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COLM'S CORNER, #60


Colm Kavanagh turns his attention on the sea changes that are destined to alter the game of football significantly

 

 CHASING SHADOWS?

 

Traditionally speaking, Everton are one of the so-called Big Five clubs.  We pride ourselves on our fine history successes down through the years. Winning in a style befitting the legend that is Nil Satis Nisi Optimum.

However, the game has moved on and with some speed.  Everton Football Club, as a business and as a football team, have remained in the starting blocks for the past 15 years or more.  Our fall from the very summit, last reached in 1987, has been a steady and relentless descent.  I have genuine fears these days that we've fallen too far behind.  Will we ever see the name of Everton up there again with the leading challengers for seasonal honours?

If the game were to remain domestic as we've always known it to be then I'd have reasonable confidence that, with astute management on and off the field, we'd return sooner rather than later and once again lay a valid claim to being one of the biggest and best clubs in the land.  However, I sense that the game, as we once knew it, is entering into a new era.  An era where television is king and calls the shots.  The likes of the Football Association will be powerless figureheads.

English clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal, and Liverpool - more recently the likes of Leeds United and Chelsea also have been gearing themselves up for the eventuality that is a breakaway European League.  We've seen the traditional European club competitions dismantled by UEFA in order to appease restless clubs eager to dip their grubby paws into the slush fund that European club football now offers.  

Tell your children in the years to come that we, Everton, once won a prestigious European competition the Cup Winners Cup but UEFA decided to bin it as it was deemed surplus to requirements once the money men behind the likes of the G14 clubs decided that the football calendar had no interest or room in any other competition bar the inglorious fuck-up that is now called the (sic) "Champions" League... So much for the glorious history of the famous club competition. 

The majestic Real Madrid and their five in a row; Ajax, bringing total football to a new level; Der Kaiser leading Bayern Munich to a treble of their own.  Our own neighbours, Liverpool, emulating the earlier British triumphs of Celtic and Manchester United.  Four times in eight seasons they conquered Europe's finest.  Indeed, for seven of those eight years, the European Cup remained on British soil - with Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa getting in on the act.  Twas a marvellous achievement by any club and forever the goal for any side dreaming of competing with, and becoming the best. 

As we know only too well, we had a brief sniff of such competition.  History shows we were denied that opportunity to compete with Europe's finest.  Today, European football for Everton looks as far away as it ever did.  We have enough problems on the home front....  The problem though is that we've missed the boat.  We've managed to time our fall from grace with the advent of money big money ruling and dictating the general direction the game takes.  

What division were Leeds United playing in when we last lifted the League Championship?  They are but one provincial club who've now well and truly left us standing in their slipstream.  Seasons ago, they noted the way football was moving, and put into operation a long-term plan to push themselves up the ladder so to speak and onto the coat-tails of those calling the shots.  They are now seen by many as one of the big clubs.  Their name will now be in the hat when the jump begins.  They have entered the realms of fantasy and are now equipped to go out and purchase a defender for 19 million to accompany the rest of the squad!  Ourselves, meanwhile?  We are reduced to flogging our home-grown in order to quell an ever-increasing debt.  Are we so sure we're still a big club or one of the chasing pack, chasing ever-lengthening shadows?

I'm not certain exactly how much attention or credence can be granted to the very recent comments made by Glasgow Celtic's majority shareholder, Dermot Desmond.  For those not in the know, Desmond is a highly successful business man outside of football with more noughts in his bank account than one could ever dream of.  He has spoken in a forthright manner about seeing both Glasgow giants depart from the shackles imposed on their potential by the now sadly impotent Scottish league.  

Both Glasgow clubs are very big fish in a very small pond.  They are itching, chomping at the bit, to get a look in with the slush fund that now feeds football.  It will happen.  Mark my words.  That day is coming into your front room sooner than you realise...  Technology continues to push television further and, as we all know from living in various corners of the globe, it transcends any given border or barrier.  This technology is having a huge impact on the game and, with the bottomless pit of advertising revenue, it will ensure that the game as we know it moves onto a different stage and not one we are necessarily accustomed to, or willing to accept so readily.

We have pay-per-view coming into play this next season.  It won't be long before it is accepted as being a part of our everyday football.  Once they get over that hurdle, I expect to see significant development and a possible acceleration of a supposed breakaway.  

