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Lies, lies and damned rumours
Rob Fox tries to put his arms around everything that has happened in the 8 days or so since the season ended..

25 May 2004

Its all got very interesting lately, hasnt it?  The natives have certainly been getting restless and understandably so.  Its not nice finishing 4th from bottom and getting spanked by our nearest rivals on the final day.  Sack the Board!  Thatll do the trick...

Personally, Im surprised it has come to this.  My view is that the horrible impotent feeling of being unable to comprehend what has happened on the pitch this season has needed an outlet.  Most people are behind Moyes; we all accept shipping out players is easier said than done, so who does that leave?  Ah, yes: the Board.

Suddenly, the supporters are galvanising themselves into action, with meetings in the Bluehouse and the formation of Evertonians for Change.  Nothing wrong with that.  If nothing else, the growing unrest at least seems to have elicited a response from Bill Kenwright which may or may not put a lid on some of the rumour-, nay scare-mongering that has been sweeping pubs and messageboards of late.  Now, Im new to message boards, but they are fascinating as any statement made or rumour posted grows arms and legs and is terrorising old people at bus stops before you can say But its his first post; maybe its a kopite winding us up?

So what is the problem?  Nil Satis Nisi Optimum that is the problem.  Although I have found myself being critical of some fellow blues lately, I do believe our history and being (predominantly) scousers makes us unique.  At times it makes us a bit too cool for school.  Singing and chanting?  Nah, not us.  In many ways we are anathema to modern football; we simply dont fit Skys criteria for being modern supporters.

Evertonians are born not manufactured, we did not choose we are chosen,
Those who understand need no explanation, those that dont, dont matter.

Sums it up for me, a supporter.  While others sing and dance when 5-1 down, we scowl and go off in a huff.  Personally, I think thats how it should be.  I think it hurts us being 4th from bottom a lot more than it would have hurt City.  Because of our history, because of our motto.  Now if I were Bill Kenwright, Id make sure everyone on the Board lived up to that,  But how?

Lets be honest none of those, for want of a better word, sound-bites are much use in our current position.  So, I think Ill cut out the emotional stuff, and analyse whats been happening lately.  Yes, this is where it gets either really boring or really interesting: you decide.

First off, as I write, it is the day after the Lee Clayton World Exclusive in the Sunday People.  This article is interesting in that it is printed as a statement of fact.  Everton deny it, which leads to only two possibilities: either Bill Kenwright is telling lies; or Lee Clayton has been misinformed / made it up.  Surely, then this is a case where Everton could actually take legal action if they so desired.  I would not want to advocate this, but maybe if a football club were to take this unprecedented step, it might stop this sort of thing happening.  Or maybe theres no smoke without fire?

Whatever the truth, it is frustrating for us as supporters and also, I presume, for the club.  Having looked at Kenwrights responses to the questions asked, it comes down to one simple issue: either you believe him or you dont.  As far as I can see, the only reason for Bill to be telling lies is sheer panic. 

Whilst not an expert on financial management, I do realise that when looking to stabilise and regenerate growth in an institution that has been losing money, there is no quick fix.  The crux of the matter is whether or not the changes that Bill talks about are the result of careful planning over time or a last desperate throw of the dice in response to our dreadful finish to the season.  If it is the former, it is highly unlikely that Bill is lying; if it is the latter, then who knows?  Desperate times do indeed bring desperate measures and, if Bill knows time is running out for him, then a few white lies wont make a lot of difference.

In situations like this, people tend to make a judgement based on instinct then find the evidence to support their instinct.  The stated aim of Evertonians For Change is as follows: The purpose of EfC will be to force a public debate on the state of Everton Football Club in short, to force those in power to answer for themselves.  As a natural skeptic, my instinct is to analyze their motives and aims.  Now, their motives are clear: they are concerned Evertonians who are fed up with feeling impotent.  Their aim is as stated above.  There is absolutely nothing untoward in this; I only hope that they remember their aims and retain an open mind rather than embark on a witch-hunt.  So far, the response has been a typically impassioned prepared statement by Bill Kenwright on behalf of the Board.  Before I analyse this, I think we need to rewind to when I believe things began to come to a head.

On the 17 April 2004, Everton ground out an uninspiring but crucial goalless draw with Chelsea.  Now, lets be honest, the vast majority of Evertonians felt we secured our Premiership status for another season on that day.  Not mathematically, but as good as...  Dont forget, bearing in mind we stopped playing with four games to go, we still finished 6 points clear of relegation.  At this point, most people were still talking of top-half finishes.  Since that point David Moyes, and the majority of Evertons supporters, have parted spiritual company with some (most?) of his ageing, underachieving squad.  Whilst Moyes was talking of league positions and pride, most of his squad were clearly thinking of summer holidays, chatting to their agents, building flats, modelling designer suits with matching hair bands and promoting Mark Morrisons comeback album.  Harsh, but almost certainly true.  The humiliation at Eastlands was simply the final nail in the coffin and, lets face it, whoever we played would have had a goal-fest that day.  As each of those final four games passed, the mood turned uglier, culminating in the Geordie-esque Sack the Board chant.

