Columnist: Colm Kavanagh : 15 Dec 2006

As the clock approached the hour of seven in the evening, out they emerged – from a Board meeting – chairman Bill Kenwright, his fellow directors, team manager David Moyes and Damien Saunders, from Deloitte and Touche.  “Don’t Feel Like Dancing”, from the Scissors Sisters, booming from the pa system, gave way to silence as the gathered shareholders settled down, waiting for the chairman to commence with the proceedings.

Mr Kenwright opened the meeting by asking for all present to think of all the good that Brian Labone brought to Everton Football Club.  “God bless you, Brian…”

After apologies were read out from those who were unable to attend the AGM, Mr Kenwright opened with the first item of business: to receive the Director’s Report of Financial Statements for the year ended 31/05/06.  Customary for the chairman to lead the shareholders through the accounts, Mr Kenwright stated that he was “pretty good with money but terrible at looking at figures!”  However, he promised to do better this year…

“I know this is stating the obvious but the Board believes, as I’m sure do all of you, that success of this football club can only be achieved through constant investment in our playing squad.  I mean constant investment when we can.  Whilst at the same time, improving the running of the club through operating more efficiently and generating additional revenue streams in whatever way we can.  That is just a personal statement that everyone at this table concurs with. 

"In the current year we have increased our commercial income together with reducing our other operating expenses and nett interest payments.  However, these gains have been offset by investing in players and the loss of Sky revenue.  In summary the Club generated an operating profit before player trading of £3.1m.  This was achieved despite a fall in broadcast revenue of £3.2m and an increase in the total wage bill of £6.2m, primarily due to the investment in players.  Remember we made seven new signings at the start of that season and £4m of the £6.2m went on additional player salaries, which I think is pretty good for seven new signings. 

"We talked about amortisation last year, how each year we have to take, of a contract, a certain amount of that contract – if it’s a four year contract, we have to take a quarter each year off, on each players’ contract.  The inclusion of the amortisation of the players’ registrations of £11.4m means that in the current year the Club is reporting an operating loss of £8.4m.  That’s obviously a direct consequence of the decision to invest in the playing squad.  Quite simply, £11.4m minus £3.1m, which is the trading profit, is an £8.4m trading loss.  [Pedants need not note incorrect mathematical subtraction!]  The profit and loss account on page 13 highlights that turnover this year stands at £58.1m.  This is obviously a decrease of the £60m reported last year but you’ve got to take into consideration that we dropped £3.2m on broadcasting revenue and we had picked up some of that on generating year on increases, thanks to Evertonians, in gate receipts and sponsorships of £1.8m.  Operating expenses, excluding again the amortisation of players’ registrations have increased by £5.6m to £55.1m. 

"I would just like to remind you that two years ago we were always looking at £40m in these figures, so there is quite a dramatic rise.  As discussed earlier, this is principally due to a £6.2m increase in wages, together with a £900,000 reduction in other operating expenses.  If you want to have a detailed analysis of this refer to note 3 on page 19:  £6.2m minus £900,000 is £5.3m.  So we go back to the operating loss of £8.4m and we add the annual nett interest charge, that’s the charge on the securitisation, ie. the mortgage we took out four years ago, of £2.2m.  You add a further loss on the disposal of players’ registrations, of £402,000.  That is, when we put in a player at say £1m in our players’ bible and we only get £600,000 for him, we’ve lost £400,000.  And a profit on sale of fixed assets of £200,000 the accounts show a pre-tax loss of £10.8m for the year. 

"So that’s £8.4m plus the £2.2m interest plus the £402,000 that came in on overvaluing one of the players, minus £200,000 that we profited on fixed assets.  The fixed assets include £20.6m of intangible assets representing the nett book value of player registrations.  You have to remember that this is the end of last season – so there’s no Andy there, there’s no Joleon Lescott there.  And also there are no homegrown players, such as Vaughany, Victor, Hibbo, Leon Osman.  So, without them, we were valued at £20.6m for the playing squad.  I should think it’s got a much much bigger value now. 

"Creditors falling due within one year currently stand at £26.3m at the end of the year compared to £17.2m in 2005 – a £9m difference.  However, this is not a £9m deficit.  If you remember at the start of last season we opened the season ticket box office earlier and we had the large proportion of that £9m, in season ticket income, so that wasn’t actually owed, it’s owed to you and we pay you back by actually playing the games.  Another slice of it was better more prudent financial control, so we eked out some payments.  So that was not a deficit of £9m.  It was advance season ticket sales and proactive cashflow management.  Group borrowings of £28m are included within the creditors falling due after one year.  This is principally the securitisation that we took out.  And if you remember that was to be paid back over twenty-five years and there’s twenty-one years still to go on that.  I think that’s the end of the summary of the accounts.”

