Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, Prevent the Twitter dogs from barking their endless moan. Silence the podcast and with Z Car drum, Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead, Trailing their banners of disaster and dread. Goodison nightmare from Bramley dream Sack the Board. Back the Team. Pour away the Mersey and the Goodison wood, For nothing now can ever come to any good. But what’s that rising in the Pheonix flame? The Spirit of the Blues – What’s our name?!
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.
“You try, you fail. You try, you fail. Failure is when you stop trying”.
“Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing”.
“Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked”.
“Success has many fathers; failure is a right bastard”.
“Out of the debris of despair we build our character”.
Choose your own Everton aphorism to fit your own (or more often than not your group’s) narrative. I like this Japanese ‘Nanakorobi yaoki’ approach to failure: “Fall seven times, stand up eight”. Somewhere in there lies the road to resurrection for us Evertonians and, fundamentally, what being a Blue actually means.
Having a view about ‘being a Blue’ is a bit like having an opinion on the chilling of red wine. On a visit to the Castello di Volpaia winery in Tuscany, the man in charge told me that Chianti Classico should be chilled. When I presented at a conference in Lyon, a Portuguese restaurant owner said the same. Even Dan Meis’s friendly vineyard in Gaiole recommends it. But the ‘received wisdom’, and therefore the cultural ‘norm’, is that red wine should be served at room temperature. With anything involving ‘culture’ you’ll be berated for having views which don’t resonate with (or indeed regurgitate) the Group Think orthodoxy. The hegemony is with the loudest voices; any view contrary to the purview of the group is dismissed as heterodoxy and you can be effectively cancelled. Viticulture and social culture don’t mix; Everton opinions and social media are much the same. Red wine, blue whine, it’s down to personal taste.
Clichéd or not, we have a classic Catch-22 conundrum of perceptions and partisanship: get the football side sorted, bring stability, and build on the synergy between the coaching staff, the players, and most of the fans. Unity, stability, authenticity. To some fans that would be perceived as passive and merely reinforcing the unacceptable status quo: the Board’s perceived incompetence would be glossed over by success on the field. Alternatively, attack anything which may be construed as allowing the Board to bask in reflected glory and risk destabilising the current situation. This is more than choosing how you take your wine; this is a do-or-die dilemma of choosing mutually exclusive alternatives. In this moment, virtuous circle or doom loop, changing stasis by changing the status quo, supporting the positive but whitewashing failure are dependent conditions. What’s your position? What’s your poison?
So, with chilled red in hand, (I also like reds that are not chilled), this blue will proffer a view on Everton that not everyone will drink to!
Escape from the Planet of the Apes
I’ve stared at the scoreboard at the end of the Gwladys Street ever since Littlewoods used it to subliminally sell gambling to the masses. This season in particular it has been an almost continuous pit-of-the-stomach experience. “Surely we’ll fight back?” “Not another loss.” With the clock ticking down like a hypnotic, metronomic memento mori on what could have been a dysfunctional dystopian night at Goodison Park, I was reminded of that scene at the end of Planet Apes when Charlton Heston screams “You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! God damn you all to hell!”, with Moshiri and The Board as the apes and us as captives trapped in a hell of our own making! Aarghhh!!!
But this story was to have a quasi-religious turn to it. Against the most dramatic of skylines, Goodison witnessed the most dramatic of comebacks, rising from the dead, rolling away the relegation stone at the final whistle. Against a biblical red sky, the explosion of unbridled love for each other at Full-Time against Crystal Palace – in the stands, on the pitch, and eventually in the dressing room – seemed to symbolise some sort of resurrection. Armageddon had been cancelled. It was pure unadulterated joy. But the concept of joy is a subjective one. All over social media, outsiders have lashed their tryhard ridicule and pious platitudes at us for having the temerity to find joy in celebrating ‘the Great Escape from Relegation’. Although its context was different to Manchester City’s similar Premier League winning fightback some days later, or Nottingham Forest’s Promotion relief after 23 years in the lower league wilderness, for a club in disarray such as ours its symbolic significance was of biblical proportions.
It seemed to signify a sea change in the fanbase: a paradigm shift of unity and support where clapping was back on the agenda and made us all happy. This time, we were not going to be crucified for doing so. Maybe being admonished for advocating support will now diminish in these days of resurrection? When fans unite with a common cause and feel real joy, some really love it … and a lot more will follow us as a result of seeing images of our ‘Resurrection’ story.
