Bill Kenwright, CBE
Everton FC Director, 1989 - present
Everton FC Vice-Chairman, 1998 - 2003
Everton FC Chairman, 2003 - present
One-time small-part actor on Coronation Street, now a nationally renowned theatre impresario, Kenwright is a life-long Evertonian who led a successful takeover over the club in 1999, five years after his first consortium was edged out by the superior financial muscle of his predecessor at the Goodison helm, Peter Johnson.
He was first elected to the Everton Board of Directors on 23 October, 1989 but succeeded in buying Everton when Johnson was persuaded to sell his controlling stake in the face of mounting opposition to his regime from supporters and the local press.
Kenwright initially struggled to orchestrate the buyout of his disillusioned nemesis, the affair dragging on for many months, but in concert with personal friend, Paul Gregg, a controlling interest in Everton was purchased through a holding company, True Blue Holdings (TBH). Bill initially decided to take the title Vice-President and installed former supremo, Sir Philip Carter, as Chairman but eventually took the helm himself in 2004 when Carter became Life President until his passing in 2015.
From 1 June 2004, the power of TBH control on the Board was consolidated when Sir Philip Carter and Keith Tamlin stood down, leaving a compact entity of just four directors — three of them prime investors in TBH — with Bill to steer the ship as the new Chairman. TBH actually owned the vast majority of ordinary stock in Everton FC Co Ltd until it was dissolved in 2005. Shares held in TBH by the key parties were then converted to Everton FC shares.
The changes came on the back of a highly public spat between Kenwright and Gregg, ostensibly due to differences over how to move the Kings Dock project forward. The project was ultimately scuppered by an unmanageable rise in Everton's required financial commitment to the development, with Bill rejecting Gregg's last-ditch attempt to save the project via a reverse mortgage scheme that the latter argued was the only way the club's winning proposal could move forward. The scheme collapsed and an alternate plan to build the Echo Arena was developed instead.
The schism was complete when Gregg as forced off the Board, persuaded to sell his stake in the club to another Kenwright friend in the form of entertainment mogul, Robert Earl, of Planet Hollywood fame. Earl bought the Gregg family shares for around £9m in October 2006. This was the breakthrough for Kenwright, who could finally run the Club as he wanted to, unhindered by the opposition of his former friend.
Though Kenwright's tenure as Chairman would see much-needed stability on the pitch under his personal appointment, David Moyes, the club's financial footing was gradually eroded as the Board battled to keep the team competitive on the increasingly un-level playing field of the Premier League. While the club had net assets of £20m when True Blue Holdings acquired Johnson's shares, years of outsourcing and the sale of assets saw net liabilities mushroom to upwards of £90m by 2014.
The club's Bellefield training ground was sold for £9m but the proceeds were sunk into reducing Everton's overdraft while land acquired in Halewood on which a new training academy and facility were built was sold as well, with the club taking on a 99-year lease of the property. Meanwhile, Earl initially agreed to underwrite loans required for player purchases like Ayegbeni Yakubu in 2007 before a less transparent rolling loan facility was opened with a Vibrac Corporation registered in the British Virgin Islands.
2007 also saw the announcement of Everton's part in a proposed £400m retail and leisure development in neighbouring Knowsley Borough. Led by supermarket giant Tesco, the Destination Kirkby regeneration project promised to transform the town while also providing a brand new, purpose-built stadium for Everton FC. The proposal eventually collapsed, however, when it was called in by the sitting Labour Government.
Everton's part in Destination Kirkby and the dubious enabling component promised by Tesco was met with robust opposition from fan groups like Keep Everton In Our City (KEIOC) members of which, in concert with like-minded fan activists, would continue to use their voice at the club's Annual and Extraordinary General Meetings to challenge the Kenwright Board over its financial performance at Everton's helm.
Kenwright had always maintained that he was the ordinary fan from the Boys' Pen who had "done good" and realised the dream of owning his beloved Blues but maintained he was merely the custodian waiting for someone with deeper pockets and much bigger resources to eventually step in and buy him out. His self-styled "24/7 search" for a billionnaire to match the likes of Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City and Roman Abramovich in an increasingly unbalanced English Premier League never materliased, however, and he was challenged on that score during a private meeting with activist group the Blue Union in 2011.
When a full transcript of the discussion was released to the Everton populous by the Blue Union, it revealed that the club was perilously close to the financial precipice but while the information gleaned gave Evertonians a stark – and arguably valuable – picture of the club's position, Kenwright was incensed and deeply hurt at being betrayed. His response was to end the traditional practice of shareholder AGMs for three years and cut himself off from further questioning of his regime.
He was aided in the meantime by a historic and unprecedented explosion in the value of the Premier League's domestic and global broadcast rights which were sold for a combined £5bn for the period 2013-2016. Having operated for years under Kenwright's tenure at a small annual loss, Everton's turnover suddenly mushroomed by over £30m per year, staving off pressure to sell players from the bank and affording the club the leeway to begin paying off some of its long- and short-term debts.
