Everton’s plight has stirred their fans into action but with 777’s takeover no foregone conclusion, the long-term future is worrying
by: Hani Kamal El-Din
Outside the stadium that stands as a beacon of hope, three generations of Evertonians are braving the squall blowing in off the River Mersey.
Graham Heald, who lives on the Wirral, is relishing the chance to spend some time with his son, Nick, and grandson Cole. They are on a flying visit to Merseyside from Japan for a family commitment, but the weekend was never going to pass without Everton being involved.
The international break denied Cole the chance to attend his first Everton game, but he was still taken to Goodison for a stadium tour and — given he idolises Dominic Calvert-Lewin — had a good go at spending his pocket money in the club shop.
But this excursion would not have been complete without heading down to Bramley Moore Dock, where the imposing new 52,888-seat stadium dominates the skyline. Cole is awestruck when he sees it for the first time and, with wonderment, says it’s like ‘a UFO has landed’.
‘I used to be a season ticket holder,’ Nick explains. ‘Every time I come back, we go to the old stadium and then come here to see the progress of it all.
Everton are in trouble and their long-term future is growing increasingly worrying
‘I work in construction, so I watch the footage online of the build with particular interest. I wanted to be here because I miss the feeling of the club.’
‘Feel’ is an important word. Merseyside is unique in terms of the grip its football teams have on its residents and the fate that befell Everton on Friday, with the Premier League imposing a 10-point punishment for Financial Fair Play breaches, has impacted the mood of the city.
That should never be forgotten. The decisions made in boardrooms and the sanctions that create headlines might be great talking points, but they are never felt more acutely than here, on the streets, by people such as the Heald family.
‘Look at the layby we are standing next to,’ Graham points out. ‘Since we have been here talking, five or six people have turned up to do what we are doing. It’s all for the same reason as us — to have that connection with the club.’
Those outside the city limits might be surprised, but the connection between club and fans has actually intensified this weekend. Evertonians are adamant that the Premier League has sought to make an example of them and they will not take it lying down.
‘Whilst we understand the need for rules to be followed and standards to be upheld, this only punishes the fans, players and management team,’ a joint statement issued by fans’ groups over the weekend said. ‘The people who broke your rules are not the ones suffering.’
This is an excellent point. The in-depth report, published by the Premier League, illustrates the largesse and lack of common sense that has been applied to decisions in the transfer market over the last seven years.
Everton strongly deny they breached PSR and their financial losses were due to the building of a new stadium at Bramley Moore Dock
‘There was always going to be a punishment, wasn’t there?’ Nick asks rhetorically. ‘We are being made an example of, probably wrongly. It just feels like we are the sacrificial lambs.’
It always used to be the way for Everton, when David Moyes and Roberto Martinez were managers, that they would approach each summer window with the same transfer kitty — £5million. What they generated in player sales, could then also be invested into the squad.
Moyes was a master at cutting his cloth accordingly, knowing when to cash in on a player and how to cherry pick impressive youngsters who wanted to come to Goodison to enhance their careers, seeing it as an important stop in their development. Martinez, too, knew how to make things work. He bought Romelu Lukaku for £28million, for instance, and the club made a £64m profit when selling him to Manchester United. John Stones, signed by Moyes, cost £3m from Barnsley but went to Manchester City for £50m.
Through it all, Everton remained capable of pushing for Europe. True, they fell frustratingly short of tangible achievements — losing the 2009 FA Cup final, losing semi-finals in 2012 and 2016, as well as the League Cup semi-final that year — but there was never this sort of turbulence.
Now, though, the future is uncertain. Everton’s squad is better than those of the three promoted clubs and the Healds, like many Blues, are in agreement that if there was a season to get a points deduction then it was this one. Everton really should still not get relegated.
It is beyond this campaign, though, that you wonder how it all pans out. Well-placed sources told Mail Sport this weekend that 777’s bid to buy the club from Farhad Moshiri is certainly not a foregone conclusion, with the Premier League still having questions they want answering.
Whether Moshiri, a man capable of changing his mind at the flick of a switch, will be at Goodison on Sunday for the visit of Manchester United is similarly uncertain. How this proud club could do with some proper leadership in its hour of need.
Manager Sean Dyche sees his side in 19th place are the 10-point penalty, with any further deduction likely to result in Everton being relegated from the Premier League
In that vacuum, the fans will again step forward. The atmosphere will be broiling under the lights, screaming defiance, but how long can they keep doing it?
All anyone connected with Everton wants is to be playing at Bramley Moore Dock two years from now, with order restored.
‘This stadium is the best thing Moshiri has done,’ Graham Heald says. ‘He’s made plenty of mistakes but you can’t take this away from him. I don’t care when we move in, I just don’t want a day to be wasted here. We have waited long enough.’
And they have been through enough. But, as it stands, there is no end in sight. All these fans can do is stick together.