Though Everton’s season on the pitch looks to be shaping up nicely after a shaky start, there still hang some serious clouds on the horizon with regards to the clubs future. The ‘new stadium’ debate is one that has been rumbling along with our club for some time but has really gained some momentum in recent years, with the Kirkby proposal seemingly being the chosen option for the Everton officials.
There is no doubt that Everton do need an improved stadium if they are to continue to progress as a club, to allow for larger crowds and thus greater profit to match their on field ambitions. However, I have serious reservations about the Club moving it’s stadium outside the city limits, as Kirkby would be. I’m sure that those inside the club, those with the power to make decisions, feel that in their heart too, and I think they have perhaps abandoned that hope too easily.
Of course, the obvious problem with a new stadium within the city itself is that there are very few, if any, areas for development within the city that are large enough to allow a football stadium and all that comes with it, to be built. A few years ago, we explored the Kings Dock area and even got as far as having a vote amongst season ticket holders as to whether to leave Goodison and go ahead with the move. However, eventually that prospect fell flat and so we were forced to look elsewhere.
The really grinding thing though, is that there is a location that would be perfect for a new stadium. It’s about a minute from Goodison Park and has plenty of space available for development. I’m talking of course, about Stanley Park. And this was an option that was explored, and a couple of years ago, the club approached the Liverpool council with regards the possibility of using the land to build their new home. The council though, said that it was land that was indispensable as a public park, and would not consent to have it bought up for ‘private’ use.
A few years later though, and Liverpool FC, now also deciding that they need a new stadium, also approach the council about the possibility of a Stanley Park stadium. And surprise, surprise, in February 2003 they were granted permission. The plans are now in the pipeline, and the stadium was due to be completed ready of an August 2012 opening before the economic decline halted its progress.
The fact remains though that the Council has gone back on it’s decision to keep Stanley Park for public use, and given Liverpool permission to build a stadium where Everton were denied. This is downright favouritism towards the ‘more successful’ of the city’s two largest clubs, and to my mind, is downright wrong.
For one thing, Everton are the oldest club in Liverpool. Founded in 1878, fourteen years before Liverpool, we were also the original tenants of Anfield stadium, using it from it’s construction in 1884 until 1892, when we left due to a rent dispute and moved to Goodison Park. The owner of Anfield then founded a new club simply to have some use for his stadium, and thus Liverpool FC was formed.
So Everton FC were the first football team in Liverpool, and we remain the People’s Club of the city, as David Moyes memorably christened us when he took the manager’s job. But he had a point when he said that the man on the streets of Liverpool supports Everton. The people who actually live in the heart of the city are usually Everton supporters, with Liverpool’s support often coming (quite famously) from further afield and even abroad. This trend, of the people of Liverpool supporting Everton is probably due in part to the fact that Everton were established before Liverpool. The local people already had their team, and we all know how allegiances are passed down bloodlines, thus the ancestral people of Liverpool, support Everton.
It seems even more ridiculous then, that the prime location for a new stadium in the centre of Liverpool was given not to Everton, the People’s Club, but to Liverpool. If we move to Kirkby and Liverpool move to Stanley Park, match days in Liverpool could have the bizarre occurrence of Everton fans leaving the city to go to their stadium, while Liverpool fans flood in to the city from around the country to their stadium. Surely it would make more sense for Everton to remain in the city, as both history and the majority of supporters’ location suggests is logical.
Of course, this option seems closed to us now. Liverpool have been given Stanley Park, and so we must accept that, unfair as it may be, we cannot use that space (don’t even mention sharing). I still think though, that we belong in the city. Everton are, as I have discussed, the city’s founding club. We are the People’s club, and so why should the people of the city have to leave it to watch their team play at ‘home’?
Now comes the point in my article where I must consider the plausible options for remaining in the city, and this is unfortunately where I hit a bit of a hurdle. I can’t pretend that there are many, because there aren’t. The club has looked long and hard, but space for a development of this nature is hard to come by in such a busy city.
