This Week – 24 Years Ago

While Everton were playing Newcastle on a Monday night, moves were afoot off the pitch that would see Duncan Ferguson sold to the Magpies in controversial fashion by then Blues owner, Peter Johnson

David Hardman 28/11/2022 15comments  |  Jump to last

Four years on from the Monday night game that announced Duncan Ferguson’s place at Everton, another Monday night game would mark his departure. No-one knew it at the time. In fact, Ferguson didn’t even feature in the match.

After so many 0-0 draws punctuated with the odd away win kept them mid-table, Everton were now flirting with the relegation zone again after losing 3 matches in a row before the visit of Newcastle, and, just like 4 years earlier, found themselves entering November without a home win.

Of even greater concern was their inability to score in the league at home – something they only managed for the first time on Halloween and even then, they lost 1-4.

They were awarded a penalty in the first half of this match, Carl Serrant tripping Don Hutchison, but a penalty by no means signalled that a goal was likely. In less than a year before this game, Speed, Hutchison himself, Barmby, and most recently, new signing John Collins, had all failed from the spot. And, just for good measure, they lost a penalty shoot-out to Sunderland in the league cup just 12 days before this game.

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Michael Ball, though, had successfully converted his last effort at Middlesbrough, and he made now mistake here. And that was enough. 1-0 to Everton. First home win. Onwards and upwards blues.

No.

As the match ended, rumours were already circulating that Newcastle were discussing taking Duncan Ferguson back with them.

The next day, these rumours turned out to be true. When being interviewed that evening (or maybe on the Wednesday evening), Walter Smith quite matter-of-factly stated that none of the proceeds from this sale would be available to him. Perhaps somebody can confirm this for me – was Graeme Sharp the co-presenter on the Radio City phone in back then? I remember listening to it that night, and whoever the ex-player was, he was incredulous with that revelation. If it was Graeme Sharp, well, that’s extremely ironic.

That Saturday, November 28th, Everton travelled to newly promoted Charlton. Any other time, the focus would have been on it potentially being a relegation 6 pointer, and on Carl Tiler facing Everton so soon after leaving. Tiler was one of those players who excelled in the 2nd tier but never quite made the step up to the top flight. Charlton’s decision to purchase him may have been a pragmatic one, in that, if they stayed up, it would be a few hundred grand well spent, and if they did get relegated, Tiler’s ability and experience at that level should help them bounce straight back.

In a parting shot, Tiler had comments about how Charlton could finish above Everton that season.

 In the circumstances, though, the travelling fans were more concerned in making their “we want Johnson out” heard, while the external focus was on how the team would react to the unexpected departure of their captain.

Danny Cadamarteri opened the scoring in the first half, slotting into an empty net after their goalkeeper Sasa Ilic made the poor decision to charge out of his box. In the 2nd half, Bakayoko produced what would be an all too rare display of skill and penetration, his dribble into the Charlton box seeing him brought down for a penalty. Ball stepped up again, but this time his effort was tame and Ilic went some way to making up for his earlier error, as he saved and smothered the ball easily. Just when we thought they’d found an answer to their penalty woes. And the miss looked to have greater significance when Charlton equalised, Mark Kinsella’s free kick creeping into the far post.

Minutes later, though, Ilic practically handed Everton another goal as he failed to deal with a high ball, and in the scamble that followed, Cadamarteri capitalised again, this time with a powerful near post finish in front of the travelling fans. The match finished 2-1 to the blues.

While his old team were winning at Charlton, Duncan Ferguson scored twice on his debut as Newcastle beat Wimbledon 3-1.

Everton’s financial predicament could have had much further reaching consequences. Ferguson’s arrival at Newcastle fuelled speculation about the future of Alan Shearer, out of form and reportedly unsettled under Ruud Gullit’s management at the time. The club he’d helped to the title, Blackburn, had recently sacked Roy Hodgson and there was even talk of Shearer returning as player-manager there, even though he was only 28. So much of this is only coming back to me as I’m typing this – I can now remember him being a guest in the studio for Liverpool’s game against Blackburn the day after our win at Charlton, where he dismissed all this speculation and reaffirmed his commitment to Newcastle.

Given the enormity of the story during the preceeding week, the possible impact it could have had on the future England’s number 9, and that none of their red cartel darlings of Man Utd, Liverpool and Arsenal were playing that Saturday, you’d think Match of the Day would make Everton and Newcastle featured games. Instead, both games were only shown during their goals round-up at the end. Goodness knows which games they focussed on instead.

Epilogue

Charlton were relegated that season while Everton survived, but they bounced back immediately, and for 3 of their next 4 seasons after promotion, they would indeed finish above Everton, ultimately proving Carl Tiler right, although the centre back barely featured upon Charlton’s return to the top division, and was loaned to Birmingham and then sold to Portsmouth before their first full season back was over, so he never got to look down on his former club.

