Football has the unerring ability to draw some unfavourable attention to itself at times, but every now and again, stories emerge that warm the bleakest of hearts.
Images of Bradley Lowery were beamed through millions of homes last night as Jermain Defoe led the 5-year-old Sunderland fan out onto the pitch before their game with Everton on Monday night football.
The ill youngster – suffering from cancer – smiled from ear-to-ear as he was greeted by rapturous applause upon his arrival before the crowd.
Immediately after the game, Everton announced in a statement that they would be contributing £200,000 towards the young lad’s cancer treatment fund – a simple, yet heart-warming gesture that seemed to strike a chord with the entire football community.
English football has never been so awash with money than in the current climate of a gargantuan TV deal. Whilst, £200,000 might seem small fry to a club like Everton, it will seem like the world to Lowery’s family.
This isn’t the first and only case of Everton’s incredible generosity and fostering of community spirit. In fact, after doing a little bit of googling, the examples come thick and fast.
One sticks out in the mind more than most, though.
Prior to their match against Newcastle on a Monday night at Goodison Park back in 2012, the players were led out by two mascots – a girl in Everton kit and a young boy in Liverpool kit.
They wore number 9 and 6 on their back to represent the 96 people who lost their lives at Hillsborough.
As the names of the 96 were displayed on the big screen “He ain’t heavy, He’s my brother” played as fans applauded the moving show of solidarity. It was a spine-tingling moment that still will live long in the memory.
Ahead of last season’s 224th Merseyside derby, they also unveiled a commemorative plaque in honour of the Hillsborough victims – a uniquely emotive tribute towards a rival club. It was suggested by Everton supporter Stephen Kelly who’d lost his brother in the disaster.
“As an Evertonian who lost my brother at Hillsborough, I have always been grateful of the support from the blue side of the city. I hope that when Evertonians look at this they will feel proud of the way we’ve supported our neighbours.”
The club’s good deeds stretch way beyond Hillsborough, though.
After Storm Desmond battered Britain last February, causing monumental damage across various localities, Everton stepped in to aid victims.
After their FA Cup tie with Carlisle United, the club had donated their match strips to their opponents to be auctioned off to help raise funds for repairs following the subsequent flooding that ravaged Brunton Park.
They had also earlier contributed a total of £5,000 to a charity fund which had been set up by a group of Toffees supporters.
George Shaw, a young Everton fan with Cerebral Palsy was invited onto the pitch at half time during their game with Swansea.
The 9-year-old dribbled towards goal and smacked into the back of the net as the fans cheered. Not only that, but it was awarded the club’s goal of the month.
If it’s not the club stepping up to the plate, it’s their players. Back in 2014, then still at the club, Steven Naismith bought up scores of Everton home tickets to distribute to the unemployed of Liverpool so they could attend the club’s games.
When the parents of a young Everton fan with Apert Syndrome began a gofundme page to get him to Goodison Park, Seamus Coleman stepped in with a donation of £5,000 – five times the amount needed – to help realise the young boy’s dream.
These examples are a dime a dozen. Trawl the internet and there are probably scores more over the years.
Everton simply get it. They understand that, sometimes, their responsibilities extend beyond football; that they are an intrinsic part of their community; that they are in a position to give back, and they do so as much as possible.
‘Més que un club’ – motto of Barcelona – translates from Catalan into English as ‘more than a club’. In terms of world football, few live up to that tag more than the Toffees.
They are a shining example to others that football clubs are about more than just a collection of footballers on a pitch every weekend – they are a living, breathing organism that can be a force of decency in a game that has long since lost the run of itself.