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Saturday, October 10, 2009

..BBC to be renamed?

After yet another conveniently timed article appears from yet another BBC journalist, we are left wondering if somebody has decided to rename the BBC - Bill's Broadcasting Corporation.

First of all, shortly after this summers shareholders forum, when Bill Kenwright came in for criticism over his handling of a legitimate shareholders question, we had the normally level headed and highly respected Jim Hancock make the mystifying claim that an announcement in favour of Everton’s proposed Kirkby stadium was to be made during the Labour party conference. Hancock went on to claim that “well placed sources” had indicated to him that the approval was likely to be conditional on a stadium somewhat smaller than the projected 50,000. Embarrassingly the claim was recently repeated by ex-journalist and head of public relations at Everton, Ian Ross, in “RetailWeek”.

Now we don't claim to be investigative journalists at KEIOC but we do have enough common sense amongst our activists to pick up the phone to the Department for Communities and Local Government, speak with the case officer, James Henderson and the decision officer, Michael Taylor, and ascertain the truth concerning the status of what they describe as one of the biggest reports they and the two junior ministers assigned to the task have ever worked upon.

Then, following last Thursday's Guardian, when those unfavourable remarks made by Bill Kenwright at the summer forum were reprinted, an article appeared on the BBC website extolling the virtues of our Chairman, this one penned by the respected commentator Jonathan Pearce. Here at KEIOC we've learnt not to make knee jerk reactions to items in the media, often ignoring them completely, but on this occasion, as the article in question specifically mentions KEIOC, we've taken the decision put the record straight and challenge the press to attempt to undertake some real old fashioned journalism.

Before we begin let's first of all address some common misconceptions, starting with we're an anti Bill Kenwright or a get Kenwright out group; we're not, our objectives are clear; we believe that moving to Kirkby isn't in the best interests of the club and that a city, like all other major premiership clubs, is the natural location for a major premiership club.

Does the fact that Bill apparently hankers for a life on the open plains with Alan Ladd make him a worse or better chairman? Of course it doesn't; we have no idea why there's a constant need to paint him as good old blue Bill; we simply measure his effectiveness through his ability to attract investment and make sufficient funds available to his team manager.

Another common misconception, repeated in this latest article, is that those opposed to Kirkby do so because they're simply unwilling to accept an arbitrary city boundary; this statement is often conveniently used by those wishing to dumb down the argument that Kirkby is a grossly unsuitable place for a premiership club; particularly for a club that proposes to take the facility led route. Do you honestly believe that if the Kirkby boundary was two miles from Liverpool's city centre anyone would object to relocation? No, of course not; but Kirkby is nine miles from the city centre, further away than any other premiership club and further away from the facilities and opportunities associated with a major city.

Moving on to the specifics of the article, it begins by following the usual format of reiterating Bill's credentials as an Evertonian and nobody can argue he isn't one of us. He may be unnecessarily embarrassing at times with his meat pie eating, holes in his shoes tales of the boys pen and the cannonball kid; he can even exhibit an over active imagination with claims surrounding “my old mate” Eddie Cavanagh and his legendary one man pitch invasion or tales of Elvis walking around London with Tommy Steele; but he's a blue, not bitter just better, like the rest of us are at Goodison Park and you can't take that away from him.

“The club's banking advisors Deloitte have said the potential financial benefit of the new ground will be around £6m a season.”

This is true, Everton have been advised of this figure; however, it's based on achieving a 94% average attendance level, something only Arsenal and Reading achieve [Deloitte 2008] as can be seen here. Coupled with the lack of infrastructure available to deal with 50,000 football fans, significant opposition to the stadium amongst our fans and a level of profitability unlikely to make a significant impact on Everton's ability to compete at the highest level, Arsenal having recently posted profits of £32.5m, KEIOC forecast attendance levels to be nearer 38,000; meaning that contributions will be delivered at a reduced level or will be nonexistent. Detractors of this forecast are keen to point out that this being the case Kirkby's infrastructure will be under less pressure but wasn't the point of moving in the first place down to the grave need to increase revenue streams at the club?

“Though 59% of supporters voted in favour at an unprecedented ballot on club policy, the poll was typical of Chairman Bill, not all fans are wholeheartedly behind him. Many argue that he hasn't given the manager enough money to spend on new players but Kenwright is always willing to have a dialogue.”

