Another season and is it another opportunity for Evertonians to cast aspersions on its board?
In recent years it would appear that early season demonstrations, against the actions of the owners of Everton FC, have become something of a ritual at Goodison Park.
Yet marches, leaked emails, taped conversations, failed stadium projects and exposures of incompetence all fade into memory once a couple of signings are majestically paraded along with the inevitable slushy “Everton were the only club I ever considered, the fans, its history blah blah” press release.
And a brace of victories, confirming to the faithful that they really are chosen, that those who don’t understand don’t matter and let’s put those banners away until next year “lids” and get behind the team.
This annual epiphany, from braying protester, demanding the head of owner Bill Kenwright to compliant worshiping fan is not as miraculous as it would appear.
Those who continue to question the validity and the actions of their board remain firm in their conviction that they’re being starved of truthful information. On what is, after all, a lifetime’s commitment.
With the cupboard (trophy cabinet) bare and with little prospect of being filled in the conceivable future, instead of the bread and butter basics of how the club plans to address their many shortcomings, they’re being fed, via the media, with a nice fancy cake from Everton’s increasingly substantial PR department.
Cake that is enthusiastically consumed by fans perhaps less savvy about how the media, and therefore their thoughts, are being manipulated by their club.
The well publicised plane over St Mary’s saw those insidious Uriah Heep type creatures that find their way into public relations, and inhabitant in the Everton spin department, spring into life.
Southampton FC we’re briefed to remove all flags from the away supporters as, it was suggested, these might initiate trouble between the factions of Everton fans. As it turned out the plane was applauded with even the empathetic Southampton fans joining in the singing of “Kenwright Out.”
During and after the Southampton game media pundits, en masse, completely oblivious to the fact that these protests aren’t about the club spending money they don’t have, were highly dismissive of the protestors.
All appeared to be singing from the provided hymn sheet, Bill Kenwright is good, Everton have no money but they’re prudent, Bill is the man for Everton, he’s an Evertonian.
Had they’d been given the full “look into my eyes, into my eyes, the eyes, the eyes, not around the eyes” treatment, or were they just all supremely knowledgeable over the situation at Goodison?
Members of the media who resist the urge to promote the view that the sun always shines at Goodison Park, find themselves left out in the cold, excluded from access to the players and the manager.
For example, after the recent investigation into the club’s mysterious deal with Kitbag the Liverpool Echo were given the treatment and no further investigations were forthcoming. This despite a very public promise to get under the skin of the club.
Then, on the promise of renewed access and the club’s need to conduct its propaganda campaign, the Echo carried on regardless, printing the obsequious defence of the club by ex-players worried about their lounge status, and the undignified spectacle of a once revered man, now slightly worse for wear, being led around by the nose by parasites aiming him in the direction of the next drink.
The depths Everton will plunge to knows no limits, the sight of a true club legend, a legend that refuses, as ever, to kowtow to the club’s owners, being turned away on a recent visit and being persona non grata on matchday is all you really need to know.
The need to control even extends to using unwitting fans. Supporters “elected” to the fan forum. With a need to appear that they liaise with their fans, the handpicked chosen few, all staunch Evertonians, are little more than unknowing lickspittles oblivious to being presented with only one message. The message the club wants them to hear and wants them to repeat on Radio Merseyside.
A similar situation exists with those who control the club’s shareholders association, but in this case they’re knowing lickspittles, attempting to influence the club’s forthcoming annual general meeting by ensuring that only shareholders ask questions that have been submitted in advance to the club.
What is it that drives this war between the fans and the board? Between fans who support Bill Kenwright and fans who vehemently oppose him?
One view, that fosters loyalty towards Kenwright, is that he’s an Evertonian who saved the club from Peter Johnson, at a time when, despite earlier winning the FA cup, their performance on the field was dire.
Ignoring criticism of the board by people they feel are unqualified to question the actions of a chairman who has steered their club to a stable position in the Premier League when others have floundered or sold out to owners who care nothing for fans or perceived traditions.
They constantly warn doubters of being careful what they wish for.
