Getting a shiny, new stadium seem to be the fad in the Premier League these days, most clubs have plans in the pipeline (if not already announced), but not all enjoy the same degree of success in garnering support. Everton chairman Bill Kenwright found out the hard way, from the moment his plan saw the light of day, he has been standing in front of the firing squad.
At the club’s annual meeting, he was pillored by fans and shareholders who objected vehemently to his proposal of uprooting their Liverpool home to a new 55,000 seat stadium in Kirkby. Some Toffees have even labeled him as “the man who has murdered the soul of the club.”
Tesco (Britian’s largest grocery retailer) is Everton’s main partner for this deal. A traffic of 50,000 fans per match day will bring in the moolah for Tesco’s superstore located in the immediate vicinity of the stadium. The die-hard fans believe that Tesco is doing it for their bottom line and not because of any affection for their club. Whether this “venture” will be equally beneficial for Everton is still a big unknown.
Most fans will prefer to see Everton stay at Goodison Park or, failing that, move to a site close to the city centre on Scotland Road, as suggested by Liverpool City Council. They will back Kenwright only if there is solid evidence that Goodison is a relic, and that all alternative sites within the city have been studied. To understand a bit of the geographical situation, Kirkby is a town to the north of Knowsley which in turn is part of six boroughs (including Sefton, Liverpool North, Liverpool South, St Helens and Wirral) that made up the county of Merseyside.
The main beef for the Toffees is the idea of ceding their fan base and letting the Reds lord over the entire Liverpool city. As the first club which was established in Liverpool, it is painful to lose their Scouser identity. The move to Kirby may forever alter the character of Everton and the heritage of the city where the intense rivalry between Goodison Park and Anfield is a defining part.
And given the habit of crying wolf on this issue - Kings Dock and Fortress Sports Fund which were aborted, it’s not surprising that there is a heavy dose of skepticism. The recent design unveiled by the club also looks like a cheaper cousin to Kings Dock, if the ambition is to make it a world-class stadium, then they have not looked hard enough at the competition.
Kenwright though is adamant that redeveloping Goodison would cost twice as much as moving to Kirkby and that the Scotland Road site is not large enough. But the status quo will be maintained for the time being.
He said: “We would still end up, according to the experts, with a ground that is a 37,500 all-seater stadium and that would cost us double what Kirkby would. I have been talking to architects and planners who think I am mad to even be thinking about staying at Goodison.”
“If Kirkby does not work, we do have a plan B. We will not be going anywhere until that is agreed and ready.”
Besides the fans’ disapproval, there are many physical obstacles to overcome too, as the stadium is a big departure from existing plans for the area. Local officials are ready to call in the government and send the stadium plan to a public inquiry. Potential problems with traffic, public transportation, anti-social behavior and housing have to be addressed first.
The human jam on every match day presents massive logistical problems for the city planners. Then there are some unruly fans who may disrupt the peace which the local folks enjoy so extra policing have to be factored in, which will add to the burden of the city. Another consideration is the effect on nearby homes. Some will be displaced, while others would be overlooked by a huge football stadium.
However, there is always a positive side to everything. If Kenwright really has his way, think Manchester United. Old Trafford is not in the city of Manchester but from their average match attendances, the fan base of the Red Devils have not been eroded at all. Also, Everton are looking to get the best possible deal in a cost-effective manner. Kirkby, according to their advisers, fits the bill.
For Knowsley, attracting a major football stadium is a jewel in the crown of any city development plan. The size of Kirkby town will be doubled and with other complementary facilities poised to rush in (restaurants, exhibitions, hotels, Tesco supermarket, and a variety of other boutiques), the financial benefits will trickle down to the locals and raise the standard of living in Knowsley.
It could be a win-win situation for everybody but if mismanaged, could have vastly different outcomes. We will see how it goes in the coming days. Stay tuned for more updates.