Thursday, 19 November 2009

Best foot forward as Everton fly the FC nest

The future of Everton Tigers has been secured after a deal was struck that will see Everton FC provide the BBL outfit with continued backing, despite a loosening of the links between the two clubs.

The move is the culmination of five months of talks that began when the Premier League giants initially signalled their intent to withdraw their subsidy completely, leaving the Tigers in danger of folding after just two seasons in the league. Having previously been integrated into the Goodison set-up through its community programme, the basketball arm will now be formally spun-off with chairman Martyn Best, and club stalwart Henry Mooney, taking control.

Critically for the Tigers, Everton FC will still maintain some financial support while continuing informal ties. The funding is around one-quarter of what was provided in the heady days of the past but Best, who runs a PR company in the north-west of England, insists it is an arrangement that will benefit both parties.

“The club’s now stable,” he confirmed. “We had two good first years with Everton Football Club supporting us totally. They wanted to reassess where our club lay. Is it part of the charity? Is it part of the football (club)? And they decided it’s best that it is an independent entity, winning trophies on the court and developing really good community links off it.

“Everton are fully behind us as our official partner. That’s just been confirmed this week, which is great. Between the management team: myself, Henry Mooney, Tony (Garbelotto) a great coach who has committed to the club, and a good general manager behind us, we feel we’ll be a big part of the BBL going forward.”

The trick is trying to build a brand in a city that is either red or blue, with talk of little else around the water cooler. Accruing sponsors is one part of the challenge. Increasing crowds is another. While Everton has flourished in its handful of appearances at the 7,000-capacity Echo Arena, attendances are still – by necessity – small at the team’s normal Greenbank home. And that, Best admits, may mean moving elsewhere in the longer term.

“The key to that is getting the fan base behind us,” he acknowledges. “The guys at the Echo Arena are fully behind us as a basketball team. It’s the same people who ran the NIA when Birmingham Bullets played there so they understand the make-up of the sport. They’re urging us to play 2-3 more games this season but the dates haven’t worked out to do something before Christmas. So we’re probably looking at one in January and one in April to sign the season off. 

“The other thing we’re looking at is possibly playing a few games around Liverpool, away from Greenbank. We might play one in Knowsley, where we have our admin and training court at Kirkby Sports College. And possibly one at Sefton where there is a strong hold on grassroots basketball. Greenback is our base for the foreseeable future but I want to take basketball around the city.”

Winning more silverware can only help. It has not been a smooth start to the campaign for the Tigers after their titanic battle for supremacy with Newcastle last term. On their economised budget, there are no Andre Smiths to carry the load. However, that doesn’t mean that mid-table consolidation is now the ambition. The ambitious Best, appropriately, still wants the best of all worlds.

“But,” he concedes, “it’s going to come down to a range of activities on and off the court: community engagement, fan engagement. On court, in Tony, we’ve got one of the best and most experienced coaches in the league. We are assembling a younger team this season which, when they do click, they are worth watching.

“We are building up a momentum in Liverpool. The city’s not used to having a professional team but we’re creating something there. I agreed to become involved long-term and we’ve made that same long-term commitment to the BBL.”

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