It is this which will prompt some to call for a shared stadium between Liverpool (despite my annoyance), and in a sense, it is a sensible call. Financially it would make sense and both clubs would have a prime location for ‘their’ stadium. But would it really be ‘their’ stadium? I think not, I think that with a shared stadium, each club would lose a big part of their identity. Goodison Park is a historic old ground, full of grace and character. Of course we will lose it when we move, but we will retain it’s qualities, and we establish a new ground that feels like home, that is our spiritual place. Likewise, Liverpool have their Kop end, and that is something else that could not be shared. How could a stand be ‘the new Kop’ one week and then be full of Toffee’s the next? It would simply destroy any chance we have of transferring our atmosphere from our current grounds, and that is something that should not be sacrificed.
So if sharing is not an option (and it isn’t), and there is no room for new development within the city, surely moving away is our only option. That is certainly what the club seems to have concluded with their Kirkby proposals, but I hesitate to agree. I think that there is a great location within the city that could house a stadium. In fact, I know it could house a stadium, because it already does.
I’m talking of course, about the area enclosed within Goodison Road, Bullens Road and Gwladys Street, where Goodison Park currently resides. Because what we need is a better stadium. It doesn’t have to be completely new, and we don’t have to move. Goodison Park has the central city location that we so desire, and it also has rather good foundations for a stadium. I fail to see then, why we are not seriously looking in to the possibility of updating and improving Goodison Park.
The club say that they have explored this possibility, but I don’t know to what extent they have done so. I have a sneaky suspicion that what most puts them off the redevelopment of Goodison is that it would mean we miss out on a lot of financial help for the improvement of our Stadia. Moving to a new ground would allow Naming Rights to be purchased, as well as the development of some sort of ‘complex’ adjacent to the stadium, which would help fund the build – at Kirkby, it’s a Tesco’s.
Now of course, that’s a handy financial boost. But I for one don’t like all this commercially named stadium bollocks. The Ricoh Arena for christ’s sake?! Ricoh make photocopiers!!! And why does a football ground need to be surrounded by a supermarket or ‘luxury apartments’ or a fitness complex? It doesn’t. That just detracts from the majesty and purity of a football stadium. It is a place where only one thing matters. Everything should be geared towards the football, and what happens on the pitch. They shouldn’t be trying to sell you shit on the way in. This is football dammit!!!
So I would be glad of missing out on those particular annoyances if we were to stay at Goodison and redevelop. Obviously that creates financial problems, but really, we’re in no state to build a stadium even with naming rights and a fancy complex at the moment anyway. We’re broke, and need someone to buy us and invest pretty heavily (but sensibly, none of this ‘Kaka for 100m’ rubbish) and so if we have an investor, why not just spend a bit more on redeveloping Goodison. After all, we won’t have to build from scratch anyway, as I said, it has good stadium foundations!
The only other major obstacle I can see to this plan, is that the redevelopment of Goodsion may make the ground uninhabitable while the work is being completed, and so it may leave us with nowhere to play. I am not much of a builder (understatement of the century), and so I don’t really know the logistics of it all, but perhaps the redevelopment could be done in stages, with simply a reduced capacity while the work is done, or (‘lo and behold) we could share Anfield for a season or two. God I actually shuddered as I typed that.
My point is though, that I don’t see any major, major problems with the prospect of redeveloping Goodison, and the fact that it would keep us in the city, and let us remain at our beloved Goodison Park, are enormous plus points in its favour. If anyone else can shed any light on other stumbling blocks that I may have missed, please do so, but at the moment, I see it as an entirely plausible (and favourable) option.
At the end of the day, I think it would simply be a tragedy if Everton were to leave Liverpool itself. While Liverpool, have more history in their trophy cabinet, it is we who have more history in the city. We have been here longer, it is where we belong, and it is where our fans live and work. The heartbeat of the club and it’s fans are in tandem, from the heart of Liverpool itself. I think it is absolutely sickening the way we have been treated by Liverpool council, but I think the club should do absolutely everything in its power to prevent us leaving the city. Taking Everton out of Liverpool would be like ripping my heart out of my chest. It just shouldn’t be done.