I was deeply sorry to hear about the death of Peter Johnson. I have fond memories of the self-made businessman who, in my eyes, was ambitious, smart, confident and witty.

While the former-chairman was not without failings and mistakes – such as proposing ground moves to Aintree and then Cronton, signing Samways and Simonsen and, of course, introducing DJ Spuddles to the world, he invested his own money into the club via a rights issue, attracted several top footballers to Goodison, and lifted some silverware.

My recollections are captured in the following extracts from my books Everton Crazy and Everton Proud:


After years of depraved indifference, the club was teetering on the brink of insolvency when the self-proclaimed Red grabbed control. His coronation was a quiet affair on Merseyside. To the best of my knowledge, there were no street parties and banks, schools and post offices remained open. That said, it was rumoured that there was an extra public holiday in the Norwegian cities of Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim to allow his fellow Kopites to celebrate.

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Secretly, I was confident that the savvy Merseyside businessman would re-establish the secure foundations required to return Everton to the elite. He had worked miracles at Tranmere where, with the help of Johnny King – our former-player, he had guided them from the very foot of the old Fourth Division to the gates of the new Premier League. 

At Goodison, Johnson showed more ambition than the previous regime. After his hounds chased Mike Walker out of his lair, he made substantial headway by constructing the club’s Megastore and refurbishing the bridewell featured on the club’s badge. Of course, there was the small matter of him arranging for the funds to smash the club’s transfer fee record three times in consecutive years. He underwrote kitties of £40 million for Joe Royle to sign Daniel Amokachi, Duncan Ferguson, Andrei Kanchelskis, Gary Speed, Nick Barmby and Slaven Bilic and another £20 million for Walter Smith to attract Olivier Dacourt, Marco Materazzi, John Collins and Ibrahima Bakayoko. His greatest successes? He captured the FA Cup and the FA Charity Shield and – wait for it – decided not to sign mercenaries named Ravanelli and Muller. 

Still, many Blues remained unhappy. To them he was Agent Johnson. Peter Johnson and his faithful lieutenant Clifford Finch could do nothing right in the eyes of those who saw their reign littered with insensitivities. These included replacing ‘Z-Cars’ with ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’, evicting the supporters’ club, supplying season-tickets with red covers – I know, you couldn’t make it up – and planning to abandon Goodison. More important, the increasingly skeptical fans criticized his failure to attract a top manager to replace Joe Royle who had left after being prevented from signing Tore Andre Flo from Brann. The recruitment fiasco included a drawn-out rejection from experienced and accomplished Bobby Robson and a sharp snub from inexperienced and raw Andy Gray. 

By then, Johnson’s popularity was low. I received a poignant sign of his fall from grace in the most unlikely of locations – the Valley of the Kings. My wife and I were accosted in the Luxor souq by a young shopkeeper named Mr Happy who was wearing an Everton shirt. He offered the usual patter: ‘Come inside. Asda prices!’ I asked him which team he supported. He looked at me with polite puzzlement: ‘Mr Happy loves One & One.’ Next I enquired his source his fine article of clothing. After much reflection, he admitted to finding it in a rubbish bin. It seemed ironic. Since then I’ve wondered about the previous owner. I imagine that he was a young Blue from Merseyside who took his prized shirt on holiday and discarded it in disgust, possibly after discovering that the yellow, white and blue hoops were different to those worn by the players.

Throughout the 1997-98 season, the club was a laughing stock and hung on to its Premiership lifeline by goal difference. At that time, I was invited by Johnson to submit a proposal to reduce costs and enhance revenues as well as provide a strategic framework for longer-term operations. My approach involved a team of four diehard Blues, experts in legal, management, accounting and public relations issues, who would volunteer their time. Yes, for free. No consulting fees. No expense claims. No percentage of savings. The chairman embraced the idea but claimed to have received little, if any, support from his fellow directors of longer standing. I understand that one gentleman in particular – I’ll let you decide who – was suspicious of our intentions and asserted that my team lacked football experience. 

