Ground Share not the way forward for both Liverpool clubs

Posted by Rushian on December 2, 2004, 12:11:37 PM

Liverpool Chief Executive Rick Parry, Everton Chairman Bill Kenwright, and Sports Minister Richard Caborn plan to meet in a conclave of Executive Grand High-Poobahs today for the express purpose of discussing a proposal for both Liverpool clubs to share a ground in the city. To date, Parry and Liverpool have been pursuing plans for a new stadium in Stanley Park solely for Liverpool FC and have been opposed to sharing a ground with Everton. As with so much else in modern football, it appears that financial carrots have been dangled before Parry, by Caborn and others, in an effort to convince the Liverpool Chief Executive that ground-sharing is the way forward  for both Liverpool clubs.

The Liverpool supporters seem to be solidly against any proposal for sharing a ground with their city rivals, for reasons both sound and emotional. That Parry is meeting with Kenwright and Caborn at all clearly signifies that he is at least considering going against his own supporters in a ground-sharing arrangement. If he were to do so, his only justification could be that sharing a ground with Everton would result in a sharing of the costs of stadium construction with Everton, and therefore benefit Liverpool by freeing up club money for other things.

The issuing of a statement by the Liverpool Press Officer, Ian Cotton, that, “The position of Liverpool Football Club remains unchanged” is one which should make Liverpool supporters wary, not reassured. Cotton states: “We have asked the North West Development Agency to consider our grant application on the basis of our single club use of a new stadium. This is a point we have made repeatedly to the NWDA.” In other words, Cotton is reiterating what has already been done, while avoiding the subject of what might transpire at the meeting today.

If a ground share was not being considered, there would be no need for Parry to meet with Caborn and Kenwright, and further sully a reputation which has come increasingly under fire with the slide in Liverpool’s fortunes during the 1990’s and the start of the 21st century.

Ascertaining that the vast majority of Liverpool and Everton supporters object to the idea of a ground share requires little more than a bit of time surfing the internet, on both Liverpool fan sites like the inestimable RedandWhiteKop and Shanklygates and Everton fan sites like Toffeweb and Bluekipper.com. Much of this distaste for the idea of sharing a ground with a side’s bitter rivals is of a naturally emotional bent. Quite simply, Liverpool and Everton supporters don’t want to share a ground with the other supporters because the rivalry is too bitter. And while that seems at first glance like the sort of passionate, somewhat childish thinking that should be set aside for questions of greater weight and import, Mssrs. Parry and Kenwright would do well to remember that the vast numbers of supporters who don’t want to ground share for emotional reasons, are their customers, the ones who will turn out in the pouring rain in November for a League Cup tie against Second Division opposition.

Alienating the core base of support, those who will “support you ever more,” and there is evidence aplenty on forum message boards scattered across the internet that forcing a ground share will be the One Thing that causes many of the old-time rock-solid, passionate supporters to turn away, cannot be construed as anything resembling a wise business decision; indeed, it is the very antithesis of intelligent decision-making regarding both clubs’ core fan bases.

Of course, Minister Caborn, subtly tossing his not inconsiderable weight around, could care less about the fan bases at the clubs; the Sports Minister apparently sees things purely in terms of opportunities for business development, which would appear to be in contradiction to his nominal portfolio. The opportunity to bring about a ground share arose when the costs for Liverpool’s stadium in Stanley Park surged, as the developers and constructions firms began circling like sharks in bloody water. With costs spiraling from around £80 million to over £100 million, Parry’s repeated insistence that Liverpool would pull out of building a new stadium if it threatened to bankrupt the club appears to have stimulated Caborn, and local construction business interests into a feeding frenzy. It is illustrative that the talks between the two clubs over ground-sharing, which come about at Caborn’s instigation, take place only after the possibility arises that Liverpool might not be able to afford developing a new stadium for themselves.

The Minister for Sport appears to be driven by business rather than sporting concerns.

But the mooted ground share, in addition to alienating the fan bases at both clubs, would also result in a significantly de-valued product put on the field by both clubs, a point which needs to be made to both executives and Minister Caborn himself, since all three appear to be thinking solely in business terms.

In a ground share, the standard arrangement is that, on a given weekend, one team plays at home while the other plays away. The following weekend, the roles would be reversed. In other words, the pitch itself would be used twice as often, more so during both the FA and League Cup competitions, to say nothing of one or both sides qualifying for Europe. There are a few major clubs, mostly in Italy, where ground sharing is an accepted practice, while never being the norm. In the few cases where ground sharing exists, such as with the two Milan clubs, AC and Inter, or the two Roman sides, Roma and Lazio, a central feature of both locations is a relatively warm climate, and in fact a very dry one, which allows for decent grass growing conditions given a plentiful supply of water through irrigation. Contrast this temperate, Mediterranean climate and the slower-paced football that generally accompanies it with a typical Merseyside winter, full of rain, wind and cold, and players sliding about all over the pitch playing at one hundred miles per hour.

It does not require a lot of imagination to discern that a pitch in Liverpool would, and does, undergo a much more concerted period of damage during every match played on the surface than its counterpart in Italy. Doubling up on the wear and tear would surely damage the pitch to an unsupportable degree, resulting at least in much higher maintenance costs.

The pitch at the San Siro is generally noted as being hard and scrabbly by the end of the Italian winter; English sides that play on it in Europe universally note its unpredictable and treacherous surface. Were two clubs in Liverpool to share a pitch, under the prevailing climatic conditions along the Mersey, the surface would swiftly become all but unplayable.

And this is a consideration which Caborn and his minions have failed to address. If we look at football sides as businesses, and we are forced to since Mssrs. Parry, Kenwright, and indeed Caborn most certainly do, then ground sharing will produce a product, football on a bumpy, muddy, rutted and uneven surface, that will not appeal to the very consumers it is supposed to attract, namely the clubs supporters.

Football on unkempt, untended pitches is readily available at clubs too poor to pay to maintain their facilities. Why would supporters bother to spend increasingly higher prices for Premier League tickets to watch football played on a pitch that looks like that of a Conference side?

If a ground share agreement is negotiated between Liverpool and Everton, it will be for reasons purely financial, akin to the Galacticos policy of marketing and merchandise sales before results which is causing Real Madrid supporters increasing consternation as the club struggles on the pitch.

Teams which are successful at the bank are also successful on the pitch, a fact which seems to be lost in the modern boardroom in the chase for the quick cash-flow opportunity. Quite simply, a ground share for the Liverpool clubs would lower the quality of play for both Liverpool sides and result in decreased attendances, two business considerations one can only hope will persuade the clubs’ executives to pursue other solutions to both sides’ new stadium prospects.

© Bill Urban 2004

This article first appeared on http://www.squarefootball.net/ on 1-12-04

View Comments | Post Comment

More