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Don't Thank Me — Being a Blue Is My Reward

By Ian Macdonald :  14/01/2009 :  Comments (0) :

There are many fellow Blues over the years for whom I have found a lot of respect. Not just for their passion, loyalty and dedication to the club we love but for the input they put into our club's meaning, to each other and leaving a mark on this energy towards Everton. One such person who meets all the criteria above is our own Doctor David France. There is much more to "Dr Everton" than a world-famous collection of swag but he’s an elusive Blue. It doesn’t help these days that David lives over the pond in Seattle due to health reasons but he is never far from my thoughts.  

I bumped into him last month during an event at Goodison but he had vanished before I could bend his ear. I think of him these days as a caped crusader, so vanishing into the ether only holds true to that belief. Like our comic book heroes, David does many good deeds without looking for publicity, satisfied that a fellow Blue has been helped on the quiet is his reward. As a result I was forced to phone him in the States to get the latest scoop on his activities. Unfortunately I forgot about the 8-hour time difference and the Blue pimpernel took a little while to warm up. The following is the result of our Trans Atlantic conversation I’d like to share with you.

Ian Macdonald: They say that only when the sieve of history has stopped shaking and the dross has been removed can what is left behind justly be called great. And the Hall of Fame dinners were truly great. They were the Nuremburg Rallies of football. I’ve been privileged to attend all of them but it’s still hard for me to describe them. Surely never before had a religious congregation been so close to its heroes. After rubbing shoulders with World Cup, FA Cup, European trophy and League title winners, many of us thought we had actually gone to heaven alongside grown men with tears streaming down their cheeks, some of whom were fans and others were players.

I remember fans kneeling in awe in front of their heroes while others danced on the tables. At the end of the night I had expected the roof to open and the Angel Gabriel to whisk us away. If you could bottle that atmosphere and take it to the game, we would be masters of British football again. So, David, why have you brought down the curtain on the Hall of Fame?

Dr France: Nothing can compare with the first dinner — it was better than sex. That said, the second dinner was pretty tantric too. And so was the third. I can’t believe that they’ve continued for a full decade because the Hall of Fame gathering was designed to be a one-off celebration. As for the 2009 dinner, I expect that it will be another love-in with the new inductees overwhelmed by the atmosphere. It will be the eleventh one — coincidentally there were the same number of Nuremberg Rallies. I’m sure that it’ll be another sell-out.

Dr France with Young and Parker
What the hall of fame was about — a gathering.
David France is at the back smiling, next to John Baily above Derek Temple

By the way, I hope you’re not called me at this unearthly hour to bug me for tickets. As usual, the event is being organized by Brian Snagg, Tommy Birch and Roger Kenyon. These  truly great Blues have added their own touch to the proceedings. “Organised  chaos,” were the words used by our fellow Blue and compere for the nights, Billy Butler. 

It’s scheduled for Thursday 19 March and is being called the Alex Young Awards Night. Possibly, it will be one of that great man’s last visits to Merseyside. As for the Hall of Fame, the membership currently stands at 119 and stretches way back to the pioneers of St Domingo. Seven new names will be added in March making the grand total 126 and then the doors will be closed because I don’t want the membership to be diluted. I still believe that its integrity is reflected by the quality of the men who are waiting in the shadows to become members. Also there are lots of other Everton dinners nowadays, maybe too many.

This year’s voting went on for a couple of months. We distributed a couple of thousand postal ballots and ToffeeWeb and NSNO hosted the web ballot. There’s been a little controversy but everything was above board.  The support for Duncan Ferguson was overwhelming but, in my opinion, all of the new additions are worthy. Some people forget that Tony Kay was a truly magnificent footballer, who cost a record British transfer fee, and that his arrival sealed the 1963 title. Graham Stuart saved our  bacon in 1994 and David Unsworth was simply Rhino, who would charge through brick walls for Everton and score many an important penalty.

