Saturday’s game against Crystal Palace took on a much greater significance in the Walsh household. More so than usual. Not only were we travelling to London to watch the game but our son, Xavier, had been selected to be the official club mascot. 

Victory would secure a lifetime of happy memories and defeat would inevitably mean merciless ribbing from the red half of his class and instant rejection from his blue cousins for being “unlucky”. 

We travelled down the night before so we could manage any unforeseen traffic delays and force majeur events. We therefore arrived promptly at Selhurst Park at 1 pm. We were greeted by Matt, Palace’s ‘Mascot Coach’, who explained how the day would run.  Xavier stood proud as punch in his new kit and training top surrounded by the eleven Palace mascots who had massed together in a show of unity as their proud parents also watched on in the hospitality lounge. 

First item on the agenda was for him to greet the Everton players off the coach so we were brought to the tunnel entrance by the Mascot Chaperone, Christiana. There he stood arms out wide shivering with a combination of the cold and nerves ready to meet his heroes. 

Xavier is very shy so he was never going to chew the ear of the players. Earlier, we had tried to coach him in advance to say “Hello” and “Good luck today, boys”. All our advice fell on deaf ears once he was stood there alone, arms out wide inviting a “high five”. Then the team started to arrive led by Sean Dyche. 

In they filed one by one… All began to ferry past him high-fiving him on the way into the dressing room, absolutely focused on the game ahead but unfortunately with little more interaction. The gathered press and my wife and I willing him on to say something, anything that might mean one of the players engaging with him to give him a story to tell all his friends and a golden memory to take home. Then it happened… in walked Amadou Onana... last off the coach, listening to his music on his headset. 

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He stopped, took his headset off and knelt down to speak to him. The smile on his face mirrored by Xavier’s now beaming nervous grin. We then turned away to talk to Christiana, looked back and in a heartbeat Xavier was gone! 

Where was our son? What had happened? Christiana began radioing through to her colleagues nervously. He should have been on the spot until he was collected. Then news came through on her radio and we could relax… she got notification not to worry because Amadou had taken him by the hand into the changing room to meet the rest of the players and to get their autographs. 

He then came back out to see us and have some photos taken and we handed him a shirt which we kindly asked him to sign. When we opened it up it had “Onana 8” on the back and he genuinely looked surprised and said “Hey that’s my shirt!”

I can’t begin to tell you what that brief moment and interaction meant to Xavier. Not only is Onana an exceptional footballer but he is a quality human being and an absolute credit to his parents. He was natural, genuine, and displayed maturity beyond his 22 years of age. Those moments meant the world to Xavier and to see the joy on his face, it meant the world to us too. 

The rest of the team filtered out onto the pitch ready to warm up and we managed to get some more photos with Beto, Branthwaite, McNeil, Dobbin and Garner who were all very accommodating and friendly. 

Then Matt called us over for the mascot training session on the pitch next to the Everton and Palace players warning up. Matt took Xavier and the Palace mascots through their paces and were joined on the pitch by Pete and Alice, the Eagles. 

This was then followed by photos of us in the dugouts and on the pitch. It was then almost kick-off time and Xavier had to get ready to walk out with the team so he was escorted back to the tunnel whilst we stood pitchside to greet him when he came off. 

All the players marched onto the pitch with Xavier last on with Dominic Calvert Lewin holding his hand. Sadly a mere split second too late for the Match of the Day editor. We could see Dom talking to him as they walked to the centre circle and then they gathered to shake hands with the Palace players before Xavier ran off over to us and into our arms having loved every moment of his day so far. “What did Dominic say to you son?”

“He asked where I was from”

“What did you say?”

Xavier then proceeded to tell us that he gave him our precise address including postcode! 

We were then escorted away from the dugout and towards the away end via a tunnel where we missed the first goal but could hear the cheers. They were so loud my wife said “Oh no, we are getting beat already?” And I said “No, that’s coming from our end.” We arrived at our stand just in time to witness the Palace penalty as our first glimpse of action and I hoped it wasn’t going to be one of those days.

In our naivety we asked one of the stewards if he could help point out our seats. “Look up mate… nobody is sat in their seats… just walk in and good luck!”

The noise was deafening. I haven’t been to as many away games over the years as I would have liked. Sadly other commitments take over; I had forgotten how vociferous our away fans are. I knew we were good but, Wow! It was like being swept up by a wave of blue energy that was relentless and never stopped. We were the heartbeat of the team on Saturday (every Saturday in fact) and set the tone for the day. The singing never stopped and nor did the unique Scouse humour and banter.  

