16 February ~ The two Manchester clubs seem destined to compete for the Premier and Europa Leagues, but Manchester businessman Shaun O'Brien is trying to introduce a new dimension to the rivalry. Since 1987, O'Brien has run a vehicle recovery business on a site in east Manchester. What makes his site significant is that it is one of the last four areas Manchester City need to purchase to make progress on their ambitious plans to establish a training and academy complex on an area of 80 acres, with a £100 million investment. O'Brien, a Manchester United season ticket holder, is offering to sell off his site to other United fans for £250 per square foot.
His justification for the plan is to stop City furthering "their goals of football domination". He says United fans should buy the land as “payback” for the 6-1 defeat earlier this season.
Although Manchester City have not commented, the city council have pointed out that O'Brien's valuation is equivalent to the most expensive land prices in London. With a compulsory purchase order likely to be approved later in the year, his plan appears doomed to failure.
It is difficult to find a positive aspect to O'Brien's plan, but he has at least acknowledged that Manchester City have put a strong emphasis on the effect their new complex will have on the local surroundings. Investing in a regeneration of the area around their stadium, which is made up of some of the poorest wards in the UK, can only improve its appearance.
The Ethiad stadium is built on the site of a former gas works and coking plant. Scratch the post-industrial scar tissue of temporary landscaping and plywood screen-fencing that covers the development site and the remains of a former dye works make this less brown field and more rainbow development land.
City plan to collaborate with the city council on the project. They will devote around six acres of the site to sixth form college and community use. It helps that City find themselves at the centre of a long-term regeneration plan that is, in part, a legacy of the 2002 Commonwealth Games. The club have also stressed the economic benefits the development will bring. Building the site will provide 130 construction job, and the complex will provide 100 jobs in the long term.
The presence of a football club is significant for local economies. The list of local business creditors when clubs go into administration is poignant evidence of this. But the picture is not as clear as might be imagined.
Research in Liverpool has shown that, although a significant number of jobs depend on football, only one third of football-related expenditure stays in the local economy. Businesses in the immediate locality of Anfield derive around five per cent of their income from football, but step a little further afield and the impact is very small. The uncertainty about the redevelopment of Anfield has also blighted the surrounding area for several years.
Yet it is from Liverpool that a different approach to redevelopment raises a more interesting challenge to City's initiative than that posed by O'Brien. If the City plan is driven by some kind of enlightened self-interest, the fan groups' initiative, by supporters of Liverpool and Everton, to create a "Football Quarter", based around Liverpool's Stanley Park highlights a different approach.
This community-led proposal envisages both Liverpool clubs developing stadiums in an area surrounded by the infrastructure needed to support fans at the game – bars, food outlets, a hotel and improved transport links. The prospectus highlights the opportunities for local businesses, the potential employment opportunities and the chance for the football clubs to improve income from non-football related activity.
The only thing missing from the scheme right now is money. Whichever way you come at it, both initiatives seem to have more going for them than the shambles emerging around the legacy of London 2012. Brian Simpson