The chairman then asked the meeting for questions relating to the accounts.  Richard Lewis asked about the payments being made to Houston Securities, the company owned by the Gregg family.  Mike Cheston, in reply to Mr Lewis’ question told us that Houston Securities is one of the companies that the Club use for property transactions.  Other companies are used but Mr Cheston didn’t go into detail.  Mr Kenwright added that Houston Securities had been very helpful with matters like Bellefield and had aided with Finch Farm.

Mark Denny questioned the true debt of the Club, citing an article recently printed in the Liverpool Echo, who claimed Everton’s true debt was £21m.  Mr Kenwright claimed he’d not seen the aforementioned article.  Wanting to know why the Echo peddles it as fact, the Club debt being £21m, could the PR people at Everton not put it right?  Despite explaining it further, in detail, no real comment came from the top table.

A question about wages against turnover, outlining the increase from 51% (2005) to 64% (2006), was put to the chairman, the shareholder asking was it sustainable.  Acknowledging the obvious dangers the chairman went on to state that, if needed, he would push that percentage higher, “I for one would support going higher than 50% if it was necessary.”  Mr Kenwright was at pains to state how tight Everton were with wages, claiming that the Club were the best negotiators in the Premier League!  “It’s a problem in as much as wages are a curse in football and a huge problem, getting worse and worse.  We have to live with it and we have to find ways of making it work for us, for you, for me, for everyone.”

Mr Kenwright then invited Damien Saunders from Deloitte and Touche to read the Auditors Report and the formalities of adopting the Directors Report and financial statements were passed.  As was the reappointment of Deloitte and Touche as auditors the The Company.

Mr Kenwright then stepped aside to allow deputy chairman Jon Woods oversee the reappointment of Bill Kenwright as chairman of the Company, with the chairman being returned after a show of hands.

Mr Kenwright then declared the meeting officially closed and invited the CEO Keith Wyness to make his presentation.

Before Mr Wyness could commence with his presentation a question was asked by Frank Hargreaves on the issue of the minutes of the meeting.  Would questions from the floor be minuted in the official records?  The chairman didn’t know.  Mr Hargreaves highlighted the fact that questions from the shareholders were not minuted and commented on the chairman welcoming the media earlier in spite of a number of people, when asked by the Chair, objecting to their presence.  Mr Hargreaves wanted clarification from the chairman that all comments from shareholders, before the meeting was officially closed, would be minuted.  The chairman questioned Mr Hargreaves belief that this doesn’t happen.  As we will see with the release of next year’s Annual Report it remains, as ever, that questions from the floor are not minuted.  Mr Hargreaves didn’t get a proper answer from the chairman, on his point that shareholders questions would be included in the minutes.

Mr Wyness began his presentation to the meeting by informing the gathering that there’d not be as much detail this year, no bubble charts!  Shame, I was looking forward to an increased Evertonian bubble dwarfing Southampton’s!  He thanked the staff at the Club for their hard work, their diligence during a time of dramatic change in the organisation at the Club.  He invited his deputy, Robert Elstone, to detail some of the changes made over the past year.  Mr Elstone showed us a progress report detailing problems the Club had with our Retail. 

“We’d overestimated, consistently, the level of demand for our merchandise.  On occasion we’d bought badly and often we were left with stock problems.  Some of the controls we tried to put in place twelve months ago were hampered by lengthy buying cycles.  We weren’t able to fix the problem as quickly as we would have liked.  Accordingly we went back and revisited an opportunity, presented by JJB, to outsource our Retail, to pass on our entire Retail operation to JJB, who are expert retailers – and we secured a deal in the summer whereby JJB take on all our retail operation.  That deal will guarantee us a considerable profit, something we haven’t enjoyed when we’ve done it ourselves.  It will also give us the chance to make some substantial royalties. 

"We were also very mindful of the fact that we wanted to retain this identity as Everton Retail – and JJB have got some tough service level standards to meet to deliver that, in terms of product range, distribution of product and the whole look and feel of the Club.  I think JJB in 2006/07 will probably make the biggest single impact on our bottom line performance, turning what was a difficult loss-making situation into a much stronger financial out turn.”  Mr Elstone then touched on the Catering at Everton, detailing why the decision was taken to outsource the Catering to Sodexho-Prestige.  With the outsourcing of the Retail and Catering departments it obviously impacted on the numbers of staff working at Everton.  The previous head count of two hundred and twenty eight people had now been reduced to one hundred and fifty four, saving the Club £700,000.  This made Everton more effective according to Mr Elstone. 

Satisfaction was expressed with the successful implementation of the SmartCard stadium access system.  He touched briefly on some of the smaller sponsorship deals, such as the launch of the Everton credit card – the second biggest deal amongst Premiership clubs.  We have a guarantee of £750,000 from Creation Bank.  One of the initiatives they will be introducing is 0% on season ticket purchases.  Broadening our relationship with the Trinity Mirror Group, who dominate the print media in the region.  No cash has changed hands but Everton are now guaranteed considerable space in Trinity Mirror publications to advertise Everton products, to sell services to our fans.  The official website was another source of pride with Everton TV an instant success.  He finished by highlighting the work of the Everton in the Community programme.