I don’t think Duncan Ferguson scored for Newcastle again that season, but he would have his moments for them in 1999-00, not least that screamer against Man United in a 3-0 win.

Alan Shearer would stay at Newcastle until he retired from playing almost 8 years later. Within a year of buying Big Dunc, Ruud Gullit would be gone. Within 2 years, Ferguson would be back at Everton. Just like at Newcastle, he would score a brace on his home debut, and then not score again for several months. The opponents when Ferguson made that goalscoring Goodison return? Charlton Athletic!

With Shearer staying put, Blackburn went for the highly rated Brian Kidd as manager. He failed to arrest the slide and they were relegated that season, again to Everton’s benefit, but like Charlton, they soon bounced back, with Graham Souness helping them re-establish themselves in the Premier League, winning the League Cup in 2002 and then pipping Everton to the final European place in the league in 2003.

As for the financial future of Everton....The outcry at the sell-to-survive sale of Duncan Ferguson made Peter Johnson’s position untenable, and before the next home game (yet another 0-0 draw, this time though a quite credible one against title chasing Chelsea), he’d stepped down as chairman and put the club up for sale. Bill Kenwright and Phillip Carter stepped in while the ownership issue was resolved, which wouldn’t happen for more than a year.

I’ll leave you though to compare and contrast the reaction in November 1998 to the reaction, or lack of it, when numerous players have been sold under the current chairman, often with none of the proceeds being available to the manager. Only the summer just gone, the sale of Richarlison was rushed through – although believed to be forced by the need to comply with FFP rules rather than the clubs survival, the need to sell would still have been caused by financial mismanagement.

And all with Graeme Sharp looking on.

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Reader Comments (15)

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Don Alexander
1 Posted 30/11/2022 at 00:35:28
Dave Abrahams made a comment on the Mansfield Town thread a little while ago, commenting on his surprise that his routine telephone call to our club today, for information on acquiring tickets for a match, had actually been answered by our Director-Without-Portfolio, Graeme Sharp.

Dave said, in terms, that he'd been surprised by this.

I just want to assure Dave that I'm not surprised.

As the above article exemplifies to me, in the final paragraph particularly (and to many others I hope), we had the canker we still have in control of us way more than 20 years ago.

And yet we mostly whinge about managers, players and systems whilst all the while the canker remains, now exceptionally wealthy on our back.

Are we stupid or what?

Dave Abrahams
2 Posted 03/12/2022 at 13:15:24
Don (1), I wasn’t really surprised when Sharp answered the phone, he’ll do anything he’s told by his puppet master and has done for a good twenty years, he’s clever enough to have his real opinions on how Everton are run but keeps them to himself, unlike Neville Southall he has never been his own man but pays lip service to fans and says what he knows what will keep his paymaster happy, Snodin is the same, it keeps them in a well paid job and realistically I suppose many would do the same, not for me, I’ve lost jobs being myself when keeping quiet would have done me more good.
Martin Reppion
3 Posted 07/12/2022 at 11:18:23
I remember being in the Mons with people telling me Duncan was joining Newcastle. I told them that was crap.

I've read many autobiographies from players and journalists from that time, and it seems that Walter Smith was stitched up good and proper by Peter Johnson. As had been Joe Royle previously.

It is strange to think that when Bill Kenwright first tried to buy the club from the Moores family, he was outbid by a couple of million by Johnson, who bled the club dry before selling it for 10 times what he'd bought it for.

I honestly think that, if Kenwright had been successful first time round, the club would have been, and would be, in a better position than what we have seen.

Michael Kenrick
4 Posted 07/12/2022 at 11:35:03
Martin,

I like the narrative that it was the kopite Johnson who stitched us up and that, without him, the reign of Blue Bill would have been all roses.

But I'd be interested to hear how you would substantiate the details there – especially the bit where he "bled the club dry" and that he "sold the club for 10 times what he'd bought it for"?

Martin Reppion
5 Posted 07/12/2022 at 11:51:14
As I remember it. This is without the benefit of looking up the old articles. There were several bidders interested in buying from the Moores family. They naturally wanted the most money and a quick sale. The price being quoted at the time was £10-15million. Football hadn't yet exploded into the cash cow it became. Johnson had the funds to outbid his rivals.

As for bleeding it dry. The Steve Simonsen deal, although it didn't cost us the reported £3.5m as we never had to pay all the add-ons in the contract, was a blatant attempt to use Everton money to fund Tranmere Rovers. He was never going to be a top-flight keeper though.

Other transfer dealings were a mix of vanity buys and desperation sales that left managers without funds to build properly.

I can't blame him. If I'd have been able to buy Liverpool FC at the time, they'd be in the National League by now and playing Friday nights at Prenton Park.

