But this isn’t a piece about the board. This is a piece about Everton. And the board are not Everton.
One thing that has remained constant throughout Everton’s history is a clearly defined identity. A proper identity. I’m not talking about the “we won the World Cup” or the “our star player was a piss-head” identity. I mean a proper set of events and values that even neutral fans can say “that was Everton”.
A History Lesson
In 1891 Everton won the Football League. As the club celebrated being only the second club to win it, in its third season, one man who shan’t be named looked to spoil the party and make a quick buck. The immortal George Mahon stood in front of a special general meeting of the club, produced an agreement to lease a plot of land in nearby Walton and declared Everton would do what had at that point never been done – construct a purpose-built football ground. For all time, Everton, and jointly Celtic, will be known as the first football clubs to have their own stadiums.
Fast forward to the 1950s, and postponements pockmarked the football calendar. It was decided that an ambitious undersoil heating system, the first at any British football ground, would be installed to carry the club through the winter months and cement Goodison’s place as one of the world’s premier sporting venues. Anfield didn’t have it until 1982.
Even in 1995 as the country salivated over the prospect “dream final” a beleaguered Everton, midway through a decade of misery, stood defiant and wrote themselves into history as one of the best crap sides ever to win a pot, with the best cup final song ever made to boot. Christ, in 2005 they had to rewrite the European rulebook because we wouldn’t do what we were told.
We’ve always done things a bit differently. Tried new things. Led the way. We have a proper identity. So the question must be asked, what identity will a post-takeover Everton have?
You may sit there and say “they’ll never sell!” but the fact is, rumours aside, they won’t be there forever. Bill Kenwright is 69. Jon Woods 68. Robert Earl 64. Eventually someone else will be running the club. So what will that club look like?
The Premier League Peep-Show
One of the greatest failings of the current regime is the laughably feeble commercial income compared to the clubs we seek to usurp. Everton’s global profile can be generously described as low key. But profile is not identity.
Yesterday I saw someone walk out of the Liverpool shop on Williamson Square with a tote bag of purchases. Do you know what that tote bag said on it? Standard Chartered. It might have said LFC somewhere near the neck, but not in any noticeable size. All I could see is the name of their shirt sponsor who, when they’re not laundering money for FIFA or Iranian Oil, contribute some 30% of Liverpool’s eye watering £100m in commercial income. But at what cost? They take their kids to the club shop to stock up on tacky merchandise, only to take it home in a bag that’s more libor than Liverpool. Fairytale stuff.
Tottenham and Chelsea are two shining examples of London-driven commercial muscle, with official dental floss partners accounting for 31% and 35% of their turnover respectively. This number is just under 10% for Everton. Yet, did anyone see what those clubs were up to last week as most of the world watched Arsenal ruthlessly destroying both Aston Villa and Christian Benteke’s agent’s will to live? Post-season friendlies in Asia and Australia. This is the cost of the commercial juggernaut that is the Premier League. Jetting off to another time zone to flog your brand whilst the oldest cup competition in the world is taking place. Which you should be playing in.
The point of highlighting these things is, yes, under new ownership Everton could quite conceivably join the ranks of the commercial elite. But the great danger is that in doing so, a part of our identity might be lost along the way. We don’t have to march to their drum-beat. The most important thing for me with any new regime is that we don’t succumb to the temptations of the 39th game, post-season friendlies and the like. We have to believe that there can be another way, and that we can find it, that the Houldings of the football world haven’t won, that we don’t need eight-figure commercial deals with ethically questionable financial institutions to compete with the best and win those trophies and titles that all Evertonians crave above all else.
Let Everton Be Everton
For me, the most important thing we must do to preserve our identity is to claw back everything that is associated with Everton but has been cast into the wilderness of outsourcing. The last accounts showed a £28m profit. Granted, the manager isn’t going to see all of that, and the CEO says any stadium financing is not going to come from our end. But right now, one thing that can be done to at least claw back our identity, and probably make ourselves a little bit more marketable in the process, is to bring everything back in-house. Merchandise, catering, the lot.
Every single keychain, every single cup of tea, every pin badge with the word or crest of Everton on it should come from this club, and every single penny paid for it should go back to the club. Every person you see on matchday from the stewards to the hospitality suite cleaners to the players should be a permanent employee of the club on at the very least the living wage. Bring it all back. If it costs us an extra £3m a year than outsourcing, who cares? It’s ours. It’s Everton. We have the money.
From there we can start to talk about things such as fixed assets and Finch Farm. But at the very least, for now, we need to reclaim the identity of the club. That at least would be a start.