Mr Wyness touched on the David France Collection, opening with a reference to his mailbag being 50-50 on the matter.  All I’ll say on that issue is simply ignore those who do not see any importance in securing this wonderful collection of OUR heritage:  they’re wrong.  Mr Wyness expressed a personal opinion that we should secure the Collection.  It was offered that one possible reason why the initial failure with the drive by the Club to raise funds, from the fans, for the securing of this Collection was that the first team were performing poorly at the time.  Mr Wyness outlined a submission for Lottery funding, hopeful of its success but mindful of lottery funding being diverted towards the London Olympics in 2012.  Apart from that he also detailed, briefly, the plans the Club have during Heritage Week next March, when the Club have organised a number of events, hopefully raising sufficient funding to meet the cost of securing the France Collection.  He stated that the Club had signed a deal with David and Elizabeth France, giving the Club till December this next year to secure the Collection.  “Quite simply the Club hasn’t got the three quarters of a million pounds needed, lying around, in order to do that,” he said.

He moved on to the stadium issue, explaining how the Club had entered into an exclusivity agreement with Tesco and Knowsley Borough Council.  “That exclusivity agreement means we will not discuss other sites with people.  We will only work on that site (Kirkby) to see if it is a feasible project.  There are many deliverables in making sure a successful stadium project works – whether it is from local, regional or national politics and planning.  Whether it is the financial package.  Whether it is the suitability for the fans, transportation – it’s a very complex situation.  We believe after examining this possibility there is enough merit to examine it further.  This is by no means – I want to make this very clear – this is by no means a decision to go there.  But it is a decision to look at it very closely and we have been working on it pretty hard for the last few weeks.  We’ll continue to work very hard on it and we’ll see if it’s possible.  We think there is an opportunity to look at it and it could become a very strong possibility.  So that’s all I can say just now, it’s a possibility.   It is not a decision to go there.  But it is an exclusivity agreement in order for us to examine that site, and no other site at this time.  As things progress we’ll come back to the fans and make it very clear as to where it’s at.  That’s the situation regarding the stadium and I want to make it very clear tonight to try and cut out all the speculation that’s going on.”

He then showed us slideshow presentation of the gradual development of the Finch Farm training complex and Academy.  It should be ready for June 2007.  A huge project, stalled over the past eight years, now almost coming to fruition.  Not before time!  Mr Wyness said he hoped the opening of Finch Farm could make the Club more attractive to possible signings. 

Mr Wyness then invited questions from the floor with the first shareholder asking him to name the buyer of Bellefield but he declined to name the purchaser, citing that the Club were in the middle of finalising that deal and in due course would name the buyers. 

I then had the opportunity to go back to the France Collection, giving reference to the Club writing off a whopping £2m plus on the sale of Per Kroldrup as “a consequence of strengthening the team”, and I firmly believe that the Board are morally wrong to forever push the empty cap in front of the fans, asking them, again, to stump up the shortfall.  The argument, from Mr Wyness, that a lot of Evertonians do not want to see the Club secure our heritage doesn’t register with yours truly, as it’s a no-brainer in my humble.  In fairness to Mr Wyness he expressed a desire to secure it but asked what would happen to the Collection if the Club owned it and then the Club was bought by a foreigner with no particular appreciation of our past.  To answer that, and I wasn’t allowed (having had my say!), I would rather see the Club increasing their charitable donation to the Trust – a lot less than some of the fees dished out when securing players and keeping their agents sweet!  Worth mentioning the impending arrival of television money over the coming three seasons, a total of £84m to cushion our finances.  What’s a miserable £800,000?  And if you know you’re history?

Another shareholder then questioned the online ticketing facility, being given only the option to buy tickets Everton wanted to sell.  Mr Elstone said the Club were acutely aware of the problem and endeavoured to improve the service.

Mark Denny fielded the following question, the topic being the proposed move to Kirkby.  “I’ve tried to sit here and not talk about the ground move.  I can understand where Keith is coming from as far as the ground move is concerned, as he’s an employee – and a very well paid employee one might say – but Bill, I want to say to you Bill, you know I opposed Peter Johnson’s ground move to Kirkby, along with yourself at that time, so what’s changed your mind, Bill?” 

“About the ground move?” asked the chairman. 

“To Kirkby, more importantly,” replied Mr Denny, adding further that “the ground move is going to happen whatever.  But Kirkby?  Radio Merseyside are running with a headline today that Everton are leaving Liverpool – and that is true – and I do wonder, have the Club looked at what sort of impact this is going to have on the hardcore supporters at this Club.  Have you thought about percentage losses?  I know Mr Woods likes talking outside of the stadium, giving his opinion about….’well, we’ll gain more fans from Lancashire’ and things like that, but that’s rubbish.  I live in Lancashire; the fans are already there.  It doesn’t make no difference whether it’s in Kirkby as far as they’re concerned but it does to the soul of this Club and I do believe it’s going to be a long-term error, by yourself, if you allow us to move outside the City limits.  I really do.  King’s Dock was another opportunity, which I never thought would happen and it didn’t.  But this one seems too far down the road, I think.  And now Keith is saying that we’ve signed a deal basically shutting off any possible other option to come your way.  That’s what it sounds like to me.