I wasn’t surprised that Bill Kenwright was selected. Some people thought that he was a controversial candidate but it turns out that he was a popular choice. However two of my favourites — Pat van den Hauwe and Mike Trebilcock — were left out. More than anything, I hope that all five of the new additions show up on the night. It’ll be a great opportunity for both the fans to pay tribute to them and also it provides Duncan and Tony with an opportunity to thank the fans who demonstrated loyalty to them during their darkest days.

On the other hand, I’ll be satisfied if the other two inductees show up in spirit. They are long gone but thankfully not forgotten. Alfred Wade played in Everton’s first match against St Peter’s in 1879 and Reverend Ben Chambers is credited with starting St Domingo Football Club in 1878. Both lit the football flame that has been passed from generation to generation on Merseyside.

IM: What about your books? ‘Dr Everton’s Magnificent Obsession’ is a fantastic read and will be a hard act to follow. It is a beautifully crafted publication. I recall that the other night Peter Lupson, an acclaimed author himself, proclaimed that ‘it wasn’t just the greatest Everton book but the greatest football book of all time’. So are there any more Everton books in the pipeline?

DF: I know that I’ve said it before but I’m in the process of hanging up my keyboard. As anyone who has ever read one of my books will concur, I can’t write for toffee. To be honest, I wish I could communicate as well as many of the contributors to ToffeeWeb. That said there are some tremendous Everton books out there. In particular I like the one by Mark O’Brien of WSAG fame. I think it’s called ‘Everton Miscellany’. There will be no Hall of Fame book as such this time but there will be a Hall of Fame DVD full of unflattering caricatures and flattering pen-pics.

Regarding my own bookshelf, ‘Dr Everton’ was my first and only book not to be produced on Merseyside. It was printed by Trinity Mirror in China, like so many books nowadays, to keep costs down. I asked them to price it at a level which would facilitate a copy in every blue & white Christmas stocking. I’m told that it’s great value at £15. I must add that Ken Rogers and his team were great to work with and I’m not alone in appreciating their provision of extra copies which we made good use of. Dave Prentice, my truly talented co-author, and I visited Alder Hey a couple of weeks ago to donate a pile of books to the kids, both Blues and Reds. I thought that it’s only fair that the little Kopites learn something about the city’s rich football heritage.

Also we donated another pile of books to the Shareholders’ Association to raise funds for the painting of George Mahon’s portrait. I think we raised a few hundred pounds. It’s tough to sell them nowadays. For example, JJB even baulked at stocking Alex Young’s biography in the megastore so we decided to take the mail order route. Nevertheless, the demand has been tremendous. So much so that there are only a few copies available at mersey.com. Also Billy Butler tells me that Radio Merseyside still receives at least one call every day asking where the ‘Alex Young — The Golden Vision’ is available. My work is done.

IM: Now about your football hero — a certain Alex Young. He is such a modest man and a gentleman to boot. Alex to me, David, epitomizes why the HOF is such a success and so unforgettable. Are you satisfied that you’ve succeeded in reinforcing his place near the top of the Everton family? Back in October I was interviewed for a film you had commissioned. What’s the latest? Have I been abandoned to the cutting-room floor?

DF: Like every Blue of my vintage, I’m a big fan of Alex. He was the most celebrated British footballer in the Sixties who never betrayed his god-given flair. My dad claimed that the big Blue upstairs would send us one of his own to lead us from the post-war gloom and it was love at first sight. Alex had such eye-catching grace that as long as Everton survives, I hope that men will talk in awe of his sublime skills. Despite his blisters, hearing loss and feud with Harry Catterick, he made us proud to be Blue.

Dr France with Young and Parker
Dr David France with a print of that iconic photo of Alex Young's headed goal against Spurs

In many eyes, he’s second only to William Ralph Dean in our folklore. Dixie’s contributions can be measured by the number of times he hit the back of the net, whereas my hero’s can be characterized by the number of times he took our breath away. Alex’s biography provided some wonderful recollections from those who saw him in his pomp that I decided to go one step farther. I’m working on a modest follow-up to the Ken Loach film made in 1968. I’d got to know the guys who are making a movie about Dixie. Their film company is called Tabacula and based in Toxteth. I had helped them with a short film about John Brodie and his invention of goal-nets and was so impressed that I decided to commission a one-hour documentary entitled ‘Alex the Great’. I suppose it will an enduring love story.

