08 September 2006

If you build it, will they come?

The Liverpool City Council’s approved the new stadium plans. If the financing is confirmed by the end of the month, the European Union grants will kick in, and construction could start by January.

It feels weird commenting on Liverpool’s proposed stadium, as I’m not a Scouser, I don’t live in Liverpool (let alone England). I can’t really comment on the proposed regeneration of the Stanley Park area, which is one of the main aspects of the move, other than selfishly stating that I’m sure it’ll be beneficial for tourism. I’ve been to Anfield once, and wasn’t even able to see a game (I guess I do have first-hand experience how hard it is to get tickets), just the museum and stadium tour. I’m familiar with the out-of-towners, woolyback, keep flags scouse, etc debate, and I want to be sympathetic to that. I’m a fan of Liverpool thanks to the globalization of the game, but more than a few Liverpudlians resent this aspect of sport and you have to be considerate of that. Yet, I feel the need to comment, as it’s obviously a move that has an enormous impact on the future of the club I support.

Being an American, I’m more than familiar with the corporate aspects of sport, and the need to make as much money as humanly possible. I’ve seen numerous stadium debates in all the major sports; there’s far too much similarity in the debates over Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park and “new Anfield.” Not only are fans worried about cookie-cutter stadiums with no soul (and believe me, far too many arenas this side of the pond have this problem), but there’s years of history tied into the stadiums left behind. Nowhere more so than Anfield.

Liverpool wouldn’t be Liverpool without its fanatical attachment to the history of the club. Anfield is a major part of that; the Spion Kop is synonymous with Liverpool. “This is Anfield” is more than a slogan, it’s the belief that Liverpool’s home is a fortress and teams must fear playing there. It’s too bad it’s not possible to renovate Anfield, but it’s logistically impossible and completely cost-inefficient. And something has to be done. More modern facilities are needed. 45,000 seats in nowhere near enough for a club the size of Liverpool. More importantly to the directors, the corporate hospitality suites, where the majority of ticket revenue is to be had, are shocking underutilized, and a new stadium with modern suites would be a major boon to the club.

The news in recent days leads me to believe that Parry and the board are more secure about the financing than ever before. Moores’ reticence to dilute his shareholdings for less than the exorbitant fee he was asking has led to questions over investment, and even the possibility of building a new stadium, for going on 3 years now. Either the supposed investment discussions occurring over the summer are farther along that anyone’s reckoned or the club has taken a look at the shirt/stadium naming deals (and debt…) that Arsenal’s acquired from Emirates Stadium and has decided to move forward regardless. The club really has no choice but to push on now, or risk losing up to £15m in EU funding, but any way you slice it, this is a very good sign that there will be progress.

Plus, there’s good news for the bitter half of the Mersey. You’ll now be even closer to a real football club.

More info:
Liverpool Echo and Daily Post coverage of the move
RAWK’s Stadium Debate Forum
Liverpool get go-ahead on stadium

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