Mark Tallentire explains why Everton are staying put
When Everton announced they were pulling the plug on their plan to join the King’s Dock development, not a single letter or email of complaint was received by the club. However, more than 40 had arrived by mid-morning on Monday after the 2-1 win against Aston Villa kept their bid for UEFA Cup football going for another week, either congratulating David Moyes on another three points or complaining about Duncan Ferguson’s conduct in the same game. Therein lies a tale as the fans, while broadly in favour of the proposed 55,000-seat city-centre stadium on the banks of the Mersey, are more interested in seeing Moyes create a winning team.
Deep down many were also aware the move was unlikely to happen, too, having been down that road under the Peter Johnson regime in 1997. Fanzine When Skies Are Grey, after two years of keeping an eye on the issue, had even pledged not to talk about it again until something concrete happened, like the footings going in. The builders will be sinking them soon, if not quite so deep, as regeneration company Liverpool Vision goes ahead with a scaled-down version at the site, a 12,000-seat arena along with a 3,000-seat conference centre and a hotel as the city pushes on with its bid to win the nomination as European Capital of Culture 2008. By then, all the signs are that Everton will still be playing at Goodison Park.
The latest due diligence report on the King’s Dock estimated that the final construction figure would be around £190 million, with Everton likely to be liable for around £20m more than the £65m they claim to have guaranteed. It was almost with a sense of relief that they duly announced their withdrawal from the project. A major plus is that with no hungry buyer for Goodison Park waiting in the wings, staying put at least prevents the harrowing possibility of Liverpool FC buying the site for a knock-down price and using it as a car park for their proposed new stadium in Stanley Park.
There will not be too many complaints from the fans as Wayne Rooney continues to breathe new life into the old stadium, even though two of its stands, the Bullens Road and Gwladys Street, are older than most of those who sit in them. In time, however, thought will have to be given to cutting down the restricted views and improving the ambience. However, a Celtic Park-style revamp, with one stand replaced at a time, would be prohibitively expensive and stifle cash flow, attendances having to be capped at 30,000 rather than 40,000 for three or four years.
There is still the option of moving to a concrete bowl somewhere along the East Lancs Road but, unlike the King’s Dock development, no European grants and public sector money would be available for a stand-alone project. A shared stadium with Liverpool would seem to be the obvious answer but as long as David Moores and Bill Kenwright are in charge of the respective clubs that will not be the case; whenever the subject is raised, every six months or so, it is dismissed with the one-liner “It’ll never happen”.
So Everton will sit tight until the financial climate and results improve sufficiently, but it is not all doom and gloom. The club’s training centre at Bellefield has been identified as sub-standard and to stay would see a club which has missed out on a long line of boyhood fans, from Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman to Michael Owen and Jamie Carragher, lose their academy status and the appropriate grants. Instead plans for a £9m-£11m training centre and academy in Halewood, south of the city, are well advanced and the facility is expected to be fully operational in 2005. The immediate future is all wrapped up in unearthing another Wayne Rooney or two.
From WSC 196 June 2003. What was happening this month