In Part 1 of the “This is Anfield” series, we spoke about Anfield’s birth and given the emotional connect, why the expansion of Anfield would be the best option from the perspective of this club’s history, fans and players. Here in Part 2, we explore the very same view from a more pragmatic perspective.
Why should John Henry and FSG go in for an expansion and what could be made of the existing plans at Stanley Park?
The Stanley Park Chronicles
A lot of fans today are pro-expansion of Anfield. So if you were wondering why did this not happen a decade ago, the reason is because of the lack of support shown by a diaspora of Liverpool locals around the stadium. The initial plan was to expand the Fortress, which is why the club was ready to buy out the surrounding property on Skerries Road, close to Anfield Road.
However, the local residents were antithetic in their thoughts and would not let the club go ahead with its plans. The same areas were later refurbished and left untouchable. As a result, LFC had to come up with a new plan. Hence, in 2002, the idea of moving to Stanley Park took birth.
Will the new owners make the promised changes?
The new stadium, which would have been closer to Everton’s home, was proposed to house upto 60,000 spectators. The City Council saw no qualms whatsoever in fueling this proposal and the legal and paperwork processes slowly started taking shape. The biggest concern was the financing of the new stadium, which is where the infamous Yanks – Hicks and Gillett, came in.
“The shovel needs to be in the ground in the next 60 days” – Gillett’s first words on the new stadium.
What H&G did after that is well known to every Liverpool supporter. There was no shovel, there was no financing and most importantly, there was no initiative. For reasons more than this, the Yanks were ousted from this prestigious club and Stanley Park was left high and dry.
Liverpool’s new owners John Henry & FSG have come in with intent; the intent of taking the club forward by doing the right things in the right manner. As shrewd as he is, John Henry does believe in one thing – to do what’s best for Liverpool FC. And he knows that the most important way to achieve what’s best is by involving the fans of this great club. He has reignited a lost cause. While Stanley Park awaits its fate, it now faces a competition with an equally appealing thought – Anfield’s expansion. Neither of these plans coexisted at the same time but now that they do, everybody is seeking the best possible option that would encompass Liverpool’s history, heritage and tradition on one hand and its financial growth and sustenance amongst the top clubs in the world, on the other.
Expansion of Anfield – What needs to be done first?
The Reds’ supporters have been more involved in the club’s running since the takeover by FSG. Going by this notion, their opinions do count when it comes to the stadium’s fate. Now most of the fans have opted to for an expansion of the present stadium. However, this is a move that would be quite difficult to pull off because the idea is not just to add a few more seats around the four stands. It is much more than that.
The primary obstacle for Henry & Co is the surrounding area around Anfield, and not the stadium. Being a residential area, there have been a lot of developments around the arena over the years and it is not going to be easy for the owners to convince the Liverpool City Council as well as the present locals to move out of their homes so that the expansion plans can be accommodated. One way to actually tackle this situation is to draw plans that represent a face-lift of the entire area around the stadium. Doing so will not only serve the purpose of the City Council who are always thinking of new ways to decorate Liverpool into a more attractive city but it also helps improve relations between the owners and Liverpudlians. However, for this to happen, the two ends have to meet. FSG and the City Council will have to chalk out plans and get involved in discussions because it is unlikely that John Henry will take out a loan big enough to embellish the surrounding more than the stadium.
Reports claim that a chunk of land alongside Anfield Road has several derelict houses and buildings that were bought by the club when it had first made plans for expanding Anfield. These homes, now serving no purpose, can be utilized in the blueprints for expansion. For the occupants residing in other homes in the locality, there could be a possible solution which might just work out in their favour. If the club can erect homes in the land that it has acquired at Stanley Park and convince the current occupants of an equally good environment to live in, that would be a win-win for the club as well as the fans.
A lot of fans have complained about the hassle caused while leaving the stadium after a game. Many of them rush to the exits in order to take their vehicles out early so that a bottleneck can be avoided. So if the stadium were to be expanded, then there would be more spectators stuck in the chaos. Although from the perspective of football, this might not bear much significance, everybody knows that Liverpool is a people’s club and John Henry will not commit to any decision without keeping the supporters’ best interests at heart.
Anfield: A 4-Quadrant Expansion
When John Henry first proposed the possibility of expanding the stadium, he wasn’t just exhaling. During his time at the club, he has come up with, and studied different perspectives. One evident factor could be his work at the American baseball team, Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox’s stadium, Fenway Park was renovated and expanded by the business magnate upon his takeover. This not only preserved the team’s heritage and spirit but also led to a renewed confidence that would drive the team ahead and challenge for honours. And coming to Liverpool, Henry has witnessed a similar air of trepidation but with a light of hope. The fans might be distraught looking at their team’s performances this season but that hasn’t dithered their love and support for the club. Anfield makes up for a large part of that love and support.
Over at the arena, many fans, out of the experience of traveling to the stadium and watching the game, believe that there is room for expansion on all four stands. Much necessary if the owners actually have a figure in terms of number of spectators they want to accommodate.
Out of the four stands, the first section that is of paramount importance is the Main Stand. Last renovated in the sixties, time has proved detrimental to Anfield’s first setup and the section massively needs a makeover with new upholstery and space to move freely. Being a single tier stand, the obvious choice would be to turn it into a two-tier section.
Coming to the Centenary Stand, since it is already a two-tier section addition of another tier would be quite impractical but the seating could still be expanded by filling in the corners of the stand on the Kop end as well as the Anfield Road end. As the situation stands, these corners are not really utilized for anything vital and do swallow quite a space. Adding a few extra seats would give a better look from the pitch and a better view for the spectators in these corners since the Centenary Stand is along the pitch and not behind the goal.
The Kop end of the stadium would not really see evident changes since it is the Shrine of Anfield. However, in lieu of the purpose of expanding Anfield, depending on how high above the Main Stand and Centenary stand go, the Kop could be elevated too in order to accommodate more ardent Kopites. It is probably going to be the section of the stadium where least work would be required.
The Anfield Road end is going to be the trickiest affair for the architects. This section already almost kisses the Anfield road running in front of it which is where the majority of the traffic flows. Expanding this end is more difficult from the outside than from inside. Many fans are now suggesting a solution – expand the section to a two-tier stand and outside the stadium, this expanded section would be above a road tunnel constructed under it for traffic. If such a plan does hold well in theory as well as practice, then there is no reason why it would not work out for the best.
With the UEFA’s financial mandates entering the frame, taking a loan out to expand the entire stadium in one stroke might backfire. Paying off a bigger interest from what has been earned, to the banks, would leave less in the hands of the owners, which means they will spend less (according to UEFA’s rules). Also, Anfield being in use for about 10 months out of 12 months in a year, working on all sections at once time might cause a hassle for several fans which might lead to reduced attendances till expansion is complete. This would also directly affect revenues generated.
However, if Anfield’s expansion is split to fall under different time slices, then it would not only allow the owners to concentrate on one section of the stadium at a time, but it would also allow them to utilize money on the surrounding areas as mentioned before. Revenues will not take a hit, owners can still afford to invest in the squad and the expansion can take its course in parallel. During this time, ticket prices can be dropped in order to increase the average attendance at the stadium and make up for lost numbers.
All said and done, the owners have the final say on the next move for Liverpool’s home. You can build an arena at Stanley Park and have Paisley Gates, Shankly Gates and the Bootroom erected there too but it is never going to be the same as Anfield. Expand Anfield, and there will be no reason to believe that the Fortress will get more power.