No incompetent Board, “crackpot” owner, or lack of Cups were on our minds at Goodison Park against Crystal Palace. We weren’t celebrating a trophy or endorsing atrophy, but being there was to understand our being. It was an authentic, unique experience. That’s the truth. But the truth is a subjective experience: sometimes visceral, sometimes virtual; sometimes through a screen, sometimes in the actual scene. We all have our own takes on reality, but when the crowd spilled onto the pitch, hugging both players and each other, it was like a kind of murmuration: one beautiful, swirling blue flock of people, in harmony and in unity. The fact that it was the anniversary of the start of our most decorated team in 1984 and also our 1878th victory in the top flight is astonishing and a weird sort of Kismet. Don’t listen to the arse’oles, our souls were saved the moment St Dominic of Calvary, rising like a ghost of legendary Everton No 9s, headed us away from oblivion with a last-gasp last chance of redemption and resurrection. In that moment, under the Goodison lights, it seemed like a new beginning, a brightness coming out of the endless dark.
Blues come in every size; some are wise and some otherwise
What does it mean to be a Blue? What meaning can we put into being a Blue? In these last few seasons, particularly this one, our very existence has been called into question and under threat, an Everton existential crisis like most have never experienced. When people believe their lives have meaning and purpose, an existential crisis is when that belief is broken. And, as we all know, our individual and collective belief has been shattered into a thousand pieces this season. Set against Moshiri’s disastrous ‘Whack-A-Mole, Supermarket Trolley, churn and burn’ strategy, a lethal mixture of blind faith, arrogance and ignorance has elicited a whole range of polarised perspectives on what ‘being a Blue’ means to us as individuals and as a group.
Philosophically, your view on the ‘Evertonian condition’ will sit somewhere on a continuum of ‘fatalist or nihilist futility’ at one end, and puffed up ‘entitled exceptionalism’ at the other. Amor Fati (one of Nietzsche’s favourites) is a willing acceptance that fate is the driving force of life, and adversity should not just be accepted but fully embraced (even loved!) This has a masochistic magnetism which some ‘Cloud Chasers’ or ‘Everton That’ Blues are attracted to. Religiously documenting the luck of other teams around us, never getting the rub of the green, and simply accepting the ‘curse of the accursed’, the born-under-a-bad-sign-blue-Blues condition is pure bone fide ‘Amor Fati’ territory. If it wasn’t for bad luck, we wouldn’t have no luck at all. Amor Fati fans would endorse a ‘We fought VAR and VAR won’ banner hung over the Upper Gwladys alongside the ‘Premier League Corrupt’ one. This condition is sociologically inherited; some argue that it is biological. Our belief is that Blues are born with the stigmata of stasis, not manufactured with the media Midas touch and ready-made path to glory of our more ‘blessed’ rivals. Our curse; their blessing.
At the other end of the scale is Nil Satis Nisi Optimum, a preposterous, absurdist belief that nothing but the best is good enough for Everton FC, some regurgitating it with all the fatuousness of the ‘School of Science’ ghost of past glories. It is the strategic equivalent of singing “We’re by far the greatest team the World has ever seen”. As a meaningless memetic chant, handed down from generation to generation, it is harmless self-delusion; regurgitating it as if it was a strategy is something quite different. It’s living the future in the past not the present. We have tradition and we have history, but “tradition is tending the flame; history is worshipping the ashes”. We should be informed by the past not conditioned by it. As the wise man says: “The past is another country but nostalgia is a deceptive illusion of life abroad”.
Right bang in the middle of these two binary choices – fatalism and exceptionalism – is an emerging blend of Evertonia in the form of blue flare smoke and mirror self-determinism. Born out of a maelstrom of anti-Board anger, a battle for Everton’s future (and indeed the soul of the Evertonian) is so far proving to have the potential for a meaningful tipping point. The bitter seeds sown at the start of the ‘27 Campaign’ has counter-intuitively produced a flowering, sweet moment. To see ‘What. A. Club’ used once again as a mark of pride not opprobrium is progress indeed. Whether it proves to be ephemeral or permanent, Crystanbul Night, May 19th, 2022, was an amazing positive ‘Everton That’ shared experience. The old Everton Way was back.
Everton is a concept by which we measure our pain. (I know, I stole that from John Lennon but he stole the tune from Kitty Lester). There is a quasi-religiosity to being an Evertonian, a condition that ordains that we must carry ‘the curse’ like a tattoo of fate and failure. The Cloud Chasers amongst us look for reassuring negativity to beat themselves with, daily inflicting the 28 cilice stripes of self-flagellation, each one to mark the annual absence of silver, each one a stigmata of stasis, telling of disaster and disappointment. They would quite rightly claim that their suffering is part of being an Evertonian. But there has to be balance: there is a Ying and Yang interconnected duality to defeat and success, to negativity and positivity. Contrary forces can be complementary. Someone who stood next to Lennon (well they were both on the cover of Sergeant Pepper), Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, claimed that “the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being”. Our own crisis must bring about our own healing, but, philosophically speaking, where there is pain there can also be pleasure.
