, I love them, and I'm sure the feelings mutual, it's them, it's all about them, this club is special to play for because of them."
Goal of the Season, as voted for by the people present in the room, including the players and the manager, was a choice between Leighton Baines' free kick away at Swansea, Darron Gibson's winner v Man City and Phil Neville's left foot strike against West Brom in the Carling Cup. The winner, by one vote, was a popular one. Captain Phil Neville approached the stage to recieve his award, to boos from Marouane Fellaini, and declined to say some words!
The Young Player of the Year, presented by Tim Howard, was awarded to Apostolis Vellios. Tolis eloquently thanked his family, coaches, staff and team mates for helping him to win this award.
The Chairman came back on stage to present his Blueblood Award, or "Trueblood Award" as he called it. The Chairman explained at how much of a shock his award was, how emotional he was at receiving it, and how it takes a big heart to be an Evertonian, which he had. Agreed. He praised the miracle that is David Moyes and the job that he does year in year out. Agreed. He said he gets little but he gets everything. Agreed. He said that he would love to have hundreds of millions of pounds and would give it all to the manager to help him get the club to the top. Agreed. He then praised the players individually. The best goalkeeper in the world. The three best centre halves in the Premier League. Tony Hibbert and Leon Osman, who sum up what the club is about. One of the best midfielders in the world in Marouane Fellaini. He compared Tim Cahill to his idol, Dave Hickson, by saying Mr Hickson said he would "break every bone in my body playing for every club I ever played for, but I'd die for Everton" and how Tim Cahill had the same attitude. He praised Darron Gibson's impact, wishing him a long, successful career with us. He praised Denis for running none stop and giving 110%. All agreed. "Young Victor" received praise too. Erm.....
"What about Bainesy Bill?!" At a crucial time, when the best left back in the country is being linked with a move down the East Lancs, Bill forgot praise for Bainesy. "Oh yeah, the best left back in world football, Bainesy. By the way, I thought yours was goal of the season"
Bill then let the room in on something which you don't normally hear. When explaining how good David Moyes is, he used the examples of David Weir and Duncan Ferguson returning to the club to learn from him. "They won't mind me telling you this, but this highlights how much the club affects people, and how highly the manager is regarded. Davey and Duncan wouldn't take a salary from the club when they came back. They refused to. I'm glad to report though that we've managed to persuade them to take expenses!"
What happened next was a little embarrassing. No, it was a lot! Bill, emotional, begged Steven Pienaar to stay with the club, saying this was where he belonged and how we all loved him. Agreed, but begging?!?! Surely just offer him what he's asking for, as we should (and maybe did) last year? And then, he went onto the media, and how certain sections of the media portray people in football in a certain way, but how Alan Myers of Sky Sports had always supported the club and him. And then this: "Now this guy stood next to me, I don't really know him too well, but when I have spoken to him and also seen him on the telly, he only has good things to say about the club, so thank you Jim Smith. Never a bad word said about the club, Jim Smith of Sky, thank you."
Jim WHITE of Sky explained he would pass on Bill's thanks the next time he seen Jim Smith, but Bill carried on oblivious to the gaff he had just made, and explained how the winner of his "Trueblood" Award is "one of the best captains we've had" and how "at 3-1 down at Man U, he was clapping his hands driving everyone on, and it worked." Phil Neville gratefully received his award and then told a little tale.
"When I signed for this wonderful club 7 years ago I only thought I would be here for one season, two tops. But the effort, passion and dedication of the people around you keeps you going and I've been lucky to have 7 great years here. When I first joined, the gaffer came to my house to ask me to sign. And on my first day I walked into the old training ground at Bellefield and the first person I saw was Jimmy Martin. Jimmy is a fine example of what this club is all about. And Jimmy came up to me and said "Alright Lad? Listen, we dont have dickheads at this club, ok?" and hes right. You have to work hard here and care about what you are representing." He then thanked the Chairman for the award and the supporters for their backing.
And on to the final award of the evening. Player of the Season as voted for by the fans on evertonfc.com. A fitting winner was announced as John Heitinga and the Dutch centre back walked onto the stage to a standing ovation. Jim White asked him about Holland's hopes for winning the Euros in the summer and Heitinga said "When I play I only play to win, so yes." And when quizzed about what it means to him to put on the blue shirt of Everton he said "It's a special feeling." Then when asked why the club is so special and why he loved the club he explained "It feels like family."
A fitting way to end the awards presentations.
Jim Smith, I mean White, invited the whole squad to come on stage to allow the fans in the room to show their appreciation for their efforts this season. And finally, Z-Cars erupted loud and proud. The players were on stage for a few minutes before making their exit for training this morning. At the end of proceedings, I told Jim how harshly he had been treated at Derby County, how sacking him was the wrong decision and how I hoped he was back in the game soon. Both presenters were very approachable and were only happy to have a chat and pose for photos.
All in all an excellent evening and highly recommended to anyone able to go. You never know, you may also witness the Chairman in a comedy gold moment!
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