I had to get out of work a little early and race there but I arrived at Finch Farm just in time for the tour…’CAR PARK FULL’ screamed the sign outside the training ground. Makeshift lay-by it was for me then.
Since about a year ago when Everton opened up their communication streams to the supporters websites a few of us have begun to get a little accustomed to attending such gatherings. “We’re like our own little press pack” joked Peter of Followtonians as we waited at the crowded reception.
The event was for 10 Evertonians who have been season tickets for at least 10 years whom didn’t miss a single game all last season. 130 supporters in total qualified with the lucky 10 picked at random granted a tour around Finch Farm and provided with the new home shirt before anyone else.
Once everyone had arrived Ian Snodin began the tour, taking the supporters through a main corridor of Finch Farm…framed international shirts of Tim Howard, John Heitinga and Andy Johnson (to name but a few) adorning the walls as we walked on through. “There’s Roberto” said Snods as we walked on past a closed door, and there he was Roberto in his training kit talking to someone. We could just make him out through the small window.
We carried on past the swimming pool and onto a small area backing out to the outdoor area, players boots assembled in their numbered spaces in the boot cabinet. There were a couple of loud bangs on a door ahead of us and, taking everyone by surprise, out walked Duncan Ferguson with the shirts in his hands. Duncan shook everyone’s hand and greeted everyone politely with a big smile. For many of us he was an idol growing up so even at the age of 32 I still feel that shyness in the presence of one of my legends and it was the same for everyone else I dare say.
All the lucky supporters received their shirts and were photographed with Duncan, the Big Man chatting pleasantly with everyone. “Are you guys all local then?” he asked the fans, “Are none of you from Norway?” he joked. Somebody asked when the players are back in training. “They’re in on the ‘morrow” he said in his softly spoken Scottish accent. Duncan is optimistic on how we’ll do in the 2014-15 season. “We’ll do really well. Better than last year. We’ll get the right players in. Some of the teams around us aren’t doing enough, some are bringing in too many (Liverpool assumedly) but we’ll get it right”. “Are you all going to Leicester?” he asked (for our season opener). Somebody asked him about his red card there. “Which stadium?” he joked. “Well obviously there was Stefan Freund (at the Walkers Stadium) but I was a bit unfortunate at Filbert Street”. It was great to see Big Dunc and it was a really nice touch by Everton to have the supporters receive their shirts from him. A couple of the guys who were getting their shirts were running pretty late and missed him…they’ll have been gutted to hear that news I’ll wager.
We continued with the tour, taking in the indoor astro-turf pitch before walking through the state-of-the-art gymnasium and on through to the Academy…framed giant photographs of players who have progressed through the Academy to play for the first team adorning these walls. It certainly offers a good example to the young players of just what can be achieved. Leon Osman, Tony Hibbert, Ross Barkley and Wayne Rooney were all there, as were some of the middle-tier players also such as Peter Clarke, Adam Foreshaw and Mark Hughes…and also some of the lesser known ones perhaps such as Adam Farley and Nathan Craig...all of varying levels of success.
The tour concluded in the Press Room where Roberto Martinez does his pre-match press conferences. Whilst the supporters were led upstairs for food and drinks we were given 20 minutes with Ian Snodin and it was a pleasure to chat with the pleasant and witty Yorkshireman. I aked Snods what he thought of Brazil's demolition at the hands of Germany. “It was quite extraordinary to be honest” he said. “I watched with a former Everton legend Graeme Stuart down the local pub. You just couldn’t have scripted that in any way. David Luiz, you’re talking Ł50m but he looked like a kid in a playground lost. You just couldn’t see it coming.” If he was surprised by Brazil he wasn’t by England, however. “It was disappointing but I didn’t have any great expectations anyway when they went out there. I wish Stonesy will have gone out there from an Everton point of view though I knew deep down they weren’t going to do well.”
Like most of us, Snods is delighted Gareth Barry is staying on at Everton, though he isn’t quite as optimistic as Duncan Ferguson about the season ahead. “I know he’s 33 (Gareth Barry) and he’ll be delighted with a three year deal but I’m sure Evertonians will be delighted. He’s a valuable part. The way Roberto likes to play from the back into midfield. His vision is fantastic, he wants to play a ball before it’s arrived at his feet, the young lads around him can learn a lot from Gareth Barry.”
“It’s going to be tough (next season). Obviously Duncan’s looking at it from the coaching staff now, he’s got to be positive, we’ve got to be positive after last season but it’s going to be difficult. You only have to look across the park at how many players they’ve signed already. Chelsea will sign players, Man City will sign players, Arsenal look as though they’ll sign players, so challenging for that top four position again, it’s going to be extremely difficult, but I think teams in Premier League are fearful of Everton as well. A lot depends on who we bring in as well, whether its Lukaku or whether it’s another, I think we need two (strikers) to be perfectly honest.”
So onto Duncan Ferguson then, and it was via an unlikely Scottish ex-Everton player who acquainted Duncan with Snods. “I was good mates with Ian Durrant because he was injured at the same time as me and we used Lilleshall facilities quite a lot. So when there was a chance of Durrant coming on loan and Duncan coming with him I palled up with him and showed them Liverpool now and again!”
“He’s an icon (Duncan) and it’s great to see him back at the club. Roberto’s not done it to get the fans on his side, he’s done it because Duncan works extremely hard. At first he weren’t doing it for any money so you take your hat off to him. He wants to be a coach. I’m sure he wants to be a manager at some point.” Could he be Everton manager one day? “Could do” says Ian with a nod. “For him there’s only one club and that’s here. It was the same when Howard Kendall managed Everton one, two, three times, that was his club and it’s the same for Dunc but I hope it’s not for a long time, I hope Roberto’s here for a long time and that we’re winning trophies.”
Clearly Snods is as big a Roberto Martinez fan as the rest of us. “I’m not taking anything away from David Moyes. He did a great job and solidified us. When he came we were bang average as a team. I think he made us solid, he made us a good Premier League outfit, now this fella seems like he’s just taken us on a little bit further. He says to the players “just go and play. Don’t worry about losing it. If you lose it, go and get it back”. There’s a great team spirit here. Everyone comes to Goodison these days with a smile on their face. It’s great for the club.”
With that concluded we were taken upstairs to the canteen for some refreshments before we were led out of Finch Farm and nicely home in time for Netherlands vs Argentina…even if the match soon put me to sleep.
It was a pleasurable trip around Finch Farm and it must have been even more so for the 10 lucky supporters. Kudos to Everton for arranging. It’s the sort of memories those supporters will treasure forever, and such events are becoming much more typical of Everton’s new found positivity and outreach to Evertonians.