A representative team made up of participants of the Everton in the Community and Mersey Care award-winning mental health football programme ‘Imagine Your Goals’ (IYG) have been crowned champions of Europe in a prestigious mental health and social inclusion competition.
The expedition to Hamburg in Germany, which was self-funded by Everton in the Community and participants, saw the Everton team make history by becoming the first side to win the EASI Cup twice since the competition’s inception 13 years ago, with the Blues first landing the title in Oxford back in 2013.
The European Association for Sport and Social Integration (E.A.S.I) is a pan European network which brings together rehabilitation projects for people experiencing mental health problems and shares best practice of how to use sport and leisure activities as a therapeutic tool to aid recovery. The highlight of the network’s activities is the week-long E.A.S.I Cup which takes place each year in a different location hosted by a different member organisation.
Everton joined 27 other teams in the competition, all vying to be crowned kings of Europe, and soon progressed to the knock-out stages with five wins and many stand-out displays from the boys in Blue including a man-of-the-match performance from winger Will Finnigan.
The Everton IYG side did not do things the easy way though - on five separate occasions the Blues had to come from behind, including in the semi-final against their arch rivals, yet close friends off the pitch, Tohus 1.
Trailing, and with the final whistle looming, Toffees centre back Danny Caryl’s mazy run pierced the German rearguard and when he cut the ball back into the six yard box, the ball was perfectly met by skipper Liam Kennedy with an impeccably timed run and instinctive finish from an acute angle level matters. The last minute equaliser saw the joyous Blues take the tie to penalties and goalkeeper Ryan Woods then proved to be the hero by saving two out of four penalties to send Everton IYG into the final.
Everton took on FC Bremen in the final and Johnnie Garside broke the deadlock five minutes into the second half, a strike which proved decisive. Ecstatic celebrations took place at the final whistle from players, backroom staff, spectators and new admirers as Everton IYG were crowned European champions.
In addition to the football the Everton IYG squad enjoyed the opportunity to meet new people and increase their understanding and awareness of global mental health issues whilst also being treated to outdoor adventure activities including taking a ride on a Harley Davidson motorbike and watching the Champions League final.
Jonathan Garside, Everton’s Health and Wellbeing Manager, said: “The E.A.S.I. Cup was anything but easy to win. It was a great experience for the participants and has given everyone involved a fresh sense of accomplishment that can hopefully translate to off-the-field life too.”
Mersey Care’s Professional Project Manager Matty Byrne said: “Taking part in this tournament is another great example of how people coming through our services can gain in confidence and become empowered to pursue recovery in new ways. Thanks to the support of this programme, Mersey Care and Everton in the Community are able to help service users’ fulfil their potential.”
Imagine Your Goals, which is run in partnership by Mersey Care and EITC, works to help local people with mental health problems become positive role models using a football programme that improves levels of fitness combined with confidence-building, social inclusion and positive encouragement.