Liverpool supporters must be looking at The City Of Manchester Stadium and wondering where it all went wrong. So keen were they to jump into bed with the first “billionaires” to come along with a sackful of promises, that they found themselves landed with Gillett & Hicks. All they had to do was wait a year and a half and they might have ended up with Abu Dhabi United in charge, throwing money around like confetti and promising to build them a new stadium in space, or something. As it stands, though, Gillette and Hicks are struggling. They borrowed heavily to acquire the club in the first place, and the plans for their new stadium have now been postponed by another year as they seek to secure the funding that they need to build it.
With Everton also running into problems over their proposed new stadium in Kirkby, some have started to talk again of what had become the great unmentionable of football on Merseyside: ground-sharing. On the surface, it seems like a solution which, whilst not ideal, could provide a handy get-out clause for the problems that both clubs currently face. By pooling their resources, Liverpool and Everton could potentially build a stadium to rival Old Trafford in size and stature. Supporters of such a plan look to the continent, where, for example, Milan and Inter have shared the San Siro for many years with no difficulties. Inter, however, have plans for a new stadium of their own, which would appear to undermine that side of the argument, and there is little support for a new stadium that would be jointly owned by both Liverpool and Everton. It’s also worth remembering that it was an argument over the cost of the rent at Anfield that led to the formation of Liverpool FC in the first place.
Everton FC was founded in 1878 and played,for its first six years, on a park pitch on Stanley Park, half-way between the current sites of Goodison Park and Anfield. After four years, crowds had risen to a level which required the club to relocate to an enclosed stadium which would bring them a steady income in gate receipts. They were offered the use of a site on Priory Road, to the north of the park, but the site was removed from public transport routes and crowds fell. After two years there, the club decided to move again, and an offer was made to them by a local brewer and MP, John Houlding, to use a plot of land that he part-owned on Anfield Road. The site was soon developed into an enclosed stadium, with Everton paying Houlding an annual rent for its use and gate receipts soon quadrupled, but the club soon found itself in dispute with him over the cost of using the stadium. In 1888, their annual rent was £100, but this had increased to £250 within two years, and Houlding retained the sole right to sell refreshments on the site.
In March 1889, the club’s committee met and decided to start the search for a new stadium. Many of those at Everton were unhappy at having no offices at the ground and having to use a nearby hotel instead. Others, however, were unhappy at the idea of having to leave Anfield having paid for many of the fixtures and fittings at the stadium. The club offered Houlding a compromise rental of £180 for the following season but received no reply from Houlding, who was attempting to buy out the remaining share in the land upon which the ground was built. In September 1891, matters came to a boiling point at a meeting of the club. Houlding offered to sell the club his share in the plot of land for £6,000 but the club refused to buy, unhappy that Houlding seemed to be profiteering out of the club’s success, and served him notice to leave instead. Houlding approached the Football League with the intention of forming a new club called Everton to play at Anfield, but the league ruled that the existing club should take their name with them. Houlding therefore decided that his new club would be called Liverpool FC and would adopt red shirts which were the unofficial colour of the city and, pointedly, the direct opposite colours of those chosen by Everton, who moved into Goodison Park in August 1892.
Of all of the circumstances surrounding the formation of a club at the end of the nineteenth century, those surrounding the formation of Liverpool FC were arguably the most bizarre. In this respect, the current woes surrounding both clubs’ current plans to move are very much in keeping with their histories. How different the football landscape in England might have been without this split is anyone’s guess, but it’s certainly not beyond the realms of possibility that Liverpool would now be a one club city, in much the same way as Newcastle is. As things stand today, there is no support on either side of the city’s footballing divide for Liverpool and Everton to share a new stadium, and there hasn’t been since the two sides first discussed new homes. Whether they will have to reconsider that in view of recent events, both global and local, is now a somewhat different matter.