Graham Ruthven: Everton risk loss of community with new stadium move

Football loses something with every historic ground that disappears

Goodison Park

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Even by the standards of modern stadium plans, Everton’s reveal of their new ground was impressive. The Toffees had announced their intentions to leave Goodison Park long ago, but renderings and fly-throughs of the £500 million structure that will replace the famous, old stadium made everything feel that bit more real, even if everything was visualised in CGI.

It was an illustration of Everton’s ambition. They want to join the Premier League elite, essentially turning The Big Six into The Big Seven. They have money behind them following the takeover of Farhad Moshiri a few years ago and the construction of this new stadium is the biggest possible statement of intent.

But what will be the true cost of building a new ground at Bramley Moore Dock? Or more accurately, what will be the impact of leaving Goodison Park and the community Everton are embedded within?

Just three miles separates Goodison Park from the site of the new stadium. Some have drawn comparisons between Everton’s proposed move and the move West Ham made by swapping Upton Park for the Olympic Stadium halfway across the city. This is different. Everton are just about keeping their roots.

Leaving Goodison Park will cause pain to the local community, though. Everton have plans for their old stadium which will see a number of community facilities built, but what about all the businesses that are reliant on the footfall around the ground on match-day? Everton Football Club is the heart of the community. Moving the club by even three miles is ripping out that heart.

We are told that new stadium projects, like the one Everton unveiled on Thursday, are all in the name of growth and progress. But do fans, ones actually embedded in the community, really care about this sort of thing to the extent that they are willing to make such sacrifices? Is it really worth compromising the identity of a club for the sake of being able to attract a higher calibre of player?

This is all comes down to what one wants from their club. Supporting a football team is about more than just winning. It’s about routine, community, the kind of things that marketers use to come up with warm, syrupy cliches about football, but it’s from this that the identity of a club comes. These things are important.

Goodison Park

It’s certainly true that something needed to be done about Goodison Park. The 126-year-old ground become unfit for purpose in places over the past decade or so, with Everton leaving certain areas to rot as they hoard cash for the new stadium project. Compare Goodison Park to Spurs’ new stadium or even Anfield, which has been expanded and developed in recent years, and it’s clear Everton have been left behind.

Did they really need to leave their community behind, though?

Yes, Goodison Park is surrounded on three sides by terraced houses (and a church and a school), but keep in mind that Liverpool not so long ago made the case that they had option but to leave Anfield. They then found a way, using smart architecture, to redevelop, ensuring that they stay put. Couldn’t Everton have put some of the £500 million ring-fenced for Bramley Moore Docks towards this?

Football loses something with every historic ground in the mould of Goodison Park, Upton Park, Highbury etc. that disappears. The sport, at least in England, is consuming itself in the arms race to be the biggest and best. Everton are already one of the biggest clubs in the Premier League, but still not big enough it seems.

The plans for Bramley Moore Docks incorporate many historic club quirks, including architecture that evokes the Archibald Leitch lattice work at Goodison Park. But what will this matter if Everton pays for their new stadium with their identity and community?

Everton are 200/1 to win the 2019-20 Premier League

What do you think?