"We are the Scousers..." - Chapter 1: "It's your move"

Last updated : 21 August 2007 By Les Roberts

As outlined in the introduction, modernization and "change is inevitable at British football grounds" (Duke,1994 p.144) and it is thought that many "clubs are expected to move grounds than try to upgrade their existing ones." (Leisure Opportunities 56, 1990 p.1).

But why is this so? This chapter aims to examine some of the reasons why many feel that relocation is necessary and should give some indication of how relevant an issue relocation is in the modern game.

In addition, the descriptive nature of this chapter should show what the current situation is at some clubs and, therefore, provide a background for the analysis that will form the rest of the study.

The issue of how relocation will affect certain groups of fans will then be discussed in later chapters.

So, is relocation simply change for changes sake or are there other factors involved?

One suggestion is that it is "largely due to government reaction to a series of disasters at football stadia involving English football supporters (in Bradford 1985, Brussels 1985 and Sheffield 1989).

All of these disasters were associated to some degree with the construction and/or maintenance of stadia." (Duke, 1994 p.130).

Although there are several long term causes regarding the state of British stadia that will be discussed later on in this chapter, one factor which may have substantially accelerated the process of modernization is the Hillsborough tragedy of 1989 and the subsequent inquest and reports by Lord Justice Taylor in 1989 and 1990.

One of the major implications of this report of 1990 was "that clubs bring in all seater stadiums by 1994" (Leisure Opportunities 56, 1990 p.1) and many authors agree that this has left clubs with three options:

i) stay in the ground and rebuild within the fabric of the old stadium:

ii) relocate to new or green field sites:

iii) consider ground sharing proposals

(Clarke and Madden, 1993 p.467)

The majority of league clubs have at some stage condsidered and implemented at least one of these suggestions, whilst some clubs, like Everton, have even considered all three options.

However, with "ten new grounds in England and Scotland…[and] at least ten more having ambitious plans to relocate" (French, 1997p.23) and the fact that these clubs range from some of the richest to some of the poorest, it would appear that the second of Clarke and Madden's (1993) proposed options, relocation, is becoming increasingly popular.

Although, as outlined, the main catalyst for these recent changes may have been the publication of the Taylor report, it could also be the case that relocation is the next phase in a long term modernization plan by the footballing authorities to "win back its lost supporters" (Rippon, 1983 p.191).

Over a decade ago Simon Inglis observed that although thousands "of people attend matches every Saturday…numbers are dropping alarmingly" (Inglis, 1983 p.10) and, although this trend is not evident in the late 1990's, it may be that this attendance slump was an early indication to footballing authorities that changes within the game were needed.

It may be the case then, that relocation was identified as one of the changes necessary to safeguard the future of the game more than ten years ago.

The fact that it appears to be, by and large, a 1990's phenomenon may be because many clubs may not have been prepared to invest in new developments during the 1980's through a fear that their new facilities would only be vandalised.

But why should clubs have had this fear and does this in any way relate to the fact that people seemingly just stopped going to matches during the 1980's?

This may be so as one reason some fans avoided the game appears to be the hooligan problem which plagued the English game during this period.

As Canter et al (1989 p.31) observed, the "threat of violence at or near football grounds" looks to have kept some fans and families away from the game for fear of being attacked or caught up in any disruptions."

In addition, it was also found that of "the reasons lapsed supporters gave for quitting, violence and safety were mentioned by more people than any other factors." (Canter et al, 1989 p.31).

Things seemingly came to a head in the mid 1980's when, the season after the Heysel Stadium disaster, national attendances dropped to a post-war low point of "around 16.5 million" (Bale, 1993 p.30) and the game "risked going out of business" (Taylor, 1995).

However, as early as 1975 Jimmy Hill, then managing director of Coventry City FC, was pioneering a modern commercial strategy to try to curb the hooligan problem.

He suggested: "If we want football to survive then what we have got to do is market it to another kind of customer…the thugs are keeping people away… making an unpleasant atmosphere." (Taylor, 1995).

He then proposed an all seater stadium was the way forward as "it's harder to be a hooligan sitting down." (Hill,1975 in Taylor, 1995), something which was implemented at Coventry soon after.

Although this was an unsuccessful venture at the time as, due to numerous attacks on the ground by away fans, Coventry had reinstated terracing by the mid-1980's, all-seater stadiums are, once again, being introduced.

