Everton Football Manager 2018 Series: Episode 6

There’s an old Christmas carol – ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ – which may have been an apt song of choice as Everton thundered into the month of December.

Some decent form in the Premier League and on the continent had set us up nicely as the halfway stage of the season approached fast, but whether we could maintain that moving forward would determine if it would be a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays for all involved.

A monster trip down to the south coast lay in store with Bournemouth the first team who had the chance to make us want to consume all of our advent calendar chocolate in one go:everton30We’ll stick to the ‘one piece a day’ principle then. An even contest punctuated by two classy goals from two of our more senior attackers did the deeds and had us dreaming of continental football next term.

But that would have to wait as our final Europa League group game was next in line. An away day in the Russian capital would determine if we’d finish top and have a good draw in the last-32:everton31Good lads! A very, very promising away display and top spot in Group C was ours despite the fitting wintry weather. It’s a good job we won for those 425 hardy fans who made the journey, wasn’t it?

With European football done and dusted until February, our league position could be handed a mighty boost heading into the New Year. First up was a home clash with West Brom:everton32You know, I’m starting to enjoy these winning runs. We were handed all three points by some laughable Baggies defending – two own goals, really? – before Cenk Tosun put the gloss on a routine win at Goodison but we’ll take it.

Could Watford do what West Brom couldn’t and halt the Blue juggernaut in its quest for a top four berth? Magic ‘8’ ball says ‘not likely’, and it was proven right:everton33Again, it wasn’t vintage but we were doing enough. Second half strikes from Nikola Vlasic and Davy Klaassen ensuring we continued our stunning form of late and even pushed us into the heady Champions League qualification spots.

Only three days had passed yet again before a visit to the Liberty Stadium to take on struggling Swansea. Could we finally make it two wins out of two on the road?everton34Yes. The answer, finally is yes. A lacklustre first 45 – how many times have we said that? – made way for a terrific second period that led to a late triumph thanks to young attacking duo Sandro and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. We were up to third. Bloody third, lads!

But not for long. After an easy run of fixtures we were sent to the Etihad to endure our toughest league test for some time. And it didn’t exactly pan out well:everton35We really did our best but Manchester City completely blew us away. In truth they should have won by more and our attacking forays were about as regular as a bus replacement service when the train strikes are on.

Still, the chance to bounce back against Middlesbrough at home came on Boxing Day and might prove to be a lovely belated Christmas present for us all:everton36That’ll do nicely. Tosun and Theo Walcott back among the goals, a clean sheet and putting that City result to bed was definitely needed.

Before we saw 2017 out we faced a daunting game against Chelsea.. We weren’t at the races against City but, on home soil, I suspected we’d give a better account of ourselves:everton37We certainly give it a good go, but ultimately Willian’s first-half strike proved to be the difference. Still, fourth in the standings and in the next round of the Europa League and Christmas had indeed come at the right time.

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A corner turned – but Everton still have miles to go

As the classic song from a bygone era states: ‘What a difference a day makes’.

Well, how about seven days instead?

A little over a week ago, optimism surrounding Everton Football Club had fallen to another familiar low.

Knocked out of the Capital One Cup in controversial circumstances by Manchester City and languishing in 12th position in the Barclays Premier League, a potential banana skin of a FA Cup tie away to Carlisle United and two tough league matches were lying in wait for an underachieving squad.

It might come as no surprise, given the Toffees’ topsy-turvy nature, that they passed all three tricky fixtures with flying colours.

A 3-0 victory at Brunton Park was quickly followed up with two further triumphs over Newcastle United and Stoke City by the same scoreline.

Passage to the fifth round of the world famous cup competition, six points from six to climb to eighth in the league and nine goals without reply.

A job well done then.

But the Blues are not home and dry by any stretch of the imagination just yet.

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Manager Roberto Martinez has endured mounting pressure in recent weeks from fans and media alike, with many calling for his head as he struggled to get the best out of an assembled squad packed full of talent, style, potential and experience.