Xavier learnt a lot of new words in the away end that day too. He asked if he could say “Shithouse” when he was a big boy, which seemed to be the word of the day particularly aimed at Eze of Palace and the referee. 

My wife was also intrigued to know why a large section insisted on giving the finger to the Palace fans and I explained it was part of the banter for all away fans. We were so partisan in fact we even cheered when the 9-year-old Palace fan missed her half-time penalty shoot-out!!

Having led twice and being pinned back to 2-2, I was resigned to a draw. All I hoped for was not to lose it late on. How I longed for the referee to blow his whistle to avoid a defeat so Xavier could say he brought the team a modicum of luck on the day. And then it happened… Idrissa Gueye — you absolute beauty. That goal on 86 minutes was a work of art and boy did it take the roof off. The fans went crazy and I couldn’t stop throwing Xavier into the air. It was pure ecstasy and happiness. 

You couldn’t hear the Palace fans at all throughout the game. You don’t need me to tell you but we have the best supporters in the land — of that there is no doubt. I was desperate for the shithouse to blow his whistle … sorry — referee to blow his whistle!

All of 97 nervous minutes later but there it was — a victory and in his own little way Xavier played a part with a story he can share with his friends for the rest of his life. 

Seven hours it took us to drive home and manoeuvre London traffic but it mattered not as we relived every detail blasting out Spirit of the Blues on repeat on our way home!

If you managed to read this far, I want to conclude by saying the Palace officials were superb and made a real fuss of Xavier. Their hospitality and welcome was tremendous. We felt very privileged on Saturday to experience what we did. Everton made our little boy’s dream come true on Saturday. We will be forever grateful to the club and all the staff who made that happen. Thank you!

Reader Comments (51)

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Andrew Ellams
1 Posted 15/11/2023 at 12:55:12
I saw the video of your little man meeting the players as they arrived at the part where Amadou stopped to chat. Great pictures.

Glad he had a great day and has a million memories.

Dave Carruthers
2 Posted 15/11/2023 at 13:09:14
A story for the ages. What a wonderful experience Joseph. Xavier will never forget (and neither will you!). The video, Toffees on the Road, shows the meet and greets. Indeed, you can see the time Onana takes to stop and engage. You right, not many would do what he did.

As ever, its these stories that make you proud to be a Blue. Thank you

Jeff Armstrong
3 Posted 15/11/2023 at 13:16:05
Great read and I too saw the little fellah greeting the players,good to see them all engaging and Onana was class.
Dale Self
4 Posted 15/11/2023 at 13:44:18
Joseph, that was a fantastic thing to share with us! I don’t usually do these but this was special. I will make note to take it easy on Palace as we step over the rest. Tell Xavier he is an inspiration if he hasn’t already figured that out.
Brent Stephens
5 Posted 15/11/2023 at 13:45:30
Oh what a great read. Well done Onana for stopping to take his cans off and talk to Xavier, at his level.

Xavier's vocabulary also enhanced on the day!!

Well done to Palace for all the arrangements.

A brilliant read, Joseph.

Barry Rathbone
6 Posted 15/11/2023 at 13:50:11
Great stuff and Onana is now officially excused, well anything!!
Steve Brown
7 Posted 15/11/2023 at 13:58:21
Thank your for your wonderful article, Joseph.
Gerry Quinn
8 Posted 15/11/2023 at 14:09:35
Loved every minute of your story, Joseph, lovely read about a special "family" day...and by "family", I include the thousands that cheered you all on
Michael Lynch
9 Posted 15/11/2023 at 15:17:43
Heartwarming stuff that. I noticed Onana engaging with your son when I watched the video on the OS the other day, and thought to myself what a lovely lad and what a great guy.

Good to hear that Palace treated you and your family well – they're a proper club with the right values and embody what professional football should be about.

Joseph Walsh
10 Posted 15/11/2023 at 15:22:37
Thanks everyone for the kind words.

I should have added that my old dad would have been looking down on us proud as punch of our little lad and I'm sure he sprinkled some magic dust over Selhurst Park that day to make sure the result was never in doubt.

James Lauwervine
11 Posted 15/11/2023 at 15:25:52
Lovely story, Joseph, thanks.