This is, in part to curb hooliganism and improve the general safety in grounds but also to make them more comfortable and appealing to prospective 'customers'.

It is thought that more sanitary conditions at football grounds may encourage more sanitized behaviour, perhaps thereby inducing a kind of 'civilising process'(Dunning and Sheard, 1979 cited in Bale, 1993 p.170).

If this is the case then it is quite possible that football clubs see relocation as an ideal opportunity to improve facilities and market the game to "another kind of customer" (Taylor, 1995) as proposed earlier.

The game may then be marketed as "family entertainment" (Hargreaves, 1991 p.115) and thereby bring "women and children back to watching football" (HMSO, 1990 p.23).

In addition, modernization and, perhaps, relocation may be necessary to help football and football clubs compete with other leisure pursuits and develop with peoples changing lifestyles and interests.

"Football is now facing competition from the entertainment and leisure industry to a degree it has never experienced" (Canter et al, 1989 p.163) as, due to changing social and leisure patterns, today's football fan has a wide range of leisure pursuits which could easily usurp football as their primary pastime.

For example, there is "a wider range of sports…to take part in…[and] Saturday afternoon television offers neatly packaged sports action without the need to move from one's fireside, a great attraction on a wintry afternoon." (Rippon, 1983 p.191).

Although written over a decade ago, the advent of Sky TV's football package and the wealth of TV sport available to the public can only have increased the propensity of some to favour the television over the 'live' event.

In addition, with the possibility of clubs having their own digital television stations in the near future (following the success of Radio Everton, the club has plans to launch TV Everton), this argument may be more relevant now than ever.

In other words, if the modern game does not keep in touch with the modern spectator then attendances may again fall.

If it is the lapsed, "more fickle and less easily pleased" supporters (Canter et al, 1989 p.37) whom clubs must attract to the game then relocation may be seen as the best option available.

If a club can relocate to a green field site or near an out of town 'leisure estate' (housing clubs, pubs and cinemas) then it is possible that clubs may 'win back' such fans by repackaging football as the 'complete day out'.

To some fans the prospect of a whole day (or at least afternoon) being taken up for the sake of ninety minutes 'entertainment' then going to the match may not seem such an appealing leisure pursuit.

However, if, as planned by Luton Town in 1988, it was a "whole days entertainment, starting at 9am…[with] a cinema, night club and drinking clubs for after the game" (Bale, 1993 p.152) then these fans may be wooed back to the stands.

This possible 'monopolising of the matchday experience' appears to be part of Everton's agenda should they relocate as the new stadium would "have a leisure theme, with themed restaurants and pubs" (The Evertonian, Issue 33, June 1997 p.25).

It would appear then, that one possible reason for relocation , in addition to implementing Taylor report guidelines, may be to change the image of football and regain the 'loyalties' of lost, or at least lapsed, supporters.

Another possible reason has been suggested by figurationalists who claim that "the conditions and locations of many English football stadia are wholly unsuited to the staging of a spectator sport in a modern industrialized society." (Murphy et al, p.20).

This statement may be justified if we consider how more than "a third of the ground locations [of the 92 Football and Premier League clubs] date from the last century" and over "three quarters pre-date the first world war." (Duke, 1994 p.129) and take into account the change in lifestyles and leisure patterns of people during that time.

When chronicling the history of German club Shalke 04, Siegfried Gehrmann suggests that while 'middle class' clubs, in the early days of the Bundesliga, were able to "purchase vast plots of land in attractive surroundings in which to erect their stadiums" the poorer "working class clubs…were generally obliged to be content with cheaper land, if indeed they did buy plots instead of renting them…in the centre of an industrial area and thus nearer the club members houses." (Gehrmann, 1989 p.347).

Whilst this cites the example of German stadium pioneers, it offers an interesting parallel with their British counterparts.

During the 1890's Everton and Celtic football clubs were pioneering to build Britain's first football grounds in their respective cities of Liverpool and Glasgow.

In building these stadiums "the late nineteenth-century clubs sought sites which tried to capitalize on access to population concentrations and transport facilities" (Bale, 1993 p.144).

If, then, "most grounds were built at the centre of the communities…to which they served" (Bloyce, 1997) then clubs could benefit from supporters who walked to the games as well as those who travelled by public transport.

