On an evening when folk from these islands had little to cheer due to the ineptitude of Messrs Hodgson, Trapattoni and Coleman, it was a tonic of sorts to discover the latest words from Liverpool owner John Henry on the state of play with regard to the long-awaited redevelopment of Anfield, both the stadium and environs. Liverpool fans are like the wary and long-suffering partner who has been repeatedly told by their lover that he/she will change, only for said wayward amour to make the inevitable return to errant ways. We are wary, cynical and justifiably troubled by dubiety.
The journey to this point of qualified optimism has been a troubled one, with previous incarnations of club ownership guilty of heavy-handedness, insensitivity and arrogance in their dealings with residents, businesses and fan groups alike. The most recent, Fenway Sports Group-backed plan has attempted to be more inclusive and and all-encompassing. The Americans have sought to liaise with politicians and housing groups in their attempt to honestly engage with those directly affected by the planned renovation project.
The £150m project is geared at increasing the capacity to around 60,000 via fairly stark renovations of the Main Stand and the Anfield Road Stand. The scale of the changes means that land and property must be acquired and the single most difficult issue has been the purchase of that property from residents either unwilling to move or unhappy with the price being offered. In the past, there was much talk of lawyers and Compulsory Purchase Orders but recent interactions have been more civil, if often strained.
FSG and Liverpool Football club have been working closely with Your Housing and Liverpool City Council on an ambitious plan to renovate and revitalise not only the stadium, but the surrounding area. Some work on this has already begun, with a new approach through Stanley Park just one of many proposed new features for the region. Tom Werner is said to have held talks with council officials last week and Henry's upbeat observations coming in the wake of those meetings must be seen as a positive sign for the project, going forward (sorry).
Giving a salutary lesson in using the correct language to navigate a potentially fractious scenario, Henry spoke about attaining his goals through co-operation, understanding, mutual respect and consideration. He's been here before, of course, having overseen the massive renovation of Fenway Park.
"We are making good progress," enthused the the FSG kingpin. "There are a lot of different groups working very well together and that's the key to a big project like this happening, when everybody is on the same page. When everybody is on the same page, we move forward. I think we were clear at one point that what made financial sense was going in this direction -- and this is the direction that makes financial sense for the club for a long time. Obstacles are being overcome."
Liverpool fans will remain understandably skeptical until a planning application has been submitted and then accepted, but despite the temptation to spin, Henry was pleasingly circumspect in his language. He could not, however, resist a little dig at his predecessors and one-time court combatants, Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
"We have always said that you have to have certainty with regard to the properties because of the height of the stand and all the issues regarding that. So that's been the biggest issue. We need certainty on that but we are making progress. It is actually a positive. That's why we are doing it.
"The previous regime were talking about going out and borrowing an enormous amount of money to build an enormous new facility," reminded Henry. "That's not what we're doing. One of their problems was that they weren't able to get financing. When this [the new Anfield development] happens, financing won't be a problem. Again, we just need certainty with regards to these properties and the number of the properties that are in question keeps getting reduced. The City Council is doing everything they can and that is all we can ask. Not just the City Council but Your Housing and the regeneration. Everyone associated with this -- we are all on the same page."
The easy thing to do here would be to wrinkle one's brow and assume a haughty detachment until there is something more tangible than Henry's words to cling to as proof of progress; and yet, this observer feels disinclined towards an overly cynical attitude. People have called for the right thing to be done by the residents. It would appear to be in train. Others have demanded more communication and leadership from Henry. He is attempting to give that. So, in the spirit of the positivity engendered thus far by Brendan Rodgers and his charges, let us hope that a redeveloped Anfield is not too far away. If nothing else, it will allow us to stop talking about it.