I’ve never met David France face to face. First I read about him, then I listened to him, finally I was lucky enough to interview him. Now we talk via email and phone, two Evertonians living in American exile, far away from our club.
Amazingly for someone so devoted to Everton, his life hasn’t been that of a Toffee anorak, totting up Everton matches like a bird watcher ticking off his umpteenth Black-bellied Plover. Dr France, who as a youngster struggled with learning and couldn’t properly read until he was 14, is a self made man.
He started as a gas fitter, enrolled part time as a student, earned a Bsc and Msc. Then an MBA and a PHD. He had a wonderful career as an oil and gas executive, ran marathons galore, was awarded the Joule Medal for his work with hydrogen, and was in such demand that his emigration to the US was sponsored by Senator Ted Kennedy.
The UK’s loss was America’s gain, but he never stopped loving Everton. There’s a corner of the Pacific Northwest, San Juan Island to be precise, that is forever Everton. Dr France, who has lived in the US since 1978, has travelled back countless times to watch Everton. He once calculated the distance of these footballing pilgrimages, he has travelled to the moon and back… twice.
When I heard that David was going to be awarded an OBE in recognition of his services to football in the United Kingdom and Europe, I was surprised. Not because I didn’t think he deserved it, but because I thought he already had an OBE. Like a song that you think you’ve already heard, my assumption was that David already sported an OBE, trailing his surname like a star struck fan.
Dr France is a powerful name in Everton circles, the kind of name that is invoked to end arguments or start wistful conversations. A website once ran a poll asking who Everton fans trust the most. Out of eight candidates, the Davids topped the list; David Moyes 35%, David France 34%.
When an American journalist asked Dr France for his thoughts on the Merseyside Derby, David responded: “Blues versus Reds is humility versus arrogance; loyalty versus entitlement; and art versus pornography.” The journalist told him he was Everton Crazy, and so the title of his latest book was born. In “Everton Crazy”, a Herculean trawl through Everton’s history, Dr France writes about every Evertonian that has played 5 or more games for this club. Over 900 pages and counting, it cleans the Augean stables and paints them blue, containing pen portraits of a wilderness of stars.
“I treated them all equally – as my children. Strike that; spoilt children.” – Dr France on his collection.
For a quarter of a century David built up the Everton Collection, the greatest set of football writings and memorabilia on the planet. In a pre-EBay era he painstakingly mapped the Everton genome for generations to come.
The Collection contains over 10,000 artifacts including items that pre-date the formation of the football league. Programmes include the 1889 Everton-Newton Heath game, Manchester United’s oldest known programme.
Amongst the programmes, cigarette cards, rare photos, medals and even shirts, are the ledgers – the modest stars of the collection. They are 10,000 handwritten pages of “unvarnished history of Everton football club” containing every major decision in the birth of Everton. Unsurprisingly, the Everton Collection is also the best record of Liverpool Football Club’s early history.
When experts estimated the Collection’s market value at as much as £2 million, Dr France worked with Everton to establish the Everton Collection Charitable Trust. He then transferred all his archives to the Trust for a fraction of their valuation, thereby guaranteeing public ownership of his archives.
Everton Former Player’s Foundation.
“The Everton Family is one of life’s masterpieces.” – Dr France
This charity, founded in 1999, seeks to aid former players hit by the twin punches of financial trouble and chronic injury. It has spent over £100,000 per year during the past decade, with any Everton player who has made one first-team appearance qualifying for assistance. Hips and knees have been repaired and lives have been rebuilt for players decimated by the cold reality of football in a bygone era; back when men were men and heroes were paid villainously meagre sums.
It’s an initiative since taken on by Real Madrid and Barcelona amongst other top European clubs. Even UEFA have now taken Dr France’s brainchild on as their model. At the 11th anniversary dinner of the Everton Former-Players’ Foundation in 2010, Barcelona’s Ramon Alfonseda revealed that 0.5% of every player’s salary at the Catalan giants would go towards their former players’ organization.
Més que un fan
David France, BSc MSc MBA PhD and – as of Friday 4th May – OBE. With typical modesty, he says it stands for One Big Evertonian.
David should cheer us up. It has been a grotty season for many reasons, we’ve been beaten three times by the “bad” guys. We’ve had Liverpool’s very own Roy Racist score against us, and even Andy Carroll kick us out of the cup with a header. Fans piously genuflect at mention of Barcelona, masters of tiki-taka and the “true” way of playing football. Their motto is “Més que un club”, (“more than a club”), but even this supposedly heavenly force for good was beaten by Chelsea and their parked bus. David France is “més que un fan”, and he should restore our faith in football.