It was nothing new. In fact it is a story that has been sold to Everton supporters many times before down the years.
From the King’s Dock to Kirkby, the issue of Everton Football Club’s home has been a never ending saga that has blighted the club’s progress for almost 20 years.
So when the most recent announcement claiming the Club were actively exploring a new site with which to relocate to was released, the news was understandably met with a heavy dose of scepticism.
Decisions taken in regards to a new stadium will last generations. Those decisions have to be right for all connected to Everton FC.
One of the fundamental reasons for the unease felt by Evertonians, apart from the fact that such ‘announcements’ have been made before and nothing further has materialised, is simply that building a football stadium in the 21st century is no easy feat.
It has in the past been likened to a giant jigsaw puzzle, one in which every piece has to fit into place at exactly the right time otherwise the project doesn’t even get off the ground.
Along with the many intricate minor details that go into such a complex project, there are three fundamental issues that hold the keys to success; finding a suitable location that can be agreed upon, being granted planning permission to build on the chosen site and most crucially of all, having the funding in place in order to make the project a reality.
These first two significant hurdles have in the past been overcome, though the main issue invariably returns to how a club with Everton’s financial turnover would able to fund such a development.
Inevitably, to make a new stadium a reality there would need to be significant financial assistance, a crucial stumbling block that shows no signs of changing any time soon.
There has been speculation Liverpool City Council could make a financial contribution to the regeneration of any proposed relocation site, which, if of a similar level to that committed to the redevelopment of Anfield and its surrounding area, could be in the region of £20 million.
Mayor Joe Anderson has been quoted as saying: “The council is going to put some money in and that will be around regeneration, not directly into the football club or stadium without getting a financial or commercial return.”
So while any financial support would no doubt be welcomed by the Club there would still remain huge question marks relating to where the vast majority of funding for such a project would come from. However, despite all of the issues and hurdles that need to be overcome there appears to be an unrelenting desire on the part of the Club’s chairman and his board to relocate.
Any details relating to the hurdles outlined above were curiously but unsurprisingly absent when it came to the most recent ‘announcement.’ In light of this it is very difficult to project the exact financial figure that would be necessary in order to make such a project possible.
However, by using developments that have been built within the past 5 years, and of similar size to the one being proposed by the Club, whilst also allowing for inflation, it would appear reasonable to predict that a figure north of £100 million would be necessary. A key point to make here is the figure of £100 million is related to the cost of the stadium itself as opposed to an entire project with which the stadium maybe part of.
The Kirkby stadium had a £78 million figure attached to it back in 2006, whilst two of the best examples from around Europe indicate a nine figure sum should be expected. The New San Mames in Bilbao has a capacity of just over 53,000 and was completed last year at a total cost of £138 million, whereas the Juventus Stadium in Turin was opened a few years earlier for a very reasonable £90 million.
When considering the appearance and actual layout of any proposed new stadium, it is the previously referenced Juventus Stadium which provides an ideal model to study and be looked upon as a source for great inspiration.
Arguably one of the fundamental aspects of a new stadium will be attempting to recreate the intimidating and powerful atmosphere Goodison Park has been able to generate throughout its existence. A good atmosphere within a stadium matters for a variety of different reasons, not only from the perspective of the players and supporters, but also for those in the boardroom.
A lively atmosphere not only attracts more people on a match day, but also in many cases improves the level of performance on the pitch, thus making the team more successful and generating more revenue.
In order to create an atmosphere within a football stadium there is a need for a significant amount of noise to firstly be generated and then harnessed. This is something that has been able to have been achieved in Turin, mainly due to following basic common scientific knowledge.
The architect David Keirle states the acoustics of a particular stadium has everything to do with geometry: “Noise travels by line of sight.”
If there is nothing for the reverberating sound waves to bounce off then the sound simply cannot be retained. With this being the case the need for each spectator stand to be built with a steep gradient becomes blatantly apparent.
Keirle actually references the poor slope or ‘rake’ of the lower tier at Wembley along with Manchester City’s Etithad as particular examples of how a lack of steepness in the stand’s construction results in a poor atmosphere due to the noise escaping.
The sound has nothing to bounce off and thus simply evaporates. In order to maintain an atmosphere within a newly built structure the Juventus stadium is comprised entirely of two tier stands, very much synonymous with Goodison Park ever since 1938 and the completion of the Gwladys Street End by Archibald Leitch.
Though most importantly the gradient of the stands in Turin are very steep which, as has been detailed, is crucial when it comes to maintaining an impressive atmosphere.
Another major factor when it comes to being able to create and maintain a good atmosphere within a stadium is the unquestioned link between the distance of the supporters and the pitch. It is vitally important not to focus solely on the amount of noise that can be generated, and instead look to how supporters can be made to feel part of an event.
Thus giving them an experience which they could not attain simply by watching on television at home.
Another architect specialising in stadium construction, Rod Sheard of the Populous Architecture Practice states: “You have to achieve a connection between the spectator and the event. The closer that is, the better the atmosphere will be.”
This has always been an enduring characteristic of Goodison Park, yet many modern stadiums appear to have moved in a complete opposite direction.
As a consequence, many new build stadia have gained a reputation for lacking a vibrant atmosphere so associated with traditional football grounds of the past. The pitch at stadiums such as Arsenal’s Emirates appear to be raised which may have in turn meant there had to be a substantial gap between the supporters and the field of play in order to give those on the front row a better view of the pitch.
A complete contradiction to the logic of what contributes to a good atmosphere.