The arrival of pay-per-view has to have an impact on traditional season ticket sales and attendances in general.  Gone forever are the traditional Saturday afternoon games at 3:00pm.  Television has seen an end to that.  Count the number of times this season for example when you'll find yourself seated within Goodison Park on a Saturday afternoon.  If live televised matches are available in the confines of your own home then why bother to stir yourself into actually going to a game?  

A quick phone call whilst the kettle is on and you've got the match in your living room.  If you're extremely lucky, you'll find your good lady wife will be willing and ready whenever you need a new can of something alcoholic from the fridge!  Sod sitting beside some grumpy old sod who farts like a trooper after five dodgy pre-match pints and never says anything positive about the team.  This is the new football.  Watch it from 75 different angles, all one switch of a red button away.  Who needs a season ticket, eh?  Who needs to pay at the turnstile?  Go the game mate?  Nah, that 's so 20th century....  More money going elsewhere instead of the club coffers.

We see the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool recognising their global appeal and actively engaging it whereas Everton have more pressing concerns with the likes of Burnley and Tranmere Rovers.  Talk about tapping into your global appeal!  United in particular have led from the front.  They are very visible in the highly lucrative Asian market.  Accepted that they are arguably an exception to the rule due to their pulling power, just how much income do they draw from their dealings in Asia?  Dare I fear to think they have a bigger annual turnover from trade within Asia alone than we see at Everton with our own annual turnover? Frightening if it is so. 

And to think we still call ourselves a big club alongside the likes of United!  They are in a different world, I'm afraid.  Arsenal, in signing Japanese player Junichi Inamoto, can now expect to see their profile go through the roof and beyond the peak of Mt. Fuji!  Speculate to accumulate is it they say?  What's 3 or 4 million if it is going to open certain markets for future exploitation?  Expect them to make a tidy return on their initial investment.  The rich become richer, stronger by the day.  We watch from the sideline albeit one that is now nearer the centre circle than it ever was, thanks to Walter's foresight.

What intrigues me greatly at the minute, though, is the recent acquisition of shares worth 30M and 6.9% ownership of Manchester United by J P McManus and John Magnier.  Why have they all of a sudden invested in Manchester United?  Both are close business associates and friends of the aforementioned Dermot Desmond now residing up the road at Parkhead, Glasgow.  

Like Desmond, both are incredibly wealthy men and free from worry of the whereabouts of their next pound.  McManus in particular has built up a reputation as a bit of a rogue who loves to challenge the bookmakers the annual Cheltenham National Hunt meeting being a favoured pursuit.  This is but a front.  The man normally shies away from media attention.  He has earned his wealth from currency speculation and is estimated to be worth over 300 million.  Oh for his like at Everton eh? 

Magnier controls the famous Coolmore Stud (Europe's most commercially successful stud farm) and he has a personal wealth in the region of 200 million.  When these guys move, you watch closely.  McManus and Magnier were a part of the consortium that purchased the Sandy Lane complex in Barbados.  They have pumped absolute millions into that venture and not simply for the good of their health.  Their partners in that venture?  Why, if it's our old friend Mr Dermot Desmond (owning a major chunk of Glasgow Celtic) and the family of a certain Joe Lewis who controls ENIC, the sports and media company that holds a significant stake in various clubs one being Glasgow Rangers. 

Watch developments with great interest. McManus and Magnier have not pumped 30 million pounds into Manchester United to simply guarantee themselves a box seat on the next occasion Roy Keane lifts the Premiership.  They've invested for a specific reason.  Whatever that is we'll find out in time to come.  I'd hazard a guess that these two, as ever, are one if not two steps ahead of the posse.  The make up of English football, as we know it, is about to experience a makeover.  When it happens who knows?  But I fear that we are no longer a player at the top table, ensuring our best interests are served by our custodians.  At the moment it would appear that the only card we have worth noting is the possibility of a home befitting the very best if and when the planned King's Dock stadium is realised.

Rather desperately, we need that more than ever to succeed if we're ever to return to the fold as a big five club.  There's a ship in the harbour, awaiting passengers.  Once that sets sail the rest can say goodbye.  Kill or be killed I suppose.  We need to be on that departing vessel.  Time is running out, the clock is ticking too fast for our liking.  We badly need a change of fortune on the pitch and some serious investment off it.  Is that going to happen with Walter Smith at the helm?

Paul McCartney and every other famous Blue with swelling bank accounts?  Got any spare change lads?!