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Everton: One Big Family

By Paul Traill :  01/07/2011 :  Comments (0) :
On the evening of Tuesday 29 June 2011, on behalf of ToffeeWeb, I was fortuitous enough to be one of 34 provided with the luxury of enjoying an evening with Dr David France, his lovely wife Elizabeth, and several special guests at the fantastic venue of the Liverpool Town Hall. The occasion: the not-so-small matter of the Citizen of Honour Award for Dr David France.

Arriving in good time, I shuffled through the main entrance and up the stairs? slightly overawed by the beauty of the venue. I followed the corridors through to the main area where the Z-Cars theme was played by an exquisite pianist. The venue fantastic. Overawed?completely.

I recognized David and Elizabeth France and wanted to get over to them and offer my congratulations on the award and to express my gratitude on the invite to such an auspicious event. Getting to the great man was impossible given that everybody wanted a piece of him? and who could blame them? it?s not every day you get a chance to meet a man like Dr Everton.

Whilst waiting for my opportunity to speak with Dr and Mrs France, I did recognize two other great Evertonians who do some sterling work for the Everton Heritage Society and go by the names of Steve Flanagan and David Starsky? nice to catch up with both of them ?David Starsky in particular, he?s a nice fella with so much time and knowledge for all things Everton Football Club. Paul Wharton deserves a mention also ? he?ll have been disappointed to have missed this one... on his holidays I?m told. He does some relentless work also. The great Dave Hickson was also present? and also receiving a Citizen of Honour award at the ceremony as Steve Flanagan informed me. ?If You Know Your History? boomed out from the piano.

It was only when we were getting ushered inside for the ceremony that I was finally able to grab a quick word with Dr Everton. Within moments of meeting Dr David France you feel so assured, so at ease, such is his way? a smile, a warm handshake and kind words immediately. He gave me a sneak preview of a few gags he had in store for the ?Everton Family Gathering? later on. I was then able to speak with Mrs France also, a lovely lady? very endearing. I walked alongside her for a while as we made our way on to the ceremony. She spoke of her pride at the award for David and the reward for the incredible hard work he?s completed over the years ? and still continuous to do.

I took a seat towards one of the back rows in the ceremony room. The Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Councilor Frank Prendergast, led out the awardees as they took their seats at the front of the stand, facing the Lord Mayor. Dave Hickson and Dr France weren?t the only ones to receive Citizen of Honour awards. Joe Anderson spoke kindly of Mr Tony McGann, OBE, for what sounds like a lifetime of community work, starting in the 1960s / 70s with the founding of the Eldonians Community Based Housing Association, which has benefitted many. Tony also won the Citizen of the Year award in 1983 and was granted an MBE in 1993? and then an OBE in 2008. In collecting his admission into the Roll of Citizen of Honour in recognition of outstanding services to the community and the City, he had special praise for Joe Anderson and dedicated the award to the Eldonians and the people of Liverpool.

Joe Anderson?s next words were for none other than the great Dave Hickson, starting with something along the lines of ?this man played for Liverpool?s premier team? Everton?. He went on to describe Dave Hickson?s unique hair, and how he still has it now, and that ?if Everton don?t get to sign a striker this summer, Moyesie could do worse than give Dave Hickson a call?? Robert Elstone was beaming. Joe proudly described a famous goal scored by Dave Hickson against Manchester United when he bravely headed Everton?s winning goal and got a good clout in the process. The blood streaming from Hickson?s head at the time, much better than anything Terry Butcher could achieve! ?They just don?t make them like Dave anymore? he said? also commenting that Aston Villa paid £17k for Dave Hickson? ridiculous when considering what players are transferred for now.

Dave Hickson is of course the only player to have played for all three Merseyside clubs: Everton, Liverpool and Tranmere Rovers. He only stopped playing charity games aged 75 and, of course, still works at Goodison Park on matchdays. Further to football, he has also raised thousands for breast cancer support. The word ?legend? springs to mind and the fantastic reception he received upon his admission to the Citizen of Honour award would suggest this to be true.

His speech was short but excellent? almost stating he felt undeserving of the award and that he was just ?pulled out of the hat? given that thousands of others also do a great deal of charity work in the city. He thanked the Lily Centre for all their work in breast cancer support and also stated that Liverpool FC and Tranmere Rovers FC have both provided a great deal to support the Lily Centre but nobody quite as much as Everton FC. ?Sorry, ladies and gents. That?s me.? he finished with?resuming his seat to quite a moving standing ovation.

