Feeling blue at Everton

Everton are the People’s Club and always will be. They were founded in 1878 as St Domingo’s F.C to allow the members of the Methodist Church to play football and changed their name a year later so that people in the area not linked to the parish could take part as well. The stadium is built in a residential area so it is easy to get to regardless of whether you live in the houses that run alongside the ground or if you’re travelling from far and wide.

On matchday the people living nearby will leave their houses to watch the thousands of supporters flocking to the Goodison Park and once you’re inside the atmosphere is astonishing with passion oozing out of every Blue Nose. During the past 133 years, fans have been treated to groundbreaking developments and brilliant performances. Their ground was one of the first purpose built football stadiums in the world and played host to the first ever televised match in 1936. Players like Gary Lineker and the legendary Dixie Dean, who scored 60 goals in a league season which is still a record, have pulled on the historic blue shirt and in 2005 they were able to break into the top four at the expense of their city rivals.

However, six years on from that outstanding achievement, the team has become stagnant in mid-table mediocrity, watching the gap between them and the big guns getting wider and wider. Despite having a game in hand, Everton sit 12th in the league behind newboys Swansea and Norwich, four points above the drop zone and ten points behind Liverpool. Now the fans, and the club, aren’t happy.

As with many things in life at the moment, the main issue is the lack of money. During the summer, at a time when Everton should have been delving into the transfer market to push get back in contention for a European place, Bill Kenwright pulled the plug on optimism by admitting that Barclays Bank wouldn’t allow them to buy any players.

Instead, they began the unenviable task of trying to keep hold of their players as the vultures hovered around. In the end there were departures, most notably Mikel Arteta, who joined Arsenal for a reported fee of £10 million. Also out the door were Jermaine Beckford, James Vaughan and Yakubu who joined Leicester City, Norwich and Blackburn respectively. There were some new faces, with Marcus Hahnemann joining on a free and James McFadden returning, while Denis Stracqualursi, Eric Dier and Royston Drenthe joined on loan, but it was too little too late. The ambition of the fans cannot be matched by the bank balance and the arrivals suggest that the board are not looking to achieve more but merely to consolidate their league position.

What is most worrying is that Everton’s wage bill is being slashed despite it already being small. In the 2009-10 season it was £54.3 million, a figure closer to that of Blackburn and Fulham rather than Tottenham and Aston Villa, teams they were fighting against that year.

Kenwright has been blamed by many for not backing Moyes in the transfer market and the need for a buyer is clear, but the money that the club is generating has fallen way behind. While Goodison Park is historic, atmospheric and typifies its team, with a 40,000 capacity it just isn’t big enough. There are only ten executive boxes in the stadium, even League One side MK Dons have 28.
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Yet any attempts to make a new home have hit stumbling blocks. In 2003, the Toffees wanted to build their new home at the Docks but they couldn’t fund the move and lost their space to the impressive Echo Arena. More recently a bid to move to Kirby was blocked at the planning stage. Plans to expand their current ground have been discussed but it would involve demolishing the surrounding houses, tearing the very fabric of the club in the process.

These setbacks have been hard for fans but it could have been a whole lot worse without the managerial magic of David Moyes. Since his arrival in March 2002, he has been working miracles of what has been predominantly a shoestring budget. Despite breaking the bank for Fellaini, Yakubu and Andy Johnson, he has brought in Baines, Cahill and Jagielka for relatively small fees and the likes of unknown Apostolos Vellios, this season’s top scorer so far and a bargain at just £50,000. The squad is also full of academy players, Hibbert, Osman, Anichebe, Baxter, Rodwell and Barkley, plus a certain Mr Rooney, have all been brought through by the Scot and made themselves fixtures in the first team.

During his tenure he has taken the club to fourth in the league, gaining a shot at Champions League qualification, three UEFA Cup journeys and an FA Cup final appearance despite spending a fifth of the money that Tottenham has which is an amazing achievement but it cannot go on forever.

When the transfer window reopens on January 1, the likes of Rodwell, Barkley, Baines and Jagielka will be linked to teams fighting at the top of the tree, where Everton want to be. If the offer is big enough then they will be allowed to leave. Similarly, if a job at one of the top clubs becomes available, Moyes will be linked with it. He is one of the country’s top managers and has done wonders on Merseyside but a transfer budget and the chance to fight for trophies might tempt him away.

Times are tough at the People’s Club and the longer they go without change the bigger the problem becomes. At the moment the club is stagnant and a cash injection could rise back up the table. But if the manager jumps ship things could get even worse.

Will the skies get brighter over Goodison? Comment below or follow me on Twitter @jrobbins1991.

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