Football: Johnson comes out fighting to defend his Everton record

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The Independent Online
Everton's troubled start to the season meant there was a record turn-out for last night's annual general meeting.

Guy Hodgson was there as the chairman made his case while supporters struggled to be heard.

Some teams reflect the personality of their manager. Everton have taken on the character of their shareholders' annual meeting. They came to attack the chairman last night but, face to face with him, they saw their opening and the chance went begging.

The mood was hostile and that was just on the pavements outside Goodison as participants were issued with a rain forest worth of paper from protesters. Inside, while Barnsley were trying 80 miles away to dump Everton on the bottom of the Premiership, some 400 were in the Alex Young Suite - more than double the previous best - baying for boardroom blood.

"We will ask the questions the supporters want," the shareholders' association had promised. "Why, when we are supposed to be a Big Five club, are we rubbish?" would have been on top of most agendas but that, like so many other comments, never made it to the microphone. Only a small sample were heard and these were replied to politely with: "I'm sure all those comments are being noted".

Johnson, who has a 68 per cent holding in the club, confronted his accusers with an arsenal of statistics that dealt in turn with his lack of spending; the suggestion the club is definitely and imminently moving to a new stadium in Cronton Colliery; and the time he is devoting to the club.

"People want to know about my cheque book," he said, "but I have spent more personally than any other Premier League chairman. I have supplied the money but I don't buy the players. These numbers speak for themselves."

Managers past, who could not speak for themselves, were being put in the frame. The numbers showed that since Johnson became chairman in 1994 Everton have spent pounds 43.1m, more than any other club but Arsenal. Put in terms of outlay against transfer fees received and his argument was even more persuasive, pounds 26.7m compared to Liverpool's pounds 20.7m and Manchester United's pounds 400,000.

"There has been an unprecedented investment in players," he added. "Since the summer we have spent pounds 12m which is more than Liverpool spends all year." With the club in the relegation zone and with one point from six matches it hardly needed saying that there were doubts about the quality of the purchases.

Johnson also revealed that the club would not make a decision to leave Goodison until the shareholders had been consulted, probably this spring, while he was curtailing his other business activities to concentrate on running the club.

The hissing sound was not the expected vilification but the wind coming out of angry sails and the shareholders resorted to guerrilla tactics rather than a full-frontal assault. The re-election of Sir Desmond Pitcher - he of fat-cattery fame - was voted down in the meeting (26,741 to 1,847) in a card vote. A gesture had been made but at a cost; the time spent counting meant fewer questions could be asked. Labour Party conferences used to be like this.

The role of the angry Arthur Scargill was taken by Norman Dainty, the shareholders' representative. Some of the criticism of Johnson had been "grossly unfair", he agreed, but was that going to stop him? Of course not.

"There is a complete absence of communication at this club," he said. "We deserve answers to questions." He then wondered why the club were "deeply in debt" when there were average gates of 36,000, a megastore splitting at the seams and wages comparatively low. Why was there no new chief executive? Where is the pride in Everton?

"If your businesses had been run like this club," he said producing the final barb, "they would have gone bankrupt years ago." Ouch, but Johnson must have been expecting far worse.

With time running out he could step out of the firing line and let manager Howard Kendall take the stage to prolonged clapping. Johnson had stage- managed the whole event so well he could have been forgiven for thinking the applause was for himself.

"It's not our club any more," one supporter grumbled on the way out. "I half-feel like throwing my season ticket away." If the preceding meeting had been indicative there would have been no point aiming for the bin. He would have missed.

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