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COLM'S CORNER, #67


As you might expect, the impending crisis at Everton has not escaped the critical eye and sharpened pen of Colm Kavanagh

 

 ANOTHER FINE MESS?

 

"No man is an island...for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee..."

An abridged version - with licence - from the quill of John Donne, rather some year back.  And some.

Tonight, I suspect, those words could ring rather loudly in the Kenwright household as all about his beloved Everton home appears to be crumbling:  

  • We have a thinning and ageing first-team squad hobbling from the treatment table onto the pitch.  
  • We have a manager, without a shilling to spend on replacements, bereft of ideas on how to extract us from the self-created mire and growing disillusionment with the lies and more lies from upon high. 
  • We have a manager who chooses injured players instead of promoting fit youngsters from the reserves. 
  • We still have a large overdraft. 
  • We have Thomas Gravesen lining up to take the same exit door as Alex Nyarko before him. 
  • We have rented Portakabins as home to our proposed Youth Academy. 
  • We have a so-called Megastore which shuts its doors to its customers two days prior to Christmas and at the height of the shopping spree. 
  • We have a squad of first team footballers who couldn't be arsed turning up for a kids' Christmas party under Goodison's lengthening shadow despite being booked for the event well in advance. 

All's not well down Goodison Road. Yet another winter of discontent lying in wait? In the immortal words of Laurel and Hardy, it's "another fine mess" we find ourselves in.

Fear not, though, for we have on the horizon our salvation with the construction of the King's Dock Waterfront Stadium complex.  Yeah, right!  The King's Dock Waterfront Stadium should elevate Everton Football Club back to the pinnacle of the domestic game and afford our manager the luxury of spending money as he sees fit.  With regular home attendances in and around 55,000 and people spending money hand over fist at the tills of our new riverside Megastore (even on Christmas Eve), the future looks brighter than any of us could possibly have imagined

Stop.  Stop, stop, stop, stop!!! Two words: Franny Lee.  The Man Who Would Be King. 

What's happening at this very moment in time at Everton is something we've seen happen up the road at Manchester City not so long ago.  Francis Lee was the man deemed saviour.  The man to get shut of the reviled Peter Swales.  The fan's man.  The ex-player who'd come good and now had the ownership and direction of their beloved club within his grasp.  A popular choice.  

Sound familiar?  Well, history records how that love affair turned sour and we are now most definitely embroiled in the biggest fight for survival at our own Club.  The arrival of Bill Kenwright and the True Blue consortium was championed as an end to the Johnson reign and an end to our woes on and off the field.  Can we honestly say that's proven to be the case?

All I've seen over the past couple of years is a once-proud Club being asset-stripped with little or no visible sign of investment on or off the field.  Nice Royal Blue banners, a lick of paint, and some blue gravel do not cover the ever widening cracks.  

Selling our home to relocate as a tenant in a shinier model down by the River Mersey may be well and good for the long haul back... but it is very much now, in the present, that we are up shit creek and ne'er a sign of a paddle or direction.  Be thankful for small mercies I suppose and the fact that we've flogged three of our own youngsters Jeffers, Ball and Dunne for the bones of 20 million, thus keeping the financial wolves from the door.  Oh, and another half-million received from Sunderland for another promising kid, Gavin McCann, who departed northwards in one of the most bizarre transfers I think I can recall. 

Any gobshite could see for themselves back then that the kids are the future of this Club even if only to sell them on.  But have Everton Football Club taken note?  Like fuck they have.  

I admire the hard work being done with our kids by the likes of Ray Hall and his staff.  In trying times, their collective efforts are invaluable.  But what sort of support financially have we seen put in place regarding the Youth Academy?  None so far, from my vantage point.  And it doesn't exactly inspire confidence when one of your scouting staff recommends his own son to a rival club as happened when Sean Doherty departed for Fulham. 

On the other hand, I heard David Fairclough (yeah, him!) yesterday on the radio, commenting that his own kid was on our books and he reckoned we had some real quality coming through the junior ranks at Everton.  But what lies at the end of the road for them?  A brick wall preventing them from inclusion in and around the first team?  Flogged with whatever's left of the family silver in order to appease the Bank manager? 

From the very top, this Club has been grossly mismanaged for far too long now.  Many have said so in the past but heads have remained firmly entrenched in the Goodison quicksand and we've stumbled through the years in denial.  Denial replacing ambition.  Survival becoming our real aim for the season instead of trying to compete at the business end of the league.  

Every season, like sheep, we set out and talk up our chances of achieving something yet reality kicks us hard between the legs, right where it hurts, usually before Christmas and a nervous second half to the season awaits.  Oh, Bill Kenwright can giggle all he likes during radio interviews and talk passionately about sitting in theatres more concerned with the outcome of Bolton Wanderers v Derby County on a rainy Tuesday night in February, instead of the production on stage before him, but it does us no good to be pinning our hopes on the failures of others. 

This year has proven to be no exception on the pitch.  As feared by many before a ball was kicked, we now find ourselves back firmly in choppy waters and a nervous dogfight for survival.  Every year, those who view things accordingly are accused of knee-jerk reaction but it's become an annual event and the warning signs are sadly too well known a trait.  

One year we won't be blessed to find worse sides than ourselves propping the Premiership; it'll be us dropping down a division.  I just hope that's not this year.  We're a recipe for disaster waiting to happen.  On and off the field.

