Ground-sharing- It’s not what Everton have to gain, but what they have to lose

Christian Purslow put himself in the firing line on Thursday by digging up the ground-share issue on Merseyside- just when we thought it had been dead and buried somewhere in Stanley Park.

The former managing director at Anfield stated that the case for both Everton and Liverpool coming together in search of a new stadium was “overwhelmingly and compellingly obvious” in financial terms.

Speaking for myself, and a whole host of Evertonians (as well as Liverpudlians no doubt), the issue has always been a non-starter. But why?

I don’t think anyone would disagree with Purslow in that it would be financially beneficial to both clubs. Not only would it ease the initial outlay in the purchase of land and the construction of a stadium, but it would allow the running and maintenance costs to be split and the increased capacity would increase match-day revenue.

Purslow stated that the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United are making £100m a year through the gate, with Liverpool earning £40m. Everton announced earlier this year that Goodison Park took in just £17.5m in the 2012/13 season.

But in a time when money is ever-increasingly the driving force in football, it would seem both sets of fans are holding onto something less monetary but far more valuable.

At least where Evertonians are concerned. The need to increase the value and marketability of the club appears to conflict with the very attributes that make the club what it is to the match-going fan. Can the club expand, become a global name and still retain it’s local identity- the very thing that makes Everton, Everton?

If we glance up the M62 to Eastlands, we’ll see a mega-rich giant of recent times which has risen up from the doldrums of the Football League to become one of the most marketable, global names on the planet: Manchester City.

Yes, they have started to finish at the top end of the Premier League when they used to flirt with bottom. They are now winning major trophies when they used to win nothing more than promotion. And yes, they played Barcelona this week in the Champions League when 15 years ago they were playing Macclesfield Town.

But has something been sacrificed in exchange for that glory? Has some essence of what made them the city of Manchester’s club, as supported by the people of Manchester, been chipped away? And is the corporate Etihad Stadium (so lovingly named) better than the homage to football that was, Maine Road?

I’ve seen the Etihad look criminally empty on more than one occasion, and not just against Premier League minnows. Even when it does appear close to capacity, the atmosphere is notably flat.

Of course City do not ground-share and these issues would no doubt face Everton if they were to move to a new, bigger stadium shared or not. But these issues are just another excuse for us to hold on even more firmly to what we’ve got.

There is no question that Goodison Park is approaching it’s sell-by-date. It’s not a nice thing to say but all Evertonians know it is quickly becoming a living relic among bigger, sleeker and comfier stadia. But it’s only right that we should want to hold on to this uniqueness. After all, it’s what helps make Everton, Everton.

Evertonian’s reluctance to ground-share with their Stanley Park neighbours comes not only from the fact that it would involve sharing with our Stanley Park neighbours. More so is the heart-break at having to leave Goodison Park and the fact that the new ground would be shared. We wouldn’t have our own ground any more, not all ours anyway. And for all it’s short-comings, Goodison Park is ours; all ours.

Everton’s inability to effectively increase Goodison’s capacity has been marked, mostly due to it’s confines in a densely-populated, terrace-house area. A similar situation faces Liverpool across the park, yet their failure to make Stanley Park viable has forced them to look to re-develop Anfield. Can this really be enough to help them compete with those teams who play at Old Trafford, the Etihad, the Emirates and Stamford Bridge?

Because that is the ultimate question when it comes to owners and club directors making such decisions: can we compete? How can we generate enough revenue to purchase the best players and compete for trophies? When you think about redeveloping either stadium in light of these questions, expansion simply isn’t going achieve this higher goal.

Purslow is correct when he says a ground-share is “obvious financially”. But there are stronger forces at work on Merseyside and at least on the Blue half of the city, to not have something we can call our own -no matter how many wooden seats and obstructed views it has- is something Blues simply don’t want to think about.

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