I hear that Tabacula have been interviewing Alex’s team-mates as well as his fans about their memories. They plan to use some of the testimonials from Alex’s biography and are seeking a cross-section of accents for the voice-overs. I understand that Tabacula will be advertising for volunteers in the near future. I think that they are doing the readings of snippets from Alex’s biography on Thursday 15 January between 4 pm and 7 pm. As for the film, I’m told that the pilot will be available in March for reviewing with the television channels. My fingers are crossed for you and Alex!

Dr France with Young and Parker
Dr France with Alex Young at Goodison Park

IM: What’s the latest news from the Former-Players’ Foundation? I haven’t seen many of our old players limping along Goodison Road lately, in fact looking at some could still grace our bench especially at the beginning of this season. Have there been many more knee and hip replacements?

DF: The Reverend, Harry Ross that is, keeps me informed of the on-going work and as you know I am sworn to secrecy about individual players. However, I know that every penny raised is accounted for and put to good use. By all accounts and thanks to the continued support of the PFA and the club, the Foundation is in great shape — as are many of the former-players. They seem to be in better health than the first-team squad. Certainly, the Foundation is the model for other clubs in the land and farther a field. It’s something for all of us to be proud of.

Actually, I had an opportunity to gate-crash the Christmas lunch. It was great to see so many smiling faces... Gordon West, Alan Whittle, TE Jones, Gary Jones, Jimmy Harris, Fred Pickering, Duncan McKenzie and even his nemesis Gordon Lee. Reverend Harry Ross and Laurence Lee have done the Everton family proud and have reinforced the old mantra ‘Once a Blue, always a Blue’.

Another new example of this saying is the initiative to commemorate the Fallen Blues. It started when Dr John Rowland’s confirmed the details of the three Blues who perished during the two world wars. They are Leading Aircraftman Brian Patrick Atkins RAFVR, Pilot Officer William Sumner RAFVR and Lance Corporal Leigh Rouse MM 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers. John told me that he has visited the graves of Atkins at Monte Cassino and Sumner in Madras and had laid crosses and pennants on them at Brian Labone's request. As a result, the Shareholders’ Association is working to coordinate the simple yet beautiful inscription of a memorial plaque to honour these Blues.

In addition to these Merseyside-based fallen heroes, two of our extended family who played for our sister club Everton in Chile will be incorporated in the plaque. They are Frank Everard Boundy and Malcolm Goulding Fraser. They were members of the group of teenagers who founded the Club in June 1909. Unlike the vast majority of this group, they were born in the UK, Frank near Truro and Malcolm in Edinburgh. Both died in the Great War. Lest we forget.

IM: Now that you are no longer sorting through attics, junk shops and skips for swag, how do you manage to fill your days? It’s been twelve months since the deal was done but when will we get to see the famed treasures of The Everton Collection?

DF: While there has been little in the way of formal updates from the Trust, I expect that there will be a grand exhibition in the New Year which will turn the Kopites green with envy. Certainly, the taster organized by Tony Tighe at Goodison during Heritage Week in 2007 was fantastic and that highlighted less than 10% of my collection. So imagine the mind-blowing treasures available from the combination of the club’s archives with my bits and bobs. From what I can gather, the Trust’s has been working hard but progress has been slowed by the extra effort required to restore some of the water damaged items retrieved from the Goodison bunker. 

A lot of the early work, more than anticipated, has been required to catalogue the 20,000 or so artifacts and prepare them for digitization. It's important yet painstaking work and I for one look forward to accessing the fruits of their labours on the planned state-of-the-art website. Again I encourage the fans to be patient as the Trust navigates the previously unchartered waters of world-class exhibitions and world-class websites. Three experts have been recruited to work on the Everton Collection but the real challenges lie in the longer term. In less than two years from now, after the initial scope of work has been completed, the project will benefit from the appointment of a full-time coordinator, preferably with a royal blue pedigree, to maintain and possibly further enhance the project. Given that the lottery grant will have been consumed by then, it’s clear that the Trust’s ambitions would benefit from a reliable stream of funds to support all long-term plans. While it, like the Foundation, is a registered and independent charity, I hope that it continues to work closely with the club and the fans on fund raising initiatives to facilitate coordination, preservation and security work as well as new acquisitions.

