My name is ‘Alan’ because one day, back in August 1966, the money men at Everton and Blackpool football clubs thrashed out an £110,000 deal that delivered World Cup winner Alan Ball from the seaside to Goodison Park. Everton FC were never the same again and the football club had its greatest talisman since ‘Dixie’ Dean.
Ball won the League Championship with Everton, in 1970, and… that was it. The blues lost the 1968 FA Cup Final to West Bromwich Albion with ‘Bally’ in the side and he was transferred to Arsenal, for a (then) British record fee, in 1971. He won one league title at Goodison and scored 80 goals in just over 250 games. That’s what the stats will tell you and they’re not wrong.
What stats don’t tell you, however, is the intangible. The perpetual motion that exists in the ether between football clubs, football players and their supporters. Alan Ball electrified Evertonians with spark and colour in much the same way The Beatles did to the world, at a similar time, with ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. There was a before and after to EFC following Ball’s departure. And it’s the remaining existence of the ether of that before and after that is muddying the water of the new era on the cards at Everton.
Fans don’t count, to clubs, anymore. Is it a shortsighted and foolhardy state of affairs? You betcha’. But it exists… don’t believe me? Ask the Liverpool fans whose last train home from Carrow Road earlier this season left the station before the game was finished. Sure, small victories like the one won following the recent 77th minute walk-out at Anfield may happen now and again, but the fact remains that the prices are still too high and the club’s owners offered nothing but crumbs from the table.
The rub? Everton are about to join the same club. The blues are about to try and play catch up with their city rivals and most of the rest of the top flight, as Chairman Bill Kenwright is selling half his 26% shareholding as part of the deal by which the investor Farhad Moshiri is buying 49.9% of the club. They’re the facts. The rest? It resides in said ether between club, players and supporters.
Chelsea were bought by Roman Abramovich in 2003 and have since won plenty, while turning themselves into one of Europe’s elite football clubs. On the other hand, Aston Villa were bought by Randy Lerner in 2006 and have been on a highway to hell ever since. What’s the difference? Human beings (albeit rich and successful ones) doing their jobs with varying degrees of success and the fact that only one team can win the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League respectively. But, half a dozen can fight for fourth in the league. And therein lies the greatest confidence trick that modern football (EPL, CL, SKY, Murdoch etc.) has pulled: turning the rest into ‘contenders’. Giving clubs and supporters a tangible reason to live and not just exist.
Existing used to be good enough, though, and could even propel teams (Nottingham Forest, Villa themselves etc.) to great things. Before the myth became a fact that only a few clubs can challenge, every other club believed the chance to win things, not finish in the top four, was within reach. It’s not so long ago that Ipswich, Southampton, Watford and West Ham all finished runners-up in the top flight. The malaise has spread to the terraces, too, as a lack of belief runs through crowds at all but the perennial challengers. Even fans of the big clubs fall victim, too: Man City can’t fill their ground, Liverpool present themselves as perpetual underdogs and Everton haven’t gone close in forever, as very often nerves travel from the stands to the pitch in big games (derbies, semi-finals etc.). False dawns? The sun hasn’t risen in L4 4EL for a long time.
Can this new deal drag the blues out of two decades plus of darkness? That all depends on the new man. Bill Kenwright believes he’s right for the job, after turning away interest from American investors John Jay Moores and Charles Noell recently. Farhad Moshiri is best known (in football) for his alliance with the Uzbek-Russian investor, Alisher Usmanov, in the joint 30% ownership of Arsenal. The pair have since announced that Usmanov has bought Moshiri’s 15% stake outright, for a price thought to be around £146m, freeing the latter up to take control at Goodison Park. Is the Iranian investor a football fan? Is he an Evertonian? Does it matter? If he’s a driven winner, with a ruthless streak like Abramovich, then ultimately it won’t matter if success comes back to Everton. But what will the price be? As, chances are, Mr Moshiri is just another businessman looking to recoup annually on his investment and keep the club as ‘successful’ as it is, within the current status quo.
Look at where he’s come from: Arsenal. A wonderful football club, with a great history and a manager whose early days signaled him out as special (that sounds familiar…). Now? The Gunners celebrate such achievements as qualifying for the last 16 of the Champions League each year. As a business objective, the club are right to celebrate, that is a success (it makes them money). But can you remember when they last won the league or went into the last game of the season challenging for the title? How about the last time they won the Champions League?
The fans at the Emirates, who don’t earn a penny from CL qualification, haven’t been happy for years and they look at their club as a way of life – just like Evertonians. The owners? Not so much… and there we have it.
Let’s use Arsenal as an example – nothing but the best is good enough? Nothing but in with the rest is more likely.
‘Above Us Only Sky’
– Pic by John Johnson