"Now, if it’s a done deal, stand up and tell us it’s a done deal.  Don’t let the Echo do your spin, i.e. we’ll come back to the fans.  How many thousands of pounds are you going to spend on a Feasibility Study in Kirkby?  And then come back to us – and what if we say no, Bill?  What if we say no?  What are you going to do?  Pay another Houston Securities thousands of pounds, i.e. the King’s Dock?  Let’s get it right, Bill – it’s a mistake to move to Kirkby, it really is.” 

The question surrounding the future usage of Goodison Park was raised by another shareholder, wanting to know whether or not the Club had made provisions to enable the footprint of Goodison become available for future retail development.  Wary of the Club moving beyond the recognised City boundaries he also made a case for looking towards sites  in the south of  the City.  Keith Wyness confirmed that nothing had been done to change the future usage of Goodison Park, as it would be jumping the gun.  Regarding potential sites in the southern part of the City, Mr Wyness stated that the Club had looked into this matter, fully, before now reaching what he called “the Kirkby option”.

Kevin Hazard, who coaches the Everton girls u10s and u12s highlighted their predicament whereby the Club gives the girls a football kit once every two years.  Everything they have to buy, be it waterproofs or training gear, they raise the money themselves through fund raising and receive a token 10% discount when purchasing the items in the Megastore.  Mr Wyness detailed how big an effort the Club had made on behalf of the ladies but was quickly asked by Mr Hazard to take less profit off his under age girls teams in future.  The chairman apologised for this situation.

Michael Owen raised the issue of Everton being associated with gambling companies, and the social issues that arise from these types of business partnerships.  “We, Everton, could only make money out of Evertonians losing money,” he noted.  Mr Wyness pointed out that it was common practise for many clubs to have gambling partners.  The Chang sponsorship was mentioned in relation to the social aspect but Mr Owen was more concerned with the ever-increasing problem of online gambling, and how it can get out of hand for many people.  In a very commercial world he wished to see the line drawn somewhere.  He then fought in vain to get across the point about Everton’s lack of presence in the city centre and the perception, particularly from those from afar, that there was only one team in the City of Liverpool and if our neighbours were Barcelona then we were Espanol.

Ian Macdonald asked the Board to promise us faithfully, as was the case with the King’s Dock experience that we the fans were going to have a chance to vote on the stadium issue.  “It’s a very emotional subject,” said Mr Macdonald, “and I don’t want the erosion of our fans.  I’ll tell you about the experiences of other stadiums around the periphery of other cities:  Derby County and Bolton, to name but two.  They’re half full all the time, Derby’s fortunes have gone down – but Bolton are riding high.   But they’re all nightmare scenarios; you can’t get out of the place.  There’s not enough arteries, of people coming back and forth, transport wise.  Now, let me touch on the subject (raised by the previous shareholder), about Everton in this City.  You’ll get the tourist board (having customers) saying ‘I want to spend the weekend in Liverpool’, on their websites.  ‘Come and watch Liverpool’ – two hundred and fifty yards down the road or wherever it’s going to be, two miles from the City centre.  We’ll be seven miles from the City centre.  Oh, by the way, it’ll take you an hour and a half to get out of the stadium. 

"The stadium, I believe, will not be what we want.  It won’t be an Emirates and it won’t be a King’s Dock.  That was a quantum leap, that location.  That was one place I would go.  That was one place I would dearly go.  We know we have to move on, we’re not philistines.  But my greatest fear is that if we move out on the outskirts of this City we’ve put the white flag up to Liverpool – ‘you can have this City’.   And everybody else outside Merseyside will look on us as Espanol.  I want you to promise me faithfully, Bill, that you’ll give us the vote.  There’s two other places identified by Liverpool Council today, they’ve come out.  I want to dispel the myth that there’s nothing else on the table, there’s nothing else on the table that we’re going.  Because it looks like it’s the only deal the way you are going about it.  That doesn’t mean it’s the best deal. 

"And I know Terry Leahy is an Evertonian as well, a good Blue, but his first loyalty is to Tesco.  If Tesco asked us to go to Birkenhead with the same deal, well would we consider that?  Just think about it Bill.  I want you to be remembered as a great custodian but I think in seven or eight year’s time, if we go down there after the novelty it’ll be a disaster.  It will be the start of the erosion of our fans.”  The chairman, agreed with many points, appreciating the sentiment expressed by Mr Macdonald.  “I don’t want to be the guy who takes Everton away from Goodison Park,” replied Mr Kenwright.  “I never wanted to be the guy who sold Wayne Rooney.  And yes, this is a very big emotive question.  As Keith has said, what we’ve done is sign an exclusivity agreement which has various stopping points.  I don’t think it will go on that long.  As we go down the road, on those milestones, we will look at it every time.  We’ve just had a Board meeting before and I’ve checked everything for my own sake.  It’s not a done deal.  It is an option there.  I’d stay here forever, personally, but that is not an option I’m afraid guys.”  That last comment brought many cries from the floor that it was an option.  The chairman continued, “It’s not an option, I’m afraid, financially, for this football club and for the future of this football club from what I have learned in the last three years.”

