Former Everton and Manchester United goalkeeper Tim Howard said he "cried real tears" after his match-winning performance in 2009 FA Cup semifinal between the two clubs.
Howard was in goal for Everton on that day, just three seasons removed from having played for Manchester United. After normal and extra-time finished goalless, he saved two penalties in the shootout that followed to send the Toffees into the final against Chelsea.
"I cried real tears after that game," said Howard via telephone. "It was very much slaying the dragon if you will. It probably wasn't as much for anyone else, but when things didn't work out at Man United, and I had to move on, I had a lot to prove. And that to me was a day that was incredibly poetic. It was simply a way for me to close that chapter and move forward."
Howard had some successes with Manchester United, including an FA Cup winners medal in 2004. But when Edwin van der Saar was signed prior to the 2005-06 season, that spelled the end of Howard's time at Old Trafford. He was loaned to Everton ahead of that campaign, making the matchups with his former club tense affairs.
"I have a lot of fond memories from Man United, but I'm an Evertonian through and through, and I remember those games being really nerve-wracking for me, coming from Man United and having to play against them," he said. "Obviously they were giants and we're trying to slay them all those years. When I look at the 10 years I had at Everton, we had some incredible battles."
Sunday's match between the two sides will mark the first time that Howard has returned to Goodison Park since the 2015-16 season, when following a difficult season he departed Everton to sign for the Colorado Rapids. He left the Toffees having made over 400 appearances for the club. But looking back, Howard admitted that it was time for him to move on.
"It was good to get away," he said. "It was probably by design somewhat, but also I was incredibly busy. For me it was such a perfect ending to my Everton career that I almost felt as if I needed the time away because it was so perfect."
Howard's return coincides with him being named an international ambassador for the club, a role that he is happy to take on.
"When I left the club, I was always going to come back in some capacity," he said. "This is my home, this is the club that I love and hold dear in my heart. I was forever an Evertonian, but to continue in an official capacity is pretty special and when it comes to my duties, I basically told them, 'Use me how you'd like.' I can never say no to this club."