I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating – our beloved club is supported by the finest people on earth, a conviction that grows with each chat with Dr Everton’s better half. To prepare for a winter awash with unwanted transfer speculation, I asked the Toffee Lady about the state of the club and to cheer the dark evenings with more of the tremendous Evertoons. I received more than I asked for. This time she didn’t want to dwell on Old Alcaraz or Old Tim and reassured me that, despite the atrocious surrenders to middling teams from the Midlands, she has refrained from reporting Roberto Martinez to Amnesty International.
Lyndon: Happy New Year! Any special wishes for 2016?
Elizabeth France: That’s simple. Best wishes for a speedy recovery to William of Wavertree, King of Evertonia and Defender of the Royal Blue Faith. Despite his struggles to return the club to the elite, it’s one of life’s mysteries why fans like me are so fond of him. Yes, that’s right – I like Bill. I think it’s much to do with the fact that when our sovereign speaks, he is capable of making you feel like you’re on the elevator to royal blue heaven. Seriously, I wouldn’t swap him for Kroenke at Arsenal, Lerner at Aston Villa, Henry at Liverpool, Glazer at Manchester United and Short at Sunderland. Or Abramovich at Chelsea, Lewis at Tottenham, that young Sheikh at Manchester City or chubby chap at Newcastle. Ask yourself, do any of them care for their clubs in the way that Blue Bill loves Everton? So my special wishes for 2016 are for his full recovery … and healthy retirement.
LL: Some have questioned whether Bill Kenwright has amply defended the royal blue faith. Do you think he has?
EF: Given the seismic impacts on football’s landscape of roubles in 2003 and petro-dollars in 2009, I doubt that any life-long Blue could have done a better job of promoting Everton as ‘a proper football club’. As a charming raconteur, he combines the showmanship of Michael Barrymore with the self-promotion of Donald Trump, and, more important, the kindness of the Dalai Lama. As a fanatical Evertonian, his standing compares with those of Brian Labone, Colin Harvey and Mike Lyons. Is there a greater compliment? But that’s not what you asked, is it?
As a leader, Bill is no different than the traditional club chairman – you know the self-made man who invests in his boyhood club as a celebration of his business success. After a false start, a few hiccups, unhelpful spin, enigmatic wheeling and dealing and very little support from his fellow directors, he halted the slide towards administration. Yes, things were that desperate. Since then I’ve applauded Bill’s hard work as well as the stalwart and professional efforts of Robert Elstone. But you need more than an enthusiastic two-man team to fully exploit the commercial opportunities available to Premier League clubs and return us to the elite.
Nowadays, it’s no longer fashionable to appreciate Bill. In fact, resentment is rife. Some members of the Everton family prefer to forget that his consortium – remember True Blue Holdings? – bought Perter Johnson’s shares when far more affluent Blues kept their heads down and hands firmly in their pockets. Without Bill, we would have slipped into oblivion.
My husband, who knows a bit about turning around under-performing businesses, had anticipated that Bill would stabilize, re-package and, after a couple of years, sell the club for a reasonable mark-up to a well-heeled investor qualified to shower us with golden visions and silver trophies. While that didn’t happen, I’ve no doubts that Bill started with noble intentions until he counted his NTL chickens before they’d hatched. Because these phantom funds had been wasted – remember Nyarko, Alexandersson et al? – we were plunged into debt from which we’ve struggled to escape. Of course, there were other gaffes: Destination Kirkby was ill-conceived; eliminating the AGM wasn’t clever either. He seemed to forget that no-one owns Everton Football Club, the directors are mere guardians. All fans, including the more independent-minded ones, are entitled to question those in charge. Surely the combination of transparency and rigorous debate are required to create a robust path to a rewarding future.
Nevertheless, Bill pushed the boat out again and again to provide his managers with transfer kitties. Aided by the Moyesiah – remember David Moyes? – we finished in the top half 9 times during their 11 seasons together. Win a game or two, – Moyes was a magician. Lose one – Bill was at fault for not being a billionaire. In my eyes, the manager was fortunate to have a chairman prepared to sell everything that wasn’t screwed down and mortgage everything else to allow him to smash the club’s transfer record and stretch the pay structure. Bill deserves no little credit for our stability. My other half and few others know of his unswerving efforts to keep Moyes happy. Or his frustrations. Imagine you’ve gone from door-to-door begging for funds. You trust the manager’s judgment, then have to bite your lip as he unveils how he spent the money – feast your eyes on Per Krøldrup. The chairman never criticized his manager, not even for dithering over recruiting transfer targets or disposing of loyal deadwood.
