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RIP, Chairman Bill Kenwright CBE


WEBWIRE

Everton Football Club has lost a chairman, a leader, a friend, and an inspiration.

Bill Kenwright passed away on Monday 23 October after a long battle with illness.

Everton’s longest serving chairman for more than a century, Chairman Bill led the Club through a period of unprecedented change in English football.

In the 19 years of his chairmanship the 78-year-old steered the Club calmly and sure-footedly through a period of immense upheaval.

He was the driving force behind the move towards a new stadium, a switch to a new training camp, the growth of the most successful community scheme in the country and 12 top eight finishes.

Born in Wavertree on September 4th 1945, Mr Kenwright was a lifelong Everton fan and grew up idolising Everton’s very own Cannonball Kid, the prolific and fearless striker, Dave Hickson.

“’I’d get two buses and a tram and I’d watch Dave Hickson, my all-time hero, and I was safe,” Mr Kenwright once said.  “I thought, ‘If he’s there and my team are there, I could be all on my own, but I’m safe’.”

That lifelong fan became a board member on 23 October 1989.

But in the autumn of 1999 he was asked to answer a club crisis. His True Blue Holdings consortium succeeded Peter Johnson’s regime, the paperwork was completed on Boxing Day 1999 and the new boardroom celebrated with a 5-0 victory over a Sunderland side then lying third in the table.

Initially vice-chairman, after five years working alongside his friend Sir Philip Carter, Bill became chairman in June 2004. In the 19 seasons which followed the Club secured 12 top eight finishes, including a top four finish in 2005 - and a run to the 2009 FA Cup final.

There were other near misses in the 2012 FA Cup semi-final and the League Cup semi-finals of 2008 and 2016, plus six seasons of participation in European competition.

He formed a potent alliance with manager David Moyes, as the formidable pair set about re-establishing Everton in English football’s upper echelons.

Heavily involved in transfer negotiations before the Club appointed a Director of Football for the first time in 2017, his unrivalled contacts and shrewd acumen saw Everton regularly pull off transfer coups.

Tim Cahill spent eight years at Goodison, scoring 68 goals in 278 appearances, after being snapped up for just £2.2m, Joleon Lescott was an enormously influential presence in his 143 appearances before moving on to Manchester City for more than four times the £5m fee he cost,  John Stones was bought for less than £3m and sold as the second most expensive defender in the world at the time, while Leighton Baines became recognised as one of the most accomplished left-backs in the Club’s history, after a £6m switch from Wigan Athletic.

He was a chairman who treated players and staff like family. In the build up to a crucial match against Newcastle in 2022 he travelled to Finch Farm to address the players directly.

Andros Townsend recalled: “He just poured his heart out. He is really passionate and is Everton through and through. I hope he gets the credit he deserves from the fanbase.”

While Alex Iwobi added: “He’s definitely someone who loves the club. The speech he gave, me and all the players were thinking ‘if he loves the club and puts his all into the club, we have to at least give 100% the same way he does’.”

Everton won the match 1-0, with 10-men.

He was still working diligently on transfer deals the day before he went into hospital for major surgery six weeks ago.

It was during Mr Kenwright’s tenure that the move which had been an unattainable dream for so many previous boards, became a reality.

The new Everton Stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock will provide an iconic new home for the Club on the banks of the Royal Blue Mersey and be a commercial springboard for the club for many years to come.

A switch to a state-of-the-art new club headquarters at the city’s iconic Royal Liver Building was also carried out during Mr Kenwright’s stewardship, while the club moved training headquarters from the 61-year old Bellefield training ground to one of the country’s finest training complexes at Finch Farm.

Despite the Club’s commitment to a new home on the waterfront, Everton also remain fiercely committed to a vibrant legacy project at Goodison Park, a decision driven by Mr Kenwright.

The impressive community campus has already seen more than £10m invested in the People’s Hub, the Blue Base and, now in its 11th year, the Everton Free School. And earlier this year the People’s Place, the first purpose built dedicated mental health facility to be developed by a football club anywhere in the country, opened its doors for the first time.