Frank Hargreaves then sought clarification surrounding a number of matters, including the exclusivity with Tesco and Knowsley Borough Council.  “I’d just like you to clarify a couple of things.  The exclusivity with Tesco, you said, is not going to last long – it’s another thing that happens, and I’ve been waiting for it, for the last couple of weeks, what tends to happen with us, as a Club, and to the shareholders – we get eleven and a half months of nothing, then all of a sudden we get a trickle.  And it’s like someone says ‘bloody hell there’s an AGM next week, we’ve got to give them something’.  And what we’ve done here, we’ve come here tonight and we’ve got – nothing.  The reason I said I didn’t want the Press in here was because it’s a waste of time.  They know what they’re going to write tomorrow.  All they didn’t write today were the quotes.  So they’ll have a quote off Keith to say we’re moving on with Tesco and we’re going to do this.  So there was really no reason for the Press to be in.  It’s all done.  And you’re saying to me that you’re going to stand there and it’s an on-going process.  Then there’ll be a stop, then there’ll be another stop – but that won’t be consulting with us, the shareholders. 

"We won’t get to know anything, or be able to change anything until next year.  I stood here last year, Bill, or was it the year before, and I got accused of calling you liars.  I didn’t call you a liar; I said I haven’t got much faith in you because every time you promise you don’t deliver.  We had a fella here from Billy Smart’s circus the other year, who was introduced as the saving grace of Everton Football Club.  Never to be heard of again.  Took his two hundred and fifty large ones and got off.  He’s gone.  No one’s heard of him.  No one’s heard of his mates that he was bringing on board to save the Club.  It was exactly the same as what’s going on tonight.  We’ve got a new ground.  We’re going in with Tesco.  Don’t worry.  It’s all going to be great.  It’s different now, Bill, because not a lot of people, not many people are behind this the way we were with the King’s Dock because it’s the boy who cried wolf with you, Bill.  And you don’t deliver and I’m sorry but I’ve got no faith in you.”  Mr Kenwright’s response?  “Thank you, Frank.”

Sky Sports News’ roving financial reporter, Professor Tom Cannon was next to ask a question, but first, he wanted to distance himself from the previous comments.  “Can I just say one thing?  Can I disassociate myself from a lot of these complaints?  As far as I’m aware this, in the last few months, one, our position in the League, although not great I’m not frightened about relegation at the end of this season.  We’ve found £15m to sign two great players, that’s what the Board did.  As far as I can see, this Board, at this AGM, we’ve seen a fantastic development for the Academy.  We’ve got the prospect of a new ground, who a lot of these people said would never take place – and I want to say, Bill, that I think, as a Club, we’ve had a very positive picture coming forward, and I want to disassociate myself from all the carping and negative comments that I’ve heard in the last few minutes.  There are problems; there are challenges.  But anybody who thinks there aren’t problems, or challenges, for a football club like Everton, in the current environment, actually, is on another planet.”

Mr Kenwright responded by saying, “to go back to what Frank said – we haven’t stood here and said we’re going to a new ground la-di-da-di-da.  What Keith stood in front of you and said was - we’ve looked at five options.  Yes, Terry Leahy is an Evertonian and is part of one option and we’re going to look at that option for an exclusive period.  That’s the end of it.  Last year, Keith stood here and said when we know – and as a Board we’ve a right to make decisions – what we feel is the best way forward, we will go to the fans.  And Keith intends to keep his word on that.”

James Lyon then asked Robert Elstone if the Club had any plans to launch a Sky channel on the strength of the success with Everton TV.  Mr Elstone replied by saying that the option of a TV channel was out of our reach, more so without the option of live football.  Mr Lyon carried on adding positive comment about the prospect of Finch Farm, the recent player purchases, and then moved onto the debate surrounding any proposed move out to Kirkby.  “I’m from Kirkby and most Kirkby Evertonians – Evertonians are in the majority in Kirkby.  I wouldn’t like to put a percentage on it.  But there’s more Blue than Red in the town of Kirkby.  They come the game anyway, in a nutshell.  It’s negligible, the extra support you might get, going to the ground, if the ground was in Kirkby.  There’s very little extra you’re going to gain there.  It’s just a word of warning about the exclusivity.  All I’m very concerned about is – obviously you’ve been excellent saying the fans will have the final vote, and that’s absolutely right.  It’s just a concern that it will be a white elephant.  We’re outside the City.  The point Ian Macdonald raised, about giving Liverpool carte blanche to say ‘we’re the club of the City of Liverpool’. 

