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2021 Everton US Tour: Fan Diary

RBM writer Pat is taking in the Toffees tour from a fan perspective

Everton Pre-Season Training Camp Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Everton just completed a preseason summer tour of the United States, based in Orlando for about a week where they attended a training camp as well playing and winning two friendly matches against Colombian side Millonarios and Mexican outfit Pumas.

Our Pat Mariboe had taken the opportunity to fly down to Florida for a short family holiday while also watching the Blues and attending some events that have been put together by the US-based supporters groups.

Brian Foley is also in Orlando and if you haven’t been following the RBM Twitter account, what are you waiting for?! He’s been posting some great pictures and videos as he follows the Toffees around.

Pat put together his daily dispatches from Florida in the form of a Fan Diary.

Sunday, June 25

On Sunday, Everton Orlando hosted a tailgate before the Blues’ match against Colombian side Millonarios later that night. Several Blues from all over shared stories of their fandom and memorable moments from over the years. For some, this was their first Everton match in-person, and it was great to see everyone’s excitement. I chatted with a fan who pledged his loyalty to Everton several years ago while spending his honeymoon in England and stumbling upon a pub in Liverpool before an Everton match.

Another fan talked about how he became a fan, like many others, after Tim Howard and Landon Donovan’s heroics in the 2010 World Cup. Tim made an appearance which was a delight, as his arrival welcomed several “U.S.A” chants and more as he sat down for a quick interview with Darren Griffiths. The event had some fun giveaways, plenty of food, and great laughs on an otherwise unbearably hot and humid day.

Evertonians formed their own make-shift supporters section behind the goal, as several others were scattered amongst Millonarios fans’ strikingly-similar blue kits. As the players and staff walked out, Rafa was met with mostly cheers; however, the stadium erupted when James Rodriguez made his arrival. In such a heated environment (pun intended), there was a joint sense of unity as a large roar was let out every time the Colombian touched the ball from the roughly 30 thousand fans in attendance.

Some points from the match: Begovic made a few decent saves, Kean looked lost, Iwobi was highly involved, but still in regular season form, and James certainly had an extra jump in his step. Nathan Broadhead and Demarai Grey both added some life and quickness to the side in the second half. Ben Godfrey is still the same brick wall he was last season and the rest of the side put in a decent shift and certainly gained some fitness, as the Colombian side put up a fight.

Everton’s eventual victory was almost poetic, as Jonjoe Kenny channeled his inner John Stones to panenka chip the keeper in the penalty shootout, almost eight years to the day of Stones’ effort against Juventus, also in the US.

New goalkeeper Begović scored and then saved in the last two kicks of the shootout. While his wife’s horse was not present, we’re looking forward to seeing the 34-year-old in action this season (and seeing the horse would be kinda cool too).

The sunburn will fade, but the memories will last forever. Champions of Florida, you’ll never sing that!

Monday, July 26

On Monday, I had the pleasure of attending a Tim Howard event located a few minutes outside downtown Orlando. Darren Griffiths was the trusty host as close to 200 Evertonians gathered for a fun night ahead. The event started out with Griffiths interviewing Everton superfan and avid memorabilia collector David France. France shared stories of his favorite pieces in his collection as well as the time (and money) that was put in to claiming such prizes (much to the disapproval of his wife). France claims he has put nearly 2 million miles into traveling to and from Everton games, and even talked about a near-death experience he had when the plane of an engine he was on had gone and the plane was forced to turn back and make an emergency landing. A woman sat next to him asked France if he was religious, to which he replied, “I am now. Before we die, can you ask God what the score of the Everton game will be?”

France also touched on his charitable organization the Former Players’ Foundation, which supports former Everton players through both physical and mental hardships, which received a standing ovation from the crowd. France also promoted his book “Toffee Soccer”, co-written by Griffiths and football historian and Evertonian Rob Sawyer. The book touches on the unique connection between Everton and the U.S.A., from players to coaches and more. France also added that USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter was once on trial at Everton, which was a surprise to both myself and those in attendance. France had copies of his book available for sale after the event, as well as a book signing, which I was lucky enough to get, as well as a signed photo of Graham Stuart during his playing days at Everton.

Griffiths was also joined by Everton Fans’ Forum member Tony Sampson and international strategist Jurgen Mainka, whose roles are to help grow Everton support in the States. They talked about their various initiatives and hopes of continuing trips this like to the U.S. in the near future. Sampson is a friend of the blog and we’ve done a few Q&As with him in the last couple of years, will try to pin him down for another one during this tour.

