This Saturday thousands of Everton supporters are taking part in a demonstration march ahead of the Wolves game in a bid to air their grievances at the running of their football club. It will be the second such protest and is again organised by the fan’s pressure group the Blue Union.
I spoke to the chairman of the Blue Union Dave Kelly this week who stated that the opposition this weekend are entirely appropriate.
‘Bill Kenwright has often said there is not a bigger Everton supporter around than himself. Well there were not many bigger Wolves fans than Sir Jack Hayward and he sold the club to Steve Morgan for ten pounds under the proviso that the rest of the money went into the club itself. No-one made a penny because they weren’t working in the best interests of the share-holders’.
Dave is articulate, passionate, but most of all frustrated. He has already taken on and beaten the might of Tesco as part of the KEIOC (Keep Everton In Our City) supporter’s group who fought against the club relocating to Kirkby. After such a prolonged struggle you suspect he would now much rather go to Saturday’s game, have a couple of pre-match pints, then return home and enjoy the rest of his weekend. Like the rest of us. Instead the KEIOC, along with three other supporter’s groups, formed a coalition back in August and became the Blue Union. The fight continues because Everton are still stagnating and under the stewardship of a chairman who is generally considered to be well-meaning but hopelessly out of his depth the club remain in a seemingly irreversible financial mire that prevents progress. As the Swiss Ramble website so succinctly put it recently, theirs is a business model that is bust.
In David Moyes, they possess an astute manager who can regularly provide top six finishes
It is, on the surface at least, a baffling state of affairs. Everton have been ever-presents in the Premier League – that’s eighteen years of windfalls and riches – and they have never been ones to spend beyond their means. Indeed, in David Moyes, they possess an astute manager who can regularly provide top six finishes whilst recruiting the likes of Arteta, Cahill, Jagielka, Pienaar and Coleman all for under ten million combined. Yet, as harsh as this sounds, they have become paupers in the golden palace, with an estimated debt of £45m which has required them to sell off their training ground and outsource profitable revenue streams such as merchandise and catering. Hindered by a ground in desperate need of updating (their lack of corporate facilities alone limits them greatly in relation to their Prem peers) and with commercial operations that bring in a third of Tottenham’s the solution solely lies in investment and change.
Recently there has been genuine takeover interest from several interested parties, most notably the Jain Group of India, but as yet none have come to fruition which has led to further exasperation amongst the fans.
The Jain Group in particular is an interesting proposition because their talks with the club and Liverpool City Council are believed to involve serious discussions concerning the construction of a Football Quarter in and around Stanley Park.
The Football Quarter is a proposal initially put forward by the supporters groups, KEIOC (Keeping Everton In Our City) and SOS (Spirit of Shankly), who put aside their differences with the aim of keeping Goodison Park and Anfield at their spiritual homes. Realising that expansion and modernisation was required for both stadia the idea of the Football Quarter was born, a designated area in and around Stanley Park which comprises two football stadia and 40 acres of land dedicated to educational, recreational, leisure and community facilities. This would completely regenerate an entire area of north Liverpool bringing in businesses, tourism and prosperity.
The Jain Group are currently undertaking a similar – but much larger – sports complex development in Kolkata, India and their talks concerning the possible takeover of Everton FC and the construction of the Football Quarter project reached such advanced levels of interest that they were given a personal tour of Goodison Park. Additionally two high-level meetings between the City Council and the Jain group (in spring and autumn of this year) were attended by Mannoj Kumar Jain, the chairman of the company.
'During a subsequent demonstration there was a call from the floor for a boycott of local media. There is a feeling of being let down by them’.
Alas, as the BBC reported on Wednesday, ‘…it is understood they were one of a dozen initial approaches in the last year and have given no indication that they are formulating a bid’.
However, when I first broke this story in my football newspaper, the Daisy Cutter, last month I was perplexed when the Merseyside media greeted the news with muted scepticism. While Sky Sports News, the Daily Mirror, even the Indian Telegraph, ran with it I was puzzled as to why the local press seemed so keen to dismiss the reporting as ‘rumours’ even if they did consequently corroborate the findings.
My confusion though pales into insignificance when compared to the repeated exasperation of the Blue Union who have found themselves ignored time and again when it comes to getting their efforts recognized in the local media. Dave Kelly believes it is because the newspapers do not want to jeopardise the close links they have built up with the club.
‘At our first meeting at Zeligs in Liverpool there was 700 people there, including Howard Kendall and the F.A Cup on display. Sky covered it amongst others but the local media did not. The Liverpool Echo were in attendance but evidently were not there in a professional capacity as no coverage appeared anywhere. For our second meeting – even though it was an international weekend – the local media informed us it was not sufficiently newsworthy. During a subsequent demonstration there was a call from the floor for a boycott of local media. There is a feeling of being let down by them’.
The lack of local coverage is puzzling for several reasons not least because the intention of the Everton supporters is not to cause harm or disharmony to the club – these are not a baying mob insisting that heads must roll – but rather their campaign is, to again quote Swiss Ramble, ‘more about freeing up Everton’s executives to focus on operational issues, such as growing revenue and cutting costs, while a “fully autonomous group of professional individuals” is brought in to expedite the sale of the club to a buyer who can drive the club forward’.
‘There is a feeling we should be protesting every game, every week’, Dave informed me, ‘That isn’t logistically possible'.
It is an entirely reasonable proposal being put forward in an entirely reasonable manner. If there are, as the BBC reports, a dozen interested parties but, as yet, no firm bid then two things can be ascertained. First of all, that there is ample interest in the purchasing of Everton football club. Secondly, the current top brass are not very good at selling it.
‘There is a feeling we should be protesting every game, every week’, Dave informed me, ‘That isn’t logistically possible. We have to liaise with the local council to get road closures and permission from the Merseyside Police’.
‘We are not anti-Bill Kenwright and this isn’t personal. This is history based, not personality based. We are the fourth most successful club and we deserve better. Nil Satis Nisi Optimum (nothing but the best) are not just words, they should be a mission statement’.
So it is that on Saturday a multitude of loyal supporters, who do indeed deserve better, will convene at Spellow Lane Council Field at half past one. They will march down Langham Street then up Spellow Lane until they reach Goodison Park. Once there they will disperse in the interests of public safety.
A large banner will be carried bearing the words ‘Let Go If You Love The Club’.
Bill Kenwright will no doubt see the banner – though probably not in the local newspapers – but will he ever heed the words?
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