Football: Kenwright steps up to share the spotlight with Smith

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BILL KENWRIGHT, the theatre impresario, made his first appearance as Everton's prospective owner last night but was content to share centre stage with the club's manager, Walter Smith.

Everton marked the pounds 20m deal which gives Kenwright a major shareholding by demolishing Sunderland 5-0 at Goodison Park and then announcing a two- year extension to Smith's contract. The Scot will be in charge until the summer of 2003.

On Christmas Eve, Kenwright, after several days of negotiations with the major shareholder Peter Johnson, struck a deal for a knock-down pounds 20m, just a couple of months after Johnson was touting Everton for over pounds 50m.

Kenwright's control will be confirmed on 25 January, but already he and the club's chairman, Sir Philip Carter, are planning ahead - and Smith's future is considered a crucial part of that strategy. The next part will be to make funds available for squad-strengthening.

Smith, who has made a number of threats to walk out during his 18 months at the club, said after the match: "It's a relief. Any business needs leadership. Now we've had that. We've had to stabilise. Now we can plan ahead."

Kenwright, who has negotiated for more than a year to wrest the majority shareholding from Johnson, said: "This is a very good Christmas present. It's very important because Walter is a pivotal part of this club.

"It's been a very difficult past year. The lows have been very low. But if you've got a goal as big as this then you keep on fighting. The fans knew it would take time and we've got the right manager. We've also got a team who want to play for Everton, as you saw out there today. The fans will go along with us and understand we have to take it at our own pace."

Kenwright is not joining forces with any interested rival consortiums and has stuck with his own backers. They are believed to include Phillip Green, who recently sold his Sports Division group and is reported to be involved in the move to take over Marks and Spencer.

After months of stalemate, the current negotiations were believed to have been caused by Johnson's financial problems in his Park Foods business empire and his need for a cash injection. He has also come under pressure to end a situation in which he owns a controlling interest in Everton and Tranmere, which is against football regulations. The pressure in recent weeks, particularly from the Football Association, is a major reason why the Jersey-based businessman has been prepared to do business with Kenwright for less than the asking price for his stake.