"That just totally erodes our People’s Club standing and financially, because they’ll have a hold on Liverpool City Council.  All the deals and tie ins that they can provide.  So all I’m saying is, could you be very careful please, as custodians of the Club, and report back when you can to us shareholders please, about the costs of the Kirkby site.  The viability, the transport routine, basically the whole picture.  Could you please keep us all informed every step of the way?”  Mr Kenwright confirmed he would keep the shareholders informed and furthermore not only the shareholders but also the fans would be kept informed also.  “I’ve had two meetings and we’re entering into an exclusivity of time rather than agreement just to look through the circumstances.  However, there are certain stepping-stones, milestones, not longer than four or five months I don’t think.”

Another shareholder wanted to know whether or not Tesco would be involved in another move to any other place.  When Mr Wyness assured the shareholder of no other place he was asked would we be getting clubcard points!

I then congratulated Professor Cannon on regaining his swagger and anticipated him commenting on the finances of Everton FC next time he was on Sky Sports News.  I asked the chairman if he knew the cost of a match ticket for kids to stand on the Stretford End at Old Trafford in the year before Sky invented football.  I didn’t expect him to know, why should I?  Anyhow, it was as little as 92p for kids to stand on the terracing back then.  I made a point that no matter how much Bill, or the Board, continued to asset strip the Club, no matter how much they tried, they would never be able to compete with the G14 clubs in terms of turnover.  We are becoming further and further away from the G14.  I made a point that the League, as it is today, is non-competitive, and the days are long gone when the League was competitive, as it was back in the seventies when clubs like Derby, Forest, Ipswich, QPR were able to compete with the bigger clubs.  If this current Board somehow managed to double our annual turnover, to £120m, we’d still be chasing the coat tails of the G14 clubs. 

I asked the chairman to have some balls at the next meeting of Premiership chairmen, to represent the best interests of all the other clubs, unable to compete with the G14 clubs, and ask the G14 to sod off to a pan European / global league, if that’s what they so desired, allowing us to get on, and with the one proviso that if they did go off to some European league then upon their return they’d have to come back in at Northern Premier League level!  The chairman deflected the question by suggesting I was asking him to find a rich Arab or Russian, or someone with bigger pockets then I was absolutely right.  That wasn’t what I asked; I wanted to see some sign of the game being returned to the ordinary man, woman and child out there in the street, most of whom are nowadays priced out of attending games.  I then commended the Club on the success of Everton TV and asked for some detail on the hooking up with Ballyoulster, in Kildare.  However, no such detail was forthcoming from anyone on the top table.

A following shareholder asked if it was absolutely impossible for us to increase the footprint of Goodison Park to allow a redevelopment.  He wondered if it was possible to re-route Walton Lane, directly outside the megastore, to allow us to shift the ground slightly.  The chairman replied, saying, “I was personally told, at three meetings, that it’s absolutely impossible to extend the footprint of Goodison Park, by the Council.”

“How much will Robert Earl be involved in this move to Kirkby, if it’s going on?”, asked another shareholder, “and what input is he having in the Club?”  The chairman replied saying that Robert Earl had no involvement in the move to Kirkby.  He stated that Earl had bought Paul Gregg’s shares six or seven weeks ago, as “it has been widely known that Paul has been trying to sell his shares for a couple of years.”  The chairman continued, “ He is an entrepreneur who owns Planet Hollywood and a couple of casinos.  He’s a man of vision.  How much is he going to be involved in the football club?  These are the exact words.  We had a meeting – Keith, myself, Jon – three weeks ago with him when he jetted over from America.  He’s at the moment up to his eyes on various things; we’re going to have a meeting again second week in January.  His main involvement will be raising money, will be raising profile, will be raising sponsorship.  I don’t know whether you know anything about him.  He started off with a plan for English Heritage – Beefeaters restaurants in America.  Built that up and went into Hard Rock (Café), went into Planet Hollywood, had several ups and downs and he’s one of the great movers and shakers in marketing and I think that’s what attracted him into joining us.”

A shareholder expressed concern with the chairman’s previous comments and apparent lack of a clear pledge that we wouldn’t make any ground move without a vote.  The chairman pointed out that he had previously stated that to be the case.  The shareholder asked, purely as a form of straw poll, who would be in favour of a move to Kirkby.  The resulting show of hands indicated a far greater support in favour of those opposing a move out to Kirkby, although it must be recognised that many were uncomfortable with the question and abstained.

Rob Sawyer made a point about the sale and leaseback of the Finch Farm site and wondered what were the options.  Mr Wyness made it clear that the Club had the option to buy back the site in five years and periods after that.  “A complex deal giving us the best of both worlds.”