I saw the 'On The Road' video the other day. The moment where Onana bends down to speak to your son stands out. I thought 'What a gent', as well as 'What a lucky boy!'.

It's rare that I get to a game but I luckily got tickets for this one for me and my son for his birthday. He's 25 so a bit older than your lad, but we had a brilliant day. And yes, our fans were insanely loud!

Brent Stephens
12 Posted 15/11/2023 at 15:29:53
Joseph, sons eventually get their turn in looking after their parents.

I have this image of several decades on from now, when, as an old man, you're led out gingerly by Xavier for you to shake hands at the Palace (Crystal not Buckingham).

Ian Burns
13 Posted 15/11/2023 at 15:39:36
What a great read, brought a lump to my throat. Thanks Joseph and all the best to your son, the lucky mascot!
Mike Gaynes
14 Posted 15/11/2023 at 16:15:31
Spectacular story, Joseph... many thanks for posting that heartwarmer, and congratulations to Xavier!

You gave me my first big laugh of the day... I just exploded when I read the "shithouse" line.

And I'm not the least surprised that it was Onana who made your son's day. Win, lose or draw, he's the first over to the supporters after the game and the last to leave, always after giving his shirt to a youngster.

Even after the miserable Luton loss, he was out there in the rain, talking to a kid after his mates had gone down the tunnel. Classy young man.

Lee Courtliff
15 Posted 15/11/2023 at 16:45:46
Brilliant stuff, a day you and your family will never forget.

My Dad took me to Bellefield back in 1994, I had my picture taken with all the players. I remember David Unsworth being very nice and keen to interact with the fans. I was only 12 and incredibly excited about having my picture taken with my Heroes!

A few days later the staff at Boots told us the film was knackered and the pictures hadn't developed... at all!! If only we'd had smartphones back then!!

Mike Hanlon
16 Posted 15/11/2023 at 16:50:10
Wonderful story Joseph. Brilliant to hear that Onana made Xavier's day extra special.

IMHO all players should know or be trained on fan interaction and how much it means. We love Everton and sometimes it's the little things that mean the world to us. I still remember how special it felt as a kid to catch an Everton mint that The Toffee Lady threw into the crowd!

Made-up with Saturday's result too! Thanks again for sharing.

Bill Hawker
17 Posted 15/11/2023 at 17:18:25
I always admire a player who, even with a match on his or her mind, takes just a moment or two to acknowledge a fan like this. To the player, it's just a moment, maybe no more than a minute or two out of their day.

For the fan, it lasts a lifetime.

It looks like Onana (and probably all of our players) lives by the code, "It costs nothing to be kind."

What a wonderful story.

Ray Roche
18 Posted 15/11/2023 at 17:25:24
Lovely story Joseph, a good read.

It would be nice if Palace got to see this so that they could see that their efforts and hospitality are appreciated. 👍🏻

Christine Foster
19 Posted 15/11/2023 at 17:30:58
Life is made up of moments that will forever shape a future, small things that will never ever be forgotten, that will forever mean the little boy will follow the Blues with a passion always and god willing will instill that passion in his own Blue family. It's the nature of life, Evertonians are born, not made.

Wonderful story, Xavier's thrill, Onana's kindness, the Everton fans, Palace's efforts in making the day for those mascots, it's all small things that make someone's day, that shape a young Blues life.

To mum and dad, what a memory you have given your son, it will forever rightly bring a smile to faces. Brilliant.

Wesley Coles
20 Posted 15/11/2023 at 20:08:36
Really great read.

I've passed this on to people in Australia who are curious about why I love Everton so much! Surely your lad was named after the great Abel?

Andy McNabb
21 Posted 15/11/2023 at 20:43:50
A great read to start the day over here in Aus, Joseph. Glad you all had such a good day. I am very envious.
Gerry Quinn
22 Posted 15/11/2023 at 21:05:24
Joseph (and M & L), hope you don't mind, but passed this page on to the site "We are Palace"
Andy Crooks
23 Posted 15/11/2023 at 21:46:02
As we speak, Onana is out having a beer with my friend, Dave Abrahams. As Barry Rathbone says, Onana gets a free run for a while.

Well done him. Dave, I know it's the international break but don't get him pissed!
Peter Mills
24 Posted 15/11/2023 at 22:22:39
That’s a fantastic write-up, Joseph. I’m absolutely certain Xavier’s Grandad would have loved it.
Joseph Walsh
25 Posted 15/11/2023 at 22:28:46
Hi Wesley @20, No – not named after Abel but kind of works now Xavier is a blue lifer!🤣

Gerry @ 22, No don't mind at all. I can't find that Palace forum though. Could you share a link please? Just curious if they agree with us that we have the best fans in the world!

