Liverpool must keep identity

By Martin Samuel, October 14, 2010
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If it is only about identity then the battle is lost the moment Liverpool leave Anfield. Nothing erected in their name on Stanley Park can assume instantly iconic status, no matter if there is still a Kop end or how emotively the pre-match anthems are sung.

So it would not be a ground sharing scheme with Everton that would strip Liverpool Football Club of its spirit. It is no coincidence that Middlesbrough remains the only club to move home and win a major prize in football's modern era (and it hasn't exactly been beer and skittles at the Riverside since, either).

Everyone admires the Emirates Stadium, but Arsenal are without a trophy since leaving Highbury, while Pride Park, Derby, and the Walkers Stadium, Leicester, are firmly established as first-class, but second tier locations. Nobody fears the trip to Southampton since they departed The Dell.

This is not to argue entirely against Liverpool's stadium upgrade, more to suggest partnership with Everton is not the biggest problem. If anything, sharing may be better than suffering alone.

A strong civic identity and a design idea as ingenious as the one introduced in Munich – where the new Allianz Arena glows red for Bayern Munich home matches and blue for games involving Munich 1860 – could be preferred to expensive isolation.

If Liverpool end up in one of those generic 60,000 capacity corporate money traps that are springing up across Europe, they will have surrendered their identity more surely than if they join forces with Everton, in a dazzling new home that says something about what football means to the city.

When Manchester United played Bayern Munich in the Champions League last season, there was no noticeable loss in atmosphere caused by a rival Munich side occupying the stadium for a previous match. It was, raucously and defiantly, Bayern Munich's property that night, rocking to its shiny red rafters.

The odd disgruntled Bavarian might say that he preferred the old Olympiastadion, with its bizarre Bedouin tent roof and the pitch distant inside a running track, but that will be because he watched some of Munich's greatest triumphs there. It is the history, the shared memories that give a place its character, and this takes decades to evolve. Excluding Everton will not make those moments arrive any quicker if Liverpool leave Anfield. The old ground will always be where King Kenny played – and could he play – and the new place won't.

Sometimes harsher realities take over. If Tottenham Hotspur wanted to share the Olympic Stadium with West Ham United, rather than compete to be the sole football tenants, many objections to their presence would be withdrawn. In the present climate, economic viability is paramount. The reason ground-sharing on Merseyside is supported by many is that both Liverpool clubs are in such a parlous state.

New England Sports Ventures, among the proposed new owners of Liverpool, have a record of embracing the past – they upgraded Fenway Park for the Boston Red Sox, rather than decamp – and may look at what can be done around Anfield instead. This remains the best of both worlds. Liverpool need to increase capacity as cost-effectively as possible, but their history is unique. What makes least sense is to surrender the past and wind up with a huge debt anyway. The worst laid plan is to move and go it alone.

    Last updated: 2:26pm, October 14 2010