Growing up, every football/soccer-loving child has dreams about playing for their favorite team. Whether scoring the winning goal or making the big save, kids dream of wearing the same kit as their favorite players.
James Ditchfied was no different.
I remember sitting on my grandad’s knee at Goodison Park as a five-year-old kid, saying to him that I was going to play for Everton one day.
Unfortunately, however, playing for the Everton 1st team wasn’t to be for James. Not for lack of effort, ability, or commitment however. It was a diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy that would prevent James from following in the footsteps of his Everton heroes. As James tells it:
As I got older, I told him, ‘I don’t think I’m going to play for them now’, because none of them wore splints like me. I thought my dream was dead.
And if James were a fan of any other team, he would have been right. Lucky for him though, he was born a Blue.
In stepped the Everton in the Community Disability Development Programme.
Founded in 2000, this program comprises 11 different competitive soccer teams covering all ages and a wide range of disabilities. Even while in lockdown this EITC wing has continued to help the Everton community in many forms, from working with 10 special schools to helping 350 disabled children to develop their life skills.
For James, it was an opportunity to fulfill his childhood dreams he had long-written off.
(Then) I found out about the Everton disability team and went for a trial. When I tell people that I play for Everton, I still get shivers down my spine – I still think to myself, ‘is this real?’ - 20 years later I am doing what I love doing – playing for the badge.
James has accumulated many personal and team accolades in his two decades playing for the club, but he says there’s far more to the program than just the competition.
We’ve won many leagues and cups over the years, and personally, I have made friendships, reducing feelings of social isolation, gained qualifications and skills, and took part in physical activity sessions to help ease impairment.
In 2020, James found himself continuing to live his dream when he and his Everton in The Community colleagues were asked to unveil the third kit for Hummels to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Everton in the Community. Even he admitted that unveiling the kit might be his top honor in his two decades with the club,
This is one of the best kits we’ve had. Its brilliant. It feels good on and I can’t wait to get out there wearing it. To take part in the photoshoot and be one of the first people to see and wear the kit is unbelievable. I will never forget all the things I’ve done with the team over the past 20 years, but I never thought I would be doing this, it’s topped it all.
For Everton fans it’s always nice to know that even when the Senior Squad are in flux the entire Blues community can still be proud of the club, James, and the entire Everton in the Community family for making the Everton community, and the world, a better place for so many people.
Watch James talk about his experiences in the video below, along with a number of other members of the programme.
Truly Everton remain the People’s Club.
Alan McTavish, Commercial Director at Everton, said:
“The seafoam and charcoal design completes our first full collection from hummel, and with each kit they have shown their understanding of another aspect of our Club’s ethos. Through the ‘More Than Eleven’ campaign, interaction with our fans, and now their investment in our disability football programmes, hummel have shown a deep empathy with what being part of the Everton Family means. They join us in our commitment to embracing and embedding equality and diversity into everything that we do. The kit design has had an excellent reaction from our disability team players, who were the first to wear it, and I am sure that their positive reaction will be echoed by Evertonians around the world.”
Allan Vad Nielsen, hummel’s CEO, said:
“We are beyond proud to complete our 2020/21 Everton kit range with a launch that shines the spotlight on Everton’s disability teams in this, their twentieth year. Our ‘More Than Eleven’ campaign recognises the whole Everton Family, which includes Everton in the Community and its own teams, and the important role that fans – locally and around the globe – play in supporting their team.
“We are committed to helping change the world through sport, and we hope that by collaborating with Everton in the Community’s Disability Programme on the education and training coaching initiative we can empower participants and support them in pursuing future opportunities.”