Everton, a Rolls-Royce club battling to stay on road to a brighter future
Goodison saw income from a new ground as crucial to its future, so what now their plans have been dashed?
Friday 27 November 2009
The Everton edition of Monopoly was selling well in the festively decorated club shop yesterday, with David Moyes, the "Mayfair" of the board, valued at £400m, Marouane Fellaini curiously ranked as the "Park Lane" player and the four main stands of Goodison Park rated £200m apiece. Sadly for chairman Bill Kenwright, life – and certainly football – is not a board game.
The mainstay of Kenwright's great hope of economic revival for his beloved club was swept away yesterday and the £200m Everton will need to find for a stadium is not going to turn up in a Community Chest, given Liverpool city council's reluctance to let the club build a ground on a free site within its boundaries on the coat-tails of supermarket chain Tesco, which was ready to subsidise the Kirkby project so heavily.
If there is any consolation for Everton ahead of a Goodison Park derby on Sunday, it is that Liverpool are in no better state than they. Rarely, if ever, in the Premier League era has the Merseyside clash been played out between two such wretched clubs: Everton with one win in 10 after Wednesday's defeat at Hull; Liverpool with two in 11. In the space of 48 hours this week, the two managers batted away questions about their futures. A donkey derby, indeed, on a weekend when Real Madrid meet Barcelona and Chelsea play Arsenal.
Among those who have suggested what appears to be the obvious solution to two clubs, each in need of cash, new owners and a new stadium, is corporate financier Keith Harris, who knows a bit about the challenges of finding buyers for football clubs. "Why not?" he said, to the notion of a ground-share earlier this year. "Technology today can turn a stadium from blue to red in the flick of a switch."
In spirit, Everton would agree. They need any solution they can find to the fact that billionaire investors have shown minimal interest in middle range clubs over the past 12 months and that the gravity-defying feat which has been a source of wonder to Premier League chief executives everywhere – the Goodison club's ability to hit the top five with a mid-table wage bill – suddenly seems to belong in the past.
But consider Liverpool's position for a moment. The raison d'être of new managing director Christian Purslow is to raise £100m by selling a 25 per cent share in the club to one or several investors, and his prime strategy for doing so is to tell interested parties that a new 73,000 capacity stadium will deliver the club even larger match-day revenues than Manchester United. It is called the "facility model" in the football world and it was the kind of pitch which, above all else, persuaded Americans Tom Hicks and George Gillett to buy the club in the first place, two and half years ago. Buy the club, build a stadium and sell for a profit, their logic ran. Liverpool believe they might boost their profits to as much as £95m with their "equity raise" and subsequent stadium.
Other reasons to doubt the viability of a ground-share include Everton's ability to stump up their share of the money for it. Even the £78m they would have needed to find to build the heavily subsidised stadium at Kirkby would have been a push. "That's not for me to answer," Liverpool's deputy executive director Peter Shaw said, when asked whether the idea of a ground-share with Everton could be a possibility. It is hard to imagine either Hicks or Gillett, individuals whose personal investment in the club increased to £135m at their bankers' insistence this summer, being quite so diplomatic, though Shaw went as far as he could. "Liverpool are progressing forward with our own stadium. That is the position we are still in," he added. "It is quite far progressed and once the financial markets reopen for business the stadium will progress further."
That leaves Kenwright in a dark place. He has made no secret of his wish to sell to a buyer with pockets to take Everton on – "the billionaire model" as they call it at Goodison. But instead he is left to sit down with Liverpool city council, whose declaration yesterday that "the door is open" for discussions on sites which the city might put at their disposal belied the fact that Kenwright cannot afford to build if there is not a retail partner such as Tesco to lead the way.
Amid the uncertainty, Everton can only rely on David Moyes to continue working his alchemy and hope that a buyer of some description might eventually be found. It would have helped to have had images of a glittering new stadium to parade across the Gulf states where much of the new football money is to be found. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan's arrival at Manchester City proved the attractions of a ready-built stadium.
All is not lost. An important part of Everton's pitch to prospective investors is their presence as founder members of the Football League; a Rolls-Royce club who fill the stadium they have. But all told, the timing of Sunday's game has dark ironic significance given the events of the past 48 hours – and the fact that it was a rent rise proposed in 1892 by John Houlding, who became Liverpool's first director, which forced the first players of Everton to leave Anfield and form their own club in the first place.
'We could get into a relegation fight'
The Everton manager David Moyes revealed the full depth of his despair in the aftermath of Wednesday night's defeat at Hull, which leaves his side four points above the relegation zone, by conceding that he is unsure whether they are too strong to go down.
"I don't know," Moyes said after a defeat which Dutch defender Johnny Heitinga yesterday described as "shameful". Everton were 3-0 down at half-time and their second half fightback stood for nothing, despite the fine individual display by the returning Steven Pienaar. "We could be dragged into a relegation fight, particularly because of the injuries we have and individual performances," Moyes said.
Some managers might conclude that Sunday's encounter with Liverpool, not in the best of health themselves, is the perfect way to make amends. Moyes was unable to do so. "I don't know about Liverpool," he said. "I only look at Everton's form, I'm not really concentrating on how other teams do. We have to play better. The first thing you do as a player is run around... I need to get them to do that a bit more than they're doing at the moment. It's my job."
Neither would Moyes lay the blame for the display on injuries: Jack Rodwell limped off during the second half at the KC Stadium to join an injury list that includes Mikel Arteta, Phil Neville, Phil Jagielka and Victor Anichebe. Moyes said: "It is partly to do with it, partly to do with individual performances. Obviously they have been a factor but it wasn't the reason we lost three goals in the first half. It was nothing to do with the boys who weren't playing, it was to do with the boys who were playing." Everton are waiting to learn the extent of Rodwell's groin injury.
Heitinga hoped his team-mates could make amends. "I have played in the Madrid derby match for Atletico and I know the only way we can make up for this is by beating Liverpool," he said. "They are not going into the game in the best of form either."
The Hull manager Phil Brown suggested Everton will still reach a Europa League place at the end of the season. "He must have 11 injuries, plus suspensions, and that will test any Premier League squad, but I know Davey, he's a solid character, strong-willed, and he will get his just rewards this season." Moyes seems to have profound doubts on that score.
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