Friday, June 01, 2012

Anfield's Decade Of Atrophy

Alexei Sayle once remarked that, as someone who grew up in the Anfield area, the football stadium seemed to be a squat, unwelcome presence, sucking revenue in while the adjacent neighbourhoods were left to neglect & decline. Such an observation was once tantamount to heresy for many. Sayle's pronouncement, however, is now tacitly accepted by many, including those who are loath to criticise Liverpool Football Club.
The sorry saga of a new Stanley Park stadium has taken on the appearance of a little-noticed & scarcey-viewed daytime TV soap opera; to a wider audience, its irrelevance has deepened with just a miniscule number of followers still hoping that work will eventually begin. It now looks pretty much as if the proposed stadium will remain on the architects' drawing board.
Despite the city council's "ultimatum" to Fenway Sports Group, the club's owners ( ), it looks likely that the club has already decided to remain at an expanded Anfield ( .
David Conn's Guardian piece lays bare the physical reality of a lost decade: "Outside the walls of the ground in which footballers play for multimillionaires' salaries, for a club owned principally by John W Henry, a billionaire in Boston, people are living amid dereliction and decline approaching the country's grimmest."
FSG's revamped plans for Anfield may well make economic sense. Spending £300m on a stadium in Stanley Park which affords the club a mere 15,000 extra seats would have been questionable before the crash of 2008. In today's changed business world it looks financially dysfunctional. However, the residents around the Anfield ground have been kept in the dark about this change of policy by the club, making a mockery of the claim by the club's managing director, Ian Ayres, that there has been a "great dialogue" with those who live in the stadium's shadow.
There is also the question of financial assistance/compensation for the residents whose properties will be demolished.  Conn reports the comments made by Liverpool City Council's assistant director for regeneration, Mark Kitts, who says that "homeowners will be paid the market rate plus 10% 'loss of home payment' but said the council is 'very sympathetic' and he hoped this would be enough."
Doesn't sound completely reassuring, does it?
Like most parts of North Liverpool, the Anfield area has long been a festering eyesore & bereft of real economic growth. The wider Liverpool Walton constituency has the highest benefit claimant count in the whole city at 8.5% ( ) & the decision to remain at the current stadium will do nothing to reverse the neighbourhood's long-term decline (Conn refers to the area around the ground, a good deal of which is now largely uninhabited, as "sunken", a brutally candid assessment).
So has anyone gained from this depressing saga? Well, yes, there is. Step forward David Moores, the former club chairman, who, as Conn reminds us, pocketed a cool £89m from the sale of the club he professed to love to Tom Hicks & George Gillett. When it became clear that Hicks & Gillett were a couple of con artists whose business methods have since been excoriated by the courts, Moores bleated to the local media that he felt dismayed & somehow betrayed by them. However, Moores donated not a single penny of the £89m he made to the cost of the campaign to get Hicks & Gillett out of the club. The Spirit of Shankly group invited him to address one of their meetings. He declined.

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