Paul Wilson : Guardian January 20, 2008
Paul Wilson is a journalist for the Guardian newspaper. He is also not a fan of moving Everton to an out-of-town stadium. He wrote this:
Arsène Wenger - what a star. Not only did he do his bit to boost the Capital of Culture 08 when generously describing Liverpool supporters as genteel, he simultaneously backed the Everton fans' campaign to stay at Goodison Park by suggesting their boxy old ground is more intimidating than Anfield.
Everton cannot possibly relocate to some soulless supermarket car park in Kirkby after that. This is the club that took a cue from a single soundbite from David Moyes in his first week on Merseyside and had banners proclaiming Everton to be 'The People's Club' draped all around their ground. If that was rather naff, it would be altogether more impressive and provocative were Everton to put up hoardings boasting: 'Noisier than Anfield - Arsène Wenger.'
It won't happen. Everton are going to Kirkby, their fans will eventually become as quiet and respectful as Liverpool's, and Portsmouth, Birmingham, Fulham and West Ham will be left as the only Premier League grounds where anything like the old raucousness remains. Well, perhaps not Fulham, because not even Wenger could ever describe Craven Cottage as intimidating. And perhaps not West Ham either, since Upton Park's none-too-gorgeous makeover. Fratton Park and St Andrew's still have plenty of individuality, though neither could be described as permanent Premier League fixtures. Pompey's future seems too closely tied to that of Harry Redknapp, while Birmingham will need all Alex McLeish's nous to pull away from the relegation zone. Both clubs have plans for new stadiums, but then the only clubs who don't have plans for new stadiums are Newcastle, Manchester United and Aston Villa. Everybody else is already in one.
Why is this worrying? Because all those overseas players currently helping to make the Premier League the most exciting and telegenic in the world, not to mention the Italian coach England have just recruited, say what attracts them to this country is the special atmosphere at English grounds. They don't mean it, of course - it is obviously the money that acts as the magnet - but it suits everyone and pleases the English to pretend that our football grounds, with noisy fans breathing down players' necks, offer a uniquely intoxicating experience.
This was only ever partly true, but it is such an ingrained idea we accept it without question and have begun to take it for granted. Indeed, we cling to it in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. There may be particular reasons why Old Trafford can be funereal during games, why Arsenal supporters take so long to come back to their seats after the interval, or why sections of the crowd at Newcastle are so high in the sky they are closer to the atmosphere of the moon than anything generated on the Gallowgate End.
It is also regrettable but true that most clubs outside the major cities have trouble filling their grounds, and swathes of unoccupied plastic seats do nothing to promote atmosphere either inside stadiums or on television. But when someone describes a football ground full of Scousers as genteel, it is probably time to sit up and take notice. Even if Wenger was joking or having a sly dig, he still has a point. Liverpool fans themselves will accept the atmosphere inside the ground is not all it used to be, though naturally they will not agree it is worse than at Everton.
Yet because Everton are on the cusp of a move and because most of their supporters oppose it (whatever club surveys may say), Bill Kenwright and his board have a chance to stand up for the soul of English football. If financial imperatives insist the club must relocate to a Kirkby trading estate, then so be it. They will move in the full knowledge that such grounds are unpopular with fans and players and they will be leaving behind at Goodison much of what is distinctively Everton.
The Arsenal manager says so, and he's French. When Arsenal moved, they only went round the corner, after all. Perhaps nebulous concepts such as atmosphere and tradition are too delicate to survive the Premier League's rush for money and perhaps it would be unfair to expect Everton to miss out, except that when stadiums such as Anfield and Goodison go we will all miss them. Maybe we will even miss Fratton Park. Because when everyone is playing in identikit stadiums on out-of-town retail parks, football will make less arresting viewing on television. And that could spell trouble.