The modern era of football has witnessed evolution and revolution in recent years, but have the clubs and the media missed that along with just about everything else in football the football fan has also evolved?
Perhaps still in a state of flux, football is witnessing club ownership becoming increasingly professional; it’s no longer the domain of the philanthropic local businessman or the enthusiastic amateur, many clubs have had to survive the opportunists that are attracted by the money like a moth to a flame.
We’re now in an era where sports businesses are operated as professional organisations employing the best in a league that generates in excess of £2.3bn per annum. It’s an era where adding value to a brand is the name of a game where they simultaneously attempt to comply with self-imposed legislation which is designed to drag the sport kicking and screaming out of its past and into the 21st century and beyond.
This internal evolution has been accompanied by an external revolution, a revolution in the media and communications industry, a revolution which, having been universally embraced, has become, and will continue to be, the primary driver of the sport for decades to come.
Before all this evolution, revolution, [regulation, integrations, meditations, United Nations, congratulations] we had the traditional football fan, the staunch Evertonian, who less than a generation ago, was predominantly local, paid £5 to watch the match and, as an avid reader of the pink, relied on the Echo to satisfy their thirst for knowledge.
Fans from further afield stepped off their coach on Priory or had little more than the Sunday Papers or a postal subscription to the pink to look forward to; life was simple, life was uncomplicated, life was about watching the game and telling your workmates how useless the manager, the centre half or the inside right was or that the “bastard in the black” needed glasses.
Then everything changed, the Internet arrived. Now we have Smartphones, we have Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. We have text messages and sites on which “supporters” living in Timbuktu, having watched the game “live”, having watched twenty angles of Fellaini handling the ball in the box and having had a much better view than the traditional fan, sitting just a few feet away from the action, tweet their fellow blues and debate all things Everton on any number of popular fan websites who relay in depth analytics on how much Fellaini’s hair has grown in the first half or what Baines’ arterial gases are indicating his second half performance is likely to be.
Twenty years ago support was mainly parochial, fans had little or no voice and clubs told supporters anything they wanted through their all too cosy symbiotic relationships with the local media. Twenty years ago a club could get away with telling their fans that a supermarket was giving them £52m towards the cost of a new stadium, today, despite trying, they’d never get away with it.
Why they wouldn’t get away with it isn’t because journalists at The Echo, or anywhere else for that matter, are all suddenly budding Pulitzer candidates. It’s because twenty years ago the completion of a commercial deal or the explanation of yet another set of disastrous accounts hardly merited a mention in the press; today, even before the press release is cut and pasted, fans will have analysed and deciphered the management speak and revealed the truth to an increasingly savvy audience who understand that games can be won and lost in the boardroom long before a ball is even kicked.
Fans have become more aware and why shouldn’t they? No longer do they simply pay £5 to watch their club, now it’s £35 and, along with merchandise and catering, fans of Everton contribute over £20m or 25% of the total income of the club; a club whose fans own almost 30% of it through share ownership yet have no say whatsoever in the corporate governance of a club that richly deserves the title, “The People’s Club”.
What is also deserved is transparency and honesty. That the futile search for investment by our club chairman has become frustrating would be an understatement; many fans and shareholders want to understand the root cause of this inability to address the sale, the inability to address the stadium issue and the inability to address the financial problems that have beset Goodison, problems that have characterised the tenure of the incumbent board of directors, problems which many believe are the elusive, or perhaps exclusive, root cause of Everton’s stagnation and eighteen year hiatus in the trophy department; a blight during which our neighbours have won eleven trophies.
Questions need to be asked and more importantly they need to be answered, answered by a board who is something of a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma and far removed from the easy to understand and write about scenario which took place at Anfield with Hicks & Gillette.
Nothing but the truth is good enough and all fans should appreciate that obtaining that truth will help avoid the club falling into the hands of similar owners to Portsmouth, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds and Blackburn as the boards past performance makes it clear that, despite the rhetoric, they’re only interested in somebody willing to pay an asking price that no sensible person is prepared to pay.
To facilitate the discovery of the truth about Everton, before it’s too late, we’ve had a two hour meeting with the Liverpool Echo. Our supporters in their thousands want to boycott the Echo, they have wanted to for years, but now, partially due to the bizarre performance and statements made by Paul Tyrrell on the Stan Collymore show and then the chairman’s camel’s back breaking performance on Sky where once too often he’s claimed he’s saved the club by mortgaging his house, their mood has become entrenched, they want us to prosecute a boycott of all the local media, the mandate is there but we feel that the Echo sometimes operate in an area that can only be described as between a rock and a hard place when you consider they’re there to sell papers and they’re dealing with an organisation who will ban them at the drop of a hat, an organisation whose chairman refuses to give them an interview, another board member doesn’t do interviews and another who rarely visits the country let alone the club.
What they’re left with are meaningless press releases from people whose raison d’être is to ensure the fans are kept occupied with faux fan/club integration and anything that keeps the focus of attention away from the performance of the board.
The questions we want the Echo to ask questions won’t remove them from their difficult position but the answers could prevent Everton from following the same course as the previous owners of the club’s mentioned earlier who set their own club’s on a disastrous heading by selling to the wrong individuals and we’ve at least received a reasonable commitment from the Echo, they’re not about to launch themselves into a crusade, but at least the real questions that need answering will begin to be asked and investigated.
Questions surrounding the source of the monies used to buy shares from previous owners, the individual roles of the current directors on the board and who evaluates their performances, why Everton alone in the Premier League has received no investment, why not one of the directors has ever invested a single penny into Everton, who are the offshore company we’re borrowing tens of millions of pounds from, who’s behind them and what is the source of that money, why has the Kit supply deal been left to Kitbag when every other club is earning millions from their kit supply deal whilst we earn nothing and finally how have the board calculated that Everton are valued at £125m, what have the board done to enhance the £21m valuation in 2000 and how has Inner Circle Sports performed since they were engaged to look for potential owners in March last year? If the questions fail to be answered then the next move is already in place.
In the autumn of 2011 Everton’s management were on the rack, revelations of inter-personnel angst, a chairman who couldn’t answer the simplest of questions, major player sales, no player purchases for two seasons, fans on the streets were angry that the team on the pitch we’re struggling due to what was happening off it.
Then, in the January, came hope; the manager was given some funds from the player sales, four weeks later it was revealed that Inner Circle Sports, a company promoted by the Blue Union as a potential broker with a better record than Keith Harris was approached to find a buyer for the club. The season improved, the summer saw some further support for the manager from the board but despite a good start to the season the signs were ominous as a leopard doesn’t change its spots and by January the good work had been undone.
During this time the behind the scenes outrageous behaviour of the club towards anyone uttering the slightest criticism has continued unabated, bans from the club, from events and threats to journalists continued as before, if anything it became worse; so the time for being patient and keeping quiet whilst the pantomime is played out has clearly past.