John Shearon, from the Ruleteros Society, raised, not for the first time, the issue of the other Everton.  Lest we forget, “once an Evertonian, twice an Evertonian” – reference to our Chilean brothers and sisters.  CDE Everton will celebrate their own centenary in 2009 and it would be a lovely gesture if we could arrange a game against our South American counterparts.  Again, nothing by way of a proper answer bar the standard ‘come and see me afterwards’ from the chairman.  C’mon Bill…hands across the ocean…

Speaking of South Americans the next shareholder to speak made enquiries about the Invisible Man of Goodison Park:  Anderson de Silva!  Reports in the Liverpool Echo claming Everton had paid out £700,000 on the player, who’d not yet secured a work permit, to come and play in England.  Mr Kenwright replied saying that the Brazilian had impressed the manager, which led to Everton purchasing his “economic confederative rights” for the quoted £700,000.  At this point a number of voices piped up suggesting the £700,000 might have been better spent on securing the France Collection.  The shareholder asking the initial question about de Silva went on to dismiss the playing ability of a certain Richard Wright and was roundly condemned for doing so – there’s a time and place for critical analysis of the playing staff and an AGM most certainly is not that arena.  The chairman went on to detail the state of play regarding the Brazilian, saying that the player was supposed to have a British passport by January of this year (2006), the plan then being for him to join the Club.  “We believe he eventually got a passport because he’d been in and out of his Spanish team.  Right now, we still own his economical and confederative rights.  We are talking to his agents at the moment and there’s the possibility he’ll be joining us in a few weeks.”

A member of the Disabled Supporters Association asked about the feasibility study for more disabled seating to be made available at the Gwladys Street end.  Alan Bowen fielded the question stating that they hoped to discuss further the possibility of new seating in the area near the Church.

Mr Kenwright then invited questions for the man seated on the end of the table, the man with the red hair:  David Moyes.

The same member from the Disabled Supporters Association asked for Mr Moyes to arrange a visit from the Disabled Supporters, which Mr Moyes readily said he would do.  He then shot from the hip, aware of comments made previously from the floor.  “Can I maybe answer the first couple of questions.  There’s nothing I enjoy more than talking about football so if folk want to ask me questions, or debate things about football, they might not like the answers but if there’s one thing I really enjoy doing – it’s my hobby as well as being the manager here  - let me just mention Per Kroldrup.  We got him for £5m, didn’t do well, sold him for £3.5m.  Sorry about that.  I got that one wrong.  We signed Marcus Bent for £600,000.  Sold him for £2m, on the same day, to try to balance the books up for you shareholders.  So let me put that one right.  Okay, the other one – I’d love to be like Wenger.  Wenger’s fantastic.  I’m not there yet, I’m going to try and get like Wenger.  Anderson de Silva – yeah we did spend £600,000 or £700,000 on him.  If a Club like this can’t spend £600,000 or £700,000 on a player and you want us to compete then I think we’ve got a problem now, because that’s not going to be the answer to our questions.  That was a gamble and we’re always going to have to take gambles if we’re going to get there.”

Gary Rimmer asked whether Mr Moyes could improve if he viewed the match from a seat higher in the Main Stand.  Mr Moyes preferred to remain pitchside.

Mark Denny, a shareholder who likes to get his summer holidays sorted out nice and early, asked Mr Moyes was Vancouver likely to happen next summer!  Mr Moyes sounded amazed, saying, “I can’t believe you knew about that!”  At the moment it looks unlikely that Vancouver will be the chosen destination next summer, even though it’s the only offer at present.

James Lyon asked Mr Moyes to consider being a bit more positive, particularly when playing away.

Another shareholder chose the wrong stage upon which to make unsavoury comments about Richard Wright and he was immediately shot down by Mr Moyes and a good majority of the gathered audience.

Mindful of the critical tone of the previous shareholder, another shareholder stood up to applaud Mr Moyes for his purchase of the new players, particularly Joleon Lescott.

Another shareholder offered congratulations to Mr Moyes for the derby victory and asked about midfield options for Sunday’s game against the champions Chelsea.

Mr Moyes was asked about the formation of his team, often perceived to be a 4-5-1 line up.  The manager viewed it as more of a 4-4-1-1 line up and offered that we possessed arguably the finest midfield scoring threat in the Premiership through players like Tim Cahill.

I made a comment on the quality of performance earlier in the season and with lady luck deserting us at present with injuries certainly not helping matters, I asked Mr Moyes would he buying in January, and if so, that would obviously add to our overdraft – an argument for borrowing in advance of the £28m incoming from Sky next summer.  “Our squad is very short at the moment and I do think we need to add players to the squad.  To be fair to the Board, they have always been supportive,” replied Mr Moyes. 