Already well known publicly because of his achievements on stage and film, Bill Kenwright was always the generous, avuncular face of the football club during his tenure.

A private individual, he was always ready to step in and be the public face of the Club when required.

His speech at Anfield on the 24th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy, when he told the nation “They took on the wrong city - and they took on the wrong Mums,” received widespread praise – and was afforded a standing ovation from the Kop.

Bill became a rock for many of the grieving families and forged a particularly close friendship with chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support group, Margaret Aspinall, the woman he christened ‘Magnificent Margaret.’

When the independent report in 2012 finally ruled that Liverpool fans had not been to blame for the tragedy and confirmed that a cover up had taken place to smear those supporters, he carefully choreographed a poignant tribute to the then 96 victims of the disaster at our first home match after publication.

In a moving show of solidarity, two mascots, one young girl in Everton blue and one small boy in the red of Liverpool, led the players on to the pitch ahead of a Premier League match against Newcastle United.

As they led the teams from the tunnel, the numbers on the back of the shirts became visible, the girl’s was the number 9, and the boy had the number 6.

Bill’s encyclopaedic music knowledge meant that the most poignant track imaginable accompanied the players and mascots as they assembled around the centre circle … The Hollies’ “He Ain’t Heavy, he’s my brother” booming out of the speakers.

When five-year-old Sunderland fan Bradley Lowery faced a terrible battle with cancer, Bill invited the little boy to Goodison to walk out with his beloved Black Cats, donated £200,000 to the appeal for treatment in the USA and forged a friendship which lasted the rest of the brave toddler’s all too short life.

But that donation was typical of so many others - £140,000 to Speedo Mick, a £250,000 donation to the Ukraine disaster fund, matching £250,000 already pledged by the club – all made without fanfare.

But Bill could also be formidable. When six Premier League clubs attempted to break away to form a European Super League our chairman and his board led the resistance and spoke of the breakaway clubs’ “preposterous arrogance.”

Then there is Everton in the Community.

Mr Kenwright did not create the award-winning charity, but when he arrived on the board it was a two-man operation working out of a portacabin in the Park End car park.

Now it boasts more than 120 dedicated full-time staff and more than 160 volunteers, and offers more than 50 programmes covering social issues from health to disability, youth engagement to dementia and poverty to employability.

It is no coincidence that EitC has flourished under his stewardship, benefitting thousands of people.

It isn’t just Everton Football Club which clearly has a lot to be thankful to the former Liverpool Institute schoolboy for.

Mr Kenwright was educated at Liverpool Institute School after attending Booker Avenue County Primary School and emerged into the nation’s consciousness as an actor on Coronation Street.

His decision to leave his role as shopkeeper Gordon Clegg following the expiry of his 12-month contract in 1969 perhaps provided the earliest glimpse into Mr Kenwright’s single-minded, confident and driven personality.

Already a veteran of the West End stage at this point of his life, Mr Kenwright would return to the Street intermittently but transferred the huge majority of his energies into film and theatre production, the business in which he would reach the top of the tree.

Bill Kenwright’s theatre company grew to become the most prolific on the planet.

The number of shows he produced across the globe ran deep into three figures and included Willy Russell’s worldwide phenomenon, Blood Brothers.

He directed Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s trio of hits, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Evita.

Mr Kenwright was appointed a CBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours in 2001. He was awarded an Honorary Fellowship from Liverpool’s John Moores University, adding to the Honorary Doctorates conferred on him by Liverpool and Nottingham Trent Universities, and his Honorary Professorship from Thames Valley University.

He remained Everton chairman following Mr Moshiri’s purchase of the Club, the new Major Shareholder loathe to lose his predecessor’s knowledge, wisdom and passion from the Club’s corridors of power.

“I’m still watching lads who wear a blue shirt and when that ball goes in the net there is nothing like it,” Mr Kenwright said in the final months of his chairmanship.

“Not a first night, not a Tony award.

“Nothing.”

His entrepreneurial empire was vast – but it paled against an enduring devotion to Everton Football Club.

He leaves an enormous void in both worlds.

Rest in Peace, Chairman Bill


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