And much like last season, as well as his time as Wigan Athletic boss, the Spaniard has managed to conjure up a system that balances free-flowing, attacking flair with new-found defensive resolve.

The return to full fitness of club captain Phil Jagielka, midfielder James McCarthy and full back Seamus Coleman, the inclusion of tireless widemen of Aaron Lennon and Tom Cleverley and the opportunity afforded to backup keeper Joel Robles – in the absence of the injured Tim Howard – has seen a marked improvement in Everton’s resiliency at the back.

But it will take more than a temporary change of personnel and tactics for Evertonians to truly believe that Martinez is the man to take them forward.

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The former Swansea City manager was rightly questioned when he reinstated Howard in place of Robles last season, despite the Toffees’ number two keeping three clean sheets on the bounce in the American’s absence – a feat that the 25 year old has accomplished again in the past week.

Martinez too will have to be wary about upsetting a back four that has looked sturdier without the undoubtedly talented John Stones taking unnecessary chances in the Blues’ final third.

And he will have to change a mindset that, while applaudable in theory, has seen Everton throw away precious leads, victories and points away due to a lack of game management and a porous rearguard.

It has been somewhat of a blessing that this season’s Premier League table is so congested that stringing just two wins together has given Everton’s league standing a much rosier outlook.

But it is only a slight corner which has been turned.

A tough home encounter against West Bromwich Albion is quickly followed by a cup tie away to Bournemouth are up next for Everton – and both sides will pose different tests for the men in Blue.

Martinez would do well to continue steering his side in the right direction if he still harbours ambitions of taking the Toffees back the glory days of the 80s.

Liverpool-based Calderstones Park artist encourages social interaction through workshops

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Christine Toh’s creative workshops provide social interaction along with new skills

A Liverpool textile artist is aiming to promote social well-being through her paper folding workshops.

Christine Toh is part of the Reader Organisation, a charitable society based in Calderstones Park’s mansion that aims to connect people of all ages via a variety of events.

The charitable society aims to connect people of all ages through a variety of events, ranging from reading groups to hands-on workshops.

And in the video below, Ms Toh talks about what people can expect to learn during the three-hour long sessions.

The next available workshops in 2016 take place on Thursday January 28 and Friday February 5, and run from 10am – 1pm.

Each session costs £8, with refreshments and materials included, and bookings can be made by contacting Ms Toh at christine2toh@yahoo.co.uk.

 

Fight Off Your Demons

I think this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write.

Frankly, I feel terrified putting this out there. This is probably the most personal thing I’ve written about myself, and not knowing how anyone will react has induced a fair bit of anxiety within me.

Why? Because I’ve never told anyone any of this before.

But it needs saying. For my own sake.

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I’m writing this on New Year’s Eve.

My brother and sister are out celebrating the arrival of 2016 with their respective partners and friends; my parents are downstairs watching TV and my  friends are at a house party, or out in town, or celebrating in whatever way they see fit.

And I’m in my room, struggling to fight off another bout of unrelenting unhappiness.

Frankly, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t struck down by a surge of negativity. I vaguely remember feeling pretty invincible around the age of 16/17, but then most people that age tend to.

For the past few years though? I’ve definitely had multiple occasions where I’ve felt so down on myself that it’s been dificult to even get out of bed of a morning.

Negative voices in your head are terrible things to suffer with. They drain you of self worth, self confidence and suck the life out of you to the point where everything is an effort.

They feel like gigantic, black shadows that are never too far away, and you can’t hide from them or out-run them. They’re always there. Lurking.

Negative thoughts feed those inner demons, which then churn out more negative thoughts in an almost perpetual cycle of self loathing.

Being a mental issue too means it’s seemed impossible to rectify too. It’s not something physical – you can’t just look at in the mirror, think ‘I can go to the gym and change how my body looks’ and then go and do it.