When Norman Jones, our mutual lawyer, and I dined with the new Everton chairman in Chester, I detected no preference towards the dark side of Stanley Park. That was until he asked me about my favourite goal. ‘Was it Alex Young’s header that won the title? Or was it Derek Temple’s shot that captured the FA Cup?’ I told him: ‘No, it’s the next one we score against the Reds’. He didn’t laugh. His muted riposte was surprising because he had been both charming and jovial all evening. Indeed, my lasting impression of Johnson is his ego confronting me about the caricature planned for inclusion in Gwladys Street’s Blue Book. Vainly he asked: ‘Did you have to make me look so bald and so fat?’ He blushed when Elizabeth responded: ‘Of course not. But I do think that it makes you look virile.’ The chairman countered: ‘Don’t worry; I’ll have the last laugh.’

In spite of the amount of hope invested in Johnson’s reign, it ended in controversy with the banks pounding on his door shortly before he sold our prized asset. On November 23, 1998, Johnson transferred Duncan Ferguson to Newcastle for a handsome fee but without the full knowledge of Walter Smith. To this day, I’ve wondered about the deal – especially since Smith and Ferguson had the same agent. I attended the match with Alex Young and remember Brian Labone greeting us in the Joe Mercer Suite: ‘We’ve sold the big man to reduce the overdraft.’ I assumed he was joking and waited for his punch-line. It never came. Alex was flabbergasted. No ambitious club sells its most popular player behind its manager’s back. 

After four tumultuous years, during which his personal fortune shrunk allegedly from £150 million down to £50 million, the Everton chairman resigned in late-1998 and, after another 12 months of negotiations, sold his controlling stake for £20 million to True Blue Holdings. Johnson returned to Prenton Park where Tranmere embarked on a dazzling cup run – eliminating several Premier League clubs – to reach the 2000 League Cup final. 

As for the last laugh? Johnson’s Tranmere side – including our former-players Paul Rideout and Graham Allen – humiliated Kenwright’s Everton in the fourth round of the FA Cup. It occurred on January 27 – now observed on the south bank of the River Mersey as St Yates Day. Surely, no Blues will disagree that Tranmere out-played their hosts and won deservedly thanks to two goals from Steve Yates and another from Jason Koumas. Vividly, I can visualize the scenes after Tranmere went 3-0 up. Their supporters sang loudly and danced wildly as the home fans headed for the exits. One chant reverberated around Goodison. It can’t be erased from my brain: ‘One Peter Johnson – there's only one Peter Johnson’. This unwanted giant-killing remains one of the most embarrassing afternoons I’ve experienced as an Evertonian.


Even though he was not every Evertonian’s cup of tea, Peter Johnson should be remembered for his meaningful contributions to the welfare of our club as well as Tranmere Rovers and his philanthropic support to many people throughout Merseyside.


Reader Comments (26)

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Gerry Quinn
1 Posted 11/01/2024 at 18:39:17
And again, another fascinating look behind the scenes of our very own Everton - another pat on the back, Doctor David...

However, what is a bridewell?

I looked it up and it states, quote: "a prison or reform school for petty offenders" - have I missed something when visiting Goodison, Doctor? :) Were you talking about Prince Rupert's Tower?

Will Mabon
2 Posted 11/01/2024 at 20:23:07
Gerry, the tower it was.

Johnson donated towards the refurbishment, 15 grand apparently.

Dave Abrahams
3 Posted 11/01/2024 at 20:24:15
Gerry (1),

Yes, David France is talking about Prince Rupert's Tower but there are other bridewells in Liverpool, one just off Dale Street where you spend the night for drunkenness, even if you were only tipsy and happy. It happened to me three times, I was guilty the fourth time, well over the eight but still happy.

There was another bridewell along the Dock Road going towards the South End, it became a restaurant, and a small one in Faulkner Square Gardens.

Derek Thomas
4 Posted 11/01/2024 at 21:34:33
Truth again being stranger than fiction.
Kieran Kinsella
5 Posted 11/01/2024 at 21:47:32
David,

Thanks for sharing that. I always thought it weird people objected to Johnson when various players have moved from the RS to Everton. When the money situation unraveled, those fans adopted an "I told you so" attitude.

Many were quick to jump on the bandwagon of the next owner/chairman simply because he was "Blue". That didn't turn out well.

Anyway, Johnson certainly made a success of Tranmere comparatively speaking. RIP.

