Ahead of Everton’s trip to the United States this summer for their pre-season training, former goalkeeper Tim Howard spoke with new Director of Football Kevin Thelwell in a revealing interview about how he’s been settling in on Merseyside, his plans for the club and the pressure on him, his relationship with manager Frank Lampard as well as the upcoming trip to the US.
TH: Kevin, I know you’ve observed Everton from the outside for a long time - but I’m curious to know your impressions of what it’s like to be there now from the inside?
KT: I have to say that I’ve loved the first seven or eight weeks so far. I’m from the North West originally - my mum and dad are from Liverpool, so to have the opportunity to work at a club like Everton was a dream come true. I’m under huge pressure, by the way! My father rings me every day to make sure I’m doing the job properly! But the first seven or eight weeks have just reaffirmed what I already knew looking from the outside, which is what a fantastic club Everton Football Club is. It’s full of fantastic people, it’s obviously got huge tradition and history and it’s obviously got huge potential. We all appreciate we’re in a difficult moment and the past seven or eight weeks weren’t easy for anybody - but we’re very hopeful for the future. We’ve got a very strong manager in Frank, who I think has done a very good job, along with his coaching team. They’ve done a fantastic job to not only get the result we need but also to start to unite the football club again. So, it feels like the future could be very bright.
TH: You know the passion of Evertonians. I played for Everton for 10 years and I understood, well, I thought I understood the passion they have, until the last four weeks of the season when I saw a side to Evertonians that I was completely blown away by. I think everybody in the football world was blown away by the passion they have. You’ve seen that first-hand now. Is that an added motivation for you? Knowing what this Club was, is and can be... but knowing that passion remains in abundance?
KT: I’ve worked in football for 20-odd years and I’ve never seen a fanbase like this. The last four weeks only compelled that even further. Some of the scenes we saw, in terms of the fans’ support outside our training facility to wave off the team, the team arriving on the bus to Goodison... They were special memories. You look at Leicester away, when 25 minutes after the final whistle our fans were still inside the stadium shouting and singing as loud as ever... Then, of course, that unbelievable night against Crystal Palace when we were 2-0 down and turned things around to win 3-2 - the scenes after that game were immense. Absolutely incredible. They will be memories that live for a long, long time. Of course, having looked back on those now and had the opportunity to reflect, what we want to do is see those scenes again but in very different circumstances. We want to see those scenes when we have the opportunity to win something. That’s what the future is - making sure we bottle that chemistry, the connection between the fans and the team and the manager, but also make sure that we deliver. That’s the next part of our journey.
TH: It feels like you and Frank are singing from the same hymn sheet. What’s your relationship with him been like so far?
KT: Well, number one, it’s very important at the start of any relationship - and I’ve never worked with Frank before - to be very clear about what we’re both doing and how we’re going to work together. It’s clear that Frank’s role is responsibility for preparation of the team, performance of the team and, fundamentally, results. My responsibility is to make sure all of the support services that sit around him are fit for purpose. So, once we understand that, there’s a real opportunity to start talking about how we work together to improve all of those things. We’re very lucky that our offices are opposite each other - less than a metre apart, so that’s great! It’s created an opportunity for us to get to know each other a bit better, build relationships and talk frequently about common journey. We both want exactly the same thing and we understand we’re both going to work hard to do that together. A super strength of Frank in my opinion is that he’s very normal - he’s very low ego. He’s very clear about what he wants but he also has this endearing ability to take on other people’s opinions, discuss things and understand that there are things to be gained from those conversations. I have to say it’s been a breath of fresh air [working with him], but it’s one thing enjoying it - now we have to deliver on it. We all understand the pressure that comes from being in these roles. Everton Football Club should be at the very top and so Frank and I have a responsibility to deliver that.
TH: Absolutely. There is going to be pressure at any football club but definitely at a club like Everton. Can you tell me about your responsibilities beyond the First Team? When you get into the job and you look right down through the Academy - is that something of paramount importance to you as well?
KT: Of course. The Director of Football job description is broad, so it’s very much about supporting the First Team, of course, but it’s also supporting all of the other departments that help us to try to win, so, Performance Analysis, Sport Science, Medical Services, Academy, Women and girls... It’s about working through all of the departments and helping them to be the very best that they can be. I’ve always seen that as a very important and integral part of the role. It’s not just about today - that is a fundamental part of it, of course - but it’s also about safeguarding the future and it’s about tomorrow. The only way in which you do that is to make sure that you collaborate with a lot of people and build this wider vision of what we’re trying to achieve at the football club. In all of the previous roles I’ve worked in and Everton is no different, I’ve always worked on two pipelines. Performance - what we do today to really ensure what everybody sees is as strong as it possibly can be on the pitch; but also preparing for tomorrow and a pathway for young players. I think any top football club is built on that sort of foundation.
TH: So, what you’re saying is you don’t get much sleep?!
KT: I don’t get any sleep, Tim! No sleep.
TH: You’re coming back to America for pre-season and I’m curious, as I’m sure many others are, about your time as Head of Sport at New York Red Bulls. Can you give us an insight into your work there?
KT: It wasn’t too dissimilar to the job description here at Everton. I have to say that I loved my time in the States. I was there for two and a quarter years and I was very lucky to live on the outskirts of New York. It was a fantastic experience for me and my family and I loved working in MLS, which is a developing league that is getting stronger and with World Cup 2026 coming I’d be very surprised if it didn’t become one of the top leagues going forward. There are some very exciting teams and players. My role at New York Red Bulls was very similar to what my current role is here. I was Head of Sport, so I had a Sporting Director who worked directly with me and my responsibility was to do all of the things that I do here at Everton. I worked on all of those functions that I spoke about, all of the supporting operations, and then also worked with the Sporting Director, Denis Hamlett, to help him grow into the role and to improve and to develop. It was a very good club with very good people and I’m glad to see they’re doing well in the Eastern Conference this year.
TH: I know Denis very well - and I agree he’s a great man. I also wanted to ask you about your time out there... I mean, it happens to me all of the time, but I even go to grocery store and I end up speaking to someone about Everton... In your role over there in New York, on the east coast, did you come across many Evertonians?
KT: Very much so. I think you only have to walk down any street in the world and you’ll find an Evertonian somewhere! Because my family is from Liverpool and I’m from the North West, I’ve got a bit of a twang to my accent, so there were a lot of occasions where I would be walking in New Jersey... I lived in Morris Town and I can tell you there’s an Everton contingent there! I used to catch them in coffee shops around the area and, of course, we’d end up talking about the Toffees and the Premier League. Then, also, a couple of occasions when my wife and I were in New York, you come across people from all walks of life who follow the Premier League and follow Everton. We all know that reach goes far and wide.
TH: I know the Evertonians I know and the ones who I’ve met recently are beside themselves with excitement that the Club is coming back over here. They can’t wait. I know you have a lot of work to do, so I won’t keep you any longer - but I look forward to seeing you in Baltimore and we can get a cup of coffee.
KT: I’m very much looking forward to that... I’m hoping it’s something stronger, Tim!
TH: We can do that as well! See you in a few weeks.