The long wait for a billionaire to invest in the club and bring both vision and the financial resources to achieve it finally ended in late February 2016 when it was announced that British-Iranian businessman, Farhad Moshiri, was to acquire a 49.9% stake in Everton, a precursor to what was hoped would effectively be a full takeover at a later date.
Moshiri increased his holdings in Everton to 68.6% of the outstanding shares in September 2018, acquiring the stakes of Jon Woods and Arthur Abercrombie while Kenwright's position was reduced to 5%.
Blues takeover: Kenwright's message to fansExclusive Liverpool Echo interview by Ken Rogers
Monday 15 February 1999
BILL KENWRIGHT today gave the clearest hint yet that he is closing in on a deal that will signal a new beginning for Everton Football Club.
The Goodison Park vice-chairman and his advisers have spent the past four months working on a complicated financial plan to try and secure the 68 per cent majority shareholding held by Peter Johnson.
The fans have increasingly been demanding answers to problems that have still not been finally resolved. They have interpreted silence from the boardroom as a signal that nothing is happening. On Saturday, a small group of supporters organised a petition calling on former chief Johnson to sell his shares immediately and at a fair price to end what they perceive as a worrying financial stalemate.
Kenwright today agreed to speak exclusively to the ECHO to help calm the fans fears. The vice-chairman has been reluctant to say too much with negotiations at such a delicate stage, but he feels that he must now clarify a number of important points to ensure that Evertonians remain totally united as the club enters a crucial phase of the season.
Kenwright said: "I want to make it clear that in no way has Peter Johnson been obstructive to me. He has not asked for hundreds of millions of pounds. He has made me feel confident that he wants me to take over Everton Football Club.
"Obviously, it would not be right to discuss in public the actual size of any offer and what he might require to step aside, but I have always been hopeful that we can reach an agreement and continue to be so."
This statement from Kenwright might seem to suggest that there is still a lot of work to be done, but his caution is clearly linked to what happened five years ago when he actually had an agreement in his possession signed by Lady Grantchester of the controlling Moores family which appeared to give him control of the club.
Kenwright's elation was shattered when Johnson stepped in at the very last moment to snatch the club from his grasp. This time round, Kenwright will take absolutely nothing for granted, nor will he tempt fate, until the ink is dry on this latest agreement.
The title of the theatre impresario's new film – "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" – seems perfectly apt right now as he moves into the final straight in his dealings with his former arch-rival Johnson. Kenwright shows little or no animosity towards the man who DID Break his heart back in 1994.
He explains: "If you had said four years ago after my failed takeover bid that I would subsequently be sitting in the vice-chairman's seat with Sir Philip Carter back in his former role as chairman, I would have said you are barking mad. But that is where we are today.
"The fact that I am even talking about a takeover bid fills me with mixed emotions. On the one hand I am thrilled. On the other I am sad that things have not worked out because it means the club has not progressed the way all Evertonians like myself hoped it would. I swallowed my personal disappointment five years ago and put all of my backing behind Peter Johnson.
"I stood aside. He was the man Everton wanted at that time. He was also given the backing of the fans and the media. I am sorry it has not worked out. I would have been happy if it had because this would have indicated that the club was on top and moving forward and this is the only thing I am interested in.
"So while I am thrilled that my dream of leading the club is still alive, it is still a double-edged sword. I feel that the new leader of Everton will face a bigger challenge now than when Peter Johnson first took the chair.
"It’s a whole new ball game. You only have to look at the vast investment in the other leading clubs, not least in London. "Anyone looking at the Everton situation will have to deal with three key areas. The first - and the one that I have been dealing with - is the complicated challenge of securing the major shareholding. Stage two is to stabilise the club financially. Finally, it is vital that manager Walter Smith is provided with sufficient funds to suit his needs.
"Some fans might say that our need is now. All I can say is that even as we speak, if Walter came to me and said he wanted a certain player, I would move heaven and earth to help him, as would Sir Philip Carter and the rest of the board. But Walter is a realist.
"He has a total grasp of the present situation. Despite speculation about his future, he is in the place he wants to be, doing the job he wants to do. He is under no pressure from the board. He knows what the score is. I have a huge confidence in him that he will lead us forward on the field. "
Kenwright understands why the pressure is getting to his fellow supporters and he can associate with those who have begun to point the finger at the board and ask serious questions about the way the club is being run. He said: "I was one of those fans who wrote angrily to the directors 40 years ago when Everton got rid of my hero Dave Hickson.
"I told them they didn't understand us. I therefore had every sympathy with those people who were totally bemused about the sale of Duncan Ferguson to Newcastle. It was history repeating itself.
"However, we have had a serious financial situation and it is something the present board is now trying to deal with.
