‘If Everton are relegated, the losses will be colossal’ (2023)

In London’s affluent Little Venice, Bill Kenwright still hunkers down in his top floor office adorned with Everton memorabilia. “Bill’s 78 next month but is still the fanatic who can’t put down his train set,” explains one old friend describing his daily routine, health allowing: arrive at 10am, beaver away on club business until the sun goes down, and then focus on West End projects, sometimes until after midnight.

The club chairman and theatre impresario is not in the same shape as the fearsome workaholic that led the initial £20 million takeover in 1999. “In truth, a week off would be great,” he said recently, confirming he had been battling a chronic condition since 2015. “But I can’t see it happening.”

Yet insiders maintain that his addiction to “finally scratching an itch” at Everton still drives him. Kenwright once insisted he must land silverware as an advisor told him he should leave after the 2009 FA Cup final defeat to Chelsea. These days, staring down the barrel of a third successive relegation battle, the Bramley Moore Dock stadium development is instead talked up internally as his legacy piece.

It is increasingly questionable, however, whether the hassle for Kenwright, who now owns just 1.3 per cent of the club, is worth it. He has stayed away from Goodison Park amid perceived safety concerns since January yet, even in his absence, the “Kenwright Out” banners will be back again on Saturday.

‘If they get relegated, I fear for the worst’

This last week has been as chastening as any for the People’s Club in perpetual crisis. Back-to-back defeats to start the campaign and sap spirits were followed by confirmation on Wednesday that New York-based firm MSP Capital had walked away from an imminent £150m investment deal.

Farhad Moshiri, the British-Iranian owner, and Kenwright are already talking to alternative investors. But the suggestion is that the existing lender, Rights and Media Funding Limited, will effectively be entitled to request “high tens of millions” from whoever is successful before a penny goes into the club. To add to the sense of gloom, the club appears before an independent commission on October 25 over an alleged breach of financial fair play rules.

As demonstrations once again echo around Goodison Park, one former executive says figures within the club are increasingly sympathising with the boos. “I love the club, like Bill does, and it’s painful to watch,” the former employee conceded. “If they get relegated, I genuinely fear the worst... losses will be colossal. It’s not just the Sky money, it’s everything else that goes with it.”

The club are understood to have built in clauses in sponsorship deals to shield them from losing major contracts should the team go down. There is also an insistence internally that pricing for the new stadium will not be a major uplift on seats at Goodison Park. However, former staff maintain relegation this year would be disastrous, with bills still to pay for the 53,000-seater development.

“Everybody knows, if they get relegated the whole thing could collapse in on itself,” says the former executive. “If Moshiri decides he wants out completely, what are they going to do? Nobody is going to pay £400 million or £500 million for a club that’s massively in debt and in the Championship. They’re just not going to do it. That’s why there’s been such an outpouring of joy and relief when the club has stayed up in the last two seasons. The fans understand, and the staff understand: if they go down, they could be completely f----d.”

Moshiri ‘can’t go on throwing money down a hole’

Moshiri’s wealth, let alone his long-term plan, is difficult to unpick. His appetite to invest had appeared to tail off even before his former business partner, Alisher Usmanov, had his assets frozen due to sanctions connected to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Everton insist that the club’s connection to Usmanov is now non-existent. Usmanov’s USM Holdings had sponsored Everton’s training ground, as well as previously owning an option on naming rights for the club’s new stadium, but the club promises that any future investor will not be Russia-related.

Former employees suggest Moshiri, who sold his portion of a joint stake in Arsenal in order to raise capital for an initial stake of just under 50 per cent of Everton, has simply concluded that his prior spending was “ridiculous”. Around £750 million has been dished out on more than 50 players in his time, with approximately £450 million recouped. Now he thinks he has “spent enough” and “can’t go on throwing money down a hole in the road”, one ex-staffer claims.

Moshiri, the former executive added, has seen Kenwright as a trusted ally from the outset. “Bill had always done all the transfers, negotiated incomings and outgoings,” he explained. “It was a one-man show, the manager would say ‘yeah, I’d like that player’ then it was Bill, who was good at it.”