That’s one view, a view held by many, but not the only view. The view held by others, mainly, but certainly not exclusively, those whose roots are to be found in the city of Liverpool, see Bill Kenwright as nothing more than a fantasist that will tell a lie at the drop of a hat.
They find the persona of Bill from the boys pen with holes in his shoes laughable and, refusing to believe a word he says, quote the boards many failures surrounding stadium redevelopment, selling assets, parading imposter investors whilst remaining unable to sell despite an alleged 16 year, 24/7 search for “investment.”
Two sides to the argument, but who’s right?
Well, as it happens, neither.
The limp, ignorant of the facts, wishing to appear knowledgeable, will offer the old standby that the truth is probably somewhere in between.
The unpalatable facts, for both camps, is that Bill Kenwright has steered the good ship Everton through some stormy waters, but maybe the real question is who caused the storm in the first place? In 1999 when impresario Kenwright finally wrestled ownership from hamper king Johnson he said that they, True Blue Holdings, Kenwright’s consortium, had no money but they had a plan.
That was the beginning, the truth was they had neither. The following years saw the club stumble from crisis to crisis as the protestors rightly point out.
One crisis adequately demonstrates the consequences of Kenwright’s ownership. When the prospect of riches from a deal with NTL became a reality, Everton, some say foolishly, went on a spending spree before the money arrived.
When NTL crashed, Everton were left fiscally high and dry.
Other owners may have taken direct responsibility and supported their club financially. Not Bill Kenwright.
Everton entered into a £30m securitisation loan agreement with Prudential, this money wasn’t used to redevelop the ground, to increase revenue and make the club better, this money was used to pay off debt and stave off administration. A move that is costing the club £70m in repayments.
So when it is said the directors have not take a penny out of the club it’s entirely true, but they’ve certainly overseen the removal of tens and tens of millions to cover their incompetence.
A further consequence of this loan was that almost a decade later the charge on the stadium, which is Prudential’s security, prevented Everton constructing an extension at the back of their Park End stand due to, once again, Everton.
Instead of investment from the owners, we have only the continuous reliance on what they like to term “innovative” financing, or in other words, finance from any source, in place of their own money, in their own business.
Protestors are adamant in their belief that the boards under investment and the club’s commercial under performance has cost them dearly and with a commercial income of just £12.8m, a figure exceeded by the majority of clubs, Everton are almost solely reliant on Media income.
Of course Everton want to spin this commercial figure, in the face of criticism they claim that £12.8 is inaccurate as if outsourced functions such as catering and merchandise sales were brought in house, this figure would be £18.8m.
Well if you’re going to begin amending the accounts with estimates on what could be, don’t forget when they were in house they were a disaster, let’s have the full picture, if you’re going to add an estimated turnover figure let’s subtract the Kit Supply money which CEO Robert Elstone appears to be unable to point to.
A figure which given Everton’s standing should be £10m, so that means the commercial income is now just £9m, which is about right as Kitbag has left Everton red faced.
Does this really matter, is this enough money to make a difference? Well with an extra twenty million, perhaps Everton would break into the lucrative European money, maybe they could win a trophy instead of applauding a magnificent seventh place, and having nothing but survival as a plan.
That said, Bill Kenwright has at least worked hard, whilst his fellow directors have done nothing whatsoever.
Kenwright has probably worked himself into the ground and everyone, from both sides of the divide, obviously wish him well in his rehabilitation.
However, there is no place for sentimentality, Evertonians are divided on Kenwright’s tenure, yet neither is right.
The truth is that Bill Kenwright has attempted to mislead the fans, shareholders and the authorities on who truly owns and runs Everton Football Club. The truth is that his chairmanship and board are nothing but a sham, and when exposed the consequences will be catastrophic and there is only one person to blame, Kenwright himself.
Kenwright and former communication employees have experienced being caught out with their deceptive practices.
Journalists, fans, shareholders and ex-employees have been treated with contempt for too long. If there are recordings and documentation available to prove what’s been going on, it could get very messy indeed.
And extremely busy for Everton’s miscommunication people.