Peter Mills
6 Posted 12/01/2024 at 07:32:12
A great read — thank you, Dr France.
Danny O’Neill
7 Posted 12/01/2024 at 09:01:43
Great recollections, David.

Some day soon, I'll write my own, although I don't think they'll be as informed as yours!

I commented on the other Peter Johnson thread and during his tenure, we did show ambition and bought some great players. But you mentioned some I didn't mention.

Dacourt was a great player, as was John Collins. This might seem a big shout, but for me, you could see instantly that Materazzi was destined for greater things.

The 1997-98 season still gives me shivers. And if the VAR had been around, we'd have been down with that Bolton "goal" earlier in the season.

Best goal? I'm going to be greedy and pick a few. Some not so obvious or spectacular. More symbolic.

Andy King. "Everton are magic" and the iconic green banner.

Graeme Sharp in the 1984 FA Cup final. Off the post. I've said before, but I still recall my Dad trying to scale the Wembley fence to get on the pitch and me wondering how I was going to get home if he succeeded. I can still see him on the footage.

Graeme Sharp at Anfield as we were marching to the league title.

Adrian Heath's volley in front of me in the Gwladys Street. Not so much for the goal itself, but the lobbed pass over the confused Norwich defence as Kevin Sheedy stood in front of them waiting for him to choose his moment.

Pat van den Hauwe's tap-in as we clinched the league.

Duncan Ferguson's header in the derby.

Jagielka (Anfield), Michael Keane (Tottenham) and when Mina slid that one in at the death at Wolves.

I could go on, but I'll stop there.

Thank you David for your insights.

Ray Roche
8 Posted 12/01/2024 at 09:11:30
Danny,

‘And if the VAR had been around, we'd have been down with that Bolton "goal" earlier in the season.'

Sorry, Danny, but you're wrong. If the VAR had been around, the clear foul on Southall immediately before the ball crossed the line would have led to a free-kick to us.

I can't believe the number of times posters have mentioned that ‘goal' and Catterick being ‘assaulted' at Blackpool. Both are complete and utter bollocks. I was there on both occasions, I know what I saw.

Roy Johnstone
9 Posted 12/01/2024 at 09:11:47
“A certain Director was suspicious of our intentions.” Wow.
Jerome Shields
10 Posted 12/01/2024 at 09:17:26
Peter Johnson took all the blame, but there where others at the club who did not help the situation, as Dr France has hinted at in this article.

After Joe Royle had won the FA Cup, there were a lot of contracts all ending together the following season. This gave Royle a lot of problems, which were part of the reason that he could not keep the momentum going.

Problems with contracts continue in the next Chairman's tenure after he moved up from being a Director during Johnson's tenure. He was particularly quiet when fans were jumping on the boot of Johnson's car.

Danny O’Neill
11 Posted 12/01/2024 at 09:19:49
The tone was a bit unnecessary, Ray.

We all see and interpret things as we see them and won't always agree.

I won't lower myself to the language on such a good article.

Alan J Thompson
12 Posted 12/01/2024 at 10:39:04
Perhaps somebody could confirm or otherwise the story about some Everton dignitaries including the Chairman visiting various clubs to see how they had gone about building or improving their stadiums.

On one occasion, they were in Spain, I think it was, and on this occasion, Joe Royle was present when they were having dinner with Big Phil Scholari.

When Joe went to the bathroom, Scholari was offered the Everton Manager's job which, to his credit, he declined on the basis he didn't like the way they had gone about it although he later said it was because they couldn't put together a decent amount for transfers.

Danny O’Neill
13 Posted 12/01/2024 at 10:58:00
I'm not sure if if was during Peter Johnson's tenure, Alan, but I do believe Everton leadership did visit other European clubs.

As many know, I follow Schalke, and read reports of Everton apparently consulting them when they built the Veltins Arena, which has a retractable roof and a retractable pitch.

I don't know if the club has planned for that, but considering the location of Bramley-Moore Dock, the elements coming off the Mersey and I imagine using the stadium for other means (concerts etc), it would be / have been a good idea.