Next up was indeed Dr David France, with Joe Anderson providing some lovely words in presenting the honour. He spoke in depth about David?s background of working in USA since emigrating in 1978 and of his work at an oil and gas corporation, with NASA and even a nuclear expert? retiring aged 42 to devote more time to worthier causes in USA and closer to home, with Merseyside football? or, perhaps more to the point, Merseyside Footballers?

Dr David France was the first to recognize the medical and financial requirements of retired footballers; he conceived and founded the Everton Former Players Foundation in 1999. This was the first of its kind in the world of football and to date has raised funds and awarded grants in excess of £1,000,000. Consequently, Uefa have embraced this model and it is replicated by football giants worldwide, such as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich ? all this down to one man.

Of course Dr France is better known for his phenomenal collection of Everton FC memorabilia from the first ever matchday programme to the most recent... the first ever team photo... medals... I could go on and on. The most priceless probably the official club ledgers detailing the minutes of all board meetings between 1886 and 1964, containing details of the split which resulted in the formation of Liverpool FC. I could go on all day... I really could... and, to show the measure of the man, Dr. David France has completed 97 marathons ? all for charity.

He received his admittance into the Roll of Citizen of Honour in recognition of outstanding services to football and the local community in the City, to an excellent round of applause from all attendees, and I don?t think he missed anyone out in his acceptance speech with Bill Kenwright, Sir Philip Carter, Robert Elstone, Keith Wyness, Laurence Lee, Rev Harry Ross ? the trustee of the Former-Players Foundation, Anne Asquith, Paul Wharton and from the Everton Shareholders Association, the Everton Collection Trust, the Everton Heritage Society, David Prentice and others from Trinity Mirror / Liverpool Echo... the official Everton website and the independent websites who keep him updated on all things Blue from across the pond, namely ToffeeWeb, Bluekipper and NSNO.co.uk... all recipients of David France?s gratitude.

Most thanks of course went to Mrs Elizabeth France following 35 years of marriage... though little did she know at the start that she was also marrying into the Everton family!

David spoke highly about the Everton Family and about how we don?t just support the club... we support each other and how this is akin to the people of the city of Liverpool. He admires how Everton do these things for former players but don?t make a song and dance about it... unlike perhaps how some of the so-called ?darlings? of the football world may do. It was a really nice speech and I?m sorry I can?t quite do it justice in text. I have a transcript of both Dr David France's and Joe Anderson?s speech. If you?d like to see this in full please email me: paultraill2000@yahoo.co.uk. As you?d expect? he left the stage to fantastic applause.

Danielle Thomas took to the stage to perform Abide With Me before Mr Louis Biggs OBE received his award for outstanding services to the Arts in the City. Louis had a big hand in the Capital of Culture 2008 award for Liverpool and has worked as Director of Liverpool Tate Art Gallery amongst other works? also working in Shanghai in what he calls ?Liverpool?s Sister City?? albeit 40 times the size of Liverpool! He wants to continue working for Liverpool and is also of the Blue persuasion. ?I?m made up!? he ended his speech with.

He was followed by Miss Patricia Mary Mullin, OBE, who has overseen some fantastic works within education in Liverpool. She is also a Blue? finishing her speech with ?The only time I don?t like hearing about Liverpool is whenever they beat my beloved Everton?.

With that, Danielle Thomas blasted out a superb version of ?You Raise Me Up?. I wasn?t expecting to have to sing either? though we all did with one verse of the National Anthem. At that, the mace was removed, the Citizens of Honour left the venue, and the wonderful ceremony was brought to an end.

The fun was far from over, however, and was in fact just beginning. After some slight confusion, we were led upstairs for a reception and were able to overlook parts of Liverpool City Centre from the balcony on the top floor of the Liverpool Town Hall? where The Beatles once stood... and apparently the 1966 FA Cup winning team. I got talking to a gent from the Bluekipper website for a short while before we were led onto our tables.

I was sat between Greg O?Keeffe, the Everton FC Correspondent for the Liverpool Echo, and Phil Parker, a good fella who co-incidentally enough is a distant friend of a friend. It was nice to speak with both of them and interesting to hear a few stories from life on the road supporting Everton? both as a journalist from Greg?and some interesting stories from the 70s and 80s from Phil.

