Club Focus – Everton – Toffees facing battles on the field and in the boardroom

It has been a long week on the blue half of Merseyside, looking up at the 19 Premier League teams sitting above Everton with a mixture of disbelief at the Toffees’ position and frustration at how such a disastrous start came about. And after more whispers of a potential ground share with Liverpool and Chairman Bill Kenwright revealing talks with three potential investors, matters off-the-field are no less chaotic.

Leaving aside the latest stage in Kenwright’s never-ceasing search for new investment for a moment and looking towards St Andrew’s on Saturday, Everton go to Birmingham on the back of one of their better results of the season, the 0-0 draw with Fulham. Although that is the faintest of praise considering the situation Everton find themselves in a point away from home is rarely a bad result and the same would be more than acceptable from Alex McLeish’s Birmingham City. City share more than a few characteristics with Fulham, perhaps most notably fiery managers but also a resolute hard-to-break-down approach that foiled Everton three times last season. While the Fulham draw was a step in the right direction Everton have seemed to take those steps already – that amazing comeback against Manchester United, for example – only to struggle to follow up. They cannot allow another lacklustre showing of the Newcastle United variety.

An unchanged side would help keep whatever momentum Everton picked up at Craven Cottage, and with no fresh injury concerns that is what David Moyes is likely to field. After resorting to an aerial bombardment against Newcastle it was back to passing football last Saturday, a good sign as Birmingham will set up to encourage a long ball game, cutting off all the centre-back’s other options safe in the knowledge that Roger Johnson and Scott Dann will win almost every aerial challenge they enter. With an industrious midfield to gather up the second balls and enough quality to use them constructively, giving away possession so cheaply would be Everton’s downfall. The Toffees have the talent for a more patient passing game, but that requires the sure touch confidence brings, but that has looked in short supply. The danger of growing discouraged by such a solid unit in front of them and resorting to a simpler long-ball game will always be present and one Everton have to avoid at all costs.

Speaking of cost, that brings us to matters in the boardroom. Kenwright’s search for investment has been long and arduous and watching the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City welcome new owners in a blaze of optimism has been galling for Evertonians. Manchester City and Liverpool represent the two extremes of takeover in the Premier League – one propelled the team to the brink of the highest level, the other threatens the club’s very future. City became an attractive proposition for rich investors thanks, in large part, to the state-of-the-art stadium they received relatively cheaply – £30m for converting the site from an athletics ground to a football ground – which massively increased City’s potential to grow. Liverpool, on the other hand, do not have a super-stadium but do boast a name internationally renowned, which, in all honesty, Everton cannot. A new stadium or a string of trophies would make Everton far more attractive to new money but with the team bottom of the league and destined to stay at Goodison for another five-to-10 years, as confirmed by the retail redevelopment plans announced a few months ago, neither option seems likely to happen for the moment.

Liverpool are barely any further than Everton in their search for a new home – they have a site, which is more than Everton can claim, but building work was supposed to start months ago. The prospect of ground sharing is an emotive issue for both sets of fans, and understandably so. A club’s ground is central to their identity and a way of connecting to great moments of the past that happened in front of the Kop for Liverpool or the Gladwys Street End for Everton, the same stand you now visit every other week. The Merseyside derby may have been the friendly derby once, the two sets of fans may have travelled to Wembley together when the teams met in the 1984 League Cup Final, they may unite at times of great sorrow and they may work with each other every day, but when Everton play Liverpool the atmosphere inside the ground is not friendly. At its worst, it is downright venomous, and anyone who promotes the idea of a shared stadium based on this should pay a visit to Goodison on October 17 to see just how far apart football drives a city. Logic may yet have its day but the two tribes will remain separate a while yet.

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