Saturday 12 July ~
One of the Nike commercials broadcast during ITV's Euro 2008 coverage showed Liverpool turning Spanish in honour of Fernando Torres - houses were painted in red and yellow, Spain's flag flew on Mersey ferries, football fans were shown taking language lessons and then talking to Torres himself as he wandered through a park. It was as though Nike had assumed, or at least expected their audience would assume, that Liverpool FC are the only team in the city. Visitors to Liverpool might be forgiven for also getting this impression should they happen upon the recently-opened LFC megastore in one of the city's busiest shopping streets. To the outside world Liverpool is synonymous with the football club that carries the city's name, due to its international success over several decades. But some Everton supporters are concerned that this perception may about to become fact.
Everton message boards were inundated with comments about the Nike ads as soon as they appeared, with some suggesting that they neatly summed up the argument against the club relocating to a proposed new stadium in Kirkby, outside the city boundaries. The Kirkby development, incorporating a Tesco superstore, is expected to be ruled upon soon by the Government office for The North West (GONW), possibly within the next week. If GONW calls for a public enquiry, based chiefly upon local residents' objections to the scheme, building work will be put back by at least a year - if it begins at all. Doubt also surround Liverpool's new ground in Stanley Park adjacent to Anfield, but they at least have planning permission, even though the club's two owners may yet conclusively fall out over the stadium's escalating costs.
The wait on the GONW decision seems to be looming over Everton. David Moyes is still yet to sign a new contract - indeed he has made no public comment at all on his situation since the end of the season. The club have been linked with various signings but the strongest rumours relate to sales, of Andy Johnson and Mikel Arteta. The club have to sell before they can buy, the anti-Kirkby lobbyists say, because they have arranged to borrow heavily to fund the construction of the new stadium. And even when its built, the argument goes, they will be hampered by loan repayments for a long time to come - just as Arsenal seem to have been turned into a selling club by the cost of the Emirates.
Everton's board lobbied in favour of the Kirkby move, which was backed by a majority of supporters in a ballot conducted last year. The fans opposed to it have since argued that Liverpool City Council should be doing a lot more to find the club an alternative site within the city boundaries. There is a perception that the local authority see Liverpool FC as an important emblem of the city and so made more of an effort to accommodate their relocation plans - although the council's leader, Warren Bradley, is himself an Everton supporter. But if the club stay stay put, there is little scope for expanding on the revenues raised in a ground that holds only 40,000. There would also seem to less chance of the club being bought by one of those international billionaires with a newly discovered interest in football if a prospective new owner would also have to cough up for the cost of a new ground. But that might turn out to be blessing in disguise, of course. In the meantime, the ground issue is diving the support and alienating some from the people who run the club, rifts that are likely to be widened whatever decision is made on the stadium move.