It doesn’t help that I’m quite an introverted person as it is, or that I can be socially awkward, but when one of these ‘black moods’ strike, the proverbial towel has been thrown into the ring so often it’s been hard to keep track of.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been invited to gatherings of friends at house parties, or to meet heroes/idols of mine, or find something worth pursuing as a career/hobby, or seen that beautiful woman walking down the street towards me, and wanting to do something about it.

But then the voices pop up.

I’ve made up excuses in my head to justify what I’ve been telling myself. Things like I’m too busy to hang out, or that woman probably has a boyfriend, or that I’d rather spend the night alone in my room.

Hell, I’ve even turned down hanging out with my own brother and sister when they’re out with their partners because I feel like I’d be the fifth wheel, and knowing that they have someone else to enjoy any particular moment with is painful to the point where I’d rather be on my own than out enjoying myself.

And so I spiral towards guilt, remorse and feel like I’m the worst person in the world – sometimes for days on end.

I feel selfish, and that I feel like I’m pushing people away. I’ve lied to every member of my immediate family this week, telling them that I’m fine and I’m ‘just tired’ or ‘stressed about my college studies’.

These voices and thoughts make me feel worthless. Powerless. Helpless.

I have become a victim of my own mind, and staring back at myself in the mirror isn’t bearable sometimes, because I’m ashamed of the person staring back at me.

What I’ve felt, what I’m feeling, is akin to telling myself that I’ll be alone forever and there’s nobody who can help me.

Desperately though I want to, I cannot tell anyone how I feel for fear of being viewed as less masculine than others.

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I found myself earlier tonight stumbling across the CALM zone website, and spent time reading about this organisation, what they stand for and saw other people’s stories about how they began to overcome their struggles.

A wave of relief and overwhelming emotion spread over me, and I realised something that subconciously I have probably known all along.

I don’t have to live my life this way.

I don’t tend to make New Year’s resolutions as I find they can be broken easily but, with a New Year upon us, I’ve decided to make one to myself.

I’m taking back control of my life.

Whenever I feel the negative voices and thoughts begin to surface, I’ll can do something about them.

I can:

Put on some awesome music and dance in my own silly way.

Go for a walk to clear my head, and breathe in the fresh air around me to help me see more clearly.

Go for a run/to the gym and get those endorphins flowing through my body and mind.

Read a self-help book, and do the exercises in them.

Listen to talks/podcasts on improving my self image and self confidence, and implement what I hear.

Talk to people. Friends, family, anyone I encounter, about anything. Even if it’s just a brief conversation, it’ll benefit me in the short and long term.

Doing yoga/breathing exercises to calm myself down.

Write down/speak positive affirmations and recite them over and over until the negativity is drowned out.

And, finally, smile. Even if it’s at myself in the mirror.

Some days the voices may prove too strong, and I’ll feel like the waves are about to crash over me again.

But it will be okay. I’ll just have more work to do to fight off my demons.

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I’ve spent so much of the last few years stuck in a negative loop, wasting precious time trapped inside the prison of my own mind.

It’s time that I no longer want to squander. I can overcome this. I will overcome this.

I will live the life I intend to, and won’t let the voices control me.

I know I can come back and read this whenever I need it, to serve as a reminder of why I’m doing this.

And, come the end of 2016, I vow to re-read this to show myself how far I’ve come.

 

Liverpool 2015 Santa Dash proves successful as thousands take to the streets

Liverpool city centre was awash with red and blue as the 2015 Santa Dash took place earlier on Sunday.

The charity fun run, now in its 12th year, kicked off at 9:30am and saw runners complete the 5km route from the Pier Head to Liverpool Town Hall.

Red and Blue Santa outfits were worn with pride as fundraisers braved the cold and wet conditions to raise money for various charities.

There was plenty of fancy dress on display throughout the morning as well – with people donning all manner of costumes, including those dressed as elves, teddy bears and Lego figurines.

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Phil Jessop, from Liverpool, was raising cash for Everton in the Community, one of the five official charity partners of the event.

