Part Fourteen - Groundshare
Finally they have got the message and started making plans to move to Kirkby. As Gillett and Hicks agreed to underwrite New Anfield for Liverpool’s sole use, Everton announced that they were off to Kirkby with Tescos. It brought to an end nearly three years of begging, desperation and bitterness on their part at our refusal to let them join us in Stanley Park.
Liverpool were granted planning permission in July 2004, a year after Everton finally admitted they couldn’t come up with their share of the cash for the proposed 55,000 stadium at Kings Dock. Blues Chief Executive Trevor Birch wasted no time in making it known to us via the Daily Telegraph that he wanted to share the stadium that we had put so much time and effort into planning. “In the next couple of weeks I will make this proposal to Liverpool. We need a new ground and we know it makes financial sense to share” were his words.
At the time Everton’s debts were £30million, but Birch gave no indication as to how they’d find their share of the money, or explain why he was approaching the press over the issue and not us. Given that the Kings Dock scheme collapsed because Everton dallied over finding £30 million and had appeared to mislead their partners into believing that they would be able to do so, its not surprising that we told them were to go.
Rick Parry made it clear that any proposals Everton had were unacceptable to us. Given Everton only needed to find 20% of the Kings Dock cost to have 49% ownership and couldn’t even do that, it makes you wonder just what weird and wacky proposals they were putting to us. Parry also pointed out that we had spent millions already and the planning consent we had received was for one club use, so there. Birch was so upset at Parry’s rebuttal that he resigned and was replaced by fat buffoon Keith Wyness, who has provided us with lots of entertainment over various issues, groundshare included.
Despite Parry’s clear rejection of the idea, Wyness took only a few months to try his luck, telling the Financial Times in October 2004 that Merseyside was the one place where groundshare could work. Interestingly, despite selling Rooney for £30 million since their last rejection, Everton’s debt had still risen to £40 million. With such dire financial management, no wonder Parry was giving them such a wide berth.
Again, Wyness followed Birch’s tactic of going to the media before approaching us. By doing this outside influences could then start to lean on us, with sports minister Richard Caborn inviting both clubs to a meeting in Westminster. Out of courtesy Rick Parry attended this meeting in December 2004 to once again stress that Liverpool weren’t interested, citing our concerns that Everton couldn’t afford it. Rafa Benitez also made his opinions known, fearing that the pitch would suffer.
The city council had tried to steer us into exploring the idea as well, which is understandable as they can’t be seen to be offering favourable treatment to one club ahead of the other. But after we rebuffed Caborn, council leader Mike Storey admitted that it wasn’t going to happen, telling the Echo that it would be regretted in later years and that it couldn’t work if Everton were to rent or lease it from us. Once again Everton’s nerve in their expectance of us to give them half the thing was unbelievable.
Just as the council agreed that there was no point pursuing the idea any further and started looking for other sites to accommodate Everton, the North West Development Agency (NWDA) poked their noses in. Despite planning permission having been granted nine months earlier for a one club stadium, they decided in the Spring of 2005 that £20 million of public money earmarked for the project should only be used if the stadium was shared. The Chairman of the NWDA was Bryan Gray, who whilst Chairman of Preston North End FC appointed David Moyes as their manager in 1998. Draw your own conclusions.
To be fair to the Blues supporters, they have not been anywhere near as keen as their clubs administrators over a shared stadium. They have had the sense to see all along that in no way would Liverpool agree to any form of equal partnership and that in their eyes, the idea of renting from us was unacceptable. The club though have had no scruples about expecting us to bail them out, then going on to blame us for dragging their feet over whether they’d redevelop Goodison or move.
In December 2005 the Echo reported that Wyness couldn’t make any decisions on what to do about their ground plans till we knew for certain whether or not we’d be building New Anfield. At least by then though he had acknowledged that we wouldn’t be letting them play there, telling their AGM that he’d been informed it’d be “over Parry’s dead body”
Perhaps buoyed by Liverpool’s continuing delay in starting work as the cost of steel soared, new council leader Warren Bradley brought the issue back on the agenda in January 2006. An Everton season ticket holder, Bradley was probably sceptical of his own clubs financial capability to go it alone so said the council would do anything they could to help. But after another brush off from us they didn’t raise the issue again.
Finally when Gillett and Hicks took over they confirmed there was zip, zero, zilch chance of a groundshare, with Gillett telling reporters that he knew going ahead with such a scheme would get him lynched. He then went on to say that building work would start within two months, meaning the Blues finally realised their dream wasn’t going to happen.
So why have the Blues been so desperate to share our stadium and subsequently became so bitter when we refuse to entertain them? It is unbelievable that during the two years that they were conning the city over being able to afford to go to Kings Dock, they not once asked us if we wanted to join them. There were serious doubts over our scheme at the time, especially in respect of transport links and building on public parkland. Getting planning permission was far from certain and they knew that so they revelled in it as their scheme pressed ahead.
But the tables turned and they ended up in shit creek, meaning they have done nothing but try and obstruct and delay our own development ever since to try and get some attention themselves. Even as Gillett was sat in the press conference finally putting paid to their hopes, Wyness was trying to regain some limelight by submitting their fresh proposals to Knowsley council. Their refusal to play second fiddle and the bitterness that goes with it knows no bounds.