LL: A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Bill first announced this intention to find a wealthy benefactor to buy the club off him. The Premier League has changed. How do you feel his search for investment has gone?
EF: We all know that success can no longer be achieved with a managerial partnership of alchemic genius like Howard Kendall and Colin Harvey. It takes an owner with real wealth, vision and long-term commitment. I hope I’m not alone in feeling that there is something depressing about the foreign billionaires who buy Premier League clubs. They should find something better to do with their cash. Bill has been criticized for not finding a rich and noble successor but does such a person exist? The well-publicized search has attracted more scepticism than pounds sterling. After the delusion of NTL and the fiasco of Fortress Sports Fund, there remains Philip Green, Robert Earl, BCR Sports and the conundrum over the effective ownership of the club. Perhaps all will be clarified when the proceeds from the sale of the club are distributed in the not too distant future.
Why would any man of wealth want to invest in a football club? To date, it’s never been a profit-making business. Money has been made only when a club is sold on to someone with a bigger ego. Of course, the times they are a-changing. With the recent influx of US owners and their investment dollars, sooner or later the EPL will resemble the NFL in which television revenues are staggering, franchises move to more lucrative geographic markets, stadiums are family-friendly, salaries are capped and, most important of all, trophies are spread around. I look forward to the day when most, if not all, teams have an equal chance of winning the title.
As for the future, our new owners won’t see Everton as a vanity investment. They’ll expect attractive financial dividends. In my eyes, they’ll be welcome to them if they earn them. I understand that M&A lawyers, forensic accountants and voodoo practitioners engaged by some prospective buyers are scrutinizing our books and searching for skeletons at this time. I wish them well but reiterate that it’s imperative that we – minority shareholders, season-ticket holders, Everton crazy souls – conduct our due diligence of them and their plans. We should be provided with an opportunity to interview them before any deal is completed.
I don’t look forward to the day when Bill’s shares are transferred to someone with no previous connection to the club. That said, Everton will survive, hopefully flourish. It continued without John Houlding, George Mahon, Will Cuff, Sir John Moores and will do so without Bill Kenwright. In the interim, however, we must prepare ourselves for a different world.
LL: Yes, I'm sure there are many of us gripped by trepidation at the inevitable succession at Goodison Park. How do you think will Bill be remembered?
EF: Clearly the sale will make our owners, whoever they may be, buckets of money. What Bill does with his windfall is his personal business but, in the eyes of many, will demonstrate his true commitment to the royal blue cause and the Merseyside community.
How will I remember him? First and foremost, Bill was a saviour. While our beloved club trails behind its traditional rivals – by some distance both on and off the pitch – we are in much better nick today than when he grasped control. The same can’t be said for Peter Johnson or Sir John Moores who may have captured silverware but dumped their share-holdings like hot potatoes without much thought for the consequences.
I’ll remember Bill as the saviour who missed opportunities. Given that we were one of its architects, I had expected him and his fellow directors to exploit the fertility of the Premier League and consolidate our standing alongside Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham. They didn’t. In fact, the club rested on its laurels – make that stagnated – and failed to drum up commercial deals befitting of England’s fourth most successful club and the world's twentieth most valuable brand. Yes, we’re in decent nick but we missed the boat we helped to launch.
I’ll remember Bill as the saviour who stayed for 16 years. His reign was too long, with or without a trophy, and divided the fan-base. Even the most popular US presidents are limited to 8 years in the White House. Bill should have declared success and stood down around 2002 after securing the deal of a lifetime to own 50% of one of the most advanced stadiums in the world for a pittance. Whenever I pass the Echo Arena, I stifle my tears and thoughts of what should have been. No gaffe was bigger than not moving to this modern home with better views and quieter neighbours. You may recall that the roof at the Kings Dock could be closed and the pitch rolled to one side to accommodate indoor events like concerts and the hanging of Kopites. And as my husband claimed, it would have been opened to allow God to watch his team in action. Sadly, this squandered opportunity will haunt Bill and future generations of Blues. It was similar to Decca Records rejecting a certain quartet of fab musicians. If Bill had concluded the deal to build or lease a new stadium on the banks of the Mersey, he would be hailed as a royal blue saint.
Also, I’ll remember Bill as the saviour who sold the greatest-ever Merseyside-born footballer. I’ve no doubts that Wayne Rooney was sent from royal blue heaven to lead us from stagnation. His transfer at age 18 saved us from ruin and also confirmed that we were no longer among the elite. In my eyes, Rooney was the first Everton hero to achieve global fame after leaving Goodison. To his credit, Bill squeezed every penny out of the transfer. He’s an expert negotiator and did the same with the sales of Jeffers, Rodwell, Big Vic and resales of Johnson, Lescott and Fellaini. As for imminent departures in the summer of 2016, I doubt if he’ll be blamed for selling Big Rom or TG Stones – that’s how he’s known on our house. More than likely, that will be a job for the new owners.
