Club or Corporation?

Maybe it’s time to redefine “the Everton Way”? Maybe it’s time for realism rather than idealism.

Paul The Esk 12/06/2019 0comments  |  Jump to last

So much of Everton’s media is caught up in our past. Not only media, not only fan generated content, but the ethos of the club and the business itself.

We all refer to our past, we all reminisce, amplify and rejoice in those past moments when either the club or individuals associated with us are momentarily at the top of the game.

There’s no doubt about our historical relevance to the game, our role in developing professional football, our founding credentials, our history of innovation… so many firsts, so many players and individuals (Dean, Lawton, Wilson, Ball, Southall, Rooney and many more) that trip off the tongue, managers such as Catterick and Kendall, the pre-eminence of administrators in the national game such as Will Cuff and more recently one of the leading lights in the formation of the Premier League, Sir Phillip Carter.

We talk, as did Denise Barrett-Baxendale in the early weeks of her becoming CEO, of the “Everton Way”. Whatever the “Everton Way” is — and it is different to many people, the truth is that it is no guarantee of regular and sustained occupation of the winner’s circle. Despite our pedigree, our history shows only periodic success at best and long periods of drought in between.

Being objective and analytical, we have only won trophies in 13 seasons out of 120. A success rate of 10.8%. That compares to 24.1% for Liverpool and 29.3% for Manchester United. There are of course, factors, “black swans” which may have contributed such as the onset of two World Wars whilst Champions and the wholly unjust consequences of the Heysel disaster in 1985.

So, what is the Everton Way?

I’m sure if I spoke to the major shareholders, Directors and others of influence in the media and involved in the club, their opinions would use words and expressions such as “excellence, innovation, hard work, community, loyalty, academy, a special club, once Everton has touched you” et cetera. I’m equally sure that many of them would truly believe that this was representative of our club today.

All of which may be considered fine and noble, but if these values or expressions of values are true both in relative and absolute terms, why haven’t we won more, both in the past and particularly more recent times? Why, despite Moshiri’s hundreds of millions, do we limp to 8th place and make the cup auto ticketing scheme almost redundant for season ticket holders?

Maybe it’s time to redefine “the Everton Way”? Maybe it’s time for realism rather than idealism. Time to take the blue-tinted glasses off. Maybe it’s time to examine the short- and medium-term objectives of the club and ask ourselves “are they ambitious enough?” and secondly “do we have the people and resources to get us there?”

I write this as someone who loves the club. However, I want us to redefine ourselves. Critically I don’t want to hear “a return to former glories” because I think that is too limiting. I want to hear that we are a progressive, professional and global organisation that fully resources a highly successful football team that competes for trophies and European honours.

In preparing this article, I listened to a speech made by our CEO at Liverpool Hope University. It was Denise Barrett-Baxendale’s inaugural Professorial Lecture in April 2018, just before she formally took the role of Everton’s CEO. The speech was interesting, exploring the idea whether football clubs use their community programmes as a means of good PR rather than being wholly committed to benefiting those less fortunate in their local communities. Denise, as you would expect, made an excellent and compelling case for Everton in the Community.

Not a corporation, a club

However, from my perspective and from the perspective of wanting greater success, the most interesting point she made was the following: “Everton is not a corporation, we are a club”.

I was surprised initially, but then I thought about it a bit more, and those few words describe better than anything I’ve heard previously how we view ourselves, and ultimately why we are in the position we are in.

In a football world dominated by corporations run by senior business people, officers representing Nation States, global communicators and commercial experts, we see ourselves as ‘a club’.

If we define the “Everton Way” in that context, it is clearly very different from the manner in which our competitors operate and think of themselves. The question I’d like to pose the board, the executive team and indeed particularly Farhad Moshiri is can we succeed as a club? Can a club compete with what are rapidly becoming global corporations?

In January 2017, Farhad Moshiri, when addressing shareholders, said the following “It’s not enough to say you are a special club and a great club, we don’t want to be a museum.” He rightly received the plaudits and widespread praise from media and fans alike. But the question must be asked whether those fine words have ever been followed through?

Moshiri is clearly financially committed to the club (possibly more so than he might have hoped), but is he committed to forcing through the cultural and organisational changes that are required (i) to make good that investment and (ii) provide the future I described earlier in the article “we are a progressive and professional organisation that fully resources a highly successful football team that competes for trophies and European honours”?

How can we possibly hope to compete with corporations that fund the teams we play against each week without a similar resource provider and winning, competitive ethos that arises from successful corporations populated by ambitious individuals?

Being a “special and great” club is not enough. They’re not my words – they’re the words of the majority shareholder.

What is the solution?

Simply, we need to think and act like a corporation – a business that has the sole purpose of generating the resources to make the team a great success. In fact, more successful than we’ve ever been before, and ultimately more successful than those already much better resourced than we are.

Surely, the major shareholder Farhad Moshiri, who is pumping hundreds of millions into Everton, should expect no less? I don’t know a single successful entrepreneur or business owner that doesn’t want to be the very best in their chosen field. Why would Moshiri be any different in that respect?

I appreciate some will argue vehemently that being a “club” is hugely important and that, by being smarter in the future, somehow we will compete once more against those with greater resources. That we don’t need to be another corporation?

The truth, backed by evidence, is that the best resourced clubs win more frequently than the less resourced (this is not just a recent phenomena). Our future objective must be to achieve greater success, more frequently than in the past – to close the achievement gap between us and others. We can only do that by being better resourced, in capital, cash, strategic thinking and ultimately people.

In short, by being a corporation – not just a club. Having targets that stretch and challenge, achieving the seemingly impossible of building resources that build a competitive winning team, greater in every sense than others.

Do we risk losing anything by this? Not in my opinion – enjoying the most successful periods of Everton’s history in the present and future must be so much more rewarding than just reliving our past. Otherwise, to use Moshiri’s words, we are a “museum”.

The challenge is there, build a corporation that makes Everton Football Club enjoy its most successful period ever, and even more, enjoy success that is sustainable. This is Moshiri’s challenge.

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