As an aside, I know some of you have mentioned letting Palace know too. I have indeed written to them and actually Steve Parish. I also wrote to our club to thank them too as they were also brilliant. It's always very easy to complain but I'm a firm believer to try and take a minute to say thank you too.

Brendan McLaughlin
26 Posted 15/11/2023 at 22:40:26

I get extremely nervous watching Everton from many miles away mostly on a dodgy stream.

Live, with your son as mascot... I just don't have the words.

Fortunately all's well that ends well – and even better, you're a natural who wrote it up beautifully.

Joe Hurst
27 Posted 15/11/2023 at 23:12:05
A good name, of course.
It’s the X in the school I went to’s name, SFX
Si Cooper
28 Posted 15/11/2023 at 23:53:20
A great little story full of insightful revelations and smile-inducing incidents. Thanks for sharing.

One thing I particularly noted was your wife's curiosity over a large section of our fans giving the Palace fans the finger, because that was something that surprised me when I watched the match coverage on Saturday night.

At the end, there was a shot of our fans applauding the team and generally celebrating and right in the middle was a teenager (perhaps) who was solely concentrating on vigorously ‘saluting' the home fans on both sides at once. Such was the dedication and intensity he displayed, I remember thinking perhaps the Palace fans had been particularly contrary.

Now I fully endorse giving the opposition fans some stick and when travelling away you can't look like an easy target, but I just hadn't realised there were those who apparently devote such a high percentage of their attention to such aggressive ‘baiting'.

Tony Dunn
29 Posted 15/11/2023 at 00:05:37
What a wonderful story and well done to all at Palace and Everton for making such memories for you and your family to cherish for a lifetime.

We were fortunate enough to have my daughter as an Everton mascot at Chelsea, years ago, Moyes manager, Ferguson captain, brilliant from Chelsea and Everton, before, during and after. Special memories…

Geoff Cadman
30 Posted 15/11/2023 at 00:06:28
Joseph, what an amazing family experience for you all.

Have you seen the "On The Road" video on YouTube? Xavier is in several clips. Maybe ask the club if it's possible to have a copy of the footage, a constant reminder of a very special day.

Kieran Kinsella
31 Posted 16/11/2023 at 02:18:41

Fantastic story. The measure of a man is how he treats kids. For all his faults, Big Dunc gave my little nephew a similar experience a few years ago.

In contrast, my Grandmother told me the silent movie star Fatty Arbuckle, when confronted with her and her siblings at a movie premier in London, said “Get out of here, I hate fucking kids.” I always assumed Fatty Arbuckle must be an RS.

Mike Gaynes
32 Posted 16/11/2023 at 05:03:27
Kieran, what goes around comes around. Fatty's career was destroyed by a false accusation and he died young.

Andy #23, that made me chuckle. (As do most of your posts.)

Peter Moore
33 Posted 16/11/2023 at 05:49:59
Congratulations Xavier, absolutely magical amd unforgettable no doubt 🥳💙
Thanks for your part in a great away win!
Danny O’Neill
34 Posted 16/11/2023 at 06:47:48
What an occasion for the young person that will live in memory for life. It will live forever.

The supporters were magnificent. Relentless. We always are. I love Goodison, but you can't beat an Everton away following.

I hope the young man is going to Forest away.

Onana, not without his faults on the pitch, has really connected with the supporters. It is no surprise to me he stopped to talk. He seems a very genuine human being.

Dave Cashen
35 Posted 16/11/2023 at 06:57:45
Get in Xavier son.

Beautifully told Joseph. That's got my day off to a flyer.

Duncan McDine
36 Posted 16/11/2023 at 07:38:35
This is a great read, you must have been delighted. Hats off to Onana... he has given your son an experience to remember forever.

When I was about 7, I desperately wanted to be a mascot and wrote to Everton several times with no luck. I even wrote to Jim'll Fix It... but in hindsight, I'm glad that I was rejected. Unlike Fatty Arbuckle, Jimmy 'loved fucking kids'.

Tony Abrahams
37 Posted 16/11/2023 at 08:20:41
Wait until you speak to Dave, Andy, because he told me the lazy basket wouldn't even go to the bar!

