This season may have had a happy ending of sorts, but Everton fans know there as more hard times ahead, as Robert Mimms explains
An English Summer wouldn’t be complete without the sound of leather on willow at Lord’s, and Everton FC floundering in the transfer market. About this time every year the curtain rises on a new Goodison farce. It usually runs over most of the close season and stars some of football’s leading names. Collymore, Ince, Bobby Robson, Andy Gray, Ravanelli and Nigel Martyn have all taken centre stage in recent years.
Howard Kendall has ruled Everton out of the chase for big names so this summer’s performance may not be of the same quality. But there’s plenty of scope for drawn out pursuits of B-list names such as Lee Carsley and Alan Stubbs to come to a farcical close before August is upon us.
Whatever happens, the names of the supporting cast will be depressingly familiar to Evertonians: Chairman Peter Johnson and his sidekick Clifford Finch. Some have even suggested the reason they conduct these annual charades is simple: convince Evertonians that we really are in for the big names and then deliberately mess it up so we don’t have to spend the money. Chairing Everton, Johnson once claimed, could almost be a full-time job, something he would like to “retire into”. Confirmation if it was needed that he views running Everton as if it were an amateur dramatics society. Consider this selection of his more notable achievements:
August 1994 Traditional Z Cars entrance theme replaced by 2 Unlimited’s Are You Ready For This. The short answer – No. Questions were asked in the House and Z Cars was back.
September 1994 New club song to the tune of Bad Moon Rising released at the lowest ebb of the Mike Walker days. Included the lines: “I see blue skies arriving, I see players having fun.” Played once.
July 1996 Season tickets issued in red plastic folders, equivalent to Sunderland covering theirs in black and white stripes.
September 1997 Young lad spots home shirt worn by the players does not match that being sold in the shops. Club claims players’ shirts are wrong, not the thousands already dispatched to the shops. Thank God it wasn’t the other way round.
All this provides the context for Everton’s proposed move away from Goodison Park. Those against the move have been branded Luddites. Yet who would trust a man that can’t even order the right plastic holders for season tickets with a decision as momentous as removing Everton from Goodison and dropping it in a soulless service station off the M57?
Four years ago, after the club had survived on the last day of the season against Wimbledon, Everton fans gathered in front of the main stand and sang Johnson’s name. The mood was euphoric. This time, after the desperate draw with Coventry, the scene was the same but the mood veered from anger to relief and back again. Now, the vast majority of Evertonians want Johnson out – and quickly before he can do any more damage. He responded by dismissing the protesters as a minority and talked of his “love and commitment” for the club. Jonathan Aitken would not have had the gall to do that.
In retrospect, Everton’s 3-1 win over Chelsea in January proved to be the club’s worst result of last season. It led Johnson to decide it was possible after all to run a Premiership club from a yacht in the Caribbean. Around the turn of the year, rumours were rife that he was fed up and ready to cash in. We contemplated the prospect of the club being touted around the markets like a second-rate supermarket chain. He had bought the club for £20 million and was ready to part with it for £80 million. As we were witnessing some of the most abject displays ever by an Everton side – Manchester United away springs to mind – Mr Johnson was sunning himself on the other side of the world. Then, out of the blue and with no prior warning, Howard Kendall took his team on a run that brought him the Manager of the Month award for January. So Johnson stayed, sold the club’s main playing assets (careful to gag them first) and sat in wait for the pay-per-view payday.
All this time Everton drift towards the First Division. Anger rightly focuses on Johnson, but Howard Kendall’s hands aren’t clean. He is viewed by most Evertonians as the innocent victim, doing his best in an impossible situation. After all, he was the only person prepared to come to the club when the rest of the football world was turning away. But Kendall has effectively implemented Johnson’s asset-stripping policy. Shortly after the end of the season, Kendall leapt to the defence of his employer. There had been no block on spending the money from the sale of Gary Speed and Andy Hinchcliffe. The right players were simply not available.
If Howard is telling the truth, he can only be guilty of an enormous error of judgment. Almost any of the players who changed clubs on deadline day would have improved Everton’s paper-thin squad. If he is not, he no longer deserves the respect of Evertonians.
So this is the bleak outlook that faces us as we enter our annual panto season. The club desperately needs a shake-out from top to bottom, but it is not going to happen. One correspondent to the fanzine When Skies Are Grey sent in a one-line solution to ending the torture that is supporting Everton in the 1990s: “Sack the manager, sack the board, sell all the players and blow up Goodison.” I think he was joking, but I’m not absolutely sure.
From WSC 137 July 1998. What was happening this month