He said: “The weather wasn’t very pleasant, but it’s been made worthwhile to see everyone raising money for all the good causes.

“Liverpool always comes together for days like today. It’s what makes this city so special.”

Radio City’s Cash for Kids, Claire House Children’s Hospice, Roy Castle Lung Foundation and Jospice were also selected an official charity partner this year.

Leanne Evans was running in aid of Claire House, said that the generosity of the people of Liverpool was unrivalled across the UK.

She said: “Seeing everyone offer their time and money shows just how kind-hearted people from Liverpool are.”

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The official sponsor of the 2015 event was Medicash, a not-for-profit organisation known for its charitable work throughout Liverpool.

Created over 140 years ago, Medicash has a strong tradition of funding voluntary hospitals in and around the city, and has donated over £1m to various causes over the past ten years.

Event organisers BTR Liverpool is the leading independent organisation for creating and hosting such occasions across Liverpool since its inception in 2006.

Last year’s event saw Liverpool achieve the status of the world’s biggest festive fun run after 8,500 runners took part in the spectacle – with BTR Liverpool presented the Santaz trophy in August in recognition of this feat.

And, with early figures suggesting that last year’s record could be broken, Liverpool is looking likely to hold off the challenge from Las Vegas once again.

Monday Musings: 400 up Osman a credit to Everton

400 up Osman a credit to Everton

It speaks volumes about loyalty in modern day football that, since the induction of the Premier League, only two Everton players have broken into the all time top twenty record appearance holders for the Toffees.

Which is why Leon Osman notching 400 appearances in the Royal Blue shirt should be looked upon with pride by everyone associated with the club.

Since making his first team debut in the 4-3 defeat to Tottenham Hostpur back on 12 January 2003, Osman has become a stalwart within both previous Toffees boss David Moyes’ and current manager Roberto Martinez’s matchday squads despite being routinely hung out to dry as ‘one of the boo boys’ at times by a small minority of Evertonians.

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In spite of his lack of physical attributes, the 33 year old has amassed 400 appearances, as well as 56 goals, so far after graduating from Everton’s academy at the turn of the 21st century, and certainly proves the view that Osman possesses the talent required to play at the highest level of the English game.

Techincally sound, with a deft touch and the ability to spin out of trouble with first class close control of the ball, hard working, resilient, feisty, intelligent and energetic have all been used to describe one of Everton’s most trusted performers, and his loyalty and fight for the cause have been demonstrated in seasons gone by when the diminutive midfielder has played through the pain barrier to aid the Blues in times of injury crises, even if it was to the detriment of his own personal performance on the pitch.

There would be much debate amongst football fans in general, let alone Evertonians, about the criteria required that would enable a footballer to be deemed a ‘legend’ but, regardless of this, Osman’s milestone of 400 appearances for Everton should be applauded by Blues fans across the globe.

Naismith injury could be blessing for Barkley

It was unquestionably frustrating to see Steven Naismith stretchered from the field of play, at the weekend, with a suspected hamstring strain, especially with the manner in which Everton’s injury list has grown in recent weeks.

However, the possibility of Ross Barkley now being able to play in his natural position, the traditional number 10 role behind the striker, does allow for some form of comfort.

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The 20 year old, who had missed the first two months of the season with a knee ligament injury sustained on the eve of the current Premier League season, has had to make do playing in an unorthodox wing position for Everton in recent weeks due to the form of Naismith and the preference of manager Roberto Martinez to play veteran Samuel Eto’o in behind Romelu Lukaku in certain matches.

The injury to Naismith though, plus the careful management of 33 year old Eto’o to keep him fresh throughout the course of the campaign, will allow Barkley the opportunity to re-ignite the fruitful partnership that he and Lukaku exhibited during the 2013/14 season.

The old cliché states that football is a squad game, and it is imperative for both the Toffees and Barkley himself that the England international is given a run of fixtures in his preferred position and, in turn, boost the form, fitness and confidence of one of England’s brightest young talents ahead of the hectic Christmas footballing fixture list.