"When I got involved in my first bid to take over the club five years ago, I knew nothing about stocks and shares. But I learned very quickly. People often say to me: 'Get your cheque book out, Bill.'
"If these people think that I have a cheque book with tens of millions of pounds at my disposal, they have the wrong person. I could no more buy all of Peter Johnson's shares than play centre-forward this Saturday. These amounts are not in my personal ball park.
"But then they are not in the ball park of many other Evertonians like me. Someone like Paul McCartney is an Evertonian and he might have that kind of cash as an individual. But I am the only one who has come forward publicly to try and find a solution and help take this club forward.
"I am not going to be the major shareholder when the deal is finally done. We have naturally been talking to powerful financial institutions to enable us to reach this stage.
"What I will be is a catalyst to get things going with me in the driving seat alongside the chairman Sir Philip. I believe it is very important that we have someone at the helm who understands the club and the fans. It won't be Everton in the hands of an institution and that institution will never drive the club. I will do that with Sir Philip Carter and the board. If everything comes right, as I hope it will, I will explain how it works to the fans.
"I don't want any grey areas and I won't mislead the fans in any way. We have been working on this on a daily basis. I have had a heavy involvement along with my staff and advisers and I'm sure Peter Johnson's advisers have been extremely busy also.
"Obviously, the one thing I don't know is who else Peter Johnson has been talking to, but in all my dealings with him, I believe he wants me to make this deal succeed."
Kenwright spoke candidly about his relationship with his former arch-rival. While both are very different people, they have found themselves launched together by the Everton experience. Johnson found his situation at Goodison totally untenable as fans waged war against his regime and his style of management.
Kenwright said: "Do I think he has made mistakes? Yes, definitely. Is he the devil that some fans would like to paint him? No. Do I in any way condone the threats and talk of violence against Peter Johnston? Definitely not. Do I think it is right that he can't feel comfortable in his home city? Definitely not.
"Whoever takes over from Peter Johnson just has to get it right. It's not just about having a big heart and a passion for your club. I look at Mark Goldberg at Crystal Palace. He is a Palace fanatic, but he is the first to admit that he has not got it right yet. You look at people like Francis Lee and what happened to him at Manchester City. Franny was City through and through, but it all went wrong for him.
"I have a lifestyle at present that 99% of the people I meet appear to envy. The image is of a man in London with a plush office and a beautiful partner whose life revolves around film previews and hit shows. I am very happy with my life, but if the Everton deal goes through I will have to give a portion of it up because there is a football stadium in Liverpool that will draw me to it even more than it does at the moment.
"I want to play a part in the rebuilding of the Blues, but I have to make sure that everything is right. I have always said that if there was someone out there with my love of the club and more money than me who could bring a better future to Everton Football Club, I would shake them by the hand as I did with Peter Johnson five years ago.
"I repeat that the fans and the media wanted him at that time. It was a sobering experience for me and it's the reason why this is no ego trip. I dislike the glare of the media. The last thing I want and need is to be on the back pages of the national newspapers. I turn down 20 interviews a day. I m not involved in this to get my name in lights.
"It's just that I went to Goodison Park as a kid and it instantly changed my life. The love affair still rages, despite the bitter disappointment of losing out on the club in 1994."
Clearly, Kenwright is still coming to terms with the dramatic about-turn at Everton. He said: "It is only recently that Peter Johnson has decided that he wants to relinquish his majority shareholding. We have been working hard on a possible takeover. We have been trying to steady the ship. We have had to deal with the aftermath of the Duncan Ferguson saga and the fact that the team has not been performing well - until Saturday.
"Walter Smith and I have spent some time together and we both have the same beliefs. We are building up an excellent working relationship.
"I believe that every player, whether at youth, reserve, first team or international level, needs to know that there is a real future for this club and that everyone is pulling in the same direction. This is why we need to settle this matter and demonstrate from the top that everything is flowing forward. Kenwright, a man used to dealing with success from London's West End to New York s legendary Broadway, wants Everton's name back in lights, but he is determined to keep his feet on the ground and provide sensible leadership.
He said: "It would be stupid to make rash claims. But what you can do is inspire a spirit of revitalisation which Walter Smith and my chairman Sir Philip Carter can work on. We have to deal with the present situation and get the future mapped out. Leadership has never been so important. We are fourth from bottom, but we are not going to embrace relegation and say we are going down.
"I get dozens of letters every week from fans who are obviously worried about the present situation, but the bottom line is that they love their club and simply want to support it in every way they know they can. Evertonians are remarkable supporters and they truly deserve a club worthy of them.
"I can understand why some fans have been getting edgy with no positive news about the takeover. This is why I have spoken to the ECHO to try and explain exactly where we are up to. The fans will be the first to know when we have some positive news. I hope we will be able to give it to them sooner rather than later."
© Copyright Liverpool Daily Post & Echo 1999