Bill Kenwright was relentless in pursuit of Everton glory but new stadium can be his legacy

Bill Kenwright, the lifelong Everton supporter, died on Monday night – Shutterstock/Mark Greenwood

Even in recent months, Bill Kenwright, when health allowed, continued to show up for work at his top-floor Little Venice office adorned with Everton memorabilia. In pride of place between pictures of more recent greats was one of Dave Hickson, a 1950s centre-forward idolised by the impresario far above his thespian associates. Hickson was “the reason I fell in love with football”, he told a newspaper interview in 2021.

In a Premier League now dominated by foreign ownerships, Kenwright was one of a dwindling group of locally brought up chairmen from the old school. At his peak, he would always lead on transfer negotiations, and was known for a fearsome workaholic approach. The club chairman had acknowledged in recent months he had not been in the same shape as in his early years at Goodison Park. “In truth, a week off would be great,” he said recently, confirming he had been battling a chronic condition since 2015. “But I can’t see it happening.”

However, friends marvelled that he was still generally able to put health worries aside and show up for his daily routine at 78: arrive at 10am, beaver away on club business until the sun goes down, and then focus on West End projects, sometimes until after midnight.

Kenwright’s board involvement at Everton extended back 34 years. He had been chairman since 2004, and had largely stuck with a hands-on approach since fronting a £20 million takeover in 1999.

Amid an often febrile atmosphere as fans of a sleeping giant grew impatient, Kenwright would face as much terrace criticism as anyone. But for years he had told staff and fans alike of his determination to stay at the club until it was winning silverware again.

Under his watch, Everton had come closest in 2009, with an FA Cup final defeat to Chelsea. Five years earlier, the club secured another high watermark, with a place in the Champions League qualifiers under the guidance of manager David Moyes. However, the good times became increasingly lean, as the subsequently troubled regime of Farhad Moshiri brought an initial spending spree, but then back to back to relegation battles as funds dried up.

Everton started this season in as bleak mood as ever, with the club awaiting its fate over spending breach charges at a hearing this week. But Kenwright, even after reducing his stake in the club to just 1.3 per cent, still spoke to friends this summer of his faith in finally helping turn fortunes around.

Even as other board members departed, Moshiri, who is now in the process of selling the club, also said Kenwright’s “knowledge and vast experience” remained key for Everton. “Bill’s knowledge and vast experience will be crucial for us as we look to reset, deliver on external investment and position Everton for a successful future,” Moshiri said in July.

Having joined the board at Goodison Park in 1989, Kenwright initially rose to deputy chairman after buying a majority 68 per cent stake for £20 million in 1999.

The businessman, who made his money in London after leaving the Wavertree area of Liverpool, was then appointed chairman in place of Sir Phillip Carter in 2004.

However, it is since British-Iranian business Moshiri first bought a stake in Everton in 2016 and then upped it to becoming majority shareholder in 2018, that Kenwright would come to endure his toughest time with fans.

In April, he wrote an open letter defending the way the club was being run and denying suggestions health issues were affecting his ability to do the job.

But the Everton Fan Advisory Board responded by saying it had “no confidence” in the Toffees chairman, with the club narrowly avoiding relegation in the past two seasons.

Sadly, the mood around the club deprived Kenwright of doing what he loved best during what would become his final year. He has been unable to travel to any home games amid perceived security fears since a 4-1 defeat by Brighton in January.

Now, however, the fan mood around Kenwright will shift again as the club marks the passing of one of their own. Should Everton move in to Bramley Moore Dock next year with their Premier League status intact, the man from theatreland will deserve as much credit as anyone.

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