Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Demolition & Dereliction: This Is Anfield

I've said it before, but I'll say it again: David Conn is in serious danger of giving sports journalism a good name. He's returned to the issue of Liverpool Football Club's expansion plans (http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/david-conn-inside-sport-blog/2013/may/06/anfield-liverpool-david-conn ). Conn writes of the homeowners in the streets adjacent to the Anfield stadium & their battle to secure a fair deal in return for moving out of houses earmarked by the club for demolition: "These homeowners believe they should be paid enough not only to buy a new house but to compensate for the years of dereliction, stagnation and decline, and crime, fires and vandalism, even murders which have despoiled the area. Their resentment is compounded by the fact that they are being forced to move so that Liverpool, and their relatively new US owner, Fenway Sports Group, can make more money."
Conn essays the subterfuge employed by the club in acquiring at least some of the properties & notes: "That left residents with the belief, which has endured ever since, that Liverpool were buying up houses by stealth, to keep prices low."
He goes on to describe how the club's decision to favour a new stadium in Stanley Park arose from consultations with people in the Anfield neighbourhood. However, residents still suspected, correctly, that the new stadium would never come to fruition. The club's former chief executive Rick Parry reportedly came to the view that a new stadium was necessary during a consultation meeting:
"Parry looked at a map and was struck by how hemmed in by houses the ground would still be, even if expanded. Yet even as the plans developed over years, many residents did not believe Liverpool would ever build a new stadium. Partly this was because even after all the outcry over Anfield Plus [the original plan to demolish houses behind the Main Stand & Anfield Road End], Liverpool still bought houses on Lothair Road, including No. 10."
Most of those quoted in Conn's piece are vehement in their criticism of the club's actions & the way in which it has gone about its business. The club's unsavoury tactics have been common knowledge locally for some years. Indeed, one could even go back as far as the late 70s & early 80s when the club put pressure on the residents of Kemlyn Road to move out. Many of the residents were elderly & in no position to counter the club's intentions for that side of the ground. Commendably, Conn refers to this episode in his article.
The culpability of Liverpool Football Club for the overall state of Anfield has been highlighted in the last year by both this blog (http://condensedthoughts.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/anfields-decade-of-atrophy.html ) & by the Liverpool Preservation Trust (http://liverpoolpreservationtrust.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/liverpool-football-club-are-responsible.html ).
Moreover, the club's opaque approach towards the local community was again evident when it delayed for an inordinate period of time its announcement that the Stanley Park stadium would not be built. It finally confirmed its decision months after it first became apparent (http://condensedthoughts.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/stanley-park-stadium-shelved.html ).
The cast of characters with more than cameo appearances in this sorry saga should be recalled. One such figure is David Moores, chairman of the club prior to the arrival of Hicks & Gillett. In selling out to the corrupt couple, Moores walked away with a cool £89m in his back pocket. Some time later he appeared in the Oldham Echo to lament what had become of the club he professed to love (http://condensedthoughts.blogspot.co.uk/2010/05/pathetic.html ). In dutifully noting down every lachrymose utterance from the former chairman, the Echo, typically, failed to pose any pertinent questions about Moores' eagerness to take the money & run.
Another character to consider is the club's current managing director Ian Ayres. He admitted last year that the expansion of the Anfield stadium is all about maximising revenue. Pretty obvious, you might say. After all, that's business. True, but he was refreshingly brazen about the fact that fans would be expected to pay considerably more for the pleasure of watching a mid-table team (http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/2012/oct/15/liverpool-anfield-redevelopment-ian-ayre ): "We're not looking at reducing ticket prices -- that's not realistic."
Far more "realistic" was Ayres' contribution to the excruciatingly embarrassing "Being: Liverpool" documentary last year. Ayres was filmed riding a motorcycle past the Liverpool waterfront. To an American audience (the programme's intended target) it may have seemed quaint. To a local audience it was a moment of supreme stupefaction. Less Easy Rider, more Queasy Rider.
Over the last three decades the civic involvement in the club's grandiose visions has been depressingly supine & it's no surprise to see in Conn's superb article that the current city council is continuing this craven behaviour over the club's demolition plans. Conn notes that "several people accuse the council, which is negotiating via agents, of starting with low offers, forcing people in difficult circumstances to negotiate hard or be seriously disadvantaged."
Yes, not content with implementing the ConDems' cuts on a city which didn't fully recover from the decline of the port & subsequent deindustrialisation, Joe "Tea & Sympathy" Anderson's administration is doing its damndest to ensure that Liverpool Football Club gets its way.
To coin a phrase, the "managed decline" of Liverpool 4 is a war of attrition against the Anfield residents in which they've always been outgunned. As David Conn concludes, this is Anfield indeed.

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