When a plane flew over Goodison Park in September, organised by supporters critical of Bill Kenwright’s reign as Everton chairman, the message trailing behind it read: “Your failures are your legacy.” If it seemed an unduly negative verdict then, it seems today as misplaced as the leaflets handed out around Goodison Park in October 1983, calling for Howard Kendall – soon to become the club’s most successful manager – to be sacked.
After all, Saturday’s news that Farhad Moshiri has bought a 49.9 per cent share in Everton means that Kenwright has at last delivered the investment he was said to have long been seeking. Moshiri, an Iranian-British businessman, has an estimated personal fortune of more than £1.2bn according to Forbes, bringing the financial muscle long absent at a club formerly known as the Mersey Millionaires in the 1960s.
Time alone will tell but the announcement of Moshiri’s investment raises the hope on Merseyside that a club with nine league titles but not a single trophy since 1995 can hold genuine aspirations of real, not relative, success once more.
It was an announcement delivered with the kind of twist that Kenwright, as a successful theatre impresario, will have relished. He said on Saturday that he had got to know Moshiri over the past 18 months but, until days ago, the American pair of John Jay Moores and Charles Noell had appeared front-runners to buy the club. Instead it was Moshiri, frustrated by his inability to get a place on Arsenal’s board, who struck a reported £200m deal to become Everton’s largest shareholder after selling his shares in Arsenal to Alisher Usmanov, his long-standing business associate.
There was a positive reaction to the news in Liverpool. An American takeover would have been regarded with more cynicism, given the evidence of Tom Hicks and George Gillett’s five-year tenure at Anfield and Aston Villa’s decline under Randy Lerner.
“It is somebody that has experience of football already,” said Nick Mernock, chairman of the Everton fans’ forum. “On the face of it, it appears a fantastic opportunity.”
Although Everton have not confirmed the make-up of their new board, Moshiri’s 49.9 per cent stake includes the 24 per cent of shares previously held by Robert Earl, whose only notable contribution was introducing Sylvester Stallone to Goodison Park. That Kenwright, who has been in poor health, will remain chairman with a diluted shareholding is further good news, according to John Blain, chairman of the Everton Shareholders’ Association.
“It provides ongoing stability while bringing a guy with some significant wealth behind him,” he said. There was no better illustration of the continuity Kenwright provides at a club with strong community links than when he stood up at Kendall’s funeral to deliver a eulogy in which he spoke directly to some of the club’s 1980s heroes seated in the congregation. It showed a grasp of Everton’s history that is beyond the new wave of foreign owners.
Yet Blain hopes Moshiri’s arrival will improve the club’s much-criticised commercial performance and resolve the long-standing stadium problem to which Kenwright, who presided over a notable missed opportunity at Liverpool’s King’s Dock, could not find an answer. “Most shareholders and fans would want to see a final decision and commitment towards a new stadium – be it an upgrade to Goodison Park or indeed a new build,” he said.Reuse content