Grounds For Separation
Feature by Alan Edge
Updated Monday, 6th October 2003
Beginning if I may on a slightly philosophical tack, I'd like to turn this so-called ground sharing “debate” somewhat on its head.Actually, truth be known, I’d like to strangle it at birth. Along with, I hasten to add, all those wretched souls who have allowed such an absurd notion ever to see the light of day.
Professor Harding and motley crew, step forward please!
But first back to the head turning bit and a question of core relevance to the idea of ground-sharing; one that has been conveniently overlooked by those touting the idea.
[Q] Should football supporters have to justify to anybody - let alone outside media, bureaucrats and moneymen - their right and the right of their football clubs to retain distinct footballing homes of their own?
[A] Absolutely no way!!
I’ll attempt to elucidate.
A football club is indivisible from its home. Each is part and parcel of the same entity. The same whole. Some might even say hole but that, as we know, is an entirely different matter relating to football rivalry/banter. The point is within the context of football in these islands - and in virtually every other footballing nation, too - each football club possesses three distinct core characteristics. Its name, its colours and its home. Together all three give a football club its unique identity. Its raison d’etre. Everything else - its players, its staff, its fans, its reputation and so on and so forth - stems from that holy trinity at its core.
One of those accompanying things that do matter hugely, of course, is a club’s financial and commercial viability. Nevertheless, fundamentally, nay, crucially the dog must wag the tail. Not the other way round. In other words the club must first stand alone as a completely separate entity. Commercial considerations have always been vital and are ever more so in this day and age. Yet they can never be allowed to override that distinct essence of a football club. Otherwise what would be the point of the club existing in the first place?
It may well make sound economic sense to share the costs of building a new stadium on Merseyside or anywhere. In a football context it would, however, represent nothing but a sham. The point being that if - by the very act of sacrificing their own homes and identity - the clubs for whom it was built had…er… ceased to be the clubs for whom it was built, then exactly what purpose would have been served? Certainly none that would have benefited the city’s football faithful at any rate. Besides, even if the logistics did happen to be right then why stop with the shared stadium itself? Surely, it would make even sounder economic sense to merge everything. Lock, stock and Johnny Morrissey. Then what a cosy little Capital of Culture we’d all have. Not only the world in one city but a football team in one kit to go with it! Think of the soap powder saved!
Tell me about it.
The ethos behind retaining a club’s integrity is one that applies to any football club. It is, however, particularly pertinent within a footballing hotbed such as Liverpool where passions and loyalties run deep. Both Everton FC and Liverpool FC have existed in their current formats for well over a hundred years - each crucially within their own homes. The integrity of each club is wrapped up within those respective homes. [Yeah, yeah, we know all about the split in 1892…]
This helps explain why the practising fans of both clubs found it so galling to witness the recent spate of ground-share articles in the Daily Post and Echo. From the fans’ perspective they appeared to overlook the fans’ feelings and passions. Worse, they appeared to court the local academic and political luminaries - Messrs Harding, Henshaw, Storey and others too - in attempting to generate an agenda of ground sharing for our two great clubs when, in truth, no such agenda really existed.
It also explains why even the newspapers’ own polls showed as many as 72% of fans diametrically opposed to the idea. Indeed, most fan website polls reveal opposition to be at far higher levels. Frankly, the emphatic rejection by the fans illustrates that no mandate exists to progress this issue. There is now no remote justification - ethically, logically nor, in this instance, even practically - to invoke any meaningful discussion about the sharing of a home. On the contrary it seems patronising and insulting to any fervent practising supporter when non-partisan outsiders try to impose upon us an unwanted agenda. This is especially the case where the prima facie agenda - as distinct remember from any hidden political or financial agenda that may also possibly exist - is so inherently flawed in its conception.
Just taking Liverpool FC to illustrate this point, the retention of its Anfield identity is pivotal to the continuing worldwide renown of LFC. It is no coincidence that fans at times identify almost as much with the brand names of Anfield and The Kop as they do with Liverpool FC itself. Anfield and The Kop are not only synonymous with the club’s success but with all its accompanying drama, tradition and heritage. Take them away and Liverpool Football Club ceases to exist as the same entity. The die may already be cast in favour of a new stadium. The fact remains, however, this new stadium will still be located within one hundred yards of Anfield and will still be named Anfield. Also it will still have a specially constructed over-sized and distinctive Spion Kop end - an impossibility remember in any shared ground with our Blue cousins. These are straws to which we all cling in retaining the integrity of Liverpool FC’s identity.
What price then - in the light of all this - Liverpool FC in a commercially viable state-of-the-art shared riverside stadium yet with an, at least, partially and perhaps even significantly alienated fan base? Certainly you can count the likes of me out. No doubt whatsoever about that one. And I suspect a similar though perhaps not quite so heightened connection applies to Everton FC and its Goodison links.