Success has many fathers, but failure is a right bastard
The owners own Everton financially, vicariously, and, some would say, nefariously. They don’t own Everton as an entity, a concept, or a phenomenon. Neither do we, the fans. We are all temporary custodians who have our own views on what we should be and how we should bring that about. Our success or failure is relative but personal, comparative but collective. It is the fault of Moshiri and the Board, but it is also the fault of us all. In some way, we’re all culpable. All of us – from Moshiri to you in the stand or in front of that keyboard – must own failure if we are to share success. Success has many fathers, but failure is a right bastard.
Whether Moshiri originally saw himself as an ‘asset flipper’, some sort of Marty Byrde ‘soft power’ money-laundering stooge for his friendly Russian oligarch, or just naively thought ‘Billionaire Playstation’ would be fun, his overall investment since 27th February 2016 has failed to revitalise the ‘sleeping giant’ and necessitated an extension to any sort of investor short-termism. It’s gambling on a huge scale and not the best way to flip assets. But even his severest critics would have had to concede that he is committed (even if he needs committing for sticking with us). He needs to make good his investment and the only way to do that is to make Everton good. It’s a Faustian deal which has to work for all parties. If he sells it won’t be any time soon.
Without the obvious exception of the incendiary, maverick appointment of Agent Benitez and the desperate, panic button call to Firefighter Sam, most of us would probably have agreed with Moshiri’s managerial appointments. Not NOW obviously. Decisions can only really be evaluated retrospectively and, for all his faults, Moshiri isn’t afforded the benefit of hindsight (only allowable on blogs, podcasts, and Super Bloo ‘The Madness of Moshiri’ tweets). I’ll be honest, I thought the annihilation of Manchester City on 15th January 2017 was a watershed moment for Koeman and Walsh. I thought the Silva/Brand experiment would be like Fulham last season – a proper version of ‘Martinez Year 1’. But when a Champions League record-winning manager guided us to the top of the table and secured a famous 2-0 win at Anfield in 2020, I honestly thought we’d arrived. Moshiri, like most of us, must have felt fate was against us.
However, we all know now that the expensive, self-destructive chaos of delegating responsibility to a catastrophic kaleidoscope of DoFs, managers, and avaricious agents has failed spectacularly. It’s like we’re perched on the handlebars of a blind man’s bike (The Shins not mine). The ‘lack of bandwidth’ at Board level (a euphemism for lack of expertise and resources), and a Chairman desperately hanging on, grasping his new stadium ribbon-cutting scissors, needs addressing. And yet the selective perspectives and populist agenda-fluid tinnitus twitterings of the anti-Club monologue undermines its message of “only wanting the best for the club”. Recognising what the club does right not just regurgitating what it does wrong weakens the integrity of content and maybe reveals intent. The failure to applaud success whilst fixating on failure is imbalanced in perspective and turns objective critique into subjective criticism. Hard-won industry awards may not stack up against the lottery of silverware, but they are conveniently airbrushed out of populist blogs and podcasts. Using other clubs as a stick to beat ourselves up with is fair game: we thrive on ‘Schadenfreude’ when Klopp flops, so we have to suck it up when FSG fertility makes us look even more barren. But when West Ham are being hailed as “getting it right” then some people have the memory of a goldfish. Even worse, the ‘benchmark’ Daniel Levy presided over a new stadium delivered late with costs spiralling to £1billion, a staggering £600million over budget. Contrast Denise Barrett-Baxendale’s deal with Laing O’Rourke, locking in Bramley-Moore construction costs in such a volatile marketplace. Along with the various business awards, this has not used to balance the Board ‘critique’. But for the overall mess we find ourselves in, Moshiri must carry the can and we must carry the cross.
As devout Evertonians, the St Augustine Original Sin is to carry the burden of failure imposed by those heretical High Priests of the Church of Latter Day Owners, tweeting our daily confessional: “Forgive me Father for I have sinned. We have spent over £500m and have not received the Holy FA Cup chalice”. Allowing ‘FC Cosy’ mediocrity to send us hurtling headlong into oblivion is the fault of ‘Happy Clapper’ passivity. Do your penance, kiss the stigmata, and throw that cross over your shoulder. Praise be to God, a concept, like being an Evertonian, by which we measure our pain. Unless you believe what Nietzsche said – that God was dead. Maybe his philosophy – ‘becoming what one is’ – is more apposite to understanding what it is to be an Evertonian.
What ‘kind of blue’ are you? Is being a blue being in a permanent state of being kind of blue?
You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending
What is, has been, and should be our strategy? Indeed what is strategy? Football clubs are an odd capitalist/socialist mixture with discussions on ‘philosophy’ tending to be anchored in ‘playing style’ – owner, Board, Director of Football, coaching, recruitment, and players all aligned with a common focus. But a club’s philosophy has to be the strategic blueprint – the business plan – outlining a club’s vision and mission with a detailed action plan of achieving ‘value’. It’s also about culture, principles, and values. Balancing shareholder value with stakeholder values is a difficult task. For example, we can all admire Liverpool FC’s money-making machine, but revenue-driven alienation of its local fanbase (not to mention local residents) and celebrating trophy wins on the Anniversary of the Heysel Disaster tramples all over their ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ branding. Similarly, Everton’s Season Ticket prices reflect our Working Class roots but is not wholly compatible with a self-sustaining business model.
