All great companies and great football clubs are built on the foundations of inspirational leadership, total loyalty to the cause, and people who go the extra mile without expecting anything in return.
Such attributes are rightly acclaimed on the field, but rarely off it. We seldom hear about the people behind the scenes at football clubs, the people who spend a great deal more than 90 minutes a week at a football stadium.
Tony Watson arrived at Everton from Manchester United to become the Clubs Head of non-match day Sales and Marketing with his main duties being the promotion of conferences, events, non-match day activity and the delivery of world class hospitality. And he delivered in spectacular fashion, triumphing with recognition in the last Stadium Experience Football Hospitality Awards which defined Everton´s director-level hospitality as the best in the UK – no mean feat at a crumbling Goodison Park.
The award was a rare moment of acknowledgement but above all, offered a very small insight and indication into the passionate and tireless work Tony puts into his role behind the scenes. When accepting the prestigious award for the Club, in typical modest fashion, he was quick to put the achievement on his staff: "In sometimes challenging conditions, the hard work, commitment and dedication of the staff from both Sodexo Prestige and Everton Football Club has resulted in our victory. To be beating clubs like Aston Villa, Manchester City and Chelsea who have such large, modern facilities is a massive achievement. It is extremely satisfying to be able to confirm through Stadium Experience´s judging process that, as I know myself, the hospitality at Goodison Park is amongst the best in the UK."
Tony is only well too qualified to comment on the role of commitment and dedication. A man who rises at 5am, often six days a week to make it to Goodison Park to go above and beyond to improve the fan experience. ‘Fan experience’ – a phrase Tony constantly reels off in a tourette like manner….obsessed in ensuring our spiritual home would never dampen our spirits.
Before Tony arrived, Goodison Park was permanently closed to fans on a non match day. You’d regularly walk down Goodison Road and see tourists… fans…. walking aimlessly around the stadium, taking pictures of Dixie Deans statue with the doors firmly closed until a match day. Noting the exclusion, Tony spearheaded initiatives which took any opportunity to welcome fans into Goodison when it would have been typically closed. Hundreds of fans visit for Fathers Day lunches, hundreds visited for ‘Sunday Lunch and Tours’ and thousands more would congregate to dine and watch Everton away games on televisions in the Clubs hospitality lounges.
Of course, these initiatives were all part and parcel of raising additional revenue for the good of the Club and Tony also regularly takes it upon himself to ensure Everton’s ‘Peoples Club’ reputation was with substance. An example being last week when ‘astro78’, a member in our forum, told us all how Tony noted without being asked that ‘astro78’ was making his first visit to his beloved Goodison Park from America. In typical fashion, Tony took it upon himself to invite ´astro´ to Goodison Park to deliver a dream private tour of Goodison Park. An epitome of Tony’s number one priority always being us, the fans.
Unlike so many who are fortunate enough to be in a senior position at a football club who typically avoid fans like the plague, Tony instead sought interaction with Evertonians. Tony utilised social media to reach out to fans, in particular, his twitter account to speak to fans in a refreshingly unique, jovial, open manner. He’d also browse our forums and act on absolutely any discontent.
Despite thoroughly enjoying his role working at the Club, Tony departs his job at Everton this week with a heavy heart. But unlike when he left Manchester United all those years ago, he’ll only be able to leave Everton in employment. Tony recently commented on the difference between Everton and other clubs in our forum: “It was my first match (EFC vs Pompey) when I quickly realised the difference between Everton and my previous role at Man Utd. Portsmouth’s manager Harry Redknapp signing autographs outside the Wilmslow, fans packed to the rafters and an atmosphere that truly set the world alight. I went from being a corporate whore who viewed EFC as a career move, to someone working for a football club that I am extremely proud to call "my team". That is what Everton means to me. It´s not pretty. It´s not shiny. It´s just feels right and once it´s got you, it never let´s go.”
Good Luck Tony. All the best from everyone at GrandOldTeam. Everton have lost a star…