Daily Telegraph football correspondent Henry Winter has visited stadiums across the world: “The best ones are like ravines, like the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Valencia in Spain and the Juventus Stadium in Turin. You have the feeling of being on top of the pitch”.
As Winter mentions, the Juventus Stadium has clearly addresses this issue which has resulted in the best of both worlds, the front row having a perfect view whilst maintaining the closeness of the entire stand to the playing field.
One of the areas that Goodison Park has always been lacking in is corporate hospitality. An issue a new stadium would obviously enable the Club to address. The need to capitalize on this burgeoning market grows each season, becoming a necessary aspect of modern football and one that every club needs to take seriously.
However, this does not mean it has to impact on the atmosphere and experience of regular match going supporters.
Two particularly poor examples of this occurring are at the previously mentioned Emirates Stadium and New Wembley, both appearing to have been constructed with the main purpose of generating income at the expense of the match going experience of regular people.
Their design centres on a ringed area that is exclusively reserved for corporate hospitality. The major problem with this layout is that it divides the stadium into two halves and completely ruins any potential for a vibrant atmosphere to develop.
These ringed ‘club level’ areas tend to be populated by those who are often thought to be less concerned with adding to the general atmosphere within the stadium. It is of course their right to act as they wish but their lack of participation, especially within the location that they take up, greatly affects the atmosphere that is to the benefit of the rest of those attending the match.
In contrast to this narrow minded and poorly designed layout, a seemingly perfect comprise can be seen in Turin where one of the stands parallel to the pitch has been used to accommodate corporate hospitality, leaving the rest of the stadium, especially the areas behind each goal, free to be filled with more boisterous supporters inclined to generate a more pleasing atmosphere within the stadium.
The argument in favour of the need to recreate the atmosphere which Everton currently enjoy at Goodison Park is given even more weight when looking at a recent quote from retired player Fabrice Muamba. It highlights the type of psychological impact the Goodison Park atmosphere can have on opposing teams:
“Places like Goodison Park. I hated that place. When they go 1-0 up, you really feel like you’re are going to lose. You just know it,” said Muamba.
“The fans are right on top of you and the noise is amazing. Credit to those supporters, they know how to get their players to react. But as an opponent it was tough.”
The entire point of home advantage is not only the benefit of the players being familiar with the surroundings but also, and more importantly, the vociferous support they receive. The so called ’12th man’ element.
The Juventus Stadium in Turin also offers many other benefits that are not common amongst the majority of modern stadia. These include a wide range of environmental and sustainability advantages which have been outlined further by Voices In Football.
When it comes to the overall appearance and character of the club’s new home, there are many key aspects of Goodison Park that could and should be incorporated in any proposed new stadium.
By doing this it will prevent one of the great fears many supporters hold which is by moving away from a place that has embodied all that is Everton for over a century , the club will lose much of the identity and character that has been built up over the course of time.
In order to preserve this identity, items which are so entwined with the history of this football club that they have become instantly recognisable as being Everton, should be incorporated into the construction of any new building.
These particular pieces may seem trivial to some but hold such significant visual resonance, that to try and imagine Everton’s proposed new home without them would be hard to bare for many.
The first pieces in question are the now iconic Archibald Leitch facades which adorn both the Gwladys Street End and Bullens Road Stands. These beautifully elegant blue and white trusses are irreplaceable pieces of footballing history, instantly recognisable and arguably the most vital artifacts that must be saved and incorporated into any new stadium.
It would be nothing short of a travesty if these treasured pieces somehow managed to be lost from the home match day experience of all Everton supporters.
The second would be the distinctive Littlewoods Clocks. They were distinctive fixtures at both ends of the ground from the early 1970’s until the beginning of the 1990’s, taking on an almost mythical reputation due in large part to images like the one showing fans clambering around one of them in celebration of the team’s 1987 League Championship victory.
Their link to the Club is based on the fact that former chairman Sir John Moores was also the founder and owner of the now defunct Littlewoods group. Whilst researching this article it has been discovered the original clocks have fallen into disrepair and may not be salvageable. With this being the case there would appear no reason why replica clocks could not be commissioned and installed as a permanent memorial and reminder of the accomplishments achieved during that period of the Club’s history.
If, and seemingly when, the inevitable happens and Everton Football Club vacant their spiritual home of over 120 years there will no doubt be feelings of great emotion shared among fellow supporters. From the sadness at leaving a place that has held such special memories over the years, to a mix of excitement and great trepidation at what a future home away from Goodison Park may look and feel like.
It would have been virtually impossible for anyone over the last century to have foreseen the growth of a game that has gone on to become such a commercial juggernaut, requiring participating teams to have homes the size of cruise liners in order to maintain a competitive edge.
As a result of these changing times it is entirely possible that any newly constructed stadium will have an even longer life span than the building that has been located on Goodison Road for the past century.
When put into this context the scale and importance of getting every aspect of this proposed project right becomes truly monumental. These decisions cannot be compared with the appointment of the wrong manager, or the buying of the wrong player, or even vandalism of a much beloved club crest.
Though errors such as these may be highly unwelcome they can be rectified in a manner that does not have too long a lasting impact. In sharp contrast the decisions taken with regards to a new stadium will last generations.
A new stadium will be standing long after those who have had major roles in its construction are very much distant memories. This would be a once in a century opportunity to build a beacon to become a source of great pride amongst everyone connected with the football club, an opportunity which if squandered will border on the unforgivable.
However, no matter what happens in the future one thing is certain, it will be almost impossible to create a structure that will ever come close to replicating the special feeling which Goodison Park manages to effortlessly create.