Although it has been observed that most grounds were "nearly all built…in what might be anachronistically called the 'inner city'" (Guttman, 1986 p.106) it may be the case that some stadiums were built on land on the urban fringe.

As the economy in these areas then grew, perhaps, in part, through the habitation of a football club, the grounds eventually became a part of the aforementioned 'inner city'.

This certainly appears to be the case in the history of Goodison Park, the ground which, along with the recent proposals concerning it's future, prompted this study.

During the formative years of St. Domingo FC (soon to become Everton FC) the club played on several sites within the area before eventually buying Mere Green field for £8,090 in 1892.

This site was "described as 'a howling desert' in Goodison Road" (Graham, 1987 p.18), not a description which conjours up the image of an 'inner city' club described by Guttmann earlier!

However, just over a century later this is exactly what Everton are, an inner city club, housed in a stadium penned in by rows of terraced houses, as Inglis (1984 p.197) observes, "Goodison Park is a gaunt cathedral among low terraced houses."

The case of Everton FC is a prime example of how football may have outgrown its humble origins, and this is just one reason why this club and others have turned to relocation to prepare for the future.

As mentioned earlier, one of the primary factors when developing Victorian football grounds was the access to transport facilities, another was the access of the club to a public willing to pay for the privilege of watching a game (Bale 1993, p.138).

However, while these fundamental issues remain as top priorities to football clubs today, the factors have changed with the times.

It is no longer the case that trains are the primary mode of transport (although still very popular and, in some cases necessary) since the post-1960's "ownership boom of private vehicles" (Bale 1993 p.146).

It is motorway links rather than railway links that are seen as essential as "inner cities tend to be congested and inaccessible" (Bale 1993 p.146).

Therefore, it should follow that if a club can find a location close to a major motorway network they can keep up to date and in touch with the population location and transport facilities.

This, in turn, may potentially widen the fan base catchment area to encapsulate supporters 'exiled' to the suburbs or more far reaching areas.

This increase in car ownership and, on the whole, a "more privatized existence" (Hargreaves, 1991 p.94) has also raised the issue of car parking problems, a possible thorn in the side of the fan travelling by car.

However, it should be noted that not every fan travels to the game by car and relocation to an out of town site may actually mean that those who prefer or "rely on public transport will be worse off." (Duke, 1994 p.138).

This is something which will be discussed further in chapter three.

However, despite this, car parking and access is still considered to be a major problem at some grounds.

For example, it is cited by the Everton chairman as one major reason for leaving Goodison Park and, in one of the largest of the recent ground moves in the UK, Sunderland officials enumerated car parking as one of many factors considered in their relocation package.

At their former Roker Park site they considered "car parking and access for supporters [to be] abysmal" (Offical Sunderland AFC website, 1997 p.1).

It may be the case that relocation to a new green field site could help to all but quash this problem.

Indeed, one of the proposals put forward by Everton FC in their relocation package was that car parking would be available for "12,000 cars…and…350 coaches." (The Evertonian Issue 33, June 1997, p.25).

"There are, clearly, car access and parking benefits to be had from relocation to a new stadium on the outskirts of the modern city" (Duke, 1994 p.136) and, therefore, it would appear that access for supporters may be another reason for relocation.

Another possible reason which has been suggested is the impossibility of expansion.

In the case of Sunderland AFC, some officials expressed that the need to relocate was due to the fact that that at their former home the club was "restricted to a 7 acre site and unable to increase the height of the current stands owing to sight lines and concern for local residents living in the shadow of Roker Park." (Official Sunderland AFC website, 1997 p.1).

This is a problem which has also hindered Liverpool FC in the development of their Anfield stadium, particularly the Anfield Road end.

Due to several years of wrangling with the local council for planning permission they have only recently been able to develop this part of the ground.

Being in the same proximity to local residents as Anfield and under the jurisdiction of the same local council, this is an issue which also appears to be paramount in the minds of the Everton hierarchy.

Chairman, Peter Johnson has been quoted as saying "our [Everton's] problem is that we are very much land locked" (Liverpool Echo 5/12/96 p.36) whilst senior director Clifford Finch has observed that a problem lies in the "land Goodison Park sits on" adding that "redevelopment wouldn't give us [Everton] the stadium we want…even with tens of millions spent we wouldn't be able to have more than 40,000 seats." (NSSNO, 1997 p.E,1).

It would appear then, that a major reason some football clubs have for considering relocation is the inability of their present sites to cope with the demands of the modern game.

