The Confused, The Evil and The Fickle: Bill Kenwright, Tony Fernandes and Football Fans

LIVERPOOL ENGLAND - OCTOBER 17: Everton Chairman Bill Kenwright shakes the hand of new Liverpool owner John W Henry before the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Liverpool at Goodison Park on October 17 2010 in Liverpool England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Thursday saw QPR bought for the same amount as Everton's bankers regard as an unmanageable debt. What's up with soccer?

Tony Fernandes bought the Ecclestone-Briatore road show out of Queens Park Rangers on Thursday with an initial investment of £45 Million (£35 Million for the 66% of the club and a promised £10 Million investment in personnel). On the same day, it was reported that the Everton chairman Bill Kenwright ‘confessed’ to a delegation of fans that the club’s £45 Million debt represents their borrowing ‘limit’.

 

Fernandes, according to The Guardian’s David Conn, regards QPR as a valuable advertising vehicle for his various aviation concerns. Kenwright, meanwhile, describes himself as desperate (and his bank as "f---ing desperate") to sell the club.

It seems, then, that a £45 million investment in one club represents smart business while another’s £45 million debt equates to a serious liability.

Tony Fernandes has willingly put the same amount of money into a newly promoted club whose manager has a 0-1 Premiership record that Bill Kenwright is frantic to salvage from Premiership ever-presents whose manager has recorded 5 successive top-10 finishes despite a negligible net spend over that period. (Of course, £45 million would only secure 95% of Fernando Torres but it is beyond the scope of this piece to unravel the whole complexity of English Football’s class system).

The respective states of the boardrooms at Queens Park Rangers and Everton (who meet, coincidentally, on Saturday – maybe the chairmen can settle the eternal half-full half-empty debate over whiskies in the lounge) capture something of the identity crisis in which English football currently finds itself.

Kenwright’s desperation became public after Evertonians for Change published the transcript of an interview between the Everton chairman and a delegation of three fans (from The Blue Union fan group), which took place last Friday at Kenwright’s London office.

That this was against the wishes and knowledge of Kenwright and Everton was made immediately clear; the transcript was published on Wednesday and broke in the mainstream media on Thursday accompanied by ‘the club are considering legal action’ tags.

Had this not been made explicit, however, it could have been surmised from the tenor of the interview and its preamble.

The attainment of the interview is described as ‘an achievement in itself’ and Kenwright is referred to throughout as ‘Bill’. The delegates’ bonafides as ‘genuine fans’ are repeatedly talked up and the reader is reassured that they paid their own expenses to London and took unpaid leave to do so. In a preemptive nod towards the club’s prospective issues with the publication of the interview we are told that:

The Chairman was aware that information from the meeting would be supplied to supporters. The only confidentiality exercised surrounds matters concerning the chairman’s private and family life, which he is clearly entitled to expect and we are equally happy to respect. The normal conversation expected between any football supporters has also been omitted. All three representatives concur that the following is a true and accurate report of what was discussed.

These assurances and reassurances contain inherent acknowledgements of falsehood. Even if it is true that ‘The Chairman was aware that information from the meeting would be supplied to supporters’, the leap from that to publishing a selectively quoted transcript online is enormous. Painting the Blue Unioners as selfless martyrs to the truth is pretty pathetic too; does taking unpaid leave (why not take a half day and use up some holiday time?) make them more believable witnesses? Calling him Bill is cheap too, but we’ll blow past that for now. If being granted the interview is an achievement then it is also a privilege, granted in good faith which the rest of the preamble (and the act of publication) undermines.

The entire interview speaks to this. Throughout, Barry, Simon and Mark continually ask ‘Bill’ for clarification as to why he has instituted the media blackout that has seen him decline interviews throughout the close season.

This is the most direct address to this issue:

Mark "Bill I ask you; you have to do an interview, you need to explain to the fans; why don’t you do that?"

Bill’s [sic] replied, "And say what? We haven’t reduced the overdraft, we lose money every year, we can’t make money. That’s the bad news. Don’t they know that?"

Clearly Kenwright, in-spite of the blueness of his own nose, regards Everton’s financial difficulties as his own burden (which is fair enough, legally and financially, they are). Clearly, too, it is a burden he seeks to shift.

The fans, equally clearly, don’t care for this. This too is understandable, only Atletico Madrid fans regard their club as a burden.

What exactly they want instead, though, is less clear:

Mark, "The question is Bill why hasn’t it been sold?" Bill, "Why? I wish I knew….I have no idea; look, the thing I’m getting is there’s not enough money in the world; the thing is…..when was the last major sale of a football club?"

Barry, "Liverpool", Simon, "Blackburn"

Bill, "You would want Blackburn Football Club? Barry, "Liverpool" Bill, No, No, No, No, I said major sale; Liverpool weren’t sold, they took over the debt." Barry, "I’m sorry Bill, they have a new owner who never had a club; they were sold and now they’re showing ambition" Bill, "Okay okay, I’m not arguing with you if you call that buying a football club; Blackburn…..well…….I wouldn’t want a Blackburn."

Simon, "Well the proof is in the pudding; in five years time they may have Championships and we may be sitting here saying we want a Blackburn scenario. Bill, "No they won’t…look, I don’t know the answer’.

So Barry wants to be Liverpool, while Simon would rather be Blackburn (provided they win Championships, plural, in five years). Mark doesn’t say anything and Bill plain doesn’t know.

Presumably, though, Simon at least would have no problem with being QPR (especially if reports of Fernandes’s benevolent intentions turn out to be accurate), and newly owned by an outspoken Tweeting provocateur who describes himself as a West Ham United fan and his new acquisition as a realization of ‘the power of sport to market a brand’.

Except that, probably, he wouldn’t.

In all likelihood, Fernandes would be even less popular at Goodison than Kenwright is. The Malaysian entrepreneur’s brand intentions (AirAsia fly under red colours) would be an uncomfortable match for ‘a family club’ with a ‘proud 124 year history’, and such rhetoric would ensue from The Blue Unionists. At QPR, who have underperformed for years and are at least upgrading their parasite, no such problem exists: they’ll take the guy who’s overseen the reintroduction of Lotus into Formula 1 over the guy who told one of his drivers to crash any day, but they’re still a long way off being owned by the world’s most popular energy drink.

The fickleness of football fans is renowned. Ultimately, though, it’s not their fault; football itself is fickle: simultaneously familial and entrepreneurial, tribal and international, confused and evil.

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