Nil Satis Nisi Optimum is often quoted as ‘our standard’. Wanting to be better than everyone else is not a strategy. That’s a goal, and, in our case, a ridiculous fatuous fallacy of a goal. ‘Nothing But The Best Is Good Enough’ is possibly achievable by a couple of the Supercilious Six. It is not a strategy; it’s an aspiration, a vision. Enough business gurus will tell you that striving for continuous improvement – Kaizen, Six Sigma, ‘Doing things right and doing the right things’ etc. – is vital to achieving strategic goals. But that is operational, maybe philosophical, but not strategic. In terms of total quality management, NSNO – ‘doing the absolute best you can’ – lends itself to the operational, but it’s not strategic. It is a sense of direction not a destination. It’s a long-term vision statement, an aspirational roadmap, unlike the mission statement which focuses on the present and the immediate future, highlighting core values and focusing on competitive differentiation, describing the market space within which strategy is created. Quo Vadis (Where are we going?) might be a better alternative! Two key things that might be useful when analysing possible Everton strategy are: Who are we and where do we want to be? In marketing terms, that’s purpose and positioning. Let’s start with positioning. Strategically, positioning is both a symbolic means of affiliation and ownership as well as competitor and customer perception. It’s in the mind as well as the market. The accidental ‘People’s Club’ positioning (coined by then Everton manager, David Moyes), actually reflected our heritage (EITC has been serving the people of the immediate community since 1988), our competitive value proposition (the challenger ‘David versus Goliath’ club), and also how we as fans and customers perceive who we are – it’s a club for the people and of the people with Goodison crowds consisting of mainly local support. Even the reddest of Kopites Graeme Souness recognised Everton’s local presence, claiming that “Everton are a bigger club than Liverpool. Everywhere you go on Merseyside you bump into Everton supporters.”
There are merits in having an identity, a unique narrative, which can be bought into, identified with and which provides a framework within which a business and its stakeholders (a football club, its supporters and support network) can exist. But positioning can be an entrapment. The ‘Plucky Little Everton’ tag has been restrictive and psychologically damaging to any aspiration we may have had, and, as we grow, that ‘People’s Club’ positioning will be limiting to growth and to perceptions of our identity. Whilst most affiliation is familial – your father, mother, or other family member influences your choice to be a Blue – this is not always the case. What about those from afar who have no familial lineage but may buy into an underdog narrative, a success story, a player from their country etc? Gavin Buckland’s telling observation that Liverpool FC were originally the underdogs on Merseyside describes how they used this as their ‘challenger brand’ positioning, developing a slipstream evolution from the lower leagues.
With a growing international fanbase, and the opportunities of competing in the global village of a vastly expanded football universe, the ‘People’s Club’ positioning is surely too parochial. The “Born Not Manufactured” differentiator is entitled and erroneous. Market and perceptual positioning which is both community-oriented and resonates with international markets and the broader franchise of Evertonians, presents a much wider opportunity but a much more difficult challenge. Whilst the club retains a direct local lineage in its history, the emotional reach of the club extends well past those regional roots. Local and global identity is increasingly important to a club with elite level ambitions like Everton. As Merseyside’s premier tourist destination, Bramley-Moore will attract a much different geographical and revenue mix.
I expressed my worries about this parochial positioning as far back as 2013 at an Everton Ambassador’s meeting at Goodison chaired by Alan Myers (the then Communications Director) and Frank McKenna (Downtown CEO). When this seemed to be the established positioning, I wrote to Denise Barrett-Baxendale in 2018 and was passed on to the Director of Communications and Community, Richard Kenyon, who assured me that “If it is used in the future then we need to ensure that it doesn’t become limiting or, as you suggest, parochial in any way”.
Whereas a vision (like NSNO) is a fixed long-term goal, positioning has to be a fluid concept, reflecting: the dynamics of appropriate competition (not currently Manchester City and Liverpool!); the value expectation of its target market (ie: our fans’ expectations of either safety from relegation, survival, mid-table mediocrity, Top 10, or even European places); and the current context within which you are competing (luckily, not the Championship!) Ever since the halcyon days of the sportswashing Littlewoods Mersey Millionaires, (and excepting the hugely successful 80s period), we have scarcely had parity positioning with our historical competitors (especially the post-1992 Premier League elite) and have had to adhere to a unique ‘best of the rest’ proposition. Indeed, it could be argued that ‘best of the rest’ is the default position, our triumphs having come in concentrated periods of unsustained success, with the potential for momentum disrupted by extraneous factors such as war, Heysel, outrageous refereeing decisions, and Chairman Carter’s lack of focus in the 80s due to his dual chair roles with Everton and the League (credit Gavin Buckland). My view (I can almost hear the Happy Clapping acceptance of mediocrity shouts as I type!) is that our positioning is analogous to a newly-promoted team. I have advocated evolution for some time now and it is the most obvious sustainable strategy given FFP, a new coaching team, player churn, and the steady cumulative build up the table. Managing unrealistic expectations (exacerbated by the confusion of NSNO) whilst extending the positivity of the last few weeks will be Lampard’s biggest task.