The good citizens of Liverpool can testify possibly more volubly than most as to the significance of that 70’s Joni Mitchell song lyric - “Don’t it always seem to go you don’t know what you got till it’s gone”.
And boy do we know how much has gone.
An estuary teeming with peerless maritime tradition dissipated into the Mersey mist… like proverbial ships in the night. The unique and irreplaceable riverside window of the overhead railway demolished to make way for… nothing. The Cavern Club arriving overnight into an unprecedented worldwide spotlight…and then disappearing almost as quickly courtesy of a ventilation shaft for an underground railway. Huge swathes of our communities having the heart ripped out of them… and the head, limbs, guts and soul, too. That we have survived such relentless folly and destruction with our identity not only reasonably intact but with a will to fight back and re-establish so admirably some of our former pride is testimony to the resilience and spirit of the Liverpudlian.
I say Liverpudlian in the broadest sense. It goes without saying I also mean Evertonian, too. For intertwined inextricably within that local spirit of ours is the corresponding spirit of our footballing heritage manifested primarily via our two major football clubs, entities both of worldwide renown, albeit latterly with a predominantly red tinge of fame.
Reading those initial reports of ground sharing in the Echo, my heart sank. Was this to be yet another own goal of short-sighted folly? Do these people not glean anything from those disastrous bygone calamities?
Do they always have to take their cue from Sandy Brown? Ouch, sorry Blues.
A world-class facility for this city, they extol. A wonderful opportunity to grasp the nettle and move forward into the Millennium, they proclaim. To be the envy of the entire planet with a symbol of footballing ecumenism hitherto unprecedented.
What drivel. What bland, banal, sound bite opportunism. So devoid of any grasp of reality and so ignorant of and so misleading to the folk they are paid and/or elected to represent, it really is difficult to know where to begin discrediting it. Though I could certainly start by dispelling the myth of those idyllic shared Italian stadia where the contrasting home-truth reality is that those fanatical Milan and Turin tifosi would readily swap their grandmothers eye teeth for a separate home of their own. And may well yet do so.
There is no question that this city needs a new world-class facility where multifarious events can be staged. Nor that our magnificent waterfront is the ideal stage to site such a venue. Let, however, the city guardians build this potential jewel independently of our two football clubs. Let them put their money where their Mersey Tunnel mouths are. A 40,000 plus facility may not be economically viable but a 25,000 one surely is. Its mere location in such a world famous setting would guarantee its viability to attract the very best events be they rock, pop, opera or whatever. Enough public money has already been ploughed into our coffers - with more public and private funding to come - to make such a facility a long overdue necessity. I want to see a 4 hour Bruce Springsteen concert in this city as desperately as anyone. So does Bruce.
And besides, if Manchester is good enough for multiple stadia then so is our beloved city.
In the meantime, it is surely an affront to every Liverpool citizen that our paid and elected representatives should be attempting to enforce the co-operation of our two football clubs to realise such a prospect. Such petty thinking and meddling in our footballing affairs is both tawdry and unwelcome. Our football clubs are not merely convenient vehicles to carry the ulterior aspirations of ultimately small-minded power and money brokers. Rather they and the homes in which they dwell are the source of a footballing heritage that truly is unique, truly is special - and one which has taken more than a hundred years to become an integral part of the people and the fabric of the great area to which we all belong.
You don’t simply cast all that aside and hope to set up something akin to it overnight on the banks of a river. Dear Lord above bless us and preserve us from such ransackers! Indeed, rather than mortifying the faithful Red and Blue legions with ridiculous propositions to destroy such integrity with a shared stadium, should not those same guardians of our city be working alongside the clubs to ensure that the city’s two existing world famous stadia are either expanded or rebuilt to reflect the international standing of their two glorious incumbents?
I shall be the first to admit I still wince at the impending prospect of my beloved Anfield crumbling to the ground. Forty-five years attendance tends to invoke such depth of emotional attachment. Most practising Reds and Blues, I suspect, feel similar pangs concerning the respective passions of their lives. And yet conservation is not the issue here. Any more than sweeping innovation. Nor is this about the modernist versus the traditionalist. Why, it is not even really about new stadia. No, what this entire affair is really concerned about is the question of just what it is the football clubs in our city stand for. Who and what it is they represent. Just why do they exist. And the bottom line is that if those outsiders currently poking their snouts around in the undergrowth don’t happen to care or understand precisely what that entails or how much it means to those who cherish it, then I would say this to them. Kindly shove off with your egotistical, political and commercial aspirations and don’t come back until you’ve grasped it.