A tale of two stadia

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Football passions are running high in Liverpool, England as the city’s two football clubs announce plans to abandon their current grounds to move into new stadia.

Liverpool’s Anfield and Everton’s Goodison Park are both aging relics of a bye gone age, reminders of the golden age of football, pre-Sky, pre-Premiership. Last week however, seemingly in competition with each other and after ten years of planning by both clubs, they finally announced their plans to move.

The two announcements could not have been met with more differing reactions.

Liverpool’s proposed move is a simple one. The club will move across Anfield Road to Stanley Park, the piece of grass that divides them from their city rivals, to a new stadium with a capacity topping 78,000. No one has raised a finger in protest. A few people will miss the old ground, with all its history but Liverpool fans all agree that they are moving on to better things.

The odd letter has appeared in the Liverpool Echo, the writer curious at what will be done with the urns that are rumored to be buried behind the goal at the Kop end and the monuments of Liverpool FC – the Shankly and Paisley gates and, of course, the Hillsborough memorial. But that’s it.

Things are different across the park though.

Everton’s Chairman Keith Wyness has called a ballot of season ticket holders to decide if the club moves to a new 55,000 seater stadium in nearby Kirkby, stating that “it will be up to Evertonians to make the decision”.

The move would be controversial – Kirkby lies outside the city boundary in Knowsley. Everton fans think of the club as “The People’s Club” and the Scouse club, while they see Liverpool as being supported by “wollybacks” and southerners. The thought of leaving the city to their team that bears its name is too much for some to bear. Even the Council Leader, Warren Bradley, is getting involved. An Everton season ticket holder, he described the new ground as a “cow shed” and is determined to keep the club in Liverpool. He recently proposed building a stadium on a huge traffic island at the entrance to the Wallasey tunnel, clutching at straws perhaps – the site has obvious access problems.

Such has been the unpopularity of the proposal that many feel Wyness called the ballot so as to take the responsibility out of his hands. He will already go down as the Chairman who let Wayne Rooney, arguably the most talented player the club has seen since Dixie Dean, head down the M62 for nothing. He doesn’t want to shoulder the full blame for taking Liverpool out of the city.

Evertonians in favour of moving to Kirkby claim that the prospect is too good to pass up and anyway, Liverpool City Council have hardly been helpful in the past. Their move to the vacant Kings Dock in 2002 fell on its head due to lack of finance. Indeed, when the club enquired about building on Stanley Park, the Council told them to forget it, as it was protected under a Victorian covenant. Weeks later they told Liverpool that the idea was feasible. In addition, the people of Kirkby have welcomed the move. A straw poll last week confirmed that a small majority of 53% favoured the development.

Interestingly both stadia will be granted planning permission on the basis that they will be more than a place for teams to play football. They will help with the ongoing regeneration of Anfield and Kirkby.

Everton’s new ground would be built in partnership with Tesco, whose Director Terry Leahy is a fan. Next to the ground would be a big Tesco store, regenerating Kirkby town centre.

Liverpool City Council hope that rundown Anfield will be transformed by the new stadium. At present the streets near the ground resemble a ghost town. Liverpool FC hope to change all that however by building an “Anfield Plaza” , which will include bars, a hotel, shops and a public park, on the site of the current ground. Local estate agents have already reported a rise in interest from developers and investors, hoping that the new Anfield will make their investments worthwhile.

The contrast in reactions can be put down to insecurities about identity.

Some Evertonians see Kirkby as an extension of Liverpool. It is an overspill town where people from the crowded inner city slums were sent to live in the 1960s, many of them from the heart of Everton itself. It’s unrecognisable from Liverpool and most people there would consider themselves Scousers. Everton’s theme, Z-cars, came from the show which was set in Kirkby. It just happens to lie in a council area that is not Liverpool and that’s not good enough for the rest.

The Anfield area is the heart and soul of Liverpool Football Club, and supporters are happy that they won’t be leaving the area, or the city.

if Everton had got their Stanley Park move, there would be none of the present goings on. If the roles were reversed, it would be Liverpool fans kicking up an almighty fuss one fan said.

It just goes to show how much they love their city.