The first starting point is the last phone call. It was early January and there was a storm raging around Everton. It was late, almost midnight, but the screen flashed “private number” – only one person would be on the other end of the line.
“Dominic, it’s Bill.”
That’s how he began every conversation we’d had since we first met 18 years ago, in August 2005. I had been appointed Everton reporter for the Liverpool Echo and, conveniently, a meeting had been arranged with Bill Kenwright on my second day. in the Chairman’s Lounge at Goodison Park.
“You worked in Manchester but you’re from Liverpool,” were his first words. “So… who do you support?”
We had to think quickly, otherwise we would have gotten off in the worst possible way. I explained that loyalties had nothing to do with it. I told him I was thrilled to have a job at the newspaper I grew up reading and honored to have the responsibility of covering a wonderful club.
Everton chairman Bill Kenwright has tragically died aged 78
Kenwright (left – pictured at the unveiling of Roberto Martinez as Everton manager in 2013) was a blue boy and loved her to the end
He had been on Everton’s board since 1989 and was appointed deputy chairman after buying a 68 percent majority stake in the club from Peter Johnson in 1999, before taking full control in 2000
It didn’t cut ice. He had already figured it out.
“A red one!” he exclaimed. “A red one! I do not believe it! How on earth am I supposed to work with you!?’
We found a way. Football is a devilish industry that relies on maintaining relationships and it would be disingenuous to say that everything went smoothly for Kenwright. Merseyside is a unique place to work where passions and emotions are always bubbling, with many late-night calls ending up in spades. He could spend months not speaking to them.
Kenwright had a way with his words. He used them colorfully and powerfully, never more so than at the 24th Hillsborough Memorial Service in 2013, when he told the world those who had distorted the events of April 15, 1989, that they had “picked the wrong town – namely the . “false mothers.”
But that January evening, his tone was different. Everton had lost at home to Brighton 24 hours earlier, Frank Lampard’s results were soaring, but the main focus of the abuse was on Kenwright. The bitterness towards him had reached new heights at the end of the 4-1 defeat.
Before we started talking, I had a question for him: Why the hell do you keep doing this?
“Because, son,” he said. “You couldn’t imagine what it would be like if I didn’t.”
Many will read this and throw their arms up. In the eyes of many, Kenwright became a symbol of broken dreams and the failure of a once proud institution. They called him “Billy Liar,” accused him of holding the club back and caring more about his own image than Everton.
Kenwright, who died Monday evening at the age of 78, had been struggling with a number of health problems for some time. Regrettably, the situation worsened at the start of the summer, prompting the club to issue a statement a few weeks ago.
Illness was the only thing that could stop him from playing for Everton and although he felt active in January, he was determined to keep pushing forward and try to restore balance. He loved Everton more than anything and his biggest misjudgment was that he played too long.
He was a man of values, proud of his family, proud of his city and so proud of being a Blue
Kenwright sold his majority stake in Everton to Farhad Moshiri in 2016 but remained chairman
He was vehemently against the appointment of former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez as Everton manager and pleaded with Moshiri not to make it. In hindsight, he should have walked away
After major shareholder Farhad Moshiri appointed Rafa Benitez in June 2021, there was a point where he considered resigning. He was vehemently against the former Liverpool boss’s hiring decision and implored Moshiri not to make it. In hindsight, he should have walked away.
That would have been better than last season ending miserably and him – along with fellow senior executives Denise Barret-Baxendale, Graeme Sharp and Grant Ingles – being unable to attend Everton’s home games for safety reasons.
When Kenwright was told to stay away from the Southampton game on January 14, it broke his heart. Goodison was his happy place, a boy he idolized as a child: “The Cannonball Kid” Dave Hickson; He stood on Gwladys Street, hoping that one day he could afford a seat in the grandstand.
“I took two buses and a tram to Goodison, looked at my all-time hero and felt safe,” he told Mail Sport in September 2011.
The bitter irony in this line. It is often forgotten how miserably Everton were run under Peter Johnson before Kenwright took full control of the club in January 2000 and, after 14 months of negotiations, raised the £20 million by any means possible – even guaranteeing his house.
It was Kenwright’s dream that under his leadership Everton would follow in the footsteps of the great teams of the 1960s and 1980s and when he appointed David Moyes in March 2002 he was adamant he had found the man to make that happen could.
Moyes went to his interview at Kenwright’s home in London and agreed to take on the challenge within 20 minutes of walking in the door over a late-night plate of eggs on toast. Over the next 11 years they did everything they could to get to what would become a closed shop.
Everton were a progressive and hugely ambitious club under Moyes and Kenwright: the misery of the last six years should not obscure that period. Moyes took Everton into the top four, secured European qualification four times and led them to the FA Cup final in 2009.
“I think Everton have the neutral support,” Kenwright said on the eve of their trip to Wembley to face Chelsea. “Wherever I go, if it’s in the theater, people will say, ‘Mr. Kenwright? Win.” When I go out to dinner with Jenny (Seagrove), they say, “Good luck!”
“If I go to HMV on a Sunday and buy my 1950s rock and roll records, people will do the same. I was watching an Everly Brothers compilation the other day and a guy came up to me and said: “You’re him – not Don Everly, you’re the chairman of Everton!”
It was Kenwright’s dream that, under his leadership, Everton would follow in the footsteps of the great teams of the 1960s and 1980s
Everton were a progressive club and one on the rise under David Moyes and Kenwright
When he was forced to miss home games for safety reasons, it broke his heart
“He followed me around the shop like a stalker and just wanted to say good luck!” Even the taxi drivers who were riding along, who aren’t Evertonians, honked and said good luck. There is enthusiasm for Everton in this final. This is beyond my wildest dreams.’
One could see a common goal in remaining loyal to the club during this decade. Fans behind the players, manager and chairman work together. There was spirit, values and desire. You haven’t always done everything right – who in life has? – but the intentions were clear.
Everton struggled tooth and nail to make a name for themselves when Sir Alex Ferguson was coaching Manchester United, leader Jose Mourinho was at Chelsea and Arsene Wenger was Arsenal’s manager; Manchester City also came out with determination.
But Everton had something that touched everyone. This stadium, with its atmosphere, the intensity of the fans, it was on the verge of taking off, but what was supposed to take it to the next level – Moshiri’s arrival – brought it into reverse. This is not the time to go into the reasons why.
What can be said is that the last two seasons with these soul-destroying battles against relegation have left him hollow. Viewed from afar, many people at other Premier League clubs were confused as to why Kenwright was always in the firing line.
The reason? Anyone who knew him knew what he was: a man with values, a storyteller, proud of his family, proud of his city and so proud of being a blue man. He loved her so much, he loved her to the end.