Money talks

With the possibility of expulsion from next season's domestic cup competitions, a group of Everton fans have come together in an attempt to save the day, as Mark Tallentire explains

Given the premature proclamation by the FA’s interim executive director David Davies  that Everton and Tranmere Rovers may be banned from next season’s FA and Worthington Cups unless Peter Johnson sells his stake in one or other of them, it is timely  that a group of Evertonians have already taken it upon them­selves to try to give him a helping hand.

The clock is ticking down for Everton again, and little more than a month after another season that withered on the vine, a collection of like-minded fans decided to bring their business and professional skills to bear in an attempt to revive the club’s fortunes. News had broken that the deputy chairman, Bill Kenwright, had failed in his efforts to secure financial backing from HSBC for a £43 mill­ion buy-out of the former chairman Johnson, des­pite Everton being assured of Premiership football for another season and with it a guar­anteed £8 million from BSkyB.

However, the Wirral Grocer is showing no signs of rushing to offload the club, even though the extent of his involvement in Rov­ers has now become apparent. Johnson was told by the Football League to dispose of his holding by December 31st 1998, but has so far failed to do so. His reticence is all the more puzzling given that the fortunes and share price of his Park Foods business empire are deteriorating. Nor is he in the best of health.

Investors in Everton are a quintet who were put in touch with each other by supporters’ groups and through the internet and quickly realised they were thinking along the same lines. The aim is to broaden the club’s ownership base so that Everton will never again be beholden to the whims of a majority shareholder. To do that the group envisages a stock issue among the fans to raise £20 million to buy Johnson out; raising another £20 million from larger investors to clear the overdraft and give the club some clout in the market; and a further £25 million for substantial redevelopment of the ageing Goodison Park.

Due to Peter Johnson’s penchant for taking winter holidays and treating Everton as “a hobby”, the club have barely scratched the surface of the Nineties boom in football, and poorly implemented commercial and merch­andising initiatives have cost a fortune. For next season Everton have sold more than 20,000 season tickets, despite a 25 per cent price hike and a delay in sending out renewal forms which gave fans only eight days to return remittances to obtain maximum discount.  But at the same time only around 5,000 rep­lica shirts have been sold by the poorly stocked souvenir shop.

The box office does not take credit cards over the phone, referring would-be buyers to Dial-a-Seat who levy a £1.50 sur­charge on each ticket and a £1.50 service charge for the whole transaction. To reduce the shortfall in pros­pective revenue and max­imise potential in off-the-pitch earnings, In­vestors in Everton also envisages appointing a chief executive, a commercial director and a player investment director. To those ends it presented its proposals to the City, existing shareholders and other parties at the end of June.

“The response has been very positive,” says Chris Klopper, an executive with the London-based Mulberry Communications group. “The main thing now is to meet the groups and ascertain that  they are thinking along the same general lines as us. They must buy into the idea of expanding the share issue so that ordinary fans can be involved.”

According to Klopper, two international banks have expressed strong interest and a positive meeting has already taken place with one of them. Furthermore, several private in­vestors have come forward claiming to have more than the requisite £1 million required of “anchor investors”. Hundreds of rank and file supporters also got in touch announcing a desire to be involved.

Informed observers suggest Johnson will be lucky to recoup the £19.2 million he has invested in the club, though Bill Kenwright remains keen to complete a deal and is confident he can do so before the season starts. The dual-ownership situation will be discussed at a meeting of the Football League board on July 15th, which may give Johnson the hurry-up.

“We have been at pains throughout this to be polite to everyone, Bill Kenwright in­cluded,” Klopper says. “Nothing is ruled out and nothing is ruled in. If he manages to raise the money we will be very interested to go through our blueprint with him to see if they can utilise our skills to help restore the club to its rightful position.”

From WSC 150 August 1999. What was happening this month