Everton FC: Annual awards night sees Leighton Baines crowned player of the season
EVERTON Football Club celebrated its very own Leight show last night.
Left-back Leighton Baines celebrated a prestigious personal double, receiving the club’s Player of the Year award for 2011 voted by fans and the Players’ Player of the Year trophy voted for his playing peers – and in an emotional presentation the major award was handed over by FA Cup winning left-back Gary Ablett, currently making a recovery from leukaemia.
The entire first team squad was present at the BT Convention Centre, along with manager David Moyes, chairman Bill Kenwright and Chief Executive Robert Elstone - plus a host of former players including Dave Hickson, Graeme Sharp, Kevin Sheedy, Derek Temple, Derek Mountfield and Barry Horne.
But it was a former player of more recent vintage who received the loudest ovation.
Duncan Ferguson was inducted into the respected ranks of Everton Giants - and spoke of his pride at the award - and the connection he still feels with the Everton fans.
“The reception I got against Manchester City made an unbelievable impact on me,” he said. “You’re away from football for five years and you worry in case people don’t remember you, but you come back and it’s great.
“Everton Football Club is a big part of my life, as is the city. My lovely wife is from here, my kids were brought up here.
“I’ve been retired five years and it feels like 20 years, but the fans are still unbelievable to me - as they have been since day one.
“Evertonians are the best fans in the country, if not the world.”
Frank Daley was named as the club’s Fan of the Year, while FA Cup winners Derek Temple and Barry Horne presented the Disability Player of the Year awards, who both came from the club’s deaf teams.
Gemma Hunter, struggling to the stage on crutches as she recovers from an ankle ligament injury, and goalkeeper Gary Spotswood were the proud recipients.
The Shareholders Young Player of the Season award, following in the footsteps of James Vaughan, Victor Anichebe and Jack Rodwell, was presented to Seamus Coleman.
The young Irishman received his award from Phil Jagielka and Leon Osman and declared: “I’m shocked. A couple of years ago I didn’t think I’d even be at Everton, let alone winning a young player of the year award.
Everyone’s been great with me since I came over, the fans and everyone in the first team squad. I’m delighted.”
The shortlist for the Goal of the Season included Jermaine Beckford’s first goal for the Blues against Bolton, Leighton Baines’ sumptuous free-kick in the FA Cup tie at Chelsea and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov’s blockbuster at Wolves.
Academy Player of the Year was Jake Bidwell, Everton Ladies’ Player of the Year was Natasha Dowie and reserve team player of the year was Jose Baxter, while the evening opened with a typically emotional address from chairman Bill Kenwright.
“Three things happened last week which confirmed to me the truth of those three irreplaceable little words spoken by our manager, David Moyes,” he declared “The People’s Club.”
“Everton’s Community Scheme won a national disability award for the second year running in the same week that we received £1m from the Lottery finding to help young offenders. Then last Friday I was at Craven Cottage to watch our under-18s take on Fulham in the national final. It was a lovely, classy West End night. Fulham walked out looking very foreign, very big and very West End, then Everton walked out looking very small, very tough and very Scouse.
“But despite having three of our best players missing through injury and international call-ups, we ground them down and came away with the silverware.
“Then before the Manchester City game I walked into the ground and saw Dave Hickson - and you all know what Dave means to me. He’s been having a tough time of it lately. He recently lost his lovely wife Pat, he’s been in hospital himself and he didn’t look well. But he was there in his club uniform waiting to do his matchday duties and he said: ‘I just wanted to be here.’
“Then Duncan McKenzie came over and said ‘Do you want one of my jokes?’ and I looked across and John Bailey was standing there – and he’s just had a serious dice with ill health. They both wanted to be there.
“Then when I sat in my seat in the stand I looked across and there was Graham Stuart – a cockney, diamond geezer, and he said ‘I just wanted to be here.’
“I thought ‘what other club in the world has that kind of devotion?
“Then at half-time I saw this six feet 19 inch man walking out onto the pitch – the toughest man I ever met - and I saw him reduced to tears by the ovation he received from the fans.”
The Howard Kendall Award went to the FA Premier Academy League winning Under-18s side.
As one of the original founder members of the Football League, Everton are a club steeped in history and tradition and have played more seasons in the top flight of English football than any other club. Their association with the greatest cup competition in the world has thus conjured some wonderful moments, and this offering from Sport Media celebrates a century of memories since their first FA Cup success in 1906. Celebrate a century of memories with 'Everton's FA Cup 100'. Read