Football: Johnson set for Goodison

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The Independent Online
TRANMERE ROVERS are finally resigned to losing Peter Johnson, the man who rescued them from oblivion, as he answers an SOS from Everton across the Mersey.

Johnson, the wealthy owner of the Wirral-based Park Foods Group, has seized control of Everton after a six- month battle with the West End impresario, Bill Kenwright. Several legal obstacles remain before the near- pounds 20m package - some pounds 12m is for new players, the rest for shares - is finalised by the approval of 75 per cent of the Everton shareholders.

That is expected at an extraordinary meeting within a month following the recommendation of acceptance by the Everton board. Kenwright apparently still believes there is life in a lesser bid by his five-man consortium, despite what is regarded as the final whistle blown by his fellow Everton directors.

Johnson's move into Goodison Park is likely at the end of the season, with the chief executive, Frank Corfe, becoming chairman. Despite poor home support, Tranmere are vying for promotion from the First Division and are seeking their sixth Wembley appearance in six years.

'It would be a nice way of saying goodbye and thanks by reaching Wembley again and even making it a double,' said Tranmere's manager, John King, who, like other officials, is resigned to losing the 53-year-old Johnson. Tranmere take a 3-1 lead in the semi-final of the Coca-Cola Cup to Aston Villa next Wednesday.

Without Johnson's backing, Tranmere will struggle financially, with gates some way below break-even point. Johnson's largess over a seven- year period has enabled King to buy the former Evertonian Pat Nevin, John Aldridge (ex-Liverpool) Tommy Coyne and Liam O'Brien.

Now Mike Walker will have a sizeable transfer kitty at his disposal in his attempt to re-establish Everton as a potent force in the Premiership. If Johnson can achieve comparable success across the water, he will ease the pain of patient Everton fans whose tolerance of decline and setbacks, especially during Liverpool's pomp, has reached breaking point.

Walker yesterday completed his second signing at Goodison by landing the 19-year-old utility player, Gary Rowett, from Cambridge United for pounds 300,000. 'It may not be a big-money signing but a solid foundation is very important,' Walker said. 'I've been tracking his progress since I was at Norwich.'

Sepp Blatter, the general secretary of the world governing body, Fifa, said yesterday that tackles from behind in which the ball is not touched should be banned and offenders automatically sent off. In an interview for the club magazine of Marseille, Blatter said the law could be in force for the World Cup finals. Blatter also hinted at increased powers for linesmen who, he said, should be regarded more as 'deputy referees' than merely 'line-judges'.