But seven years on, the pair now preside over a financial mess which lists confirmed losses for five successive years in March, with a cumulative total of more than £430 million. Everton blame Covid-19 as a major factor in such eye-watering numbers, declaring that the pandemic cost the club £170 million. That figure, in itself, prompted raised eyebrows among Premier League rivals, with Aston Villa, in comparison, estimating Covid losses at £56 million.

‘It’s absurd going after Everton, when you’ve got Man City facing 115 charges’

The club, however, remain bullish about proving to a panel this autumn that they are compliant with Premier League profit and sustainability over charges reported to relate to a tax issue surrounding loans. One former staffer agrees: “I don’t think that’ll come to anything because it’s absurd to be going after Everton, when you’ve got Man City facing 115 charges.”

He is less optimistic about the team’s survival hopes, however. Everton have spent more years than any other club in top-tier English football, but now “they’ve got arguably the weakest squad they’ve ever had compared to the teams around them,” the executive suggests.

Despite successive relegation battles, club transfer activity this summer has been minimal. Four new players have been added, three of them on free transfers. None of them appear adequate replacements for Anthony Gordon, who departed in January, and Richarlison, who left a year ago.

Given the churn in previous years of playing staff, in the dugout and even among executives, Everton’s director of football, Kevin Thelwell, is pleading for patience. He has spoken in recent weeks of a more cautious approach, with “sensible trading, astute acquisitions and utilising the free transfer and loan market where necessary”. “The entire focus is on ensuring Sean [Dyche] has a squad with the right balance and attributes to contend more effectively with the challenges of a Premier League campaign.”

Kenwright ‘believes he is the only man who can turn this around’

Despite the doom and gloom, friends of Kenwright say it is not entirely surprising that the beleaguered chairman hangs on. His days looked numbered after chief executive Denise Barrett-Baxendale, chief finance and strategy officer Grant Ingles and non-executive director Graeme Sharp departed in May. Moshiri then pulled a surprise by declaring in June that Kenwright still had a “crucial” role to play in an “important period of transition”.

Without Kenwright, Moshiri, who is now a member of the board following the summer exodus, would have been exposed. Colin Chong, the chief stadium officer, has been made interim chief executive but appears unlikely to be the long-term appointment. James Maryniak, currently director of finance, is now interim chief finance officer. John Spellman has taken the second newly-created boardroom position.

Kenwright, Moshiri’s useful lightning rod for criticism, will continue to face down various revolts from fans, as he has done for more than a decade. “I’ve often said that I would never deny the right of protest to any football fan, especially Evertonians,” he wrote in a lengthy open letter to the ‘All Together Now’ campaign on Everton’s website in April.

Friends say last season’s abuse – particularly the threatening letter that prompted the board to stop attending matches in January – had affected Kenwright more than any other campaign.

But even at his lowest, he wrote: “I know, inevitably, your day will of course come. Just as I knew that I would find you a billionaire when the loud and long protests claimed I wasn’t even looking.”

Whether Kenwright found the right billionaire is a matter of fierce debate, but ex-colleagues suggest there may have been a more controversial option. Sir Philip Green, the retail magnate who fell from grace, was once on a list of targets, it is claimed. “That was Bill’s great hope for a while but Green had no interest in putting his money in football,” the source added.

However, with just an interim CEO rather than his trusted ally Barrett-Baxendale to prop him up, Kenwright plugs on in his London Everton shrine. “He’s a fanatic,” explains one friend when asked about Kenwright’s refusal to walk away. “He is the ultimate supporter... He still believes he is the only man who can turn this around.”

Simon Gerrard, restructuring and insolvency partner at JMW Solicitors, predicts it will be an uphill battle after the collapse in the MSP deal “put further pressure on the club’s finances”.

But if Everton can limp through this season, find an investor, and move into their potentially transformative new stadium, there may be hope.

The man from theatreland is not ready for his curtain call just yet.


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