Football: Kenwright's passion play

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AS BILL KENWRIGHT began the enormous task of raising the cash to buy Everton Football Club yesterday his mind went back to the man who was to blame. Mr Parry was his name, and he unwittingly played a significant part in this week's events when he took a pupil to Goodison to see the club's reserves draw 1-1 with Chesterfield in the early 1950s.

"If at the age of five or six I'd become a red my whole life would have changed," Kenwright, 53, said, sounding almost regretful. Instead that mysterious emotional jolt that locks football devotion chose blue and means he is now negotiating to buy part or all of the 68 per cent share in the club owned by the former chairman Peter Johnson, a decision that will require pounds 50m at a conservative estimate.

Last night Kenwright, who has become the club's deputy chairman, was meeting Lord Grantchester, grandson of the former Everton benefactor Sir John Moores. "I wouldn't bet against me taking over the club by the end of the season," he said. "Nothing has happened, please understand that. We're talking about a phone call on Monday and a couple of conversations. All I can say is if Peter is looking into his shareholding then I'll be looking into it, too.

"Over the last year I have had inquiries from nearly all the people mentioned in the newspapers for me to lead their bids. I have always gone to the chairman before and he has said the club is not for sale. Now he's saying differently and I have a list of potential backers."

Kenwright, along with Everton's reinstalled chairman, Sir Philip Carter, was making his first public appearance since Johnson stepped down on Monday after four and a half years in charge, during which the club has had four managers and flirted regularly with relegation. The club also has reported debts of pounds 20m.

In spring 1994 Kenwright backed out of a struggle with Johnson fearing prolonged uncertainty would damage the club, but yesterday he said he was ready to assume control. "Four years ago I wasn't sure I was the right man to take Everton into the future," he said. "Now I'm pretty sure I am."

Even so Kenwright, a former Coronation Street actor who has made his money producing West End plays, admitted that his heart rather than his head was dictating his actions. "My mum phones me up and says `son, don't' and Sam Hammam, who is a great friend, rang me up yesterday to say I should think very seriously before I do it. Four years ago my bid included my house, everything I had, so that was the risk. I take risks but I can't think of anything in life that I'd risk more on."

Johnson, who is on holiday in the Caribbean, left after a dispute with the club's manager, Walter Smith, over the pounds 7m sale of Duncan Ferguson to Newcastle last week. The decision, taken without Smith's knowledge, infuriated supporters but was defended yesterday by Kenwright.

"I didn't know it was going to happen," he said, "but I would have supported the decision as I would have supported Duncan going last season. There were times, and any Evertonian would have been the same, where you discuss `will we ever win anything with the long ball game?' Duncan was a hero of mine but you had to ask yourself: would we do better with someone else in the middle?

"The fans' reaction reminds me so much of when I was 11 and Dave Hickson was transferred to Aston Villa. I wrote a letter to all the directors saying: `You know nothing about football, how can you let him go?' I told them I was boycotting the club, which lasted all of 24 hours. I understand the supporters' fury but there was a part of me that understood." It is that same angry boy who is now attempting to be the dominant force on the board he chastised.

Kenwright wants stability at Everton. He could not put a time frame on any potential takeover - Johnson is understood to be unwilling to sell until February for tax reasons - but he said that money is available if Smith wishes to buy a player. Most of all he wants an end to the bitterness of recent weeks.

"How many times do you think I've been on a train at 11 o'clock at night when we've lost? Just think how many games we've won in the last few years. Bad times, good times, it's like what's good sex, what's bad sex - it's Everton. There's nowhere else I want to be on a Saturday at 3pm. It's an addiction. Bad times? As long as it's with Everton.

"Of course I desperately want the good times. At Charlton on Saturday before the game I saw Evertonians in the rain with their heads down. They don't look up. You just want to smile, have a laugh again and most of all forget this hideous, hideous talk of violence. That's not Everton. This is not a good club, it's a great club."