As horizons narrow & hopes recede, the city's two football clubs find themselves in separate, though by no means unique predicaments. The decision by communities minister John Denham to reject Everton's application to build a stadium at Kirkby wasn't entirely unexpected; those who had been following the public inquiry closely related a tale of arrogance, ignorance & complacency on the part of the club & their "partners" Tesco. Such traits haven't completely disappeared in the wake of the government decision, as the club's comment that there was no Plan B indicates.
Within 24 hours of the announcement the question of a groundshare with Liverpool resurfaced (http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/premier-league/everton-consider-liverpool-groundshare-1827987.html & http://www.liverpoolcultureblog.co.uk/2009/11/ground-share-moves-a-step-closer/ ).
The culture blog mused:
"So, Everton are still looking for a way out, having ruled out tarting up Goodison. So is Liverpool, but it's by far the most resistant of the two to any notions of ground sharing.
"LFC is still banking on Stanley Park, but it's now faced with a council and regional development agency keen on a shared ground.
"I suspect that will also be the government's view, with a mind on a 2018 Olympic bid, having turned down Kirkby.
"LFC remain tight-lipped. I suspect a groundshare is a financially-attractive option but it's likely to be a hard sell to Reds."
Everton may well be the most resistant of the two clubs to a shared stadium, despite noises from the Goodison board in the last day or so to the contrary. However, what matters above all other factors is the economic one, something that was equally clear this time last year (http://condensedthoughts.blogspot.com/2008/11/recession-is-referee-in-this-game.html ).
Liverpool's problems off the pitch, which have contributed so much to their inability to compete on it, are well-documented & the stadium issue only helps to perpetuate the chronic levels of deprivation in the neighbourhoods around Anfield (http://condensedthoughts.blogspot.com/2008/09/cheek-by-jowl-wealth-squalor.html ).
Of Kirkby itself, it's amusing to witness the grandstanding of the local MP George Howarth. Normally one of the lobby fodder for New Labour (he had no qualms about voting for a war now seen for what it always was -- http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/nov/27/iraq-war-inquiry-greenstock-resolution ) Howarth bleats piteously, knowing that the plan he vigorously backed has turned out to be as watertight as those WMD dossiers. The Oldham Echo earnestly relates his peeved petulance (http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2009/11/27/labour-mp-george-howarth-the-government-has-denied-kirkby-400m--and-much-needed-jobs-they-can-no-longer-rely-on-my-support-100252-25264484/ ).
No one would deny that Kirkby's deprivation should be treated as an urgent priority; it has long been a disgrace. Equally disgraceful, however, is the record of the government Howarth has backed so assiduously since 97 in tackling deep-rooted problems in areas like Kirkby. That a donkey wearing a Labour rosette would be elected there probably explains why it's been ignored by Howarth's party. Kirkby's regeneration, if it ever happens, should be based on real investment & support, the like of which hasn't been seen since the post-war period. It cannot be based on siting a football stadium, with a bloody big Tesco store attached, in the middle of the town.
Don't believe me, George? I refer you to David Conn's excellent piece in today's Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2009/nov/27/everton-kirkby-stadium-bid-rejected ).
Of the proposed move to Kirkby, Conn writes:
"That was never a universally popular prospect; many even among the 59% of fans who voted in favour of the move in 2007 did so because it was the only option presented to expand the club's capacity and, crucially, its earning potential. Everton fans are painfully aware that Goodison Park, a modern marvel when it was unveiled as the world's first purpose-built football ground in 1892, has, in its present form, outlived its ability to generate the money required to compete in today's Premier League."
Conn goes on to detail the thinking behind the decision to reject the Kirkby application; I make no apology for quoting it at length because it helps to demolish some misconceptions, which Howarth regurgitated in his Commons peroration, about the project & shines a harsh, unflattering light on the motivations of those involved & the roles they've played in this farce:
"John Denham, communities and local government secretary, supported the judgment of a planning inspector, Wendy Burden, following a public inquiry that opened fully a year ago. Burden recommended that Tesco's application, for a 22,000 sq m superstore, a 50,000-seat stadium for Everton, and massive associated retail and commercial development, should be refused. Denham agreed that the plans 'failed to provide good and inclusive design', did not promote sustainable development or protect green space, and would economically damage the rest of Kirkby and its neighbouring towns by sucking retail custom away.
" 'The proposals would be likely to have a harmful effect on the vitality and viability of Kirkby, Bootle, Skelmersdale and St Helens and would conflict with policy to support and enhance the Liverpool city centre,' Denham said in his letter to Tesco's planning consultants, DPP, on Wednesday.
"As refusals go, that is categoric. It is a bitter twist for the club that Denham did not find that there was much wrong with the stadium proposal itself, except that it was hitched to Tesco's unacceptably enormous retail plans. The club are due to meet Tesco and their lawyers to consider, as a formality, whether there are grounds to challenge the decision by judicial review, but [Bill] Kenwright is understood to believe there will not be, and this is the end."
As the two clubs & their respective supporters prepare for the laughably-named "friendly Derby" at Goodison on Sunday, all parties will, or should, know that given current economic conditions, a new stadium on Stanley Park, whether it's shared, or the sole preserve of Liverpool, will not be built for the forseeable future & that both clubs will remain at their current locations well into the next decade.