Everton’s Eventful Summer
We’re heading towards the middle of football’s twilight zone. It’s an odd number year, so there are no European Championships or World Cup to raise the blood pressure we are left twiddling our thumbs, marveling at the nonsense that is fifteen year old boys pretending to be agents on Twitter and wondering whether Confederations Cup might not be so bad after all. Even in these lethargic times, however, there are some clubs for whom the summer of 2013 is becoming quite exciting already. Chelsea supporters, for example, might never be able to get as excited as the press did at the return of Jose Mourinho at their club, but with a sense of flux around the top of the Premier League at the end of last season, they might well be starting to get excited about the start of the new season already. Excitement, however, isn’t always a good thing. The supporters of Coventry City would, we dare say, probably rather be looking forward to a new kit, a handful of signings that they’ve never heard of and a handful of sluggish pre-season friendly matches than the prospect of playing the next three years thirty miles away in Walsall while their vampiric owners continue to suck the life out of their club.
Somewhere between these two extremes lays Everton Football Club. This is a club that has become a living embodiment of the sense of stasis that has descended over the Premier League in recent years. Everton have finished nine of the last eleven seasons in the top half of the table, seldom troubling the very top of the table but, with one of the longest serving managers in the division, achieving respectable league positions in spite of a lack of investment in the playing side of the club that has occasionally driven its supporters to distraction in the past. Over the course of the last few weeks, however, the club has been awoken from its torpor, starting with the decampment of manager David Moyes to Old Trafford following the retirement of Alex Ferguson at the very end of last season. That Moyes should have been selected for the job was no great surprise – Ferguson had gushed about his qualities for some considerable time – and the appointment of FA-Cup-winning-but-relegated-anyway Wigan Athletic manager Roberto Martinez hardly felt like a major shock either. For all the love stories that people that are paid to be involved in professional football like to tell us, the game is a series of business deals these days, and for Martinez the prospect of staying on in the Premier League was too great to resist, just the opportunity to prove his worth in the Champions League was a temptation too far for David Moyes.
Everton’s summer of adventure didn’t end there, though. While most of the rest of professional football entered into a state that might be best described as reverse hibernation, the club then went on to irritate its supporters by redesigning its badge for the start of next season without consulting them. The new badge removed the club’s Latin motto of “Nil Satis, Nisi Optimum” (“nothing but the best is good enough”) and the two wreaths that adorned it, featured a more stylised version of the well known Prince Rupert’s Tower motif, which has appeared on the club’s shirts – though not, it should be pointed out, continuously – since 1938, and removed both the club’s name and year of formation from its shield. The club stated that the reason for this was because the original badge was “frequently misrepresented, has become increasingly difficult to reproduce in the digital age,” but a petition against it has attracted over 24,000 signatures and the club has apologised for not consulting supporters first, but ultimately contracts are contracts and Everton will take to the pitch next season wearing the newly-designed badges. The campaign has now shifted its focus to ensuring that the new badge lasts the absolute minimum amount of time that all concerned can get away with using it for, and there are talks of boycotting official club merchandise at Goodison Park next season.
Finally, there was further news from the club this week with the announcement that Liverpool City Council have purchased its Finch Farm training ground in a £13m deal that should, according to both the club and the council, financially benefit both over the coming years – the club being described as likely to “make ‘significant’ savings on their regular rent payments.” The club has a fifty year lease on the facility, but some have argued that a council that has been forced to make significant cuts to its services (£141m worth over the last two years with a further £32m over the next year) might have found better ways to spend its money than on one of its two giant sporting institutions. After all, Premier League television revenues will leap by 71% with the new contract that kicks in at the start of next season, so why, it might reasonably be asked, should a club that has just seen its largest single source of income – two years ago, for example, television money outweighed gate receipts by two and a half times to one – increase so dramatically?
The Premier League may start next season with a sense of flux about it, but few clubs seem likely to have had such a quietly eventful summer as Everton. For most of the last decade, they have sat in the second tier of the Premier League, hamstrung from greater competitiveness by being consistently excluded from a place at the Champions League trough and the subsequent occasional requirement to sell their best players to them. No-one quite knows what Everton’s fortunes might be over the coming months, but if a level of activity at a club is any indication of likely change, then Everton supporters could be awoken from their recent torpor by the complaints about changing the badge, watching a quite different type of football to what they have been used to from Roberto Martinez, considerably wealthier as a result of the new television contract and playing at a training ground under the ownership of their local council. Any or none of these things could prove to be equally significant or insignificant for the club next season. If nothing else, it will keep them awake during this summer’s twilight zone.
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