Those supporters voting in favour didn't vote for what is being delivered in Kirkby. They voted for the deal of the century, one where Tesco gave Everton £50m towards the stadium, they're not; one that would see Everton have an iconic world-class stadium, it's not, and one that would be served by the best transport in the North west, it isn't.

The ballot was far from unprecedented, it's how we used to do things at Everton when we used to be open with the fans; this is actually the third such ballot, the other two, both involving proposals to leave Goodison Park, returned overwhelming votes in their favour. The Kirkby ballot, despite the propaganda given to those fans eligible to vote, managed to deliver a result that indicated just over 40% weren't taken in.

As for the dialogue with fans we'd welcome the opportunity to sit down with Bill and discuss why he's proposing to move Everton to a championship level stadium, we'd ask him who are the winners in this scenario, we'd ask him who was responsible for the ballot campaign that has split the fanbase more so than at any time in our illustrious 130 year history and listen to the logic behind the decision to embark on a project which offers little or no tangible benefits for the future wellbeing of the club; we'd welcome that dialogue but Bill refuses to speak to us on the subject.

It's this same unwillingness to enter into dialogue which, firstly, has seen this board change the club's constitution to make it more difficult to call EGM's at which the board are made accountable for their actions, and, secondly, has seen the club cite a change in company law which relinquishes the need to actually hold AGM's; Everton can still hold an AGM of course but with the last meetings seeing KEIOC supporters ask uncomfortable questions surrounding finance, ownership and Kirkby perhaps we can understand if the board decide to give that particular option a wide berth. To be fair to Robert Elstone he has faced the fury of the fans at a series of meeting with supporters clubs; perhaps he would like to attend a KEIOC meeting in the near future?

Despite limited opportunities to question the board we're not easily put off, it was a KEIOC activist who asked that now infamous question at the shareholders forum “How much are you asking for the club” and received the equally infamous answer from Bill Kenwright “I'm not answering your question…I'm bored with your question…you're not getting an answer to the question.”

“Theatre productions simply don't pay enough money to fund a Premier League club in the Abramovich age.”

Bill Kenwright and the rest of the board have not invested a single penny towards funding Everton as a premier league club; the source of this information is, of course, Robert Elstone, Everton's CEO; he stated this whilst on the stand at the public inquiry. The only investment made has been a personal one involving the purchase of 72% of Everton's shares through the now dissolved vehicle that was True Blue Holdings; the main cast originally included Bill Kenwright, Paul Gregg and Jon Woods. The figure they effectively bought the club for was just over £20m. Today, ten years later, Bill Kenwright refuses to comment on the sum they're now looking for; he's apparently bored with this question, yet our source within the club informs us that the owner is looking for £180m; a nice profit if you can get it in these credit crunch times by any standards. Of course if it isn't £180m a simple statement revealing the asking price will set minds at rest; if not it would appear to make a mockery of another statement in the BBC piece that claims:

“He's not in it for the money. There is an innocent charm in that and it shouldn't be scorned.”

Before Bill Kenwright is hung, drawn and quartered, for wanting £180m, there is perhaps a plausible explanation. It's widely reported that Bill Kenwright borrowed his share of the money used to purchase the club in 1999. The source of this funding would of course be an entirely private matter between the parties concerned, even if that loan had been refinanced during the past decade it would still be a private matter between Bill Kenwright and his lender; private if the source of the finance was different from that used to obtain the shares owned by Paul Gregg which are now in the hands of BCR Sports, an offshore company registered in the British Virgin Islands; because if the source is the same that casts a completely different light on the matter.

KEIOC has in their possession emails between Paul Gregg and Philip Green which discuss share ownership within the club. During a meeting, with Paul Gregg at The Lowry Hotel in 2008, KEIOC learnt that Sir Philip Green paid him for his shares. If true and if Philip Green has supplied the money for both of these investments there is a strong possibility that he could be Everton's largest shareholder, the de facto owner of the club and explain why Keith Wyness cited outside influences interfering with the club when he suddenly and unexpectedly left Everton in 2008 and why Green and Earl made a Hollywood movie style dash across the Mediterranean in a powerful yacht to confront the since silent Keith Wyness on Majorca. Certainly the level of Philip Green's apparent interest in Everton would appear to extend to something more than just helping an old mate out. Of course it doesn't explain why Bill Kenwright told shareholders at the 2008 EGM the following:

BK: You want to talk about Phillip Green; I'll talk to you about Phillip Green. Phillip Green was there when a lot of you were behind me to buy this club. He was my friend, he still is my friend. He's there 24 hrs a day for me. If you could find any fault in Phillip Green, one of the greatest businessmen in the world giving me advice that I pass onto this football club, I can't see it. He is not a silent shareholder.

