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Should Football Clubs share grounds?

At the start of the 2011 season, as John W. Henry and the Fenway Sports Group bankrolled yet another multi-million pound transfer under the King Kenny reign and thereby took a step away from their tried and trusted ‘Boston Red Sox’ model of improvement, in favour of immediate termism, aimed at taking them back to the halcyon days where they had swept all of Europe before them. Across Merseyside, supporters of another 1980s Superpower were campaigning for a change of owner, desperate to rekindle former glories. Their search is for the new money sweeping the English game, to strengthen their squad that will move them from plucky triers to trophy contenders and return them to the top table of English football. Are they both missing the point?

Move forwards one year, Liverpool FC miss out on signing Clint Dempsey due it would seem to Fenway’s reluctance to throw any more money at attempting to win trophies. Then came the announcement, that Liverpool will redevelop Anfield rather than build a new ground. A move more in keeping with the aforementioned Red Sox model than the buy, buy, buy mantra of a year previous. Couple this with the appointment of new, bright coach and the Fenway model would seem to be rebuilt. Across the city, Bill Kenwright is still in charge of Everton and for the moment, with the mass exoduses of previous windows seemingly abated and for the time being, living with the clubs they used to be. They are still however hamstrung by debts which they hope one day to repay by moving to a new stadium – there is no scope to redevelop Goodison Park.  Are they both still missing the point?

If ever there were a time to debate a shared stadium, now is surely it. The new Anfield will only increase the capacity of the famous old ground by 15,000 at a cost of circa £150 million; apparently the math, as they say across the pond, stacks up. Everton meanwhile eye up sites on the outskirts of the city or move further afield, a proposition criticised by local politicians. Why do both look to move/redevelop rather than embark on a joint venture? Surely in these days multi-culturalism, two vast companies cannot be held up by an ancient tribalism? Looking to the continent shows plenty of models both new and old which these two clubs could follow, adopt and turn into a viable option. Yet arguments over the colour of the stadium seats remain insurmountable as do other cosmetics, whilst all the time missing the cost savings.

Across Lancashire, 35 miles away sit the largest rivals of these two clubs, one with such incredible wealth that neither will compete and the other with a stadium so vast that the revenues earned mean that they too are a different financial plane. Do the powers that be at Liverpool really believe that increasing their capacity by 15,000 will put them on a level playing field? A new stadium for Everton will be bound by financial constraint meaning that it will never be of the size required to compete. Thus surely a combined stadium will deliver the size required at the desired cost, rather than two halfway houses at double the cost?

Of course it is not only the two teams on Merseyside that would benefit from a shared stadium,  had Tottenham had more foresight, the wranglings over the Olympic Stadium could have been avoided along with a lot of wasted time. In Bristol, two teams of far lesser standing are both being held up by the search for the required space and seek to avoid local objections to every move they make.  In Sheffield, there are two dilapidated throwbacks to a former greatness which present another opportunity to make the brave step.  In England and Wales there are 92 Football Clubs occupying 92 Football Grounds, the running of these meaning that nearly every single one of these has faced financial difficulty of some sort or another. Thus the idea does not sit solely with the largest and most dominant, but applies also to the smaller clubs as a method of cost control whilst at the same time attempting to increase their revenues.  Whether the dyed-in-the-wool fanatics of Oldham and Rochdale would welcome a shared facility is one thing, but not to suggest or contemplate the idea is another.

In modern Britain, it is strange that there are 92 facilities for staging league football, most of which have had extensive work completed on them in order to bring them into line with modern regulations, or are in a such a state of disrepair that parts of them verge on the uninhabitable yet the idea of a shared stadium remains a concept held up by ideas and traditions from a past that none of us can remember.

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