Lovely story, Joe, and one that makes me realize the power that football clubs genuinely have, and how they can give a child, memories that will last forever. I'm glad the Toffees put the icing on the cake with a late winner.

Jack Convery
38 Posted 16/11/2023 at 08:32:17
That's wonderful and what a great day for your son and the whole family. I nominate him as mascot for the next Mordor Derby and tell him he can say "Shithouse" as often as likes at anything in red.

One of the best match day stories I've read in a long time. Best wishes to you all and a good on you mention for Onana – it doesn't take much to give a a young blue a memory that will last a lifetime.

David Bromwell
39 Posted 16/11/2023 at 08:40:09
Brilliant story, Joseph, and thank you for sharing it. I well remember going to matches as a young boy but I never experienced the magic moments that Xavier had on Saturday, he is sure to remember them for the rest of his life.

Lots of our supporters never liked the tag, The People's Club, but it does okay for me and stories like yours keep our dreams alive and in good health.

Danny O’Neill
40 Posted 16/11/2023 at 09:19:34
That's an interesting one, David. I've never been a fan of the People's Club tag. It smacks of the plucky Everton mentality we fell into. I'd rather we shed it.

But anyway, back to this young man's experience. I think you should write to the club, Joseph. Get him on the pitch at our former ground in royal blue and white.

And as well as shithouse, he can call them Red Shite to their faces!! Maybe do a Kevin Sheedy one finger to the Kop!

Dave Abrahams
41 Posted 16/11/2023 at 09:41:14
Andy (23), I just noticed your post. Sadly Onana couldn't make it this week, he's training with the Belgian team… he loves having a bevvy with me in Ned Kelly's!

He did very well making young Xavier's special day a very, very special day as well as Xavier's mum and dad's, a lovely heartwarming story of a young Everton fan and his parents experiencing a day they will never forget, a lovely story.

Gerry Quinn
42 Posted 16/11/2023 at 10:32:17
Joseph, I sent it to this site:

Nothing there yet, by the looks of it...

Brendan McLaughlin
43 Posted 16/11/2023 at 11:02:10
Dave #41,

Apparently Onana met up with the Belgian squad wearing a skirt and clutching a Louis Vuitton handbag.

So he obviously had dressed for Ned Kelly's but must have had to swerve it last minute for some reason...

James Hughes
44 Posted 16/11/2023 at 11:13:26
Brendan, apparently Tony had messaged him to say Dave had left his wallet at home, again.
Danny O’Neill
45 Posted 16/11/2023 at 11:15:31
Dave, I'll bring my wallet to the Man Utd match!
Dave Abrahams
46 Posted 16/11/2023 at 11:20:09
Brendan (43),

No need for that Brendan, Owney, as I call him. is okay when you get to know him, well off the field.

James (44) Owney gets a cob on when I insist on getting my round in, even if it kills me doing it.

Dave Abrahams
47 Posted 16/11/2023 at 11:24:03
Danny (45), Well I won’t argue with you Danny!
Brian Harrison
48 Posted 16/11/2023 at 12:28:41
I saw the video somebody posted on twitter showing Xavier shaking hands with all the players, and a really classy touch for Onana to remove his headphones and talk to him. Then took him inside the dressing room to get the players autographs, Xavier will remember this day for the rest of his life and the win would make it an extra special day.
Dave Abrahams
49 Posted 16/11/2023 at 13:08:14
Joe (27)Your school was SFX- - - Saint Francis Xavier named after the Saint who started the Jesuits Order of priests, did you go to the school or the college?
Dale Self
50 Posted 16/11/2023 at 13:08:36
The Premier League has been notified of this incident and have placed a request for additional penalties with the Football Association.
Mark Dunford
51 Posted 16/11/2023 at 17:50:13
My six year old son was the mascot in 2004-05 when we won 3-1 at Palace with Gravesen scoring twice after we went one down. Great memories and Palace were really hospitable. Both clubs sent us photos after the match.

People often ask how this came about. We live not far from Selhurst Park and Everton wrote to us out of the blue asking if he'd like to be a mascot. My Dad had registered Luke as a Junior Blue when he was born and we were the nearest registered Evertonians to the ground. It was one of the only football games my Mum attended.

I noticed DCL talking with your boy on Saturday. Reminded me how Alan Stubbs and Kevin Kilbane were really good to Luke when he was in the same role.

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