Shareholder: Does he hold any shares?

BK: He owns no shares in this football club. Nil. He is my friend and consequently your friend.... [Loud laughter from audience] I don't know why you think that's funny but he's a great friend to this football club. I promise you.

Audience: In what way?

BK: If you have a friend who is one of the greatest business brains in the world, who is available for you 24hrs a day, will give you advice, would you not use that friend? Because I certainly do; he's been there for me and consequently for you through six very difficult years, even years before the six years. He became my friend in 1998 when we in big trouble. He quickly latched onto my passion for this football club and he's been there, through thick and thin ever since. He's my friend.

Carefully chosen words from the chairman, but never the less the possibility that Everton has nominee directors on the board remains a distinct possibility; a scenario that would go some way to explaining the mystery of how Bill Kenwright appears unable, perhaps unwilling to attract investment, has become involved in a scheme which offers nothing to the long term wellbeing of the club, leaves him claiming in public that leaving Goodison will break his heart but it's the only option, yet tells fans “Do you think I want to go to Kirkby?”

There's probably a simple explanation as to why Sir Philip Green appears to be involved with people who acquire shares in Everton; we just can't think what it is.

“I hope my fears that the unscrupulous money-makers within the sordid world of football politics don't fester his football soul. People like Bill Kenwright are good for the game.”

People like Bill are good for the game? If Bill is the man in charge then he is responsible for Everton's unprecedented level of debt. Published accounts reveal total debt of £84m, the next set of accounts could see this rise to over £100m. Debt is a complex issue; you can read about it here. What we find amazing is the claim that Bill is good for the game when Everton are in dire financial straits, are embroiled in a stadium scheme that a GCSE maths student can see is deeply flawed and would appear to have no prospect of a new owner in the near future; about which Jonathan Pearce claims:

“But so far he hasn't been convinced that they are the right kind of people to protect Everton's heritage and future.”

...and our heritage and future is being looked after at the moment is it?

“He has spent 12 months scouring the globe for investors who can help fund the £80m Everton need to part pay for the £400m Kirkby Project.”

A surprising statement as Everton fans and the public inquiry were told that we have a robust business plan; KEIOC felt that it had been written on the back of a cigarette packet, involving the sale of remaining assets, naming rights, equity sale and loans. Whilst Bill has been scouring the globe, for someone to sell to, it would appear that Dr. Hafez Almedlej of the Saudi Professional League Commission knows of at least ten wealthy Saudi Arabian businessmen are interested in becoming involved in the premiership.

The decision on Kirkby is upon us; the sad thing for Everton is that yes or no we're the losers; it's a lose lose situation for Everton. If it's a no, Tesco and Knowsley will be okay, Tesco own the entire town centre and a good portion of the surrounding land, so Kirkby will eventually get the redevelopment and the jobs it needs but perhaps at a level that will not impact on the surrounding authorities. Everton, on the other hand, under the stewardship of Bill Kenwright, knowing that the club were in desperate need of new and improved facilities, will have wasted years on a scheme that gave every indication of being doomed to failure from the beginning; will have spent millions of pounds on advisors that have been paid for their poor advice and we will have ended up with nothing. The board's position would be untenable and those responsible for this fiasco will hopefully never darken the club's door ever again.

If it's a yes then we're consigned to a stadium that will be unfit for purpose for decades to come; but we're confident that the decision is a no; just as we were confident that the stadium and it's finances didn't add up, they didn't; that the application was going to be called in, it was, and that the decision will be determined by the secretary of state after an examination of the application, evidence and inspectors report by a “faceless person in Whitehall” who will follow the planning inspectors recommendations; that's the planning inspector who observed an application turn from an enabling case into a regeneration and job creation case overnight and then witnessed this being dismantled by opposition barristers before the transport plan was laughed out of the inquiry; she did and that's what actually happened, you can read all of it here.

Heaven forbid if a journalist or an editor decided to properly investigative the shenanigans that have been going on at Everton; we'd would imagine a lot of people would be interested in hearing the truth about Everton, it owners and the seemingly illogical pursuit of a stadium in Kirkby.

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