For as long as I've been supporting Liverpool there's been talk of expanding Anfield. We've always been justifiably proud of our ground and the atmosphere we, as a body of supporters, can generate. Yet along with that pride in what makes Anfield unique has always been a coetaneous envy of other clubs whose match day revenues, and resultant spending power, were considerably higher. Over the course of those thirty-odd years that I've been unhealthily obsessed with the club, some gentrification and improvements have happened but in recent years Liverpool Football Club has been in limbo, awaiting the next step in it's evolution.
Ex-chairman, David Moores had claimed that he did not possess the necessary wealth to allow Liverpool to progress and for most of the Premier league era, the club was a behemoth, frozen by inertia. When the parasitical Tom Hicks and George Gillett arrived amidst much pomp and ceremony and promised a new dawn and a brand new stadium in Stanley Park, fans began to peruse the drawings they commissioned and allow themselves to entertain the notion of a future away from Anfield. It was a hugely divisive topic, however, and proved to be an apt metaphor for the tenure of the two owners -- an angry debate that led nowhere; an empty, pointless dissonance, "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
The current owners initially examined both relocation and renovation and it soon emerged that the latter was the only option which was financially viable for them. Talk of a new stadium gradually ebbed away and fans were encouraged, via occasional drip-feeding of the club's intentions, to ponder the notion of what a redevelopment would mean for Anfield.
Supporters, many of whom had wrestled with the notion of a move only to ultimately side with the logical notion of a new stadium and its attendant increased revenue, were now being told that redevelopment was the only show in town, and statements of continuing progress with local residents and politicians were issued on a regular basis.
This process, however, was hideously complex. Planning issues and property purchases were involute and laden with difficulties. This would not be a straightforward matter and it would be massively surprising if FSG have not considered walking away from the interminable travails.
The central problem is the lack of space for any extension to expand into. Houses are in very close proximity to the outer limits of the old stadium and the whole policy the club has had, of buying up the homes in the immediate area, has been cast in a very murky light by David Conn's recent article in The Guardian. His piece portrayed a massively disgruntled local community, some of whom feel forced out by a bullying corporation with compulsory purchase orders in their back pocket.
Indeed, Conn's exposé implies that Liverpool Foootball Club, through their policy of buying and leaving-vacant multiple homes over more than twenty years, has added to the deterioration and impoverishment of the area. Some locals have even claimed this decline was "engineered" by the club in a cynical attempt to drive down the prices of the very homes they sought to purchase. This, were it proven to be the case, is incredibly morally dubious territory.
Irrespective of how we have gotten to this point, however, it would seem that there may at last be some tangible movement in the drawn-out and bedevilled process. The club, it seems, are to finally submit a planning application for the proposed 150 million-pound redevelopment of the ground, before the beginning of the next campaign.
The Liverpool Echo are reporting that only a "handful" of the 90 houses required for demolition are as yet unpurchased. It seems that the club have changed their approach somewhat and significant progress has been made with residents via co-operation with Liverpool City Council and the social housing developer, Your Housing Group.
The hope is that all the remaining properties can be purchased by Liverpool within the summer months. They will then press on with the planning process with the aim of expanding the Anfield Road end and the Main Stand in order to increase the capacity of the ground to sixty thousand -- thereby accommodating fourteen and a half thousand more paying customers than can currently attend on a match day.
Ian Ayre, Liverpool's Managing Director, has been speaking in slightly less vague and open-ended terms than he previously has about the proposed redevelopment, claiming that "certainty" will only come with the acquisition of the properties but that "real progress has been made" towards acquiring them.
"There are three core revenue streams -- media, commercial and match day," said the noted Harley enthusiast. "Our media and commercial revenues are very impressive but where we fall behind is our match day revenues. Having a bigger stadium and playing in the Champions League are two mechanisms which would dramatically change our fortunes. We're determined to press on with the stadium solution. It's in the hands of other people but hopefully we will get there and deliver what our fans want."
FSG are firmly in favour of the proposed Financial Fair Play legislation from UEFA, which has as its basis, an intention to ensure that all clubs operate within their means. The rules, which most remain highly skeptical about, will come into play fully in the 2013/2014 season. On a basic level these rules will state that a club must break even over a three year period or suffer sanctions like exclusion from European competition. Ayre points out that LFC are well positioned for the arrival of FFP.
"We are in a very fortunate position in that we generate some of the highest revenues in football despite having not been as successful on the pitch as we would have liked in recent years. We also have a huge fan base around the world. We've sold 100,000 tickets at the MCG in Australia this summer and there has been a similar demand for tickets for the other pre-season tour matches in Jakarta and Bangkok. That bodes well in an FFP environment."
All of this, of course, is reliant on the stringent enforcement of the rules, by UEFA and Ayre himself admits that they will only work if there are "sanctions for those who don't abide by them." Cynical old curmudgeon, I may be, but I wince at any future in which the welfare of Liverpool Football Club is dependent on the efficient machinations of European football's governing body. Already, the financial mavens at the Premier League's biggest club's have begun to plot ways of circumventing these rules. Let us hope, that by pinning their hopes on being UEFA's prize pupils, Liverpool Football Club are not being unwarily credulous. Further stagnation is not an option.