Out of the blue

A new video has been released in favour of Everton staying at Goodison Park. Andy Burnham examines the club's big decision

Peter Johnson was a Liverpool season ticket holder. It is rumoured he travelled down to Wembley with the Liverpool squad for the 1986 FA Cup Final.

You don’t have to be a bitter-and-twisted Evertonian like me to see that this is not the ideal CV for an Everton Chairman. On paper, it makes ex-Brighton boss David Bellotti look like a safe pair of hands.

We were reminded of these allegations – lest we forget – on a flyer handed out before the Goodison derby. Johnson held that season ticket 26 years, it claimed, but has taken just 26 months to reduce Everton to a laughing stock.

The ‘Johnson-is-a-Kopite-destroying-Everton-from-the-inside’ theory makes good, emotive copy for a derby day flyer but, despite the incriminating evidence, is surely wide of the mark. A less intriguing theory is that the man has no genuine affection for Everton or regard for its proud history. Not as good X-Files potential, but perhaps closer to the truth.

It would explain why he had no qualms about rigging a ballot of 38,000 supporters to get a majority in favour of the plan to move to a new ground without bothering to conduct a full feasibility study into re-developing Goodison. The saga of the Goodison move is of ‘Goldstone’ proportions but has remained largely untold – until now.

Independent television company Network 5 has produced a 40-minute film The Blue Issue. It seeks to tell the full story instead of the partial version preferred by Everton. The film was made with the help of supporters on the ‘Goodison for Everton’ campaign (GfE) and the ladies of Kirkby Golf Club – an unlikely alliance united by the fear that Mr Johnson’s plans will wreck a beloved institution.

Kirkby Golf club is a possible site for the 60,000 seater Johnsonbowl. The Blue Issue contains a moment of pure comedy when the Everton board and Knowsley Borough council arrive for a site visit. The coach is met by a picket line wearing golfing slacks and sun visors. It is finally headed off when the driver of a Knowsley Council bin wagon – who surely can’t still be in a job – blocks its path.

GfE representatives do the serious business. They ask the basic unanswered questions: “Where are we going? How much is it going to cost? Where’s the money coming from? Who’s going to own it?”

Attention is drawn to a brochure produced since the ballot which talks of “the possibility of ground-sharing” (ie Rugby League). If facts like this were known before the vote, Mr Johnson would have been lucky to escape ritual sacrifice on the altar of St Luke’s Church in the corner of Goodison, never mind get his majority.

The Chairman has tried to paint GfE as misty-eyed romantics who, as the film says, “don’t understand the demands of 21st century football”. Instead, he should be seeking their advice on how to operate an effective and professional PR strategy.

The film shows the GfE are up against local journalists who act like Everton Press Officers. “All the facts were laid before the fans and they had good time to debate it,” claims one, without having the decency to blush.

This illustrates why The Blue Issue was necessary. It is a well-balanced look at an issue of huge importance to many people. Everton declined any involvement – strange if they truly believe they have a convincing case. It adds to the impression that the half-baked plans came out of the same Goodison brainstorming as the masterstroke that Klinsmann could sign for Everton, live in London, and travel up for training by helicopter.

Perhaps the vote was engineered as part of the desperate bid to get Bobby Robson? Unlikely, but anything is possible at Goodison these days. The film recalls the Chairman’s momentous words: “It’s time to take Everton to a new home. We’re moving.” Recently, he casually remarked on local radio that Everton might be staying put after all.

It’s no real surprise Robson and Andy Gray were not impressed. I met Andy Gray at the Labour Conference. What were his impressions of Everton management, I asked. “Let’s just say there is a lot going on at that club which has not come out yet.” Was Peter Johnson about to sell up? “It’ll become a plc first.”

There is a memorable moment on film when an irate golfer barks: “I’ve got a message for Mr Johnson – Go away, you’re not wanted.” These words may have greater resonance than he expected.

From WSC 130 December 1997. What was happening this month