Positioning is both actual and perceptual: it’s how you differentiate in the mind of your prospect (existing, new, and potential fans, customers, other stakeholders, as well as competitors). “What you do”, “How you do it”, and increasingly “Why you do it” are fundamental strategic and positional statements. Some of our own sneeringly refer to Everton as “a charity club”. Because the school of conscience is currently doing better than the School of Science does not debase conscience as part of our purpose. We should use it as a permanent flame as a beacon of our values, not a transient torch with which to burn the house down. Like “Taking knives to a gunfight”, conflating ‘charity’ with team performance, player attitude, ‘FC Cosy’ nepotism, slight of snide ‘Little Miss Dynamite’ misogyny (it’s acceptable to call DBB “gobby” now I see), or any other agenda-fluid opprobrium, is just a piece of unhelpful, unintelligent Goebbelsian gaslighting. A memorable meme but not for me.
Now let’s look at ‘purpose’. I remember talking about it on Twitter and was met with “What the hell is ‘purpose’ when it’s about?” (Forgive my indulgence here, but I’ve written a major textbook on this very subject, so I am quite keen on it!) I tried to explain that it was about alignment (original impromptu sketch on the right) and got the usual Boardbait stuff. So let me have another go. Well, whereas positioning strategically links an organisation to its marketplace, purpose is all-pervasive, affecting every aspect of the business. It’s ‘high ideals with bottom line benefits’. Success on the field, sustainable commerciality, and social conscience are the key components of our purpose, a North Star to replace NSNO. The Chartered Management Institute define purpose as being “a transcendent, meaningful reason for an organisation to exist; an enduring attribute of the organisational identity; aligned with long-term financial performance, a clear context for daily decision making, and unifying and motivating for stakeholders”. Purpose-driven organisations do not just have a well-defined idea of what purpose is, they can also demonstrate one which delivers measurable value, integrates decision-making, coherent communication, and co-creation of value across the organisation and all stakeholders. This is not too far away from what is being demanded of Moshiri and the Board. Some have expressed frustration with the lack of communication from the C-Suite in making this implicit plan explicitly explained, but it is there.
On 27th February 2016, exactly 23 years after the formation of the Premier League, Farhad Moshiri became the major shareholder, new money partnering Old School, Bill Kenwright apparently teaching him “what it means to be an Evertonian”. Kenwright’s ‘Boys’ Pen Story’ is often used as a stick to beat him, but it’s my story too and it’s something we should not make cheap shots at – if yer know yer ‘istory. Initially, Moshiri’s aim of creating a sustainable business model presented an exciting vision: vowing to keep Everton’s best talent, spend big on new players, and deliver a stadium fit for purpose. “I am here to support as required to ensure that the club recaptures the glory days of the past and builds sustained success in the future. We need to make sure that the club has a suitable stage to perform on” he declared in a very rare 340-word statement. The incumbent manager, Roberto Martinez, let down by key players and a risky approach to tactics, presided over a disastrous 2015-16 season finishing 12th with only 5 home victories, and, despite having achieved a record 72 point Premier League points tally and a 5th place finish in his debut season, (not to mention two subsequent Semi-Finals), was replaced by Ronald Koeman. Soon after, on 26th July 2016, a new element of structure – a director of football – was introduced with Steve Walsh, fresh from Premier League winning success with Leicester City, assuming this innovative role.
With the announcement of a new waterfront stadium, an exciting new football management team, and the existence of Everton’s ‘conscience’ in the form of EITC, (considered one of the Premier League’s leading community schemes), the platform for strategy – our ‘purpose statement’ – was implicitly stated: on-field and commercial success with a conscience. Nearly 6 years later, pulled back from the precipice of relegation having spent a fortune, that dream has become a nightmare. What has gone wrong?
One of the many reasons for our failure to build a sustainable, meaningful strategy on the field and off it is because our owner and our fans do not have realistic goals and expectations. In the hands of a non-football man, our ‘strategy’ has been a confused contradiction of dictatorship and delegation, imposing an owner’s scatter gun erraticism and error-strewn decision-making on a fanbase with delusions of grandeur and allowing each managerial appointment to manage without any reference to any overall philosophy. Our brand heritage of ‘Senior Club on Merseyside’, the unjustified entitled NSNO mirage, and the delusion of ‘The School of Science’ confuse what our long and short-term goals should be. Our strategy audit may have exaggerated our strengths, but it downplayed our weaknesses. Relegation from the Premier League Top Table effectively happened on 20th of February 1993; relegation from the actual Premier League almost happened on 19th of May 2022. Our near-death experience (even more so than the lack of silverware in the cabinet) is a definitive moment: we are not even a challenger brand.
