The Blue Union held their fourth public meeting in Liverpool on Saturday afternoon. The meeting covered an array of issues, including a thoroughly entertaining question and answer session with special guest Neville Southall.
Dave Kelly and Colin Fitzpatrick, the two Blue Union speakers on the day, also formed the Keep Everton in Our City campaign during the Kirkby debacle. The group successfully exposed the major flaws within the doomed project and the meeting began with a nod towards the role of such groups.
“I think there is an underselling of what fan movements have actually achieved,” said Kelly. “KEIOC took on a Premier League football club, the biggest retailer in Europe, and a council, and proved that what they were doing was inappropriate and wasn’t the direction our club should be going in.”
Before continuing, the role of special guest Southall was swiftly clarified; the Everton legend was “not there as a spokesman for the Blue Union”. A point reaffirmed by the man himself: “I’m not here to tell you to go one way or the other, I’m just here to say what I want to say.”
Although primarily focused on Everton, the group are involved in other non-Everton areas. “We are affiliated to the Football Supporters’ Federation and heavily involved in the Twenty’s Plenty campaign,” explained Kelly. The Blue Union will also attend the Supporters Summit later this month.
Labelled as ‘militant’ on occasion, there was an obvious attempt to build any potentially burnt bridges on Saturday. “We, as Evertonians, offer an olive branch to Everton Football Club,” Kelly continued. “We want to sit down and discuss things that affect every single one of us. We don’t want to be fighting with our club.
“We are not a small insignificant group of malcontent; we are a group of passionate supporters who believe in our football club. We are not here to slag individuals at the club, we are here to engage with Evertonians.”
The topic shifted to the controversial new badge and the Blue Union chairman classed it as “an absolutely shocking decision”. Kelly further expressed his views: “The club need to start engaging with the fans. Everton need to understand that Evertonians are a broad church, with many and different views, you need to listen to all our views.”
Next to take to the microphone was Colin Fitzpatrick, the Blue Union Press Officer, revisiting the Blue Union financial portfolio created in 2011, something the group received “a lot of stick for”. However, after the recent accounts, Fitzpatrick said: “We were completely vindicated, the last set of accounts were the worst in the history of the club.”
Then came a stark and in-depth assessment of the club. “There is an inability to generate money and record debt, not stupid debt, but it is record debt.” The Blue Union asked the club to appoint professionals to sell the club: “Six months later, they did, they brought in Inner Circle Sports, that’s 18 months ago. Yet not a sniff, we’re still listening to the same old things, so why is that?”
Talk then centred on the “astonishing” £125 million asking price, the figure generated after Stan Collymore used his radio show to look at Everton Football Club, and the current board went under the microscope. “Let’s talk about a few things that the board have done in the past 13 years. They have invested nothing, disposed of the assets, increased the debts to record levels and added no value.”
A comparison of the 1999 accounts, the year the club changed hands, and the 2012 accounts opened the next segment: “In 1999, the balance sheet was healthy; there was £20 million on the balance sheet. 13 years later, the figure is -£44 million in liabilities and all the assets have gone.
“Anybody could pick up the accounts and substitute those figures for the figures of today and realise the club is worth nothing. Nobody wants to buy it because it is not worth anything; it is certainly not worth £125 million.
“The stadium is a problem for any prospective buyer; the other is poor commercial performance. That is the one we constantly criticise, the real sore point. We say ‘you are harming the club’, they say, ‘this is the best thing for the club’. If you’re going to sell the club, you need to address the stadium and the poor commercial performance.”
When Everton signed the Kitbag deal, chief executive Robert Elstone proclaimed the deal would “benefit Everton and our supporters for many years to come”. However, the problem for the Blue Union is “what he never mentioned” – the kit supply deal.
After a £3 million five-year deal ended with Le Coq Sportif, Everton signed on with sporting giant Nike. Many expected a large cash windfall, but the club appear to receive more in marketing terms than upfront cash.
A comparison followed; Aston Villa get £15 million for wearing Macron, Liverpool receive £25 million per season from Warrior and even West Brom outperform Everton. According to the Blue Union, “this is why we have no money for players, because, commercially, we are absolutely appalling.”
In response to a question from the floor, Fitzpatrick gave his thoughts on the new badge: “It’s a disgrace and the real insult is saying ‘we extensively consulted the fans’. Nobody consulted anybody.”