My point here is that, despite the dismal end, we are not necessarily relegation fodder next season.  The problem at present is that Moyes seems to have forced the issue with his players, seemingly burning his bridges with some of them.  Perhaps this, more than anything else, has resulted in Kenwright desperately searching under the couch for loose change.  Some may criticise Moyess man-management skills for upsetting his players.  Others, myself included, would applaud his stance risky though it may appear.  My take is that Moyes is the type who will simply push everybody around him, players and Board alike, to strive for the highest standards possible.

Fortunately, Kenwright recognises this in his manager and is willing to trust his judgement and indulge his wishes as much as he possibly can.  There is little doubt Moyes has gone out on a limb, but it has probably strengthened his own position, particularly with the majority of supporters.  Whether he is extremely canny and is belligerent enough to convince the people who matter to back him or simply has an inability to veer from being honest is a matter for debate.  I suspect the former.  I also suspect he knew exactly what he was doing when he described Everton as the Peoples Club.

Since the season ended, speculation has been rife and the supporters have been mobilising.  Wayne Rooney has been sold; Moyes has been given only 1.5M to rebuild; and Mark Morrison is No 1 in the charts.  Sorry, had a Father Dougal moment there... 

In actual fact, Wayne Rooney is still an Everton player; David Moyes is still the manager and will have AT LEAST 5M to spend on players.  Unless Kenwright is lying, that is how it will remain.  If anything, it is increasingly likely Moyes will have more than 5M to spend on players.  In addition, for those who didnt notice in the melee, we have signed youngster Bjarni Thor Vidarsson and are set to sign Danny Szetela.  No, I wont pretend to have seen either of them play, but they are seemingly hot properties and I for one was more excited over these captures than a dubious bid for Alan Smith.  This is the one cloud over Kenwrights performance so far, but Im sure Moyes wouldnt have bid if he felt it was a smokescreen.  Unless hes as gullible as me which I doubt.

One more signing on the horizon is that of Trevor Birch.  Again, the consensus is that this man is excellent at his job, although the conspiracy theorists point to his Red Adair-like qualities.  My instinct is that this is a good move for Everton... with a niggling worry as to whether it does actually mean we are in even worse trouble than we thought.   However, as an optimist, I will plump for the view that he is being brought in for his ability to attract investment, which Bill has stated he is actively trying to do; his professionalism in an area in which we are sadly lacking; and the fact he was available. 

Dunford has few supporters, so I cant see that anyone can really argue against this appointment.  Is the appointment a knee-jerk one?  Or is the imminent running out of Dunfords contract the predominant factor in its timing?  Again, Ill go for the latter, simply because thats my instinct and I want to believe that.  Easy this analysis lark isnt it?  Seriously, I remain open-minded about this.  Time will tell. 

Similarly, the explanation that Andy Hosies first year as Marketing Manager was spent assessing the clubs needs would explain the lack of obvious action.  So, presumably the opening of a city centre outlet is a result of his carefully deliberated conclusions and development of an astute business plan, and not a desperate attempt to bring in revenue quickly.  Again, it comes down to what you want to believe.

So, what other information can we glean in coming to our own conclusions as to what has been happening at Goodison Towers in the last 12 months?  Perhaps the most significant development during True Blue Holdings reign has been the consolidation of the debt.

Debt has been a problem at Everton for a good few years now and Kenwright inherited a club already in debt.  When Howard Kendall resigned in 1993, Dr David Marsh was cast as Ebeneezer Scrooge.  The choice of most fans was Peter Johnson as he had money (which Kenwright didnt) to plough into transfer funds.  We duly smashed our own transfer record on several occasions. Success was fleeting and Johnson was cast as the villain when things started to go wrong and suddenly his Kopite past was the only thing of relevance.  Good old Walter forced the evil Hamperman out; cuddly Uncle Bill rode into town to restore order and make sure EFC was in blue hands again, even if his pockets were now empty.

Maybe Kenwright should have received more backing first time around.  And oh how we rejoiced.  Be honest: we all did.  And along the way Walker, Royle, Kendall and Smith brought in players who flopped or would have failed medicals for a Saga holiday while we tied up ageing players on long-term contracts.  Now, fair's fair: we have made profits on some deals and sold many of our homegrown players at huge profits. 

Overall, though, I think its fair to say the majority of players, if you consider transfer fees and wages compared to league placings, have failed to provide value for money.  How many money spinning cup runs have we embarked on since 1995?  Ultimately, the blame for this needs to, partially at least, lay with the respective managers.  It seems harsh to blame the Board for backing the managers judgement.  Having said that, Im not sure if anyone knows who actually brokered the Bilic deal or why Smith was allowed to blow 5M shortly before being sacked.