Gems surface every now and then. In fact during the past 12 months, I’ve aided Lord Grantchester to secure some exquisite additions and I’ve been fortunate also to track down some items which had belonged to Big Bob and Big Nev. Therefore, I encourage all Blues to get involved because it’s our collection, it’s our heritage and it's an ongoing process. Of course, no embryonic team of hand-picked experts can be perfect.

Back in October I took them on an orientation tour of the important sites which feature in our early history. Their need for a royal blue education became evident when I pointed to the huge advertising board bordering on Walton Lane which featured Mike Lyons. Sadly, none of them could put a name to his face. Worse still they didn’t know who he was or that he had played nearly 500 times for the club. However, it proved to be a blessing in disguise because it led to the Shareholders’ Association establishing an Everton Heritage Society. To date it’s composed of 20 or so really enthusiastic Blues. Names like Steve Clay (efchistory.co.uk), Steve Johnson (evertonresults.com), Brendan Connolly, Mark Denny, Barry Hewitt, Steve Hickson, Glyn Minchall, David Starsky (memorabilia collectors), Steve Flanagan (statistics guru), Tony Heslop (who is at trustee of the Everton Collection), George Orr (Blueblood fanzine), John Shearon (Ruleteros) as well as Everton-crazy enthusiasts Keith Wilson and Paul Wharton come readily to mind but I'm sure there are other that I've overlooked. They are Blues who don’t just sing about it, they know about our history and hopefully will share their know-how with the equally enthusiastic collection staff.

I’ve been impressed by the diligence of Max, Belinda and Karen and hope that improvements will be made to their working conditions at the Records Office. The building is due for a major renovation and I had trust that in the not too distant future these experts would have been will be housed in modern facilities befitting them and the collection’s importance. May be I'm paranoid, but security will always be a top priority for me. I don’t expect security protocols like those employed at Oak Ridge (David consulted to America’s nuclear research facilities at Oak Ridge, Tennessee famous for the Manhattan Project) but it’s vital that all artifacts are electronically tagged and logged in and out of a secure vault. Even the most conscientious staff can get sloppy and it would be unforgivable if any item, especially one in an unbroken sequence, was misplaced or went walkabouts.

I’ve said this before but it’s worth repeating — a lot of people have worked hard to prepare the world's greatest collection of football memorabilia for the public eyes. It belongs to all Everton fans. It’s something for us all to be proud of and I encourage them to continue to support Lord Grandchester, his trustees and the collection staff during their near-term and longer-term initiatives.

IM: So what were you doing 7,000 miles from home at Goodison when I last met you, the Blue Pimpernel?

DF: Simply, I had returned to say my goodbyes because I doubt if I’ll be healthy enough to return to the UK in 2009. I know that you claim that I’ve had more leaving gigs than the Rolling Stones but I just wanted to thank the people who have helped me over the years and slip away. There’s lots a good Blues around to carry the torch. The flame seems to be in safe hands. Why was I at the meeting of the Everton FC Shareholders’ Association? Well, they invited me to become its Lifetime President.

Actually I wanted to show my support for Paul Wharton who, as you know, has a deep love for all things Everton and worked so hard with little recognition on the Dixie Dean play earlier this year. I was fascinated by his initiative to tell another story at the December meeting, this time about George Mahon, one of the greatest Evertonians who never hoofed a ball in anger. I hope that I’m not alone in thinking that the meeting was a tremendous success and that it will give birth to similar heritage events.

No-one who has trawled through ToffeeWeb will be surprised to learn that Steve Flanagan’s research into the life and times of George Mahon was top-class. Also Tony Helsop and John Shearon provided some fascinating insights into our brothers in Chile. He wants to arrange at least one fixture between these two great clubs. I can pay him no greater compliment that says that this is the kind of initiative that Messrs Mahon and Cuff would have taken. I understand that another heritage meeting is scheduled for early February. This time the subject is Will Cuff, arguably the greatest Evertonian of all time. He ran the club with an iron fist for decades during which time he developed Goodison into a world-class stadium, captured 4 League titles and 2 FA Cups, implemented a commitment to cultured football and earned worldwide respect for the club.