The chairman took up the point about the Sky money, outlining that you can’t get the Sky money until safe in the League.  “It’s a difficult question.  As you know we have borrowed forward the Sky money in the past.  Wherever it comes from it will come from borrowings, because you will look at those accounts and you see – there’s not a lot of cash there.  As Colm said before, we’re not in the G14 league.  But what we do, what we always do, we try to balance the books, to juggle.  We’ve got an extraordinary bank manager, who listens and trusts.  When your bank manager, your accountant and your lawyers don’t trust you you’re in big trouble.  Well, unlike some here, they trust us totally.  And that is why we can when we’ve only got a few million get £14m to get the players that we viewed necessary at this Club.  We will not, and David made this comment I think when he first came, we will not bankrupt this Club.  We cannot bankrupt this Club.  Will we push it to the edge?  Yes we will.  Will we do everything we possibly can, to make sure we stay up there?  We get towards those Champions League places.  We get into Europe.  My God we will.  Every last ounce of finance will go into that.  Will it be borrowed?  Yeah.  Until the sheikh comes along, or the real Mr Samuelson…I don’t know.  Until we find the right source of proper income for this football club.”

Mr Moyes was then asked to comment on Tim Howard’s future at Everton but he was mindful of the presence of the media so said as little as possible bar saying that the player was enjoying his time at the Club.

Mr Moyes was then asked about the way modern day football sees central midfielders not necessarily wanting the ball, resulting in the usual long ball hoof from a right back!  Mr Moyes enthused about the ability of Mikel Arteta in particular and agreed with the shareholder.  He then went on to point out that the value of his Everton side had dramatically increased over his five years at the Club and hoped for better days ahead.

In closing the meeting, the chairman offered, “We are an emotive lot and I know more than anything that we love our football club.  We discussed at great length the heritage and it’s right that we do with this football club, but we should also look to the future.  And no matter what doubts you have about the chairman any doubts that you have about the manager are totally misplaced.  Because I’ve worked with him now for five years.  This man actually said to me in November of last year when the wolves were howling, ‘this is what we’ll do’.  And he dictated the League places we would do.  He actually said we would finish ninth.  We didn’t, as you know, on the last day of the season.  We didn’t beat West Brom but we would’ve got to his exact position. 

"The reason why he is a great manager for Everton, just as great as Arsene Wenger is for Arsenal, is he leaps, he sleeps, eats, breathes this football club.  As you can see, he is honest, he is straightforward.  He will not waste your money; he will not waste our money.  He has kept his promise.  When he first sat with me, in my living room, he said ‘I want to bring a new young player in every year and I won’t break the bank for you, but I want to slowly get out of the habit that Everton seem to have got into with older players’.  We’ve had a bad few results in the last few weeks but before then we all thought we were doing really well.  We will continue that again.  He’s told me again, he’s told the Board, the strategy for the next few weeks, the next few months.  I think you’re in terrific hands.  I think the Club’s in terrific hands.  I think the Club’s in terrific hands, because of what Keith’s done, because of what Robert’s done, because of what everyone at Everton is trying to do.  Because what they’re trying to do is their best.  Nobody involved in this football club wants to do anything but their best.  In communications.  In marketing.  In community.  Off the pitch.  On the pitch.  All we want, and you’re quite right to say we’ve got to pitch the position we want to be in.  We just have to be the best at everything we do. 

"That mightn’t be the top of the League but at what we do we have to be the best and I pledge to you that until the man comes along, with the money – and if the man comes along with the money, and I’ve said this for five years now.  If the man comes along with the money, I’ll be gone, I’ll be sitting with you.  Jon will be gone, sitting with you.  If the moneybags comes and they are there to take this Club to the place where you want it to be and I want it to be.  You know, when I became chairman two years ago…. when I became a director, fifteen or sixteen years ago, all I wanted was to bring you silverware.  That will be the proudest moment of a very proud life for me.  So, just trust the people that are here, trying their damndest, to bring success to Goodison Park.  Why?  Because you deserve it.  The fans deserve it.  Those that have gone deserve it.  Those in the future deserve it.  In a world when we see, on television, every single football game, where you see ugly scenes of fans just baying for blood behind goals because they’ve not got what they wanted…. let’s be different at Everton.  We are different at Everton.  You’ll never meet an Everton fan; you’ll meet an Everton fanatic.  Let’s support our Club in the traditional way, by supporting everyone involved in it.  Thank you everyone for coming tonight.  I would just like to finish by inviting Anne Asquith, to come and say a few words and then Richard Lewis to say a few words.”

Anne Asquith, chairperson of the Everton Shareholders Association, then spoke of the increase in numbers of shareholders, a positive sign, and more involvement from Evertonians of every possible opinion, all represented on the night.  She then commended the Club on a number of matters, ranging from the Evertonia gold card to the success of the electronic turnstile access.  She finished by expressing a desire to see better communications between the Board and the shareholders.

Richard Lewis, from the Everton Shareholders 2006 group, welcomed the sale of the Gregg shareholding and welcomed the arrival of Robert Earl at the Club.  He commended the Board for looking at all opportunities and if Kirkby was the answer then so be it.  He finished by requesting that the Board consider the possibility of providing a non-executive director, to sit on the Board, to represent all the shareholders in the room!

And that, as they say in Hollywood, was that...

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