125 years since Everton left Anfield for Goodison Park, the club has reached an agreement to build a new stadium on the banks of the River Mersey. Stanley Park’s perimeter has served the Toffees wonderfully since 1878 but a move to Bramley Moore Dock offers a long overdue opportunity to rejoin English football’s elite. The end and beginning of eras: Everton’s moment of change is approaching.
An “innovative finance model” will see Liverpool City Council act as guarantor of a £350m loan and receive £4.4m annually for 30 years with Everton purchasing the land from Peel Holdings for a little more than £20m once planning permission is approved. Though Mayor Joe Anderson will inevitably encounter criticism particularly from disgruntled Liverpool fans no longer dazzled by their recent stand modification, he will presumably take it in good spirits as fellow Evertonians refuse to let him pay for a pint ever again. Good for the council and great for the club, the deal will do wonders for the city.
The move appears a masterstroke in terms of civic and brand identity. Locating centrally beside the River Mersey, Everton have secured prime real estate in Liverpool’s distinctive landscape. Crucially, the new stadium will reconstitute local history. Bramley-Moore Dock opened for business (mainly to export coal) in 1848, 30 years before Everton existed. It closed 140 years later following the Miners’ Strike, a year on from the Blues’ last league title. Simultaneous wilderness years eventually became conditions for change.
Just as TV money began to pour into English football, Everton slipped into 30 years of stagnation. The Toffees celebrated Goodison’s centenary year exactly a week before the inaugural Premier League campaign began. A portent of the future: basking in the past as a rapidly-changing landscape left the club alienated like a poor child pressed against the window of what is now a Tesco Express.
As three stadium opportunities have failed, Goodison, one of the purest remaining sources of nostalgia in English football, took on the mythical semblance of a cage. Fencing in, limiting activity, stunting growth. This is where Dixie Dean scored 60 in a season; where the Holy Trinity strolled to the league title; where Bayern Munich were vanquished in the rampant second-half of a European semi-final. Dilapidated in its latter days, Goodison Park was a pioneer of another age. Its charm has never deserted it. But this is modern football; we are way beyond spoiling the sentiment.
All reverence for the Old Lady aside, the move is vital. Everton have operated laudably as an analogue club in a digital age for years. The club has been left behind. 30 years of drift has infected the fan base with defeatism and hopelessness. Nobody is optimistic on cup days. We are well-acquainted with the glass ceiling. But all that could now change. A new stadium will help Everton bridge the increasingly definitive revenue gap that elevates the top six. It will provide new optimism, new purpose and new experiences.
There are plenty of obstacles ahead before Everton move into their new home, but even then, that is but phase one of a much bigger plan. Everton must retain their current stars and attract better players to compete. The club needs to expand its business operations, to secure lucrative sponsorships, and develop its scouting and coaching departments. An “iconic waterfront stadium” is the perfect context for an attempt to return to competitiveness but what is more important is good planning and execution at the very top.
To that end, Farhad Moshiri appears capable even with Alisher Usmanov sub-plots ignored for now. Just like Ronald Koeman’s appointment, the Bramley Moore news has encountered unanimous approval. And that’s no mean feat. Goodison Park is incredibly special. To many people, it will be the most emotive place they will ever know. Plus, Everton’s reputation as a club yet to sell its soul sat well with supporters.
Sadly, such transactions are prerequisites for progress these days. Stand still and you get left behind. There is no denying the Blues have fallen foul of that but the drift is coming to an end. After decades of frustration, Everton can finally turn the page and begin another chapter.
By Chris Smith
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