IN just a moment, I’ll get on to the issue of how Everton’s destiny rests in the hands of Hazel Blears. But first, a diversion.
When I go to cover a match, I usually aim to get to the ground around two hours before kick off, essentially to make sure I’m not on the last minute if there are any traffic hold-ups. (Even then, I have still come a cropper once or twice, but those are stories for another time.)
I arrived at Goodison Park just after 1pm yesterday for Everton’s pre-season friendly against PSV Eindhoven. When I went to pick up my press pass, the kind and very helpful woman on reception told me that I was a little early, but that I was welcome to sit inside, out of the rain, and wait for the tickets to arrive.
And so I, along with a couple of scouts, sat down in reception and watched Birmingham slug it out with Sheffield United on Sky.
After about half-an-hour, with the street outside suspiciously quiet, the woman from reception came over to us.
“You do realise it’s a 5.15pm kick off, don’t you?” she asked.
The scouts looked at me. I looked at the scouts. The scouts looked at each other. “But it said 3pm on Teletext. And on the BBC website.”
“No, it’s definitely 5.15pm.”
A quick check of Everton’s website confirmed that indeed it was. And so I found myself with three-and-a-half hours to fill, and not a lot to fill it with.
I feel as if some of Everton’s pre-season bad luck has rubbed off on me. And my goodness, do Everton need some luck.
With one week to go before the Premier League season kicks off, they have yet to make any signings. Their chief executive Keith Wyness resigned just short of two weeks ago. Chairman Bill Kenwright has indicated that he would be prepared to sell the club to the right bidder, acknowledging that he does not have the fortunes required to allow Everton to push for regular Champions League football.
And now, to top it all off, Everton’s long-term future looks as if it depends on Hazel Blears.
Ms Blears will, at some point – probably over the next 12 months – decide whether Everton can build a new stadium outside Liverpool.
Everton need a new stadium: Goodison Park has much to recommend it as a good old-fashioned football ground, but it is really starting to show its age. Having seen a proposed development at Kings Dock fall through a couple of years ago, the club have been looking at a site in Kirkby in partnership with Tesco.
The plan is controversial, not least because it would see Everton leave the boundaries of Liverpool for neighbouring Knowsley. But with Tesco willing to pay a sizeable chunk of the £400million cost, it is within Everton’s financial reach.
Or it was. While Knowsley Council were right behind the plan, some councillors in Liverpool have been less supportive. The social and economic impact of losing one of their two clubs to another borough has worried them. Everton, in response, have challenged Liverpool Council to find them a viable site within the borough; so far, without success.
And then, a few days ago, came a massive setback. The Government have called in the Kirkby plan for a public inquiry, because of the huge impact it will have on the surrounding area. It will probably take a year, in which time, the cost of the project will spiral. Everton cannot afford to commit more than the £78m they are currently ploughing into the proposed stadium.
Ms Blears, the secretary of state for communities and local government, will make the final decision on whether the Kirkby project can go ahead. In the meantime, Everton must decide whether they can afford to go ahead with it.
All of this has overshadowed Everton’s attempts to sign Alan Smith from Newcastle – a deal which itself has lifted the lid on what appears to be a degree of disunity between owner and manager at St James’ Park.
It also overshadowed Everton’s game against PSV, when it eventually got under way.
Everton looked a little disjointed, falling behind to a spectacular goal from PSV’s Dutch Under-21 international Nordin Amrabat.
They did pick it up a little in the second half, but were a little lucky to get the penalty from which Mikel Arteta equalised five minutes from the end.
Everton manager David Moyes left the post-match media duties to his assistant Steve Round, while he and Kenwright got to work on trying to sign some players.
After the last fortnight, a few new faces are just what Everton need right now.