However, is it just the case that the location is now insufficient, or are the grounds themselves also unable to cope with 1990's football? As Murphy et al (1990, p.20) suggested earlier it is the "conditions and locations" (my emphasis) that are unsuitable.

Patrick (1991, p.42) suggested that most "stadiums [are] like mausoleums from a forgotten football age, mortgaged up to the hilt, in desperate need of improvement and crying out for fresh initiative."

He then goes on to suggest that this 'fresh initiative' could be to convert current football stadia into multi-sport facilities for community use.

This is an idea which, for a number of years, has been embraced, with much success, on the continent.

As early as the 1920's some European stadia were designed as multi-sport facilities which were "part of a municipally owned sports complex…offering everything…from swimming bath to football" (Kircher, 1928 cited in Bale, 1993 p.20).

It has been noted that whilst European stadia were developing into municipal sports complexes "British grounds were mainly private facilities, often surrounded by terraced houses." (Bale, 1993 p.20).

This may be considered by some as one of the long-term problems which is affecting British football grounds today.

If this is the case then this perceived problem may have acted as a catalyst for some ambitious chairmen to consider the option of relocation.

With such facilities in place in Europe, British football authorities and chairmen may see such changes as a necessity in order to 'keep up' with their continental counterparts, particularly if "a Euro-League is…an inevitable outcome of the next few years." (Bale, 1993 p.2).

Such redevelopments may also make sound economic sense.

In general, most Premier League clubs only utilise their 'home' grounds full potential nineteen times in any one season (excluding cup games) which means that during this time "substantial revenue is only generated from football once every two weeks" (Bale, 1993 p.42).

If clubs then decided to integrate community sports facilities into their grounds this means that they could maximise incoming revenue seven days a week.

If the space needed to redevelop and expand was not available at the present location then chairmen may be forced to consider the possibility of relocation if they are to house such facilities.

Although this may ostensibly defeat the object of community facilities it may be hoped that 'you can take the ground out of the community but not the community out of the ground' so to speak.

Also, with the improved access and parking that relocation apparently brings, people from further afield may be encouraged to utilise such facilities.

In addition, it may also make better economic sense to move due to the fact that redevelopment may actually be cheaper than renovation.

It may be the case that many clubs have found that they cannot afford to upgrade their existing facilities, as Duke (1994, p.130) observed, "more than half the clubs in the Premier League are trading at a loss.

The gloomy financial scenario…has tempted many clubs to consider selling their round…and relocating to a new stadium on a greenfield site."

If this is the case then clubs who are struggling to meet the recommendations of the Taylor report, and/or are in debt may see relocation as a viable option, particularly if they can sell the land their current ground lies on and emerge with a profit.

As mentioned earlier, this is a route that Scunthorpe United successfully took and something which Southampton recently proposed before running into difficulties with the local council. (see Bale, 1993 p.164).

In addition, a move to a new ground may also benefit the club through increased revenue from larger gate receipts and profits from the sale of merchandise.

Of course, it may also be the case that a ground move is what spectators want as, in a number of relocation scenarios, they have been consulted about potential ground moves.

For example, in a simplified version of events, it was found that as early as the turn of the century York City considered their ground to be "too far from supporters homes and the railway station, so the club canvassed supporters for their views and moved to Bootham Crescent" (Inglis, 1983 p.15).

Similarly, as outlined in the Introduction, Everton FC also canvassed supporters during the "It's Your Move" campaign and finally held a ballot, essentially leaving any final decision with the supporters.

Of the 21,974 votes returned 18,374 (83.62%) voted in favour of relocation, thereby giving the chairman the mandate to move (EFC, 1997 p.1).

However, what if this is not the case and supporters vote against a move.

In London, the case of Fulham's proposed ground move saw more "supporters attending a meeting to campaign for the preservation of Craven Cottage than attended the club's home games." (Clarke and Madden, 1993 p.468).

Similarly, Charlton Athletic supporters gained "nearly 15,000 votes in local elections when the Council threatened the club's return to its home ground." (Clarke and Madden, 1993 p.468).

Why is this behaviour and inertia from fans seemingly so common in cases of relocation?

What is it that makes football fans feel so strongly about 'their' ground?

What makes people feel any sort of affiliation to what amounts to nothing more than bricks and mortar?

This is something which is to be examined in the following chapter.