When he eventually was forced to sell the club, the prices of clubs in general had gone (quite literally) sky high. The figure I remember is around £100-150 million.

Dave Prentice's book has plenty in about this sad time at the club. As do several others from around that time.

Clive Rogers
6 Posted 07/12/2022 at 12:05:34
I understood at the time that Johnson sold the club for the same amount that he paid for it, £20M.
Michael Boardman
7 Posted 07/12/2022 at 12:26:22
I worked in Liverpool at the time of Johnson, and I saw Kenwright and Johnson going down the escalators at St Johns around the time they were "feuding", following a few pints after work. They seemed pretty happy with each other if I'm honest (and they weren't heading into the all-you-can-eat Chinese either)
Dave Abrahams
8 Posted 07/12/2022 at 12:29:08
Clive (6),

That’s exactly how remember the sale of Everton by Johnson to Kenwright but the details of how Kenwright paid for the club are a bit of a mystery.

I’ve read Dave Prentice’s book, he wasn’t fussy on Johnson but got by with him, in the end, drinking on his yacht, he had quite a lot of nice things to say about Kenwright – and guess where he’s working now?

I had a lot of time for Dave, used to speak to him quite often on the phone about the Blues and found him to be a good Evertonian and very easy to talk to.

Clive Rogers
9 Posted 07/12/2022 at 15:59:27
Dave, 8,

My understanding was that the four members of True Blue Holdings paid £5M each, but Kenwright’s £5M was loaned to him by Paul Gregg. He had to pay him back when they fell out over King’s Dock and that’s when Robert Earl got involved. All very murky from then on.

Michael Kenrick
10 Posted 07/12/2022 at 22:51:39
I did try to work out the profit Johnson made back then but it was made more complex by the share trading and right issues that went on.

I concluded that he probably put in close to £20M overall, and that TBH paid him around £20M, as Clive @6 says. So I think saying he sold for 10 times what he paid is way off the mark.

It's true that he wanted a lot more for his shares initially and Kenwright basically beat him down over a long period when no-one else showed any interest in buying the club.

I agree that the Steve Simonsen deal was very dubious. But I'm just not sure that constitutes bleeding the club dry.

Don Alexander
11 Posted 07/12/2022 at 23:54:52
Dave (#2) me too, career-wise, when it came to telling the unarguable truth (my bent adversary paid up in full rather than be exposed to the public), but I don't regret a thing.

Don't let the bastards grind you down is my motto, and in the dying words of Frederick Douglass, a 19th century American slave who transformed himself into a massively effective orator on civil liberties, when asked by a young earnest man what he, the young man, should do to achieve beneficial change across the board was told by the great man;

"AGITATE, AGITATE, AGITATE"!

You, and so many of us don't need that worthy advice by hopefully more Toffees will now pile on the agitation.

Brendan McLaughlin
12 Posted 08/12/2022 at 11:28:17
Ha ha Don #11

Very apt in the circumstances...

"when asked by a young earnest man what he, the young man, should do to achieve beneficial change across the board "

Tony Abrahams
13 Posted 09/12/2022 at 10:02:15
Martin@5, when you say that you would have tried to do the same thing as Peter Johnson, if you was in charge of Liverpool, this is exactly what I personally think that Bill Kenwright has cleverly done whilst being in charge of Everton, mate.

Let’s face it, if you took over a premier league club, and still owned them whilst they were playing non-league football on a Friday night, you would have lost an absolute fortune, and this is where I think Bill Kenwright has been clever.

Kenwright has made a fortune, whilst managing the decline of plucky little Everton, and obviously done a job, that most Liverpudlians would have been really proud to do.

Dave Abrahams
14 Posted 12/12/2022 at 09:53:45
Clive (9),

Sorry a bit late with reply to your post, I never realised that Kenwright bought Everton with three other investors which makes his involvement even more benificial to him seeing how his initial investment was paid with a loan from Paul Gregg and then it gets really murky in how that loan was repaid.

It would make a good West End play the way Kenwright took over Everton, especially with The Mousetrap coming to the end of its very long run!!

Jim Lloyd
15 Posted 12/12/2022 at 11:25:54
I think it was Mrs Gregg that "lent" him the money, but it was the Greggs. Don't know where re-mortgaging the house came from. Dave (2) same here; hangers-on will nearly always find a way into a little snug post.

It was weird about the news of Ferguson being sold. The meter-man told me when he came to read the meters. He said he'd just been up to Goodison to read the meters up there and had been told Ferguson was going up to Newcastle that day!!

I went the match in the night time... no Ferguson! I told the fellers round me what I'd heard. It flew round! I think if it had been news earlier in the day, there'd have been a riot.

There seemed to me to be something distinctly dodgy: Robert Earl, our great supporter "Rambo", our "Good Friend" Sir Philip Green, and that sunny Caribbean island that always sent us money. Bent as a nine bob note.


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