Two into one won’t go

Everton and Liverpool are not going to build a ground together. Unless they do. Mark O'Brien reports on the amicable bickering that unites the Merseyside rivals

Given the proximity of Anfield and Goodison Park, it’s not surprising that the idea of a communal stadium for Merseyside’s big two has been suggested on many occasions, despite the objections of both sets of supporters. Until recently, though, it’s been nothing more than a pipe dream, something to fill a slow news day in the local papers, but with Everton’s plans to move to a state-of-the-art arena at the King’s Dock in tatters and Liverpool’s proposed new 60,000-seat ground beset by ever-rising construction costs, the idea of a Scouse San Siro finally began to get some serious consideration towards the end of 2004.

In December the sports minister, Richard Caborn, called a meeting with both clubs to thrash out their options once and for all, with the government and the regeneration body, the Northwest Development Agen­cy, clearly favouring a shared facility. Michael Dunford, Everton’s previous chief executive, described the idea of a joint venture a “no-brainer” financially, but on January 11 it was announced that the two clubs could not come to an agreement and that they would con­tinue to pursue their own individual solutions.

The scheme they discussed was centred on the Stanley Park site that Liverpool already have planning permission to build on and according to Everton’s present chief executive, Keith Wyness, that proved one of the main stumbling blocks.

“Liverpool were already quite far down the line with their plans,” he said. “And it became difficult to see how Everton could be integrated into in it. For instance, around the ground they are planning such things as the Anfield Plaza and even hope to design one of the stands to emulate the look of the Kop.”

So Liverpool plan to plough on alone with the site, with chief executive Rick Parry confirming: “The joint stadium proposal has been thoroughly examined over an extended period of time and has now been rejected. But as we have consistently pointed out, this is much more than just a new ground for Liverpool Football Club. It has always been about the regeneration of north Liverpool and the benefits it will bring to a local community that desperately needs them.”

Money is still obviously a concern, though, given that Les Wheatley, the club’s finance director, an­nounced at the club’s AGM in that the costs could come to upwards of £115 million, a fair hike from the original £80m estimates. Both clubs seem desperate to tie in any scheme into urban regeneration, making them eligible for public money, but other options are also apparently under consideration. Selling the naming rights to the new ground has been mooted as one avenue for Liverpool, although in Oct­ober 2004 Parry said: “At the risk of hanging myself in the future, we’ve said from the beginning that we’re not interested in selling our soul.”

As for Everton, they are presently examining the pros and cons of either a new site altogether or the redevelopment of Goodison Park. Wy­ness said: “We are looking at both options in parallel. We have looked at several sites for a new ground but at this moment in time we have no clear favourite.

“As for redeveloping the existing stadium, that is more attractive in financial terms as you can do it in a more manageable fashion, section by section. And what’s most exciting is the prospect of possibly combining with Liverpool to regenerate the whole area as a first-class football-based tourist destination. You only have to consider that the Nou Camp in Barcelona gets around a million visitors a year to see what is possible.”

Despite all this, it still might be too early to read the ground-share its last rites just yet, though, as Wyness added: “We would still consider it if it was a completely new project, starting from scratch. But that will only happen if Liverpool’s present plans fall through, and hopefully that won’t happen, as we wish them all the best of luck with it.” Though they cannot agree to share, it is all very polite; but as a result it will be inconclusive until at least one ground is finally built.

From WSC 217 March 2005. What was happening this month