That’s where we start. Our strategy should be about defining our goals and our expectations and should be peculiarly ours. And strategy can’t be atemporal, it has to be contextual: of the time. We should not pretend that our history and previous status grants us a premier position in the Premier League or that achieving it is a feasible target in the medium-term. Equally, we should not build our strategy by comparing ourselves with other clubs. Our strategy should be differentiation. We are different and our narrative is unique. Our strategy should reflect that.
We have fallen down a Malice in Blunderland rabbit hole where vision and history and unrealistic expectations and jealousy and myth and mischievousness and mayhem and Mad Hatter Moshiri and factions and Whattaclubbery have all been mixed into a swirling, sickly cocktail of defeatism and delusion. As Lewis Carol said: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending”.
Some have questioned the objectivity of the now infamous ‘review’ (generally referred to as the ‘strategic audit’), but it’s usual for senior leaders and key stakeholders to assess the relevancy of strategy against future objectives of creating mutually beneficial value and values. The ‘strategic narrative’ – purpose, vision, direction, goals, outcomes, priorities, decision-making, how value is to be co-created, delivered, and measured – needs to be explicitly described and communicated properly across the organisation and all stakeholders. Moshiri and the Board are so far failing to do that. So let’s have a go at looking at where we could or should go from here not from there. Let’s see how we could change the ending.
The upside of down
To say Moshiri’s tenure has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster is a statement of the bleedin’ obvious. But we are where we are. Where we used to be and what we have achieved will not help us from here. A blindingly obvious mantra which illuminates our discussions of ‘our strategy’ is John Blain’s oft-quoted epigram “If I was going there, I wouldn’t start from here”. Or, as the old Chinese proverb goes: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time isnow.”
Often failure can be a better reference point for rebuilding. The ‘upside of down’, if Moshiri has learned anything, is that sometimes more can be learnt from snakes than from ladders. As Bill Gates, a man who knows something about the power of failure, once said: “It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure”. From the edge of Administration in 2010, Liverpool FC learnt the lessons of failure, changed their disastrous transfer committee, invested in data, showed patience in Klopp, and have since rebuilt a dynasty. In 1981, Howard Kendall’s poor use of available funds (except for Neville Southall, the rest of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ were all cowboys), informed his subsequent astuteness in the transfer market. In 1983, the outrage with his failings, expressed with ‘Coventry Cushions’ lashed down from a disgusted Main Stand, spawned our most successful period. Chairman Carter, allowed Kendall’s errors, never gave way and we all benefitted from Howards ‘way’.
We’re in that moment now. In Season 2003/04, a Moyes team yielded the same paltry 39 points as this season, but a re-focus on hungry players produced a 4th place finish and the CL Qualifying rounds the next year. It took more than two years to do it, but his budget was ‘bargain basement’ compared to the monies available to Everton managers these last few years. Lampard is similarly restricted (by the impacts of incoherent, random over-spending on player recruitment particularly Koeman and Walsh as well as FFP), so it is time for creative recruitment and coaching. Necessity is the mother of invention, and being in the bargain basement can sometimes help to refocus decisions. Can history repeat itself?
The ‘upside of down’ can flip the negative situation we’re in; failure can be the seed to the flower of success. But is Moshiri actually learning from his/our failings? There does appear to be a pragmatic collegiate approach to the coaching/recruitment/decision-making ‘football’ structure, a sort of Trojan Horse evolution of a strategy emerging from below. An embryonic team of Lampard, Thelwell, Clement, Cole, Baines, (and hopefully Anthony Barry from Chelsea) gives us a great chance. The driver of any success has to be what happens on the playing field, and if there is alignment with autonomy but away from Meddling Moshiri and Kryptonite Kenwright, it may have potential. Hopefully, the ‘watershed season’ is out of the way. The next two seasons are a bridge from relegation to Bramley-Moore. With the ‘spine’ out for almost the bulk of the time, nobody can argue that injuries haven’t severely derailed this season. A fuller run without injuries will add 10 points, and if a rhythm of attacking play develops, that must be worth another 10.
Bramley-Moore is going to be a fantastic achievement; it will be part of Moshiri’s legacy and a game-changer for Everton. He is proving that he is not repeating BK’s King’s Dock and Kirkby mistakes. Using the architectural expertise of Dan Meis and the best digital engineering expertise and industry-leading, state-of-the art construction methods of Laing O’Rourke is the closest we have been to NSNO for some while. The People’s Project has helped fan buy-in.