Mrs France said some nice words to get proceedings under way as we tucked into a delicious mushroom soup. The theme of the evening was ?What does Everton mean to me?? Lawrence Lee, trustee of Everton Former Players Association, began explaining how he used to deliver lemonade to Joe Royle and felt from an early age that he was part of the Everton family. Joe Anderson also said yet more nice words.

The humorous gag Dr David France had prepared was the serving of Scouse for three Liverpool supporters who had been invited along: Steve Done, Jah Jussa and David Mann. This was accompanied by roadmaps highlighting the way into the city! A lovely chicken meal was served as the toasts continued.

Anne Asquith of the Everton Shareholders Association told of her early years being smuggled into the Boys Pen at Goodison Park and her delight at the Everton club's worldwide spread of other clubs and support, be that in Chile, Uruguay, Argentina and at one stage in New Zealand. It really hit home the message of what supporting Everton means to Evertonians ? that we are one big family? this was endorsed by most of the other speeches. Apologies ? I?m unable to recall everything from the night? there was a lot going on.

Steve Done, Liverpool FC curator, stood up to say some very nice words about Everton also...?this is lambs to the slaughter? he joked as he began. He went on to say that behind the public jibes and banter towards Everton from Bill Shankly, that he actually had a lot of time and love for Everton FC. In 1960-61 and 1973-74 he was actually provided with a season ticket to be invited into the Directors Box at Goodison Park. Bill Shankly wouldn?t throw these away and kept them in his sock draw? a fascinating tale.

As the night moved on, Jake Mills, a budding young comedian who was sat at my table, took to the floor to add some humour to the evening. He was followed by Simon Paul of NSNO.co.uk who said some nice words, reiterating the feeling of the Everton Family? meanwhile we moved onto deserts?t he night flowing ever so nicely.

Peter Lupson, an author and excellent speaker who I?ve now had the pleasure of hearing talk about Everton FC on a few occasions, spoke of his feelings for Everton FC? how Norwich City was his first love but he can?t help the slide towards Everton ? even unable to stop his children from the gripping lure which is Everton FC. ?How can you ignore a team which has won nine league titles?? said Peter.

He spoke of four key areas he sees which makes Everton such a special club:

1. Inclusiveness: The inclusion of different religions in the early Everton days at a time when things were much more difficult. James Baxter, a Catholic Chairman, invited others to participate at Everton FC (apologies?I?m hazy on the details).

2. Forgiveness: Everton FC reaching out to Liverpool FC? personified by the great friendship of Will Cuff and John McKenna.

3. Support: Hillsborough.

4. Humility: Dr David France. An extremely dignified, intellectual man? one who reaches out to others.

He ended his words with: ?David and Elizabeth France? like Everton? a great team?.

George Orr spoke glowingly of the work completed by Dr David France ? particularly so with the Everton Former Players Foundation? speaking of ex-players crying at events when supporters were singing their names, and again, endorsing what most prior had already said ? that of the family feel associated with Everton FC.

We were onto cheese and crackers when Norman Jones toasted Everton?s 109th season in the top flight ? easily the highest total of any other team in the land ? and a good eight more than the next team down, Aston Villa.

Gerry Murphy wound down the evening with a couple of excellent songs, namely The Ballad of Dixie Dean. People started to fritter out and, conscious of ensuring I caught my last bus home, I had to make a dart. The evening kind of ended for me as it began? I wanted to catch a quick word with Dr David France and Mrs Elizabeth France before I left? though was difficult to do so as everybody wanted to speak with both of them. Luckily I was able to, and as ever, the great man had time to chat? also going back to his table to provide me with some notes which could be helpful for this report?how many people would do that for you?

It was a real pleasure to meet him again, an absolute honour to be invited along again and I really hope I get the chance to see the Frances again in the not-too-distant future. I was also able to thank Mrs Elizabeth France and bid her farewell? just like her husband, the thoughtfulness doesn?t stop, asking if I had a nice time and wishing me a safe trip home. They really are extraordinary people? this is one extraordinary club? one extraordinary family so starved and deserving of some success on the field. <>P> You never think it?s possible, but having witnessed the love for the club last night, I now feel even more proud to be a Blue.

Congratulations, Dr David France. Thanks very much for a wonderful evening.

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