Also he invested in big money signings like Dean, Cresswell, Britton and Lawton and also nurtured raw recruits like Chedgzoy, Gee, Sagar and Mercer. Sadly he fell out with the other directors towards the end of his life because he believed in the democratic concept of one shareholder-one vote. Isn’t that a novel idea? As for the Shareholders’ Association itself, possibly it will become redundant in the not too distant future but there again it could serve a meaningful role as a valuable conduit for the new owners.

IM: Look, David, as I respect your views no more beating about the bush, where do you stand on Destination Kirkby? What do you think about the state of the club?  Are we in good hands?

DF: I’m sure you’ve heard about my meeting with a specialist in Seattle. He asked: ‘So what do you want first the good news or the bad news. The bad news is that your problem has spread. The good news is that you’ll never see Everton play in Kirkby!’ To be honest, I’ve grown weary of the ground move debate and saddened by the damage done to the Everton family. Obviously, I’m concerned about the continued erosion of our identity and our disappearance from the city’s landscape. The Kings Dock aside, I’ve never held strong views about any move. Of course, I’m fond of the Grand Old Lady Park but I suppose that I don’t care passionately about where we play every other week but I feel strongly about a redefinition and strengthening of our identity.

I’ve always favoured the concept of an Everton Centre, by that I mean a headquarters in the city centre. I’ve come to terms that it will never happen but over the years I’ve proposed a handful of sites which, like the Old Collegiate building, have been converted into flats. Nonetheless I still nurture a vision of revamping somewhere like the old ABC Cinema in Lime Street. I would love to see us in such a signature building, one with a massive sign announcing 'Everton Football Club' in 12 feet high or even higher neon letters which would illuminate Lime Street for 24 hours per day.

Of course, it could also project a subliminal message like ‘Kopites are Gobshites’. The building would house the administrative staff, press and communications centre, city centre dining facilities, museum and exhibitions centre, ticket office, retail shop, meeting rooms, sponsors’ rooms, etc. It would have cost a few million to renovate but that’s a small cost for reinforcing our presence to Blues and Reds alike and healing the Everton family. On the subject of Kopites, I’m tired of interacting with them at Goodison. We need more Blues on the payroll. As for the change of ownership, I hear, from people who claim to know about these things, that it could be imminent after the Inquiry findings have been released but remain wary because I can’t understand why anyone would want to buy a football club. I never had. The operating profits are modest by design, nowadays the debt is perilous and I doubt that football will be exempt from the realities of the economic meltdown.

As you know, I like Bill. Of course, I don’t agree with some of his decisions but there again I’m not privy to the information which honed them. But what I do know is that he invested in the club when no-one else was prepared to do so. There is no greater living Evertonian. Moving on... while he may have a Rugby League roots, which as a lad from Widnes I consider to be a good thing, the acting CEO makes a good first impression. He comes across as a real gentleman with an unblemished past.  

Perhaps more important than even the CEO is the quality of the team assembled around him. I wish Robert well. His immediate worry must be the absent fans and the austerity required to manage the club’s borrowings. Of course, his life as well as ours would be made a lot easier with a decent cup run. I hate derbies. I always have. I intend to watch the imminent derbies (two nil-nil draws I hope) at my barber’s shop in Victoria. He’s an old Blue from Crosby. While I’m too fat to wear my famous lucky suit, I do plan to hold on to it like a comfort blanket.

IM: So is this farewell? Surely we can we expect another fleeting visit from the good doctor?

DF: My specialists and more importantly my long suffering wife permitting, I had hoped to make one more trans-Atlantic trip to attend the Hall of Fame dinner. But I doubt that it will happen. Unfortunately my last two visits to Goodison involved losses to Pompey and Villa. I’ll miss Merseyside. It’s been great to see the transition of our great city. I only wish that we had played a part of it at the Kings Dock. Of course, I’ll miss my ‘bitter and twisted’ blue friends.

