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Everton FC Shareholders AGM 2005

The atmosphere in the lounge was subdued this year.  There was no fizz of anticipation nor cheer or applause as the big guns took their seats on the top table.  As with last time the place was packed.  The overflow room and video link had to be used to accommodate those who came in last.  It was a full house with no buzz.

Bill started with a moment's silence to reflect on George Best’s plight, then launched into the business proper.  The statuary part of the evening was the usual rubber-stamp exercise . Bill gamely tried to sound like he understood his notes as he gave the briefest of summaries of the accounts and then handed over to the auditor for his statement.

Bill has made it clear before he is no accountant and is clearly uncomfortable talking figures.  When challenged by one shareholder about a statement he made last year about ‘Sky money being brought forward’ and how this was different from a loan, he was unconvincing (and wrong) in his reply.  But the debate was one of semantics rather than substance and Bill would have done far better to defer the question to Wyness than try and bluff it out.  His sly asides to the gentleman asking the question were out of character for someone who usually seems to see the good in most people even when they come at him daggers drawn.  We would see more of that later in the evening...

Someone noted that whilst the Deloitte & Touche annual charge for auditing was static, their additional service fees were significant.  Nobody on the Board seemed aware of the corporate governance conventions behind the question, nor why this may constitute any issue.  And so the accounts were accepted, the auditors retained, and Anita Greg reappointed Director.  The formal business was swiftly concluded.

The real reason most people attend the AGM is the non-formal business that is now tradition: the presentations of the main Officers of the Club, and the chance for questions and answers straight afterwards.

Keith Wyness went first with the presentations and regurgitated the usual spin about the accounts.  It was noticeable that he didn’t refer back to the targets he presented to us all last year, but one thing he does do well is use benchmarking against our peers to demonstrate progress.  He certainly presented data which was a powerful rebuttal to anyone who would claim David Moyes hadn’t been supported in the transfer market.

He wisely pre-empted topics he knew he would have to account for later such as the Villarreal ticketing shambles, the Bucharest charter nightmare, and the season-ticket victims of the lounge developments.  He was honest to admit mistakes, but must realise that you can only get away with being upfront about mistakes and chalking them down as ‘lessons learned’ for so long.  He is paid for foresight not hindsight.

He then introduced our new Chief Operating Officer.  I work for a global corporation one of those FTS100 things that everyone loves to hate.  The COO’s I have met fill a room with their presence, have a sharpness of mind that is rapier-like, and a capacity to understand the minute detail that turns strategic vision into operational reality.  The guy they presented to us last night oozed with the presence, command, sharpness and style of, well, let’s say a regional sales manager for a mid-cap.  Competent but not inspiring.  Keith has been careful not to recruit anyone who would be too obvious a successor if he were to appear vulnerable...  Canny!

The sales guy sat down (without applause) and Keith wound his bit up.  The real gems of info in his presentation were that Phase One of the Youth Academy development (readying the ground, to be ready to lay the foundations) is underway, and (of interest to those in the room) a new club exclusively for shareholders which will clarify shareholders perks.  He had a pop at the lack of support or focus we have had from local or national government on the Stadium issue because they are too fixated on our neighbours.  Then the bit I liked most was that we will trial smartcard access to the stadium (like Man City) later this year and this will form the basis of tracking loyalty for ticket allocations in the future (now that is a step forward).

Finally, Moyes gave his speech.  It was the most interesting part of the evening and the bit that was really worth the trip.  As a public speaker, he actually puts our CEO, Chairman, and COO to shame.  He has a rare blend of humility, purpose and honesty that demand to be listened to when he speaks.

It was a difficult message for him to deliver.  He feels he has made great progress in the club but has to reconcile that with the situation we are in today.  In his speech he never shyed away from the situation we are currently in.  He showed who he had let go, who he had brought in and challenged anyone to say that on paper at least that we don’t have a better squad than the one that qualified for Europe last year.  He pointed out that his defence going into the WBA game had the 10th best record in the premiership, which he described as ‘not bad, could do better, but not bad’ whereas our attacking record was the worst in the Europe.  He made no bones that this is where he will be looking to strengthen the squad in January.  He believes in his strategy of buying young internationals.  When he joined, the average squad age was 30, he has now reduced this to 26.

He made it clear he felt at home at Everton and that he thinks it is the club for him.  He made it clear he feels he has been given the full support of the Board, and that he takes accountability for results on the pitch.

Personally, I thought he gave a good account of himself.

Then the questions began.  They tend to come in only two forms at these meetings – the sycophantic and the overtly hostile.  This year was a wee bit different as the usual suspects who you expect at the hostile end of the spectrum were far more diplomatic and restrained than in the past.  The most entertaining exchange was between Bill and Frank Hargreaves.  Frank wanted to know, amongst other things, if the Fortress Sports Fund was a charade.  Before Bill responded to the direct questions there was a bizarre to and fro about ‘them and us’ and ‘gangs’ and ‘conspiracies’ and ‘goodies’ – it was a coded conversation I couldn’t decipher.  There were points put to Keith Wyness about his engagement and recognition of the Everton Shareholders 2005 group.  Keith responded that he would meet with any duly constituted group.  The questioner (a Mr Quinn) asked if he set up a new shareholders association with only one member would he meet with that.  Mr Wyness assured him he would.

Moyes received direct questions about some of the squad.  We learned that Moyes still hasn’t liked what he has seen of Krldrup in training enough to risk him (though if we play like we did at WBA, he will get his chance, and in any case will start to play when Yobo goes of on his inevitable international trip for the African Nations Cup). We learned he has made it very clear to Richard Wright that so far he has fluffed his chances and they are searching for a long-term solution to when Martyn starts to weaken.  We also got an in-depth explanation of the frustration of the 4-1-4-1 formation this season.

There were a few pops from people about the lounges, queries about birthday cards for J-Blue members and other little anecdotes about club failings.  The meeting though never got the charge of atmosphere or passion you would expect.  So it ended as it began.  Without fizz, people filed away.

Guy McEvoy


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