Hudson River Derby | Nick Cushing's Love Of The Game

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Nick Cushing could hear his dad pulling up to the house.

The best part of the week had arrived as father and son could now begin their bi-weekly pilgrimage to Goodison Park, home to one of England’s oldest football clubs, Everton.

Cushing can recall memories of Everton from as early as three-years-old. What began as an interest quickly evolved into an obsession as his focus became the Everton game on a weekend. Within that love for the club, known affectionately as the Toffees, was a well-established routine.

“My dad would work everyday apart from Sunday," he said. "On Saturday he’d work from 6am till 12pm. By the time he came back at 12pm he would go and get changed, I'd have my Everton kit on, and then at 1:00pm our lift - my dad's best friend - would pick us up and we would listen to the radio phone ins on the way while we waited for the team news.”

As the group drove toward Everton's stadium, Goodison Park, they would always allow for one important pit stop.

“The pub was called the St Hilda,” Cushing said as a smile crept across his face.

On almost any given Saturday you could find several generations congregating in the St Hilda. The white noise of a dozen or so conversations would fill the room, with every attendee discussing the same thing – Everton. The good, the bad, and everything in between, that room had seen it, and come three o'clock they didn't want to be anywhere but watching Everton.

The announcement of the team’s starting XI was the signal to head into the ground. Cushing always liked to watch the warm-ups. It was another important part of his routine. Clad in his Everton shirt Cushing soaked up every drop of the Goodison experience that his parents, Paul and Vicky, worked so hard to provide for him.

While trips to watch Everton didn’t always bring victories, they were never taken for granted. As well as his memories Cushing still has every Everton shirt from his childhood and he can happily reel off some of the famous names that adorned the back of those shirts – symbols of a youth spent in love with the game.

“We used to look forward to Saturday, and then on Sunday or Monday we'd either be ecstatic if we'd won or depressed if we’d lost,” he said smiling again. “By Wednesday we couldn't wait for Saturday to come so that we could watch the next game.

“We went to an FA Cup final and won, we played and won a Charity Shield against Blackburn Rovers and Vinny Samways scored. As we got older we started going to away games, and I was also playing Sunday League. I was just obsessed with the game.”

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Those away trips exposed Cushing to fans from across England. He saw first hand that he was not alone in adoring football. One of the more memorable away day experiences for Cushing and his father came a lot closer to home than you might expect - around half a mile from Goodison Park - against Liverpool at Anfield in 1995.

“I was really lucky because I saw a lot of really positive results for Everton over Liverpool [as a kid],” he explained.

“We couldn't get away tickets that year so my dad sourced some tickets in the Liverpool end. He was a little bit apprehensive. We'd never done it before [sat in the Liverpool end]. We went to the game, but we didn't go to our normal pub even though it’s only across Stanley Park. We literally went straight to the stadium.”

This was not a night to watch the warm-ups. It was a cold and wet November evening, and while it’s not unheard of for fans of the two clubs to mingle, even on derby day, it was a risk with little to no reward.

“It was very cold and I had a pair of tracksuit bottoms on and my jacket zipped up with my Everton shirt underneath. The question you ask is; are you going to celebrate if we score?”

Cushing would need to answer that question in the 52nd minute when Andrei Kanchelskis rose high into the night sky to power home a header. His first goal for the club.

“We definitely didn't celebrate,” Cushing confirmed.

The winger would score a second goal 13 minutes later with a venomous strike. Kanchelskis' mesmeric dribbling and two goals at the Kop End inked his name into Everton folklore. It was on that night, surrounded by chilly winds and a feverish atmosphere, that Cushing’s love for the game was stoked once more. The full-time result; Liverpool one, Everton two.

A love of the game is in part what drove Cushing to coach. His journey differs to many of his peers as he had no professional playing career to speak of. He began as a volunteer at Manchester City and his climb up the coaching ladder eventually saw him trusted with one of the Club’s academy teams, and in turn, a derby with Manchester United.

“I think ultimately you always reflect on your ability to manage the emotion,” Cushing said of his early experiences coaching in derbies. “You want to drive the emotion of the game before it, you want to harness that, but once the game kicks off, as a coach the emotion isn’t so good for you because you have to think logically.”

If the atmosphere against Manchester United at youth level was feisty, it paled in comparison to his first experience with Man City Women.

“We didn't have a derby until 2019 and the first one was an incredible occasion,” Cushing said. “We played at the Etihad in front of just over 31,000 and we managed to win that game. Caroline Weir scored and it was amazing. It was a really tight game. The first women’s derby game. You're desperate to win.”

Weir’s moment of magic, like that of Kanchelskis years before, confirmed her place in derby day history. Cushing enjoyed many wonderful moments like that with Man City Women, not least of all the six pieces of silverware the club collected during his time there. By his own admission, success, and in particular trophies, remain a motivating factor to work in the game.

“It could be that a cardboard box is the prize and I’d want to win it,” he said. “Winning trophies is addictive. There is no feeling in the world [like it]. I’ve had three children, and I’ve been married, and I’ve done a lot of amazing things, but winning trophies in this business is something that is seriously unrivaled.”

That is how he justifies the long hours and the continued sacrifice. In trying to put more words to that feeling Cushing circles back to last season. Rarely does a derby fixture arrive at a good time. The chaos that often unfolds during the encounter makes them volatile and unpredictable.

In July last year, prior to the Hudson River Derby, the team had to navigate a midweek trip to Frisco, Texas to take on FC Dallas. The heat and humidity was draining, but the Boys in Blue emerged with a vital 1-0 win thanks to a poacher's goal from Héber. Days later, a trip across the river saw Taty Castellanos sign off his NYCFC career with a brilliantly taken volley - the only goal in a 1-0 win.

For Cushing, however, the job was only half done. Several months later in September the Campeones Cup preceded the Hudson River Derby. Back to back 2-0 wins, mere days apart, not only secured another trophy for the Club, but also the double over the Red Bulls. New York was undeniably blue.

Saturday will give Cushing another shot at a trophy. The Hudson River Derby trophy has arrived after years of work and will be awarded to the aggregate winner of the two regular season games. He has already seen the trophy up close and he wants it.

Regardless of the outcome the beauty of such an occasion rests in the shared emotions. What Cushing felt at Anfield is what many in the stands at Yankee Stadium will feel on Saturday. The key is to harness those emotions; convert the pressure into positive energy and deliver a clear message to the players.

“I don't fear the derby games,” Cushing said. “I have a real desire to win, to play well, and to entertain our fans. Winning is important, but playing well and making sure you take away the whole game - the win and the performance - is ultimately my role.”

He will reinforce that message on Saturday afternoon, as he always does, an hour before kickoff. The methodical approach that has delivered him significant success previously will marry itself with his players’ emotions and in some cases past experiences as they prepare mentally for the next installment in an ever-expanding rivalry.

Then, on the cusp of kickoff, Cushing will briefly express a part of himself that has been with him since his days waiting for his dad to arrive home from work.

“When the ref blows the whistle and the ball goes backwards there is that surge of energy,” he said. “You are a fan in that moment. You feel like a fan, but then you have to realize it’s business. It’s work now.”