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Everton chairman and lifelong fan dies aged 78

Everton chairman Bill Kenwright has died at the age of 78.

A lifelong fan, Kenwright joined the board in 1989 before becoming the club’s largest shareholder in 2004.

He revealed in 2015 that he had been diagnosed with “a chronic illness” and underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumour from his liver in August this year.

Complications saw Kenwright moved to intensive care but he did eventually return home earlier this month, and a statement by the club at the time said he had been working on the proposed takeover of Everton by 777 Partners “right up until the day of the procedure”. He sadly passed away on Monday “surrounded by his family and loved ones”.

“The club has lost a chairman, a leader, a friend, and an inspiration,” Everton said on Tuesday.

Kenwright is survived by his partner Jenny Seagrove, his daughter Lucy and two grandchildren.

Born just before the end of the Second World War, William Kenwright attended the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys, where his passion for theatre flourished.

He started out as an actor, featuring in 103 episodes of long-running soap Coronation Street, before becoming a prolific theatre producer in the West End and on Broadway. His greatest successes included national tours of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and Fame, as well as a recording-breaking 24-year run of Blood Brothers, of which he was also the Tony Award-nominated director.

Kenwright later branched out into films too: he was executive producer on the Bafta-nominated Stepping Out starring Liza Minelli, while My Pure Land was Britain’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2018 Oscars.

He had grown up in a football-mad family that used to go to Goodison Park one week and, with his uncle Cyril, to Anfield when Everton were away.

But he was an Evertonian through and through and was utterly obsessed with the club’s success. When he took over as chairman in 2004, they had just finished 17th in the Premier League, narrowly avoiding a first relegation since the 1950s.

The turnaround in fortunes was instant as a Tim Cahill-inspired team qualified for the Champions League, pipping rivals and European champions Liverpool to fourth spot. In the next 14 seasons, their worst finishing position was 11th and they established themselves as a reliable top-half team, although they never got back to the Champions League, with high points coming in their run to the 2009 FA Cup final and finishing fifth in 2014.

The boyhood fan left deeply upset by club’s trajectory

Kenwright was not always a popular figure at Goodison towards the end of his reign (Photo: Getty)

By Mark Douglas, i‘s northern football correspondent

As Everton’s fortunes nosedived under Moshiri, it was Kenwright who ended up bearing the brunt of supporter disenchantment – especially during a rancorous 2022-23 season which ended with the club’s last-day escape from the drop.

Kenwright became the target of widescale protests and was advised to stay away from matches in January, along with the rest of the board. He never returned to watch a game at his beloved stadium.

Behind the scenes, he was left deeply upset by both the scale and severity of the criticism. He was minded to ignore the advice to stay away and return to Goodison Park but ultimately listened to advisors who counselled his presence would be a distraction.

After survival was secured, Kenwright remained on the board as others resigned. Moshiri wanted him to stay during what was always going to be a difficult summer to work on transfers – which was an area he had been active in throughout his tenure.

Kenwright was still in communication with prospective owners 777 Partners until the day of his surgery in August. Whatever the opinion fans had of him by the end, it was typical of his commitment to his boyhood club that even a serious illness couldn’t stop him working to secure Everton’s future.

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