Ground-sharing, although commonplace in the rest of Europe, has always been something of an anathema in England. The very existence of both Liverpool and Everton started with a row over rental rates at Anfield. Everton had baulked at an increase in rent at Anfield, which led to them leaving for Goodison Park and the ground’s owner John Houlding forming a new club, Liverpool FC, to play at the stadium. One hundred and twenty years on from that fateful row, there still hasn’t been a successful case of two clubs sharing the same stadium at the top end of English football but the question of whether it makes sense for two clubs in such close proximity to build two separate stadia has been raised again by Warren Brady, the head of Liverpool City Council and the head of the city’s bid to be included in the 2018 World Cup. Brady states that, “we’ve got to do something if we are serious about being a bidding city for the World Cup” and that, “I don’t want to see everything migrate down the M62 to Manchester where there are two fabulous stadiums”.
It’s important to correct Brady on one important detail. The city of Liverpool will almost certainly not lose out to Manchester in bidding for the 2018 World Cup. FIFA rules state that, under normal circumstances, one city may have two facilities and the remaining host cities would ordinarily have one each. It is impossible to believe that the FA would not select London as the city with two stadia (Wembley and The Emirates Stadium would be the obvious choices), so there is little chance of the FA saying “no” to Liverpool and “yes” to both Old Trafford and The City of Manchester Stadium. It does raise the question of whether Brady is politicking here, and what his motives might be. Certainly, Liverpool City Council have given indications of being being in favour of Liverpool and Everton sharing a stadium before. However, there is certainly an argument of sorts to be made for Everton and Liverpool sharing a facility, so here are the arguments for and against Liverpool and Everton becoming bedmates.
Against: There is a convincing argument that a ground-sharing arrangement would be very much to the detriment of Everton Football Club. They may well be equal partners in any proposed new stadium, but the perception may well take place that they are the junior partners there and it may have a seriously detrimental effect on their ability to continue to attract new supporters. Having their own stadium is part of their distinct identity, and it’s difficult to escape the idea that should they lose this, they may struggle to find a new one.
The arguments over history and tradition are less convincing, but it is worth pointing out that setting a precedent for clubs sharing facilities at the very top of the game could have ramifications throughout the whole of English football. The motives of Liverpool, Everton and Liverpool City Council may be entirely innocent, but there are plenty of people that are involved in football to make a fast buck and that would be delighted to have a precedent allowing them to merge clubs and merge facilities coming from the Premier League.
It’s also worth pointing out that a 2018 World Cup bid will not stand or fall on whether Liverpool and Everton share a stadium, and that concerns over the loss of identity of at least one of these two clubs shouldn’t be over-ridden by the desire to host football in the city at a World Cup finals which hasn’t even been awarded to England yet. Quite regardless of this, it wouldn’t take a massive amount of tweaking to bring Anfield up to the required standard to host World Cup football. Liverpool City Council have made noises to the effect that they would prefer the two clubs to play in one stadium, and there is a valid case to make that they could be scaremongering about the World Cup bid in order to make this happen.
For: The case in favour of Everton and Liverpool sharing a stadium is based on both practical and hypothetical considerations. Most pressing of all is the issue of what the alternatives for the two clubs are. Liverpool are £350m in debt and struggling to maintain interest payments on the debt that they already have. It seems as if they will be staying at Anfield for the forseeable future whether they like it or not. Gillett and Hicks may or may not be able to fund a new stadium, but whether Liverpool FC will be able to afford to build a stadium that is considerably bigger than the one that they already have is a different matter.
Everton, on the other hand, have pinned all of their hopes on a move outside of the city to Kirkby. There is a groundswell of opinion amongst the club’s support against this move, and a ground share with Liverpool in the city might be seen by them as being preferable to moving away and ground-sharing with Tesco instead. Ultimately, neither club is in a great position to build the sort of facility that they would like to. A pooling of resources would enable them to build a stadium within the city that both can be proud of. Even those in favour of the move to Kirkby have to concede that the decision to give planning permission for a new stadium there has been kicked from pillar to post. There is a not unreasonable chance that they might end up not getting planning permission to go there regardless of whether the supporters want to or not, leaving them stuck at Goodison Park.
The fact of the matter is that ground-sharing does work on the continent. The clubs of Milan, Munich and Rome are amongst those that have not lost their identity as a result of playing in the same stadium. If the two clubs can be persuaded to work as equal partners (because one suspects that an element of the support of both clubs will believe that they are putting in all the money whilst the others reap all of the benefits), then there is precedent from abroad to say that it can work. Only a fool would say that Milan and Internazionale don’t have distinct identities as clubs.
The problem for both Liverpool and Everton lies in the past. There has been so much procrastination over new grounds for the two clubs over the last twenty or thirty years that both clubs stood comparatively still during the 1990s. Even accounting for the recession, both Liverpool and Everton would still be faced with astronomical costs should they wish to move, regardless of where they end up going. It is perhaps an indication that football supporters are much less sentimental than we might have thought that they might be that there doesn’t seem to be a significant amount opposition to Liverpool leaving Anfield. Liverpool FC is, perhaps, more closely associated with its stadium than any other club in England, but there has never been any significant opposition to simply upping sticks and leaving it behind.
For Everton, the issue is a subtly different one. They are in a more advanced position with regard to moving to a new stadium, but it is a move that their supporters seem less than happy with. These supporters may be more inclined to support sharing a stadium because it will at least keep them within the city of Liverpool, and the possibility of staying at a cramped Goodison Park continuing to loom on the horizon means that such a move may start to look even more appealing if they don’t get permission to share a supermarket with Tesco on the outskirts of a sleeper town which stretches the very definition of where the city boundaries of Liverpool begin and end to its very limit.
Ultimately, it seems unlikely (if not implausible) that Liverpool and Everton will both end up in 50,000 capacity grounds of their own in Liverpool, regardless of any debates over whether they should build their own grounds or share one. It is, therefore, important that discussion of where these two clubs end up is written from the perspective of which will benefit their supporters the most. From a personal – and neutral – perspective, whilst it is understandable that both sets of supporters have valid concerns over sharing a stadium, both clubs will have to make difficult decisions to make.
Gillett and Hicks have already shown themselves to be plenty capable of spending vast amounts of money with no significant benefit having been seen, and it would be unsurprising if staying at Anfield ended up being preferable to any plan that they could concoct. Certainly, they can ill afford having their current levels of indebtedness doubled at the very least. Everton supporters have a subtly different problem to face. If permission to move to Kirkby – which is far from assured – is granted, it will still not mean that the stadium will be built. The time to protest against it, however, is now.