It is increasingly looking as though Liverpool see their long-term future away from Anfield with chief executive Ian Ayre saying “In the nine months since the new ownership, an enormous amount of work has been undertaken in conjunction with leading architects, consultants, other industry experts and with Liverpool City Council to explore the building of a new stadium as well as exploring a refurbishment solution that could deliver the necessary growth in capacity, whilst maintaining the heritage and atmosphere that make Anfield uniquely Liverpool FC.
“However, with land/property acquisition, environmental and statutory issues creating barriers to our ambition, it looks increasingly unlikely there is any way we can move forward on a refurbishment of Anfield unless there are significant changes in those areas.”
It has been known for many years that Liverpool need to expand their stadium in order to both satisfy ticket demands from their large fanbase, and to increase matchday revenues in order to compete financially with their rivals. According to the Deloitte Football Money League 2011, Manchester United made £100.2m on matchdays in 2009/10, Arsenal made £93.9 and Chelsea made £67.2. In comparison, Liverpool only made £42.9m, hence the need to expand the seating capacity and corporate facilities.
The dilemma facing Liverpool of whether or not to leave Anfield is not a new issue. For years now the various people in charge of Liverpool have spoken of the need to move to increase the capacity of Anfield, which they could not find a way to do, or look at building a new stadium. The closest Liverpool have got to solving this problem was under Hicks and Gillett, who’s plans ultimately failed after cost of materials shot up and they couldn’t get the credit required to fund the project after the global economic crisis, so due to circumstances largely beyond their control (I’ve covered this previously so don’t want to go over it again), they couldn’t get the stadium build underway.
For anyone who’s never been, Anfield is situated in a residential area, surrounded by streets on three sides of the stadium, which makes it difficult to expand any of the stands. For years, Liverpool have been attempting to buy the houses surrounding the stadium, but have not been able to buy enough houses so they can knock whole streets down to build upon, as people don’t want to sell, and this has been one of the stumbling blocks once again. I can totally understand the residents’ point of view. Yes, it’s a pretty deprived neighbourhood and many of the houses surrounding the stadium have been abandoned and boarded up, but many people still call it home and don’t want to leave.
It was believed that developing Anfield was the preferred option, which is no surprise as it would be cheaper by far to do so, even though it would probably take longer than constructing a new stadium and be far more inconvenient. There just isn’t the space to do so at present. The Main stand and Anfield Road stand (the stand on the left and the stand adjacent to the park, respectively on the picture) are the obvious candidates amongst the existing stands for redevelopment, but there is nowhere further back to go and build.
There were also environmental issues associated with redeveloping Anfield which have proved problematic. There are issues with the floodlights, with crowds, especially for midweek matches, and all of the problems large crowds bring, such as litter. There is also the huge obstacle of the Right to Light rules regarding land registry. Basically, it means that everyone has the right to daylight so Liverpool can’t just build a bigger stand and block the light out of anyone’s property.
The leader of Liverpool City Council, Joe Anderson has warned Liverpool that redeveloping Anfield will not be straight forward, saying “There is a cost in re-developing Anfield, they may have to wait three years before they can start.
“Even if Liverpool get planning permission that does not mean that people can’t appeal. People have rights. They have to be able to object and there has to be a strong regeneration argument.”
So, it looks as though FSG are coming around to the idea that Liverpool will have to move to a new stadium. It is likely that the club will seek to offset some of the costs by selling the naming rights to a new stadium, which is something that I have no problem with as it will provide the club with a much-needed revenue stream.
Currently Liverpool have permission to build a 60,000 capacity stadium that could be expanded to 73,000 on Stanley Park, which is across Anfield Road from the current stadium, where the club would be given a 999 year lease on the land. Liverpool have already spent £45.5m on preparatory work for the stadium (although there’s no discernable difference to Stanley Park), transport studies to satisfy the council and some regeneration work for the Anfield area.
Planning permission rules in the UK mean that once permission is given, you get three years to start building, or the permission gets revoked. Liverpool’s planning permission runs out in three months, though the council have indicated they’d be willing to extend that if they are provided evidence that Liverpool will be in a position to start work soon.
So, while Liverpool are saying the right things about not being rushed into any decision regarding the future of Anfield and a possible move to Stanley Park, the clock is ticking. Otherwise, the whole process of design, obtaining planning permission and having to fight the inevitable appeals from local residents will have to begin again, and that will not be a short process.
There is also the possibility that Liverpool could look into the possibility of moving out of the Anfield area altogether. The transport links to Anfield are terrible at present, with the nearest train station being well over a mile away from the ground (there is an old railway line quite close to the ground, which at present is used only for goods trains, that in theory could be adapted, but there’s been talk of that for decades and nothing’s happened) the motorways aren’t close to the stadium, and thousands of fans are packed into narrow streets before and after the game. So Liverpool may decide to investigate moving to a different part of the city, where there are much better road and rail links and links to the airport, and there are many parts of the city that fit the bill in those respects.
When the day comes that Liverpool finally leave Anfield, it will be a sad occasion, but Liverpool have to embrace change or be left behind. Anfield will always have a special place in the heart of any Liverpool fan, but what make the stadium great is the players in a red shirt and the thousands of fans who fill it every game, and I’m sure that is what will make Liverpool’s new stadium great too.