Ray Roche
14 Posted 12/01/2024 at 11:15:03
Danny @11,

Unfortunately, Danny, the written word can't necessarily relate the tone one intends. Apologies if it upset you, as for being upset by the ‘language', you must have hated it in my seat in the Street End!!

No offence was intended.

Danny O’Neill
15 Posted 12/01/2024 at 11:25:09
It's fine Ray. I have thick skin!

No offence taken.

It's always the same online. When we are in a pub or at the match, discussion can get heated, but we're all Evertonians and friends!

You want to read some of the messages I get off family and friends!!!

Dave Cashen
16 Posted 12/01/2024 at 12:06:06
"I'll let you decide who".

Come on, David?

I enjoyed reading your piece, I always do. You give such fascinating insight as to the inner machinations of the club. However. Having told us most of the story. I can't help feeling it was slightly mischievous of you to invite to "make up our own minds".

When invited to draw your own conclusions, the tendency is to jump to the obvious one, but you have been very open and frank here. I can't help wondering, if it was that obvious. Why would you leave it hanging there?

Don Alexander
18 Posted 13/01/2024 at 00:53:59
An interesting post by a mega-revered fan with fabulous liaison with people and facts at the time – the second half of the 1990s.

Even back then, Kenwright came across as the self-serving, sleazy shit he forever had been and remained, regardless of the cost to our club.

Jeff Armstrong
19 Posted 13/01/2024 at 22:51:42
Spot on, Ray #8, as to being pulled up about your language… fucking bollocks, who the fuck appointed him as the language copper??
Ray Roche
20 Posted 13/01/2024 at 23:17:25
Jeff, I've been pulled up about my language before, when I was practising my French... Danny's a mate, there's no effin' problem.

he's had my Gwladys Street ticket before, and the lad in the next seat to me has taken profanity to the next level so it's no more than banter!!
Mike Gaynes
21 Posted 14/01/2024 at 02:36:57
No one writes this history quite like Dr Everton. Always a pleasure to see his work here.

And on my bookshelf for late nights when I'm worried about the next day's game.

Like tonight.

Matt Traynor
22 Posted 14/01/2024 at 03:45:47
Dave #16, no need to be bashful, and I suspect Dr France is showing a modicum of respect for another recently departed former Chairman.

The man who never had the money to buy Everton, but in the original leveraged buyout (before the Glazers at Man Utd) took over the club, which then saw an immediate rise in debt equal to the amount paid for it.

Whilst I have sympathy for his family and friends – and I know many on here admired and defended him – he (in my opinion) always did what was best for him, not the club. And sadly I think the opportunities missed will never present themselves again, certainly not in most of our lifetimes.

Tom Cannon
23 Posted 14/01/2024 at 22:37:47
I was part of the group involving Bill Kenwright who challenged Peter for ownership and control of Everton. Peter was a quality person whose only real failing was being a red nose. He was the last owner to win a trophy. It was always a pleasure to deal with him and there was alway a sense that he knew what he was doing and had a real sense of purpose. He wanted Everton to do well and certainly didn’t see it as a vanity project … as some did and do. A real loss for the region, the city and our club … RIP lovely man
Brendan McLaughlin
24 Posted 14/01/2024 at 22:49:51
Interesting Tom #23

So what's your take on Bill Kenwright?

David France
25 Posted 16/01/2024 at 22:44:09
Professor Tom…

Thank you for your kind words about Peter. Also, I sincerely believe that we wouldn't be in such disarray if you and Tony T had been added to the board some 20-odd years ago.

Tom Cannon
26 Posted 17/01/2024 at 20:27:33
Brendan, difficult but fair question.

I am roughly the same age. Roughly 10 years ago, I advised him to retire as Chair, become President and disengage from an active role into a day-to-day operations, handing over to a younger, more local person.

I repeated the advice several times. I wish for him as well as the club he'd taken that advice. Sometimes the more remarkable the person, the harder they find it to give up something they love … even if they should.

Brendan McLaughlin
27 Posted 17/01/2024 at 20:45:40
Tom #26,

You obviously knew Bill well enough to be in a position to offer him such sound, if unwelcome for him, advice. It is indeed a matter of regret that he didn't heed that advice.

Thanks for taking the time to reply and keep well.


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