The highlight of the night came when Tim Howard walked on stage to plenty of cheers and roars. Tim talked about his time with the club and his respect for past managers Roberto Martínez and David Moyes. Howard called Martínez, “a tactical genius”, and noted that during his time with Moyes, after a shutout performance, the Scotsman would simply drop a “nice work, Tim” on their way out of the stadium.

He was asked if he had any regrets about his time at Everton and his unfortunate luck of not being able to win silverware. “I wish Saha hadn’t scored that early,” Tim joked, in regards to the 2009 FA Cup Final loss to Chelsea.

Howard was also asked about current keeper Pickford and likely backup Begović -

“I love his [Pickford’s] mentality...he stood out as the top goalkeeper [at the Euros] and it excites me heading into the new season. Begović has a safe pair of hands and is strong. I like being able to have a number two who is very steady. The more that Asmir can put in to these performances, it’s only going to boost Jordan.”

Howard also talked about long-time former teammate Leighton Baines and the impact he’s been having on the club in his new role.

“When you talk about good human beings, he [Baines] is as good as they come. The fact that he is in the coaching role, the advice and mentorship he will give to those young kids...the ability to have a quiet’s priceless for the club.”

The USMNT star was asked about the possibility of coaching in the future, perhaps as Everton’s goalkeeping coach, to which he sadly declined. “Coaching is not for me. It’s too hard,” said Howard.

Tim said how after a loss he would often hang his head and try to forget the game as quick as possible, and in a coaching role, he wouldn’t be able to stomach going back and watching tapes of losses or bad performances.

The night ended with Howard being awarded the inaugural North American All Star and taking some questions from fans. Howard was asked about how it feels to be one of the main reasons why American Evertonians support the club due to his heroics in both the 2010 and 2014 World Cup.

“It lights up my world. I absolutely adore Everton Football Club. Outside of my children, it is the greatest thing to ever happen to me. It fills me with so much pride.”

Graham Stuart joined in as co-host with Griffiths later on in the evening and it was a treat being able to hear such great players and ambassadors to the club reminisce about their past glory days.

You can read more about the fantastic event here on the Everton site.

Tuesday, July 27

Family day at Epcot, aka Disney World!

Wednesday, July 28

The final day of the trip was a bittersweet one. The weather was pretty dreary for most of the day, but managed to clear up shortly before the match against Mexican side UNAM Pumas; however, the rain throughout the day cooled the temperature a decent amount, which was very much needed.

There wasn’t much of a tailgate, as the remaining Blues mostly huddled together in a make-shift group in the parking lot. The stadium wasn’t nearly as full as it was Sunday, but the Blues still sang, cheered, and most certainly made their voices heard. The stadium was selling plenty of Everton merch as well, some of which I was able to snag, and the team debuted their new third kits which looked great in person.

The match certainly wasn’t as exciting as the one on Sunday against Millonarios. The Colombian side was pressing nearly the whole match, and to be fair, it’s hard to top a penalty shootout, let alone to win the Cup. Pumas was much more reserved on the pitch and let Everton dictate the play for much of the game. UNAM had a few decent chances in the first and second half, which warranted great saves from Begović and João Virgínia. I continue to be impressed by Begović so far and I also like what I’ve seen from João Virgínia. I’m hoping João can get a loan out this upcoming season, hopefully to a Championship side, as I believe he has a lot of promise.

New singings Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend again looked the part, and boy, is it great to see Jean-Philippe Gbamin back out there. It was also great to see Moise Kean get a much-needed goal before the new season with his future at the club still up in the air. Anthony Gordon also looked very, very good and seems to have grown a lot since last season; I would love to see him get a real chance at the first-team this year. Kean’s first half tally was all the Blues needed on their way to a comfortable 1-0 win.

All in all, it was great to see the Blues go 2-0 in the tournament, with plenty of positive takeaways. The team looked a little out of sorts in the first half against Millonarios, with the real-feel temperature of around 93 degrees probably attributing to that. However, the Blues looked on top of things to finish off that Final as well as the match against Pumas.

After my first trek to Goodison for the Derby last spring was cancelled due to the pandemic, it was an absolute pleasure and dream come true to be able to see the squad in person. I had seen them before when the team came to Washington D.C. in 2011, but that had all but seemed a distant memory at this point.

A huge shoutout to all those with the club in charge of planning this trip, as well as Pumas and Atlético Nacional for helping the tournament go on with such short notice. This trip was a huge step in the right direction for Everton’s involvement and growth in the States and I can’t wait to what’s to come in that department. Hopefully another trip in the near future! While it’s sad that the trip has come to a close, as a famous doctor once said, don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened. After doing a quick Google search, I realized this quote has a disputed attribution to Seuss, but the point still stands.. ahem... UTFT!