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Relocation Dissertation: Part 2

Discussion

This chapter will interpret the findings in the previous chapter in the light of the literature studied.

Liverpool is rapidly becoming more cosmopolitan and is developing vastly. The two main contributing factors to this are: firstly, the universities in the city, with the numbers of students rising dramatically in the past couple of decades. And secondly, Liverpool being voted European Capital of Culture for 2008, meaning the city has been the recipient of billions of pounds to redevelop many parts of the city. Liverpool had always been a predominantly working class, industrial city, with some of the largest docks in the land. This has led to very tight-knit communities throughout the area; where each community would have its own shops, schools, churches and football stadium. As Coakley (2003: pg 10) describes, sports ‘are constructed as people interact with one another’. However, the recent development and transformation of the city is beginning to erode the historic and traditional communities which wove the fabric of the culture within Liverpool. This paper argues that the relocation of Everton Football club would speed up this erosion of communities and localised culture, community, identity and pride in the area. The relocation is symbolic of what is taking place on a larger scale in Liverpool, as the supermarkets and mega-stores are replacing the traditional local ‘corner shop’ which has provided for the community for centuries. For example, St. Domingo’s church where Everton had its origins was knocked down to make room for small local businesses which were owned and run by locals, for the local communities. These small local-run businesses, however, are now being replaced by impersonal money-making schemes where there is no sense of belonging, identity or community.

There would be a vacuum created in the community. Some would argue this loss of identity amounts to no more than sentimental personal memories, built up over many years and encapsulated by the football stadium. Others argue that it is all about this great club’s history and heritage, which are the cornerstone of Everton Football Club.

The findings clearly show that Everton remains a very local club, being situated in a residential area, and at the heart of the community. The majority of Everton fans have always been local, or have had local connections, whether that be relatives growing up in the area and have since moved. Relocation could see a new ‘breed’ of Everton fans, however - fans that follow the team because they like the image of a club with a brand new stadium. This is not necessarily a bad thing financially, although it would inevitably result in the historic identity of the club fading dramatically.

It is becoming apparent that there is increasing worldwide interest in the club, as sponsorship deals from the Far East have generated huge interest in the club. This is evident on match-days as more and more tourists attend matches. This in itself is not a bad thing at all, as it is generating more local business, and helping the smaller outlets such as the programme stalls and food stalls. However, relocation would inevitably generate even more interest in the club from around the world, which would result in the stereotypical Evertonian changing.

As the findings indicate, Everton Football Club has long been nick-named “The People’s Club” due to such strong links between the club and the community; the people. St. Luke’s Church is just one example of such close links with many programmes and events being run by the church for the club. The Christian ethics which undergird the club’s origin still continue today. This is apparent, for instance, by Everton being the only Premiership Club in the country which will never have a lunch-time kick off on a Sunday. The care for former players is another prime example of the ethics on which the club was founded. Everton Football Club relocating could potentially reap financial rewards, but it would be selling the soul of the club.

Everton is an icon of stability in the community. If the club moves, the link between St. Luke’s church and the club will be broken and so the ethical foundations of the club will be broken. Furthermore, the focal point of the community will be rendered void and this would have to be replaced with something else. A new stadium might be built in two or three years, but the tradition of the present club took 128 years to form. A stadium is not just bricks and mortar; it is the embodiment of a corporate identity which takes time to develop.

The local community has always supported Everton, and the club has always supported the community. The move away would send a message to the local community, an already predominantly working-class area, that the club does not need them; the pride of the community will disappear. Instead, Everton will be driven by commercialisation and globalisation. It will lose its uniqueness – a value beyond money.

If the club relocates then there will inevitably be social consequences. The Walton area will lose the heart of its community, and the findings suggest that this will lead to the demise of the area. This, in turn, will very possibly result in an increase in crime in the area. The findings of this study indicate other negative effects of a relocation of the club. For example, many, if not all, of the small businesses in the community that part-rely on the football club to survive will have to close down. However, it is this very interaction of Everton Football Club with the community, local residents, shops, churches and all the other aspects of the community that makes the club what it is - unique. That gives it enormous value in the face of just “another” commercial giant. Should relocation take place, the site where Goodison Park is now, will be sold and probably turned into another supermarket or mega-store? This also would have a detrimental affect on the community, as people residing outside the community would be drawn to daytime employment there. Such stores may also provide the local community with replacement jobs, but these would not be of the same close-knit nature as when they worked in connection with the club and so the unique identity of the area will brake down further. The centrality of football as a means of cohesion in the community will have been hi-jacked for commercial ends.

