I'll be up-front with you. I'm a Liverpool FC fan; that's why perhaps writing an article about our cross-Stanley park rivals, Everton, on the day of the Merseyside Derby, may not be the greatest idea. However, I've always thought of myself as a relatively unbiased fan; both in terms of my willingness to criticise my Reds, and to praise them lot down at Goodison when they do well, even rooting for them in European competitions. Moreover, I think it's an unequivocally good thing for Liverpool to have not just a top-flight rival, but one who constantly clips at our toes. As such, my relationship with Everton is a bit of a paradox. But then again, so is Everton itself.
This week, David Moyes celebrates his tenth year in charge of Everton, making him the third longest reigning manager in the Premier League (behind Arsene Wegner and S'rAlex). In a month in which Roman Abramovich appointed his seventh manager in eight years, this is not to be scoffed at. Moreover, Moyes has achieved some great things during his time at the club; Champions League qualification, an FA Cup final appearance, and an average position of sixth place across the last five seasons makes up a rather impressive CV, especially when one considers the limited resources with which he has had to work. And therein lies the inherently confusing nature of Everton FC. For a side who dominated English football in the 1980s (and would've replicated those achievements on the continent were it not for the post-Heysel ban on English competition in Europe), for achievements to only be impressive when one places the qualification of financial constraints doesn't seem quite right.
Undoubtedly all Everton fans are grateful for Moyes' steady stewardship, and the considerable efforts (and resources) invested in the club by majority shareholder and chairman Bill Kenwright. And all would prefer this consistency rather than overreaching and imploding in an attempt to achieve the spectacular; for example Portsmouth offering enormous bonuses to attract their FA Cup-winning stars, or Leeds United banking their future on a Champions' League qualification that never materialised. But what an increasingly vocal and substantial group of Everton fans desire for is this paradigm to be entirely reconstructed.
The SOS1878 group claim to stick to Everton's motto of 'Nil Satis Nisis Optimum' (Latin for 'Nothing But the Best is Good Enough) with a belief that 'probably annihilates rational logic', and are calling for a change to the club's ownership. They form part of the wider 'Blue Union', a coalition of fan groups, who through grassroots campaigning, consultation and protest, aim to increase fan involvement with the club and secure new owners. They claim that Bill Kenwright's pockets are, quite simply, empty; whilst during his tenure the club have broken their transfer fee record four times, they've only achieved this by selling their best players (Rooney, Lescott, Arteta and Pienaar spring to mind).
Similarly, with bids for new stadiums having fell apart, the club remain stuck at a ground which, whilst steeped with tradition, inhibits the ability to expand and attract investment. This, coupled with a measly £2.5million-a-year shirt sponsorship with Chang Beer, has meant that the club has increasingly had to seek out bank loans reaching into the tens of millions of pounds. Whilst this is typical of many clubs in the Premier League, the situation has meant that not only do they have to sell players in order to buy (inhibiting football progress), but that the vast majority of their revenues go straight back into paying off their not insignificant debts, preventing brand expansion. This situation, whilst (just about tenable) endemically prevents Everton from moving forward. For Blue Union groups, this has but one response; Kenwright out, new investment in.
Everton fans should be cautious. As Portsmouth, Newcastle, Blackburn and West Ham fans have witnessed in recent years (and even Liverpool under Hicks and Gillett) will testify, a new rich chairman doesn't necessarily equate to success and stability. However, Everton could be an attractive prospect to an investor; a rich history, loyal fans and a decent global support-base. And for an Everton fan, a buyer who has the best interests of the club at heart (as Liverpool's new owner John W. Henry seems to) is exactly what the side need to move on.
I genuinely hope they find such a buyer. It'll spur Liverpool on to keep achieving, and be great for the city as a whole. That said, I hope we absolutely batter the dirty Toffees tonight. Thus is the perplexing nature of my support of Liverpool FC, and relationship with Everton. Sigh...