Anfield Is Dead - Long Live Anfield
Feature by Paul Tomkins
Updated Friday, 26th July 2002
So, there we have it - a new stadium for 2005.
The announcement was cleverly made at the start of the close season, so that it wouldn’t distract from on the field activities (and so potential summer signings can be seduced by the new stadium’s beauty - proof of a club moving forwards at pace). Or maybe they wanted the furore buried in World Cup fever (although I can’t see too many Liverpool fans ignoring this issue because England are playing Sweden in a fortnight). Whatever happens, it remains a highly political issue - feelings run deep. To me it now seems to come down to this: heart versus the head. All our hearts will no doubt say Anfield (as it currently stands, with a redeveloped Main Stand). But maybe now's the time to think with our heads. I fully accept Anfield 4 Ever's reluctant and dignified resignation on this issue. I hope that’s an end to the matter. The last thing I want to see is a club split; some pulling one way, others pulling another, and the whole thing becoming a farce. That would sadden me beyond belief. The club could end up the laughing stock of world football. Do we really want that? Do we really want disharmony and disarray? Do we want postponements and procrastination and uncertainty, bickering and in-fighting? Pro-Move and Anti-Move protesters locking horns?
What worries me is that after statements from A4E and the Independent Supporters Association attested to a reluctant acceptance that progress needs to be made and that the ground move should go ahead, other (more radical?) opposing groups will spring up.
A4E were involved in discussions all along, after Parry invited them in, and no one was more opposed to the original plans than they. But just as they came to give their (bitter) blessing to the move (on the basis that it was the only realistic option), so, I believe, should all other fans; if it’s good enough for those who cared so much and went to such lengths to make their point, then it’s good enough for me.
There will be enough political opposition from bitter Evertonians looking to put a spanner in our works, and from local residents who can’t see (“the wood for the trees”?) that the area of Anfield needs complete regeneration. The Friends of Stanley Park will also protest, even though Stanley Park’s borders could be redrawn to include the land where once our heroes played. Surely kids will get a massive kick in knocking about on the very same patch of land that Liddel, Hunt, Dalglish and Rush covered?
Alan Edge, spokesman of A4E, said this: “We sincerely believed when we embarked on our campaign that an expanded Anfield would work given an exhaustive effort to make it work. Clearly, that effort has been made but has been found not to be adequate having regard to all the criteria required to be fulfiled.” To me, that says it all. The club tried - it made the effort to look at every possibility. The best solution won. Just as you hold your hands up and say, like with Leverkusen away, that the best team on the night won, then you have to do the same here: the best solution won. You might not like it, but you have to accept it.
Change is one of the most important things in life. I think back to my ‘best days’, at two different offices where I used to work. I had great days at both. When I think back it's always with fond affection, and I sometimes wonder why I didn't stay at each place longer. And then I remember that most of the people I liked had moved on, and that I was bored with what I was doing after three or four years of the 'same old same old'. I moved because it was time for change.
Boredom is not a reason to move stadium. But memories are not a reason to stay in the same place. You don’t stay with a spouse or partner simply because of the good old days - you stay because you have a future together. If you don’t have a future, then you are wasting time living in the past.
Will Phil Neal no longer have won four European Cups if we move? Will our eighteen league titles vanish into the ether? Will the Boot Room, where Bob Paisley masterminded our greatest successes (making him the only manager in history to win three European Cups) be forgotten? Of course not. Time cannot be altered. But don’t forget, the Boot Room was demolished almost a decade ago. The old Kop was destroyed eight years ago, and clearly never been the same since. A lot of what we hold dear about Anfield is just in our imagination these days, alas.
The past is the past; in reality it no longer exists, but in our memories it is concrete. They can’t take that away. Build a fucking big monument after the rubble is cleared and replaced by parkland, saying “LFC Played Here”. Tell people that it used to be the best stadium in the world, with the best atmosphere. But in terms of an edifice in 2002, Anfield is clearly not the best stadium in the world; not even remotely close. And no stadium ever made a noise; just the people who inhabited it. And if the diehards neglect the new stadium, if they stay away in protest, then that is cutting off ten thousand noses to spite ten thousand faces. Liverpool FC needs the diehards to establish a new Kop. It needs fans to get behind the club and help make it the best in Europe once more. They need to care more about the future of LFC than its past. What do YOU care most about - our future or our past?