The Bear Stearns deal is similar in terms to a mortgage.  Which means that, so long as we meet the annual repayments, the bank are in no position to interfere with the running of the Club.  Logically, it follows that, if David Moyes chose to sell Wayne Rooney,  the proceeds would be used at the discretion of the Club. 

Now, a bit of sanity and clarity is required here.  Assuming I am right, it is the clubs decision whether to keep or sell Rooney, which means the responsibility lies ultimately with the manager and the Board, both of whom have been pretty unequivocal in their stance.  It could be said that Kenwright has backed himself into a corner.  Clearly Mr Clayton got his information from somewhere (Im assuming he didnt just make the story up).  If it didnt come from Everton and is in fact untrue then someone is being mischievous and trying to test Evertons resolve.  Kenwright responded by reinforcing Evertons position.

Lets suppose that later this week Manchester Utd formally offer 40M + four players totally out of the blue.  Even if Kenwright and Moyes felt it was a good deal for Everton Football Club, Bill would be unable to accept it and retain any credibility whatsoever with any Everton fan.  The only way to broker the deal would be for Moyes to come forward and say it was entirely his decision, which would then precipitate the need for the majority of the 40M to be made available to Moyes for players to save Bills credibility. 

Alternatively we could issue the following statement: Everton have today received a substantial offer from Manchester United for Wayne Rooney.  We have reluctantly agreed to the deal, which will net us 40M cash, plus four United players.  However, for the deal to go through we must insist that the four players are Cristiano Ronaldo, Darren Fletcher, John OShea and Wes Brown.  That should have the desired effect.

Now I assume Bill realises this and isnt just being bullish about Rooney staying otherwise he is heading for big trouble.  For the majority of Everton fans, Wayne Rooney is viewed as pivotal to Evertons future.  Whilst I firmly believe we should keep him, it should be remembered that we support Everton, not Wayne Rooney.  The argument from some Everton fans that they are waiting to see what happens with Rooney before deciding whether to renew is something I cant understand or relate to.  Last night I watched highlights of the FA Trophy Final and to see Hednesford fans in club shirts celebrating madly makes us look a bit spoilt if our loyalty relies on whether we retain one particular player.  Some people seem to think that if we sell Rooney we will automatically be relegated next season.  Whilst this is not necessarily true, even if it were, it spotlights a strange brand of loyalty in my eyes.

So far I have made it sound as though we should just blindly support the Club and be passive in our relationship with the Club.  This is not my intention but I just felt the need to redress the balance slightly.  If Evertonians for Change, or any other supporters group, wish to be effective, then they need to retain a view of the bigger picture.  When Tony Blair was leader of the opposition, his job was easy.  All he had to do was criticise the Tories and promise the earth if he got into power.  The reality of course is somewhat different.  At present Evertonians for Change appear to be refraining from providing alternative answers and simply focusing on pressurising the Board to be more accountable to the fans.

For the time being, I think weve had as much information as we are going to get.  Kenwrights answers at least showed an awareness of our situation and he does seem to be actively pursuing a number of options to raise investment.  Whilst rumours of takeover bids being ignored crop up regularly, nobody has ever substantiated them.  I hate to mention that lot, but Steve Morgan was upfront about wanting to invest.  Surely, a blue equivalent would have no reason to remain in the shadows and further damage the clubs reputation?

The challenge for Evertonians for Change and indeed for all Blues is to continue to ask questions but make sure we listen to the answers.  For example, Bill Kenwrights assertion that a rights issue is a possibility but at present would preclude us from exploring other avenues of investment could be easily disproved if it were untrue.  There are plenty of amateur financial experts amongst the Evertonians who have been outspoken recently, and several professional ones also.  Now is the time to highlight any discrepancies in Bills comments.  A number of Evertonians have openly declared that a share issue is the only way forward for Everton Football Club, thus running the risk of painting themselves into a corner.

Keep looking at the whole picture.  Are there other avenues?  Bill seems to think so; either PROVE him wrong or actually listen to what he says.  So far, the only apparent discrepancy highlighted by anyone was regarding Paul Greggs motives for investment in Everton.  Some supporters have grasped onto this as proof that everything Bill has said was barefaced lies to cover up what is really happening.  You may be right, personally Id prefer to have some real evidence to work with.

Clearly a number of mistakes have been made in the past and the Club could have been run a lot more professionally over the years.  However, there are signs that the Club is at last moving into the 21st Century.  Only time will tell if this is the case.  In the mean time keep asking questions and applying pressure, but lets all listen to the answers and respond logically and unemotionally.  Maybe, the time may come when there is mutual trust between Club and supporters and Nil Satis Nisi Optimum may actually mean something again.

In the meantime, keep the faith.  One thing seems clear and that is that we are in for a busy and potentially momentous summer.  Now, just make sure you dont forget to renew your season tickets in all the excitement.  Apologies to those who have been priced out by the increases, but I think that is more of a football problem than an Everton problem.  Never lose sight of the bigger picture.  The names may change, but Everton will remain.

Rob Fox

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