On a personal note, have I told you about my recent stalkers? There were two of them. Two big, burly and intoxicated brutes. They had followed me along Church Street before eventually confronting me outside of Central Station. At that point they both threw his arms around me. One of them looked me straight in the eyes and mumbled: ‘Thanks for everything you’ve done for our club’. All I could say was: ‘Don't thank me. Being a Blue is my reward.’ I think it was one of those very rare occasions when you find the words to say exactly how you feel.

IM: David, I will never be more sincere in saying these words: ‘God Bless you’ Thank you for saving our heritage with the definitive Everton collection, a labour of love of Herculean proportions. I know you could have sold the collection for more money through private sales and the likes of Christies but I know deep down you never wanted to split this magnificent obsession.

As I always said to you David the collection, the HOF, the books and the fantastic innovative Former Players Foundation are your legacy to the Everton family. For many generations to come Evertonian’s can now look into our past and punch the air. They will be able to see how our club was formed and evolved with its journey to greatness, the people involved, the sad times and the glories, all there documented.

Not only is our football lives kept on record but an insight on how we lived, what we bought and the World Wars which tested the nation encapsulated in the programme’s and ledgers etc which you lovingly assembled. A through the looking glass experience on Merseyside over past generations,

Even after selling his collection David is dipping into the funds of the sale for the making of an Alex Young film and other Everton related ventures.

I remember you telling me of the joy you had when acquiring the last of the ledgers (at great cost of money and sacrificing some Dixie Dean medals to get them), and how I laughed at the myths of you personally trawling through skips outside Goodison when I knew you were thousands of miles away at the time as a director of a Texan oil firm.

When you bought the first produced Everton season ticket at Anfield and pulled the car over under a lamp light on a rainy night just to look at it again in unbelief like a kid at Christmas. Just a couple of examples of your true passion. I will never forget the first time I saw the tip of the iceberg of your collection in your Chester home. As I said at the time I felt like Howard Carter looking into Tutankhamen’s tomb, what a privilege it was.

But behind every great man there is usually a great woman. Please step forward David’s long suffering wife Elizabeth, a Bolton lass. Now if ever a woman had the patience of a saint it's Liz. Can you imagine the hours and days Doctor Everton when missing on his quest for the collection? It was bordering on an obsession.

The amount of times he must have just smiled at Liz like a little boy and said nothing when she asked how much did that cost. The thousands of phone calls from like-minded Blues and collectors she had to take whilst trying to run a home.

In recent years watching David’s health deteriorate, instead of taking it easy he still went on journeys across the Atlantic for his latest project. This shy, attractive blonde must have thought we were all crazy with Everton with her husband the group leader Mad Hatter. I’ve often thought Liz would burn David’s massive collection through sheer frustration at the other ‘woman’ in David’s life, demanding and taking so much attention away from her. Liz is a diamond, the real Toffee Lady.

I have to laugh at the story of how Liz and Dave, living by the harbour in Seattle, watch the daily life of a colony of Elephant seals naming one after me. They went on to say the seal named after me died suddenly and the coastal patrol took it out to deep sea for burial. As the seal was towed away they waved, goodbye Ian. Right, where’s that weightwatchers number? Thanks Dave and Liz!

David’s other passion, not known to many, is Leonard Cohen ( I think he’s seen him in concert as many times as I have seen Bruce Springsteen), but unlike Cohen, David is far from depressing when you see him. David gives you an Everton injection of faith when you meet him

So another Everton chapter is to be closed on David’s lifetime works with all things Everton? I sincerely hope it’s not, but on behalf of thousands of Blues I would like to thank David for his sterling work on giving so much time and dedication to the Everton cause, not forgetting his wife,Liz.

Best of luck, Liz and Dave, for the future, thanks for the special memories. We are so much richer in our Everton lives knowing you.

Any ideas fellow Blues how we should remember this man the present day equivalent of William Cuff? I can give no higher accolade than this.

Ian Macdonald
Everton Independent Blues

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