Another question follows: “What’s wrong with the old badge? Nothing’s wrong with it, but people want change; fair enough, but if you want change, change for something better not worse.”
Colin Fitzpatrick proceeded to explain how “nobody in the local press supports us”. He expanded his point. “The things that matter, the things that have destroyed the club, which I’ve just shown you, we know they [Liverpool Echo] know the answers.”
The Blue Union met with the Liverpool Echo around two months ago and provided a series of extensive questions relating to the club. However, they feel there has been no progress on this front: “They won’t report it, that’s fine.”
Ending his financial section on a resounding note, the Blue Union Press Officer proclaimed: “I know what I’m going to be doing in the future. I don’t need the Echo, I don’t need Kitbag. So I know what I am doing, what are you doing?”
After this, Dave Kelly returned to the microphone. “I’m pleased to see the Echo in attendance and I hope they do their attendance the justice it deserves. I would like to see a full account of what goes on here, because that is what we want.”
The meeting then went up a level as the question and answer session began with Southall. Quickly building up a rapport with those in attendance, the former Everton goalkeeper soon had the room in fits of laughter after ribbing a number of supporters.
On the more serious side, Southall offered his thoughts on the club: “The problem is transparency, I think that’s been the problem all along. For all we know, Bill Kenwright might have spoken to 10 people [about buying the club]. I would like to see a company brought in to sell it, and be transparent, and say, ‘this week we spoke to three’. At least that way there is a bit of honesty.”
On the ongoing search for investment, Southall had this to say: “Look, I can’t, for the life of me, work out why they can’t sell the club. I do think somebody should be able to sell this club, in all fairness. It is just one of them clubs; best fans in the world, great history, great players.”
Once again, the club legend returned to the idea of transparency. “I’d like Bill Kenwright to come out at half time of the first game and say, ‘thanks for coming, really appreciate it, this is what we’re trying to do, this is our way forward’. He ended this part with a typically no-nonsense statement. “If it is the people’s Club, surely the chairman should speak to the f*****g people.”
Southall proceeded to discuss the current squad. “I think we are four players short, look at January. Some players needed a rest, but there was nothing really in there to give them a rest and we petered out.”
In terms of bridging the gap between sixth place and the holy grail of a Champions League place, Everton need “a centre half, a midfield player and a striker or two” and “missed a trick” when Jack Butland joined Stoke.
The conversation shifted onto ambition: “For the last, god knows how long, it has been so negative around the club.” Southall continued, “money doesn’t buy you success, it helps now and again, but it doesn’t buy you success. You’ve been sold a vision that finishing sixth is f*****g great.”
On the prospect of some of the better players leaving in the summer, Southall left supporters in no doubt over his thoughts. “If they don’t want to be here, well f*** them, let them go somewhere else.”
Worshipped by those in attendance, that level of respect is clearly reciprocated: “We’ve had good times, we’ve had some horrendous times, but the one constant is you [the supporters]. That’s what makes the difference. To be fair, when you look at the Bayern Munich game [in 1985] we would have lost that but for you.”
Returning to off the pitch matters, Southall closed with several pertinent points. “I’m not a particularly great lover of the board, but at the same time I don’t hear anybody saying who can come in and replace them; that’s the biggest problem. You are doing a good thing; but what is the aim, who is going to take their place, where is the money going to come from?
Whether the answers to these questions should come from The Blue Union, Everton Football Club, the local media, or a mixture of the three, it is obvious the answers to these questions would enable the club to move forward.
Southall ended the serious side of his comments with a final point on investment: “If you are going to have investment, it has got to be the right investment with the right people who know the history of the club and get you, get the history, and get what it means to you. That is why it is not bad for Martinez to come here, he’s been in the North West and he knows what the club means to people.”
Rounding off the meeting, the Blue Union welcomed suggestions and discussed possible measures for their campaign. While the group “will not advocate the boycotting of matches”, they “will advocate boycotting the partners of the club.”
Having had three public meetings within four months, from September 2011 – January 2012, the gap to this meeting was an overly long seventeen months. As a result, the group proposed regular meetings in a bid to “sell their message” and “get people knowing it”.
The Blue Union may not be to the liking of all Everton supporters, some like them, many more loathe them, yet it was clear from the meeting on Saturday that each attendee wants the best for their football club and no supporter should be criticised for that.
by Luke O’Farrell