Mediocre clubs such as Derby, Leicester, Sunderland and Soton have brand new stadiums. Arsenal and Leeds will be building theirs. So too will Everton, for God’s sake. Some of these are soulless, but anyone who’s been to The Stadium of Light will tell you that the Mackems make some noise, and that the atmosphere isn’t compromised.
While building to simply ‘keep up with the Jones’ is not a reason in itself, it needs to be remembered that Anfield would within a few years become one of the oldest stadiums in the top-flight game; Newcastle and Man U have rebuilt more recently, and rebuilt more successfully, without the problems of landlocking that we are experiencing. I know for a fact from living in Leicester that the Foxes fans are sad to leave their home of the last 110 years, but they too are only moving a few hundred yards to somewhere a million times better. I’d hate to have seen Anfield slated by Bluenoses as a ‘shitty ground’ in a decade’s time. It looks okay now, but it will date quickly. Built in a piecemeal fashion, it is not a beautiful stadium. It could be the Filbert Street of 2015.
I sat on the fence over the original plans last year. I wanted the club to progress into the 21st Century, but I didn’t agree with a lot of what was proposed. I sat on the fence as I was confused; pulled this way and that.
A lot of the original problems have been eradicated in this revised plan. The capacity isn't over-stretching; we still struggle to get 45,000 to all games (although we can now sell 10,000 more season tickets), so a 70,000 seater could have been soulless for a midweek game versus Soton. The name Anfield can remain, and the gates and memorials will be relocated (as if they wouldn’t!!). We are moving a few hundred yards; if that's ditching our home, I don't see it fully - only to a degree. We are remaining in the Anfield area, not uprooting to the edge of town. The pubs will still be the ‘locals’. Clubs need to evolve. We were one-and-the-same as Everton in the nineteenth century, before the split. We once played with blue in our kit, before changing to red with white shorts, and then all red. If some of those monumental changes hadn’t taken place we’d be supporting the same team as the Bluenoses. So change can be for the better!
If redeveloping the Main Stand at Anfield meant massive disruption for half a decade, then that's something to be avoided. We are back among the elite; we don't want to spend this time playing in a building site. If we want players of Djibril Cissé’s phenomenal potential to join us, does GH show them a picture of a stadium with four different stands built at different times, or does he show them the images of the wonderful new stadium that will be ready in a couple of years? They will only care that it is ‘Anfield’. And it still will be; it will be ‘Anfield’ - it will retain all that the legendary name stands for.
Football is at such a delicate stage in terms of finance. The future is not to be gambled with by overstretching - this was one of A4E's main arguments, and it is something they seemed to make the club think more seriously about. The down-sizing of ambition - almost halving the cost - is to be applauded. We don't want to be paying off the debts for the next 25 years. But we also don’t want to keep having to rebuild Anfield every few years, or, worse, finally accept that we need a new stadium having spent fortunes on updating the Kop, updating the Anfield Road end, and so on; throwing good money at bad.
Parry recognised the need to keep the team strong; the First Division is littered with too many great stadia where the manager had no money to spend on the team; it is the great irony of modern football - build a stadium to attract the best players and then have no money with which to actually buy them. Fans will always flock to a nice stadium if the team is doing well; no one turns up to watch football at a bankrupt club after it's doors are closed. In halving the cost, a 55,000 seater can still be an amazing sight to behold, and have a wonderful atmosphere.
The extra 11,000 seats, by my calculations (at an average of £500 per season ticket per 19 game season), should bring in an extra £5million each season in league revenue; another £3-£5m in cup revenue if successful runs are undertaken. Rebuilding Anfield to a 52,000 seater clearly wouldn’t bring in as much, and it would still cost lots to undertake, and the club would lose a lot of revenue in the process due to the reduced capacity during the works. Money is important in football, alas. How well you spend it, on and off the pitch, dictates how well you will do for years to come.