However, communications are not coherent: neither Moshiri nor the Board are successfully managing the conversation. Aloofness can suggest indifference. It creates a vacuum where conjecture becomes half-truth becomes accepted truth. Lampard’s easy PR style has brought immediate fan buy-in, the antithesis of the corporate communication vacuum. The pragmatics of communication tells you “if you want people to behave differently, you have to behave differently yourself” and he is not doing that. The desperate need for some people to spin any communication (“Oh, we’ve had good times have we?”) maybe explains the reticence to communicate, but that is not an acceptable reason for the radio silence. The Board is damned if they do but they will be even more damned if they don’t.
A lot of Everton’s communication is excellent (for example, the People’s Project Bramley-Moore campaign was exemplary engagement), but Moshiri does not appear to either understand or be interested in two-way dialogue. His blind-siding of people charged with communications and engagement is myopic and counter-productive; his inability to channel corporate views and vision through traditional media or trusted communication conduits is astonishing. In an age of uncontrollable user-generated content, asymmetrical, one-way monologues are bad but silence is even worse.
Sack the Board. Back the Team.
One of the unexpected consequences of our recent failures, one that could turn out to be one of the biggest tipping points in our history, is the foundation of the 27 Campaign Group, initially described on December 21st, 2021, as an anonymous “informal alliance of supporter groups, fan organisations, and individuals” quite rightly tired of stasis and desiring of change. As a demonstration of the power of the people challenging the people in power, this was an honest attempt to galvanise a moribund, apathetic fanbase. They espoused the principle of fans coming together and speaking with a “unified voice” to “make the club better”. This group’s communications campaign to bring about change to the Board – on social media, at the grounds, and, most controversially, spread for all to see in all of the media – continued way beyond its initial impact on the Evertonian conscience, the public perception of our club, and, most importantly, the performance of the team. That this ‘call to action’ should have merit in its intent and purpose is now widely accepted. Those ‘campaign values’ are what some have advocated for years. That the organic internal resurrection of the meaning of support should happen as an indirect result will perhaps be its lasting legacy.
However, whilst it undoubtedly galvanised the ‘Spirit of the Blues’ relegation rallies, with positivity for the team spreading like a social contagion, there remains a triumphalist narrow thread claiming credit for the focus on support. That’s either happenstance hubris or hypocrisy. Or both. It is true that the fans have united to support the team, but it is also true that cancel culture has greatly contributed to creating a negative environment for fans who have always supported the players. Some of the Whataclubbery Whips shot anyone down when we spoke of ‘support’; some misguidedly undermined the team efforts hours before each game. The myopia of not seeing beyond factional interests was counter-productive. At a time when everyone should have been united in focusing on survival as a critical pre-requisite to any strategy or vision, Boardbait forensic analyses were at variance with the espoused “Wanting what’s best for the club”, undermining the good it has done and threatening to keep open the old wounds of division. The animosity by some of its members towards the inaugural Fan Advisory Board, with members democratically nominated by selected supporter groups making up the Everton Stakeholder Steering Group, is ironic given the exclusivity and secrecy of its own formation.
It also fails to recognise the part played by others not fighting for space on the Spaces platform or espousing “I hate Kenwright” as a sensible argument. Nonetheless, fans have tasted unity through support and have seen the positivity that has come from it. Maybe the wave of anti-Club despair is being slowly drowned by a tsunami of hope. It’s almost a Buddhist thing that could happen: Each of us is a tiny droplet, but together we have a unity, a joint purpose, we all can be part of that positive wave and it can be unstoppable if we really want it.
If an anthropologist did an ethnographic study of the Everton tribe, he would observe a disparate group believing in separate myths, with individual perspectives, and some factions desperate to control the narrative of what being an Evertonian constitutes. We are not a homogeneous fanbase; we are made up of thousands of heterogeneous collections, some with our own individuality, some bonded in group affiliation to others. ‘Factions’ is a word used by a founding member of the ‘embryonic’ 27 Campaign. Its ‘Listen. Engage. Act.’ strapline was a direct appeal to Farhad Moshiri and a call to aims to the fanbase. It was claimed to be not prescriptive, but when the instruction was received via Twitter – “Everton fans will leave their seats on the 27th minute on Monday night against Arsenal as a message to the clubs board that 27 years without a trophy is unacceptable” – some questioned its authority, anonymity, and approach of its attempts at starting a democratic, authentic voice of the fanbase.
