Everton FC – The American People's Club?
The advent of the Web and social media, coupled with football's growing popularity and visibility in the United States not to mention the profile of Tim Howard has led to a growing band of Blues across The Pond.
22 October 2014
As Little Curly Alan Ball once famously and presciently said, "Once Everton has touched you, nothing will be the same". It's a sentiment that is ringing true for a new legion of Evertonians thanks to the accelerating growth of football in the United States. When it comes to the "beautiful game" America has, historically, been something of a determined outlier. Football, as the rest of the world knows it, has played not second- or third- but usually fifth-fiddle to the NFL, baseball, basketball and ice hockey.
That resistance to the world's most popular sport is very visibly changing, though, thanks not only to the quadrennial exploits of the US Men's National Team at the World Cup but also the rapid expansion of the sport on American television in recent years.
With every "EPL" game being shown live every weekend and America's own version of Match of the Day, US viewers have access to our game like never before and the opportunities for Everton to take advantage of what is potentially a large, untapped market and to build on the gradual links it has forged with North America over the last decade have never been greater.
The challenge posed by the rampaging Manchester United bandwagon or the appeal of the London glamour clubs like Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham, for example, may be formidable but in an environment where plenty of prospective football fans are looking for authenticity and lashings of history and there is a willing champion of all things Blue in the form of EvertonUSA (see our interview with co-founder David Kurtz later in this issue), Everton have plenty of scope to lay claim to the title of the American People's Club.
Everton FC has had tangential ties with the States, from William Dean's dabbling in baseball to keep himself fit during the close season (not to mention the alleged connection between his nickname "Dixie" and the American Deep South), to the growing number of ex-players – from Jimmy Gabriel, Mo Johnston and Preki to Paul Rideout and Tim Cahill – who have gone on to play and manage in the US league. And the club's visibility across the Pond has, of course, been enhanced by those American internationals like Joe-Max Moore, Brian McBride, Landon Donovan and Tim Howard, who have graced Goodison Park in the Premier League era.
In addition to the various sponsorship-related initiatives in China and Thailand that came out of the relationships with Kejian and Chang Beer, Everton have been wisely and incrementally laying the foundations for a presence on the North American continent. Under ex-Chief Executive, Keith Wyness, the club forged a partnership with the Soccer Dreams reality programme in Canada where the winning contestant would earn a scholarship with Everton at Finch Farm, and founded the Everton America programme whereby they briefly exported the Blues' coaching philosophy to the States under the banner of the Everton Way, the brainchild of former Everton coach Tony "Tosh" Farrell. That programme survives through an official affiliate club in the form of Everton America in Connecticut, a footballing academy for boys and girls who will grow up with an affinity to the parent club in Liverpool and which offers a potential breeding ground for young talent for the parent club on Merseyside.
It's the exposure from the club's recent summer tours of the US, however, coupled with the rising interest in the Premier League, the prominence afforded Everton by Howard's exploits in Brazil and Roberto Martinez's sage in-studio analysis for ESPN this past summer that has seen the number of American Blues rise to unprecedented levels. The team's positioning in that sweet spot between also-rans and the obvious choice has also helped and the Blues' story could become an even more powerful "recruiting tool" should Martinez manage to propel the club back to the big time where it belongs. After all, who doesn't love a good story?
Many of the Web's many guides for US fans on picking an "EPL team" clearly outline the clubs that would represent, in the American parlance, "frontrunning" (i.e. bandwagon jumping) – Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal – and those that would doom the potential supporter to following a team with few hopes beyond a perennial relegation scrap. In other words, new fans approaching the sport with a degree of responsibility don't want to pick the team that always wins but they also want one that has a chance of achieving something. For many observers, that means Everton or Tottenham.
That certainly seems to ring true in the accounts of some of new USA Blues who carefully selected Everton to be their team and have taken to their blogs to explain their new-found passion. As Iris from Seattle, Washington explains:
"I wanted a competitive team, but not a super-wealthy one that bought all its talent instead of developing it; a team with an exciting style of play, but that relied on teamwork and good fundamentals instead of one star; a team with a long history and a healthy fan base, but not the most popular one."
And if there were any doubt that these freshly-minted Blues weren't primed for the lifetime of frustration and fleeting glimpses of success that go along with being an Everton fan, Will Joyce surely dispelled it on his Adopted by Everton blog after only his second match:
Being a fan means pain. It means standing by, smiling weakly as opportunities are squandered, and coming back the next week even though you expect the worst. It means holding back hope for years until success is so close you can almost touch it, and just as you take the chance to reach out, someone else grabs it. That's why I can't stand the frontrunners. You don't deserve the celebrations if you haven't paid the dues.
Thanks to the Web, social media, and a network of fan clubs in the US, new Adopted Toffees who have been "chosen" in their own way are embracing the club whole-heartedly. No wonder, then, that Everton are believed to have turned down a more lucrative offer to tour South Africa in the summer of 2013 in favour of fostering relationships in the more fertile market of the US. The club's participation in the International Champions Cup took the team – not to mention an army of fans – to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami with a number of supporter-focused events underscoring the club's efforts to connect with local fans and ensure that they really were "touched" by Everton Football Club.
The team may return to the US in 2015 but until then, newly-forged Evertonians have the luxury of watching their new team on NBC's network of channels every weekend. And, thanks to the growth of EvertonUSA, they now have the chance to make a pilgrimage to Goodison Park with fellow Americans to experience first-hand the magic of the Grand Old Lady and what it means to see the Blues play on their home ground in the flesh. The group's 2015 tour will take in the Goodison Derby and the trip to Chelsea. Such opportunities are exactly the avenue US-based fans should be taking to see their team rather than the Premier League's controversial plans to stage top-flight matches overseas (which we also cover in this issue) which can only serve to degrade the character of the world's oldest and best football league.
A New Everton Fan
I had never played soccer and was, in fact, a typical southern American sports fan, going as far as to make fun of soccer as a sport and complaining about diving and such. Coaching 6 and 7 year-olds got me into the sport and since NBC was going to cover all the BPL games, I decided to follow. For me, the best thing would be for me to pick a team, and I wanted to follow a team that had an USMNT player if possible.
My first inclination was Sunderland due to their then recent signing of Jozy Altidore, but watching the first couple of games of theirs, I just couldn't get excited about them. Being an Auburn grad, I think I just have an aversion to the color red, which would come in handy later obviously.
In the third week of the season last year, I woke up that Saturday and opened the app to see who was playing. I was immediately drawn to the Everton vs Chelsea game. It was such a good match, as you probably remember. I knew Tim Howard was the keeper for Everton but I decided I would become a fan of whichever team won that game. I don't remember a ton about the game, but I do remember that deep down, I was pulling for Everton to win, mostly to fill that desire to pull for a team with a USMNT player. Of course, you know Everton went on to win the game 1-0.
At that point, I decided to learn the way English football worked with promotion, relegation, league cups, FA Cups, Europa League, etc. Man, there was a lot to learn and I am still tying to figure it out! I love how the promotion and relegation worked and I wish the US was set up to do that with other sports, such as baseball.
In all, I have really enjoyed being a Blue and learning the culture of English soccer. The fans of Everton are so very much like the fans of Auburn (my alma mater). We hate red teams (Alabama and Liverpool) and we have a great family of fans.