As for his legacy? Forget the Kings Dock, the sale of Rooney, Destination Kirkby, the lack of commercial ambition and the abundance of spin – history is history. The times they are a-changing. All Blues should focus on the future. Bill was our saviour but should be judged on his ability to pass the baton to new owners possessing the right qualifications, integrity and strategy for returning Everton to the elite.
Again, I would like to thank Bill for his unwavering commitment and immense contributions to the royal blue cause and, like all Blues, wish him a full and speedy recovery. Goodison isn’t the same without him.
LL: No-one can doubt that he is a showman and a wonderful orator. Does Bill have a refined sense of humour?
EF: He’s an Evertonian and must enjoy a good laugh. As for a sense of humour? Surely he needed one to appear in ‘Carry On Matron’. As for a refined sense of humour? How else could he have coped with the comedic performances of Nyarko, Alexandersson, Krøldrup and – the prototype for Old Tim – Richard Wright? As for my favourite bit of Bill banter, well you heard it in the company of our CEO in sunny San Francisco a couple of years ago. David tells the joke better than me but here goes:
After he died, Mr Elstone was made to queue outside the Pearly Gates for 40 days and 40 nights before being granted an audience with the Almighty. ‘Have you ever told a lie?’ asked God. ‘I don’t think so. Why?’ queried Mr Elstone flashing his Colgate smile. The All Powerful explained: ‘Up here in royal blue heaven every Evertonian is assigned a clock which shows the number of times they have told a lie. This includes deceptions, misrepresentations, falsehoods, white lies and Goodison whoppers. Look over my shoulder. The clock on the left on my wall belongs to Elizabeth France. As you know she is a saint and has never ever told a lie. The hands on her clock have always been on zero.’ God continued: ‘The clock on the right belongs to David Moyes. Again as you know, the Moyesiah is an honest man who has been required to tell one or two fibs during every transfer window. The hands of his clock are resting on number eight.’ Mr Elstone became uneasy: ‘So where is the chairman's clock?’ God smiled: ‘Ah Mr Kenwright. His clock has been relocated to my son’s room.’ Mr Elstone looked impressed: ‘Wow, Bill's clock is in your son’s room?’ God smiled: ‘Yes, Jesus is using it as a ceiling fan!’
I’m looking forward to a future involving more laughter in which differences within the fan-base are forgotten, the Everton family is re-united in harmony and Goodison is declared a no-fly zone. I seek a bright future in which we aren’t afraid to laugh at ourselves. As you know, no experience compares with the company of match-going fans. I enjoy their memories, moans and gossip as much as their humour and enthusiasm. The Everton family is extra-ordinary. What makes our bonds so extra special? For starters, we use out inherent strength of character developed from being raised as Blues to radiate a collective warmth that puts more conventional families to shame.
Want an example? Permit me to tell you about my husband’s recent encounter. Even though David keeps a low profile, he is flattered when Blues put a name to his wrinkled face. Of course, that’s not always the case. As my better half tells it, he was minding my own business outside the Adelphi on the evening of another Goodsion defeat when he noticed a Blue walking towards him. Sad-faced, the fan was wearing a tee-shirt displaying a profound message. It read: ‘Blues versus Reds … humility versus arrogance … loyalty versus entitlement … art versus porn … Dr Everton.’ The fact that David couldn’t take his eyes off the shirt seemed to irritate the owner: ‘What you looking at old man?’ David smiled and retorted: ‘Rare wisdom.’ The Blue glared at him: ‘Eff-off, you old Kopite.’ While my husband wasn’t pleased by the reference to his ageing appearance, it was the use of the K-word that upset him. He’d never been called one before. It made him feel dirty.
LL: This brings me to the Evertoons, Dr Everton’s collaboration with the award-winning cartoonist Peter King to tell the Everton story – warts and all – through 200 or so chuckles. You may recall that some were featured on ToffeeWeb in early 2015. This time, the subjects are Alcaraz, Kone, Van der Meyde, Moyes, Ferguson, Eto’o and others.
As the focus of our inaugural Toffeeweb Cartoon Competition, Elizabeth has requested our help in finalizing the gag involving the behavior of a certain Darron Gibson. We seek a caption to complete the cartoon. Well aware that they are no shortage of amusing people among our readers, I look forward to your feedback below within the next 7 days.