Baines: Everton tour of Kenya more than just football
- It was clear from the reception we got just how much people had been looking forward to our visit
From the moment we touched down in Nairobi to the minute we departed, we were made to feel so welcome by every person we came across.
It was clear from the reception we got just how much people had been looking forward to our visit and we could feel that excitement throughout our stay.The focus of our visit was, of course, the match against Kariobangi Sharks last Sunday evening but we were determined to leave a legacy and impact which had longevity.
The players and coaching staff were only in Kenya for a couple of days but it was important we took part in community activities too, meeting locals and leaving memories which will hopefully last much longer than our fleeting visit.
Whether it was the work of Everton in the Community coaches in districts across Nairobi, the distribution of kit donations from our Club Ambassadors Steven Pienaar and Leon Osman to local football teams through SportPesa's 'Kits For Africa' campaign, or visits from our first-team players to a fantastic community initiative run by the Department of International Development called ‘Let Our Girls Succeed’, we hope our visit made a lasting impression.
The incredible atmosphere created inside the Kasarani Stadium on matchday will live long in my memory. 64,000 passionate football fans, all relishing the experience of watching the Sharks take on a Premier League team in their own country, made for a great occasion.
We had a number of young players in our travelling squad and when we arrived at the stadium and went for a walk on the pitch, one turned to me and said: “This isn’t what I’m used to!”. I just told him to enjoy and embrace the experience.
The match itself came at the end of an intense first week of pre-season training and it was a fitting way to round off our stay.
It was a fun match to play in, competitive too, which is what it was supposed to be. I’m sure it’s something which will stay with the Kariobangi Sharks players for a long time as well.
We returned home to England on Monday and only a few days later we headed off on our travels again, this time to Switzerland for the next stage of our pre-season preparations.
We will spend a week in the Alps training hard and playing matches against Swiss Premier League side FC Sion and French heavyweights AS Monaco.
We have welcomed back a number of our international players, who returned to pre-season training at the start of the week, including Jordan Pickford and Lucas Digne, and there are still more to come, including Richarlison who last week won the Copa America with Brazil.
What an achievement that is, especially to have the honour of scoring in the final in his home country!
This is my 12th full pre-season with Everton and the important thing at this time of year is to get fit, stay fit and play as much of a part as you can. If you can play well in the friendly games and give yourself confidence, then great.
Yes, you want to play well and win every match in pre-season but, ultimately, for the team it is about putting in the hard work and being as prepared as possible for the first match of the Premier League season against Crystal Palace, which is now less than a month away.