My lived experience of what happened at Goodison Park on Monday night 6th December 2021 was that it actually provoked the loudest noise for quite some time, not in support of the instruction to leave seats but as some sort of spontaneous support for the team. Where I was sat, respect was given to the few leaving, but there were a lot of Happy Clappers that night, not one was endorsing mediocrity or ‘loving Kenwright’ or exonerating Moshiri. And the amazing thing is – it worked! Richarlison’s 80th minute goal fired up the crowd who fired up the team who went on to win with a 92nd minute wonder goal from Demarai Grey. Counter-intuitively, some kind of positive fuse was lit that night for which the 27 Group will always be owed a debt of gratitude. A spokesman for the group claimed that “A change of tactic was forced upon them….”. The volte face came as a sensible reaction to the growing call for focus on support, this now being actively endorsed by a Celtic-inspired modified iteration in January 2022 of ‘Sack the Board. Back the Team’. However, its members, and followers on the many Spaces platforms, still honestly acknowledged that it was seen as divisive amongst not only the passive members of the fanbase but also amongst those who were alienated by the negative opportunism of some of its followers, straddling populist waves of team ‘support’ whilst continuing agitating agendas.
The ex-Watford keeper and Alex Iwobi’s statement confirmed what people had denied for so long, but the correlation between performance and Goodison support was proven in that Arsenal game. A seed was sown.
The Everton Overton Window
The dynamics of the Evertonian dilemma are not complicated but they are complex. There are so many moving parts, nuances, mitigating circumstances, mutually exclusive objectives, and so on, which all need to be considered. There’s always a Venn Diagram of seemingly mutually exclusive views. Often taking a balanced view is unacceptable to those who have an entrenched position and will only focus on their sole perspective. There is no room for nuance or space to allow ambiguity or intelligent interpretations to breathe. I call this the Everton Overton Window, a name given to the political tactic of narrowing the ‘window of discourse’, controlling one side’s ‘acceptable’ views, attaching labels to reinforce certain perspectives. It’s group think, cognitive homogeneity, which deliberately undermines debate, restricts discussion, and presents a binary choice of ‘With Us’ or ‘Agin’ Us’. It polarises arguments too much and examines dynamics too little.
Social media is supposedly democratic and often good at reflecting what fans think. But it is sometimes not indicative but vindictive. Everything is open to interpretation, but the conversation can become deliberately distorted. Everyone has the right to an opinion but not everyone’s opinion is right. In our own club ‘culture war’, it was easy to be ‘cancelled’ by those who conflated support with endorsing mediocrity, tarring decent people with the abusive Tag Team tag of ‘Happy Clapper’. It has been a hegemony of hate sometimes, censorious club critics and Whattaclubbery Whips often creating faux-fume which became real fume and fan-generated content quickly becoming content for the malcontent. Rather than uniting fans in a common cause, some on Twitter (despite private admonishments from their more reasonable colleagues) are intent on making the dialogue a monologue and making fans with contrary views ‘the enemy within’.
Those of us who agreed wholeheartedly with the 27 Campaign assessment of the state of the club but argued for the immediate focus on supporting the team till safety was achieved were pilloried. At one stage, one fan gave a rousing speech calling for “War on The Board”. My response (not endorsing the Board but alarmed at the ridiculous language) was met with “sitting back smugly, satisfied that you maintained your dismal cynicism towards anyone and everyone who dared expose your abysmal complacency”. Even obvious questions like “How is changing the Board now directly related to our chances of survival?” were met with Straw Man arguments: “Oh, so you’re saying you’re happy with the Board”, “Carry on Happy Clapping mate, at least I want what’s best for the club even if you don’t.” They may be logical fallacies but they’re not logical. Yes you can block and mute and unfollow, and I do, but it does narrow the conversation.
Uncontrolled fan-generated content and unappointed fan spokespersons can misrepresent Everton (eg: Mark Chapman on Radio Five Live screaming, out of context: “They’re putting Season Tickets up NOW?!!” presented an unfair, unqualified view of our club). Getting the ‘27 Years’ message out was largely seen as successful as a communications strategy. In bringing the parlous state of our club to the attention of the media undoubtedly was effective in terms of spreading word of mouth, but it also allowed the spreading of a lot of muck as well: the bile of anti-Club celebrities; the cut ‘n’ paste snide-of-hand of club-trashing Kopites and bitchy journalists with an axe to grind given ‘space’ to trash the club; and the pimping of anti-Everton podcast guests. All have had such a corrosive effect. It’s an unhealthy, shock jock, cliquey clickbait development which does nobody any good. We need inoculating against it: replicating the joy and unity of Crystanbul Night, the first signs of resurrection, is the best antidote.
Which brings me back to what it means to be a Blueand the meaning we put into being a Blue. The vision of resurrection on the crowded pitch at Full-Time may prove a significant tipping point: without silverware or Champions League place or Sky favourite popularity, the outpouring of pure, unadulterated joy had the hallmark of the Evertonian – authenticity. Tolerance and inclusivity of all Evertonians – anyone from anywhere at any age or from any creed, colour, gender, or sexual-orientation – should be the real thread that runs through any ‘People’s Club’ values. No one should feel marginalised or bullied for offering their views on what being a blue means to them. It is great being a Blue even it gives you the blues sometimes.
Maybe being a kind of Blue should mean being a kinder Blue? I’ll keep blowing my trumpet about that!