IAN HERBERT: Everton are fading in plain sight… and they don’t need sharks picking their carcass
There are a thousand reasons why Everton occupies a precious place in our football landscape, many of them rooted in history and sentiment.
The distinctive criss-cross steel architecture on the Bullens Road Stand balconies. The huge murals of legends on the outside of Goodison, as seen from the walk through the terraced side streets to Goodison Road. The way supporters can go from surly to deafeningly defiant after one bad refereeing decision.
Everton couldn’t have been further away from that legacy last weekend. In the Gwladys Street Stand, where I sometimes watched the team in the early 1990s and breathed in the spirituality and spirit of Everton on good and bad Saturday afternoons, there was something unmistakably different.
An atmosphere of resignation. A fear that all is now lost. ‘Gloomy’ was Gary Neville’s word, but ‘weary’ probably defined it better. The feeling that it just can’t get any better than this. “There are not many times when I have left feeling so sad,” said a good friend of mine, as he trudged away to the southern outskirts of Liverpool after those desolate few hours on Gwladys Street.
That’s how you feel when a team called ‘777’, the very worst manifestation of British football’s current contenders, deals with what they see as a carcass.
There seemed to be an air of resignation around Goodison Park ahead of their clash with Arsenal, amid fears that all is now lost for the Merseyside club.
American investment company 777, led by Josh Wander (pictured), is on the verge of completing a takeover at Everton, but their track record leaves much to be desired
Farhad Moshiri (L) struggled to find a buyer for the Toffees due to his £500m asking price
Your browser does not support iframes.
One of the two Miami-based individuals running this outfit is Josh Wander, an entrepreneur who often has his picture taken in baseball caps and who sometimes discusses himself in the third person, which is never a good sign.
‘Is there anyone in the world who has been more serious about buying football clubs in history than Josh Wander?’ Wander said in all seriousness a few weeks ago, referring to the fact that he has rounded up six in recent years, all so desperate for money, post-pandemic, that they joined him.
Wander sees ‘his’ clubs becoming the football equivalent of Tesco, selling fans every conceivable financial product because the team’s name will be plastered on them. “One day we won’t be selling hot dogs and beer to our customers; we sell insurance or financial services or whatever,” he recently told the Financial Times. Fans are so obsessive that “they want to make money,” he noted.
Could there really be a clearer picture of Everton’s demise under the so-called stewardship of Farhad Moshiri, whose delusion that he can sell the club for £500m has seen all credible buyers walk away?
Everton are left with Wander and his 777 business partner Steven Pasko, whose only business successes have been in insurance and handling defendants’ payments. The rest – including a foray into the airline industry – was very messy.
Where 777 will find the money for an Everton-sized job is anyone’s guess. There was a brief fuss on Tuesday after they announced they had granted Everton a £20million loan. As respected Everton podcaster and writer ‘The Esk’ noted, this will cover a month’s cash flow for a club that is virtually insolvent.
Wander says a report on respected investigative news channel Josimar about lawsuits involving leased aircraft and his own arrest in 2003 on cocaine trafficking charges, which saw him placed on probation, was the product of “haters trying to destroy you with things that are pointless.’
But Everton are disappearing in plain sight, spending more money than they earn, beyond their credit card limit, even after a summer of letting players go. And that’s before you even take into account the £15 million monthly cost of building a new stadium.
Moshiri’s tenure as Everton owner will be remembered sourly, especially with this ending
Everton have had a difficult start to the new season and have taken one point so far
How can you save such a club? While those of Everton nature may not want to take advice from Anfield, the experience of their neighbors does offer a salutary lesson.
At the heart of Liverpool’s 2010 rescue, after Tom Hicks and George Gillett drove them to the brink of government, was a New York financial house called Inner Circle Sports, broker of the deal that brought Fenway Sports Group to Anfield and since Americans have seen buy Portsmouth, Dagenham and Wrexham.
Steve Horowitz, the partner involved in some of those deals, places a heavy emphasis on the cultural integration of his American clients with British football. ‘You are only confidants. You are the stewards of this club. Don’t screw it up,” he tells them routinely. I’ve never asked Horowitz outright, but I don’t believe he’s proposing the sale of insurance policies to fans.
Inner Circle and others will tell you that there are credible buyers for the right price, because Americans find British clubs wonderful and inimitable, and also as a way to gain financial value. Everton will become a target if Moshiri sets a realistic price, and that could happen soon as the club’s bankruptcy would mean he would walk away with nothing. That could be in three months, notes ‘The Esk.’
The weather at Everton may get worse before it gets better, but in football the picture can quickly change when the ball finally bounces properly. Because of the history and the sentiment, because of the beautiful new stadium on the horizon, because some care so much that they left Goodison not far from tears last Sunday, it can be said with conviction that Everton do not need insurance salesmen to save them. In the words of the banner that has been hoisted so often at Goodison in recent months: ‘Our club, not yours.’
Toffees fans will be hopeful that Wander and his group embrace the club’s culture
CHAOS IN MILAN
It was the same again on Monday, when the crazy fringe of Italian football went wild. A balaclava-wearing Milanese gang hacked Newcastle fans with a machete, hitting a man on the head with a baton before stabbing and hospitalizing his 58-year-old father.
It’s actually not that surprising to those of us who remember the Fedayn – ‘the devotees’ – a rogue group of Roma fans who booed Liverpool supporters at Anfield over some trumped-up grievance.
This intellectually challenged Italian extreme is a stain on the sport. The country’s clubs and authorities are not doing nearly enough to erase this stain.
Newcastle fan Eddie McKay, 58, was rushed to hospital after being stabbed in the arm and back during an attack by a group of knife-wielding thugs in Milan on Monday evening
WEDNESDAY IS STILL TOO SHORT
The abuse still comes my way sometimes from Sheffield Wednesday supporters, mortally offended by the testimonies of Newcastle fans who felt crushed at the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough this year. There is still reduced capacity in this area, on behalf of a Safety Advisory Group. Which rather suggests there was a problem.
But a reduced capacity obviously does not mean that the fans are always directed towards the right part of the ground. An Ipswich Town supporter tells me how, after entering through turnstile 14 on Saturday with his five-year-old son and having a ticket for the upper level of Leppings Lane, he found himself in the lower level, where access to the upper level was blocked. .
A steward referred him to a ‘supervisor’ who eventually let him through to the correct level. “Higher level tickets shouldn’t work on lower level turnstiles,” he tells me. “If it had been a larger fixture, that could have been a problem.” Incredible to spend all these years debating the testimony of a fan who was led into the wrong part of the Leppings Lane stand in Hillsborough.
At the Depot Indoor Climbing Center in Stretford, Manchester, I tried to suggest where my three-year-old granddaughter might place her feet as she climbed a wall. “I don’t need any help,” she replied, just as my daughter always did.
I know such generalizations are frowned upon today, but the girls in our family were the ones with the fiercest spirit of independence. I predict that one day my granddaughter will rule the country. Anyway, I digress. The Stretford Climbing Center – and others like it. Beautiful places, so our younger people know very well that they can reach the heights.