Just why are increasing numbers of Evertonians becoming disenchanted with Bill Kenwright’s chairmanship? Whilst some still believe in the media portrayal of a traditionally owned, well run club that has avoided the debt trap; others are realising that this image is perhaps just an allusion, based on nothing but spin and press manipulation and that Everton actually isn’t the bastion of fiscal prudence we’re led to believe but is a club facing the very real possibility of an extremely serious crisis, in the near future, due to the inability of their board to address difficult commercial issues.
For Evertonians it appeared to be a match made in heaven when in 1999 Kenwright, a locally born, successful West End theatre impresario, but most importantly, a true blue, one of their own, saved the club from the evil clutches of the devils spawn himself, Peter Johnson. Johnson, also locally born and a very successful businessman, was unfortunate to have a fatal and unforgivable flaw, he supported Liverpool!
Prior to Kenwright’s reign the business had a net worth of £10m, total debt of £20m and a positive balance sheet of £18m. Twelve years later, largely unreported by the media, things couldn’t be more different; the net worth of the business is now minus £75m, total debt has risen to £85m and the balance sheet is now minus £30m due to most of the assets being disposed of; yet, incredibly, this financial performance isn’t the worst aspect of Kenwright’s reign.
Also unreported in the press, fans and shareholders of Everton have had to endure many false promises, ineptitude and deception, arguably the worst involving a second proposal to relocate the club to a new stadium on a retail park. Kenwright’s board promised a world class stadium that was effectively free, would deliver £10m to the manager every year and would be built with the aid of a £52m subsidy from the developers; unfortunately none of this was true.
In reality the stadium was a cheap championship grade construction which, ludicrously dependent on being filled past capacity, was only capable of delivering £6m in total to the club and, worst of all, it wasn’t going to be built with a £52m subsidy; Everton were paying for the lot!! Kenwright, advised by others, disgracefully and impotently stood by as the club he professed to love was sold down the river for a dodgy property deal involving retail magnets and the most notoriously corrupt council in Merseyside who were happy to see their own planning policies exceeded by over 400%.
Thankfully the Government saw through what Liverpool Council had described as a con. At least on the pitch things were much better, but this was despite the board not because of it, and once again it was those fans opposed to Destination Kirkby that exposed the ticking time bomb that was masquerading as the business strategy adopted by Everton’s board.
During the Government inquiry into Kirkby, Everton’s CEO, Robert Elstone, was publicly cross-examined by the fans who challenged the club’s desire for the former landfill site. Had the directors invested a single penny in Everton? No, was the answer given by the CEO. Wasn’t the current business plan, heavily dependent on the sale of assets, unsustainable and wouldn’t it fail and lead to the club being overwhelmed by debt which would manifest itself through the club being unable to provide funds to the manager? The CEO agreed that the business model was unsustainable but stated that they wouldn’t allow the club to become overwhelmed by debt as they had a team of experts employed to prevent this.
A read of this director’s report confirms that, two years later, those fans fears have been realised. Proceeds from the sale of the remaining £8m asset, Bellefield, went straight to the bank as did the proceeds from the sale of Steven Pienaar and James Vaughan. David Moyes has been unable to buy a player for almost two years and fans of the fourth most successful club in English football have finally had enough.
The latest apparent failure, concerning a proposed commercial development on Goodison’s Park End, follows an all too predictably farcical path, as can be seen here where the masters of spin can’t even get their stories straight. Since then there’s been silence and fans fear that the current board can’t be trusted to not only solve the commercial dilemma but, probably more importantly, find competent new owners to take the club forward; I fear that they’re right, again!