This Club we all love dearly has remained stagnant during a period of great change in the domestic game.  When we last lifted the Championship back in 1987, Burnley were fighting for their very survival as a League club and avoided demotion to non-league football with a last day escape.  Now there's a real possibility that we could be swapping places with them next season as they currently sit atop Division One.  

Five years ago, Fulham were rock bottom in Division Three look at them now.  Nice as it is to have money behind you there's more to Fulham's current success than a continual bankrolling of that club.  Other clubs like Charlton Athletic, Middlesbrough, West Ham and, dare I say it, Ipswich Town have passed us by.  Don't be deceived by their current league standings they are all better run clubs than our own.

So, who's to blame for our plight?  Walter Smith and his negative outlook and bizarre tactical acumen, a world removed from the mystical School of Science football?  No, but as ever, he'll be the fall guy.  Perhaps in another moment in time things may have worked out better for Walter as Everton manager but right now, with the mess we're in, he ain't the man for all seasons. 

Playing players out of position and selecting unfit players ahead of fitter players is poor management.  We've endure too many bad results on the pitch with Walter as boss.  How many embarrassments must one endure before someone calls him aside and relieves him of his position?  Tranmere Rovers, Manchester City, Ipswich Town, now Charlton Athletic to name but four in the past season or two...  Will we be adding the name of Stoke City to the growing list next week? 

There's no doubt some of the players he brought to the Club have let Walter down on the pitch but he's remained stubborn more often than not by persevering with the likes of Niclas Alexandersson (to name but one).  We had only one home-grown player in our squad facing Charlton Athletic this weekend David Unsworth and I thought we were supposedly in the midst of an injury crisis.  

When, if ever, are we going to see the likes of Clarke, Hibbert, McLeod and Chadwick sitting on the bench or performing with the first team?  Correct me if I'm wrong but are these kids not all included in our first team squad numbered 27, 28, 29 and 30 respectively or are they there simply to make up numbers and sit on their arses wiling away the time with the reserves?  

But anyway, Walter Smith is not the root cause of Everton's problems.  I might not like his style of management or the bloke who supposedly assists him (Stephen Hughes' mate Archibald) but I do have sympathy for him with the shit he's been fed from our most inept of Boardrooms.  The fiasco surrounding Duncan Ferguson's return (and the money we never had that was spent on that player) is but one sorry episode in gross mismanagement, only serving to add flame to the fires.  Playing that fiddle while all around burns?  Make for a cracking West End production, that!

I remember once having a debate with a fellow Blue about our present Boardroom.  I've never been happy with the fact that the very same people currently acting as custodians of a once-great footballing institution are the very same people who did diddley squat when Peter Johnson sat in the big seat.  Hear no evil, see no evil and most definitely speak no evil. 

The counter argument being that it was better to be inside the Boardroom keeping the reigns on Johnson as he did what he did to our Club.  Yeah, right.  All we've seen since is a spiralling of our problems with ne'er a sight of an actual plan to rectify matters bar flogging players as soon as they've played three or four half decent games!  There'll come a time when there's nothing left to flog.

I won't blame them for all of our troubles but to Messrs Kenwright, Carter, Tamlin, Abercromby, Gregg and Woods I point an accusing finger and insist it 's about time they got off their arses and did something about our current plight.  It's no good waiting for King's Dock to happen and praying to God that we prevail as a Premiership side until that day.  This Club is going down the pan before our eyes.  Nationwide football, I would presume, was not on the menu for the King's Dock yet that's a distinct possibility. 

Is it true outside funding has been refused?  Why?  What exactly is the day-to-day role of our directors?  To sit with their opposing colleagues on match day in the Dixie Dean Suite and talk of better times, past and ahead?  Something 's got to be done, a few skulls need to be cracked together and an actual working plan put in place now.  

Sacraficing the managerial services of Walter Smith in the coming weeks will not remove our troubles.  Smith may go and a new manager may come in, toeing the party line and talking of reviving one of the game's 'sleeping giants'.  A new manager may indeed improve the team on the pitch but the root of all of our problems is financial mismanagement.  

We've regularly crowds of between 30,000 and 35,000 at Goodison Park.  Where has that money gone?  How come we've reportedly a wage bill in the region of 29M?  On what?! Who the hell sanctioned that?!  Hello, are we not millions upon millions of pounds in debt?  In debt and still paying out top wages - truly amazing.  Bosman imports and ageing, fading stars of yesterday with little or no sell-on value in the coming seasons? It's amazing how we've ignored the signs time and time again - continued to pay well beyond our means.  How the mighty has fallen and refused to cut the cloth accordingly. 

It is galling to see 'minnows' like Charlton Athletic affording the luxury of paying millions of pounds on strengthening their squad with quality young players.  We continue to feel sorry for ourselves, new-found poverty offered as an excuse and a source of sympathy for our current standing.  Well, sorry Everton, when you continue to buy over-rated, over-the-hill players and pay them handsomely instead of adopting a policy of trying to build a good side with an emphasis on youth, you can blame absolutely nobody else but yourself. 

Look at Blackburn Rovers these days a most definite emphasis on youth in place.  Their first team now centres around talent like David Dunn, enhanced by Matt Jansen.  At Everton we've Paul Gascoigne and Duncan Ferguson.  Now, does that indicate planning for the future or living on borrowed time?

Still. At least we've decent pies.

Colm Kavanagh

20 December 2001