But the commercial side of LFC is now being done very well - not to everyone's taste, not to my taste a lot of the time (I really don’t need an LFC credit card application form coming in the same post as my season ticket renewal), but you have to say that Liverpool, unlike Man United, tries to retain a 'family club' feel. It doesn't always succeed, but the intentions are often good. It still cares about its fans to at least some degree, which is a novelty. The way Rick Parry invited in the Anfield 4 Ever campaign, to discuss its proposals, and kept A4E informed along the way, suggests that the club took the fans seriously. That it didn’t simply listen to A4E and then ignore everything they suggested only enhances that view. It acted upon A4E’s suggestions. A4E seem to respect that, and so do I.
A DJ on the Midlands radio station Century FM (don't know his name, but he's a Forest fan) this morning said that he thought everyone secretly wanted to be a Liverpool fan. He was joking about the prospect of a mascot called Lily the Liverbird, and saying that it just wasn't Liverpool. His point was that LFC “stood for more”; LFC was different, had a greater integrity. And I agree.
But I don't see why having a new stadium - one fit for football for the next forty years - should mean dancing girls and furry prosthetics. Nowhere has the club said that it is going down this route - why should it sanction such tackiness? A club’s image is about how a club conducts itself, not the fact that the stadium itself is rich in history; after all, it was the players and managers, now retired and dead, who created that history. And it was the people on the Kop who made it legendary, not the Kop itself. It was the fans who sucked the ball in, not the stone terrace.
Our image is based around major success over the years. At its core is the wit and invention of Shankly. When thinking of Liverpool FC, people hopefully conjure a sense of the dignity of Paisley in victory and of Fagan and Dalglish in the face of disaster and death. They see Houllier, overcoming illness. They see a large club that isn’t perfect, a large club that makes mistakes like any other (McDonalds in the Kop?). But they see a club with has a different approach to the game, with (hopefully) a different set of morals. I don’t see why the club is selling this down the river simply by moving into a wonderful new stadium.
I have seen so much knee-jerk reaction that I must simply question if people are stopping to think before reacting. If so, fine. But if not, think again. I’m just concerned that it is ‘fashionable’ to stand for the old values in the game - that’s there’s a pride in standing for things that unfortunately don’t mean the same in 2002, alas. Of course football was a more honest game many years ago, built around the working classes. But football has changed, like it or loathe it. Liverpool didn’t change football, nor did Italia 90 or Nick Hornby or Sky - it changed because of a myriad of reasons, each an unstoppable force. You either swim with the tide, or you become an anachronism, a relic.
You don’t have to sell your soul to the devil to move into the future. Progression should always have one eye on the past. But if it has both eyes on the past, progression therefore cannot happen - you are simply looking back all the time, and you stand still. If we’d deserted the Anfield area, that would have been ignoring the past; moving to Stanley Park doesn’t.
I want Liverpool FC to be a cracking-good football club for the rest of my life, not a museum or a shrine. Let’s live the future. Remember our past, don’t live in it, locked in your rooms at night with your videos of “LFC in Europe” instead of watching the match. The new plans just happen to include a museum and a shrine, and that’s great; the new plans address the sensitivities surrounding leaving the present site. But the club itself shouldn’t be the museum.
The architectural plans aren’t perfect - my main concern is the open corners where the atmosphere can seep out. Surely it wouldn’t cost much extra to fill those in and make it closer to 60,000? I understand that this is under consideration, and nothing is concrete yet. Yes, you need a designated home end, behind one goal, but it's the people who inhabit it that count most; apparently one end will be more capacious, so it’s up to the people who sit there to make it something special in the manner of the old Kop. But on the whole I love the look of the new ground.
My main worry about LFC is that we move into the future, not live in the past. Too many of our failings of the 90s were due to living in the rose-tinted glow of the glory days; appointing Graeme Souness and Roy Evans because they was part of our 1970s/80s successes, when the way football was played and managed had changed. Finally GH has ended the old traditions, and brought about a new approach. What better time than to start a new chapter in our history than now, with such a bright future on the pitch to look forward to?
Yes, it will hurt. Yes, it will be sad. And yes, there will be tears from grown men who haven’t cried in donkey’s years. But it could also be a catalyst in finally reaching the pinnacle once more. It’s time to make some new legends, surely?