Moving stadium, however, is no guarantee of financial rewards. This is very evident with a number of other clubs throughout the football leagues who have relocated and found themselves tens of millions of pounds in debt (examples being Derby County Football Club, Leicester City Football Club and Manchester City Football Club). The level of risk, naturally, depends on who sources the finances for a new stadium. The recent investment into Everton would suggest this may not be such a problem. However, it is still not a certainty that financial rewards will be reaped.

The community aspect of Everton Football Club has created a strong bond between the club, its supporters and the location. Are these inseparable? The Everton board has to decide what is more important; the history and tradition of Everton which make it the club it is today; or the potential financial rewards and growth of the club resulting from a move to a new site.

Conclusion

The question and aim of this study was to ascertain the affects Everton Football Club relocating away from Goodison Park would have on the community in the immediate vicinity of the ground. The main findings showed that relocation would have several negative effects on the community, namely: · A significant reduction in local community work connected to the football club. Most of these projects would inevitably move to the new location. · A slowing down and possible disappearance of much local trade and business. All Everton-related stalls, local pubs and chip shops etc. would be rendered bankrupt. · Loss of the unique identity of the club due to its heritage and history in its traditional area. If the club is removed from its "people", it could be come like a tree without its roots. · A breakdown in community cohesion, resulting in a rise in crime; exodus of local residents, fall in property prices. These would together provide a recipe for a high-risk inner-city area. · The breakdown in the traditional values and morals which have underpinned the club’s foundation, due to its strong links with the church. The strength in this partnership would be lost thereby weakening the very foundations of the club.

The discussion also highlighted the changes that will come in as a result of ‘selling the soul’ of the club for the sake of financial profit and globalisation. There is a lot of pride in Liverpool with the city having two of the most successful football clubs in the land. The fans in Liverpool have largely supported one or the other of the two clubs. However, relocation would almost certainly mean Everton leaving the city of Liverpool and becoming a Merseyside club. One evident result of this is that football fans in the city may not want to travel out of the city to watch Everton play, and may find going to watch Liverpool more convenient. This may result in a shift in the local support trends, with more Liverpool fans emerging. The question then arises as to whether Everton could fill a 60,000 seater stadium with the absence of its hitherto faithful local supporters. Even though EFC could potentially reap financial rewards, in so doing, would it not be selling its soul?

One solution might be for the club to offer concessionary or free transport to the ground on match-days as a goodwill gesture. It would be unwise to ignore the local fans that have helped build the stature of the club. With a change of identity, there may also be a call for a change in the name of the club. This has happened before in England. When Wimbledon Football Club relocated to Milton Keynes, the fans were not happy and so formed a new local football club calling it AFC Wimbledon. The original Wimbledon Football Club then had to change its name to Milton Keynes Dons Football Club. However, even if free or concessionary transport would help maintain the support of its Liverpudlian fans, a change in Everton’s name would no doubt work against this. And so this report concludes that although a relocation may result in financial profit for the club, the negative effects on the local community of Walton would be substantial. The question remains whether the local communities, already in danger of dwindling in today’s increasing globalisation should be sacrificed in the name of profit.

To bring this study right up to date, it has been reported over the past few days that Everton Football club has confirmed talks to move out of Liverpool to a new site in neighbouring Knowsley. Within a day of the news, the Everton chief executive Keith Wyness is attempting to calm fears of fans over the planned relocation. Although Wyness admits that ‘in terms of transport links and the financial package’, it is a good option, he still adds, ‘but redeveloping Goodison Park may well be the way ahead in the end’.

Everton are considering the formation of a three-way partnership with Tesco supermarket and Knowsley Council to explore the possibilities of the new stadium being built in Kirkby. The location, though stated as only 4 miles outside of Liverpool, is in fact 8 miles from Goodison Park. This would be very removed from the greatest pool of fans; i.e. the local community surrounding Goodison Park. Without the provision of free transport it is unlikely that these fans from such an underprivileged area would travel on a weekly basis to Kirkby. However high the level of emotional commitment, it would become a financial burden as well the hassle of public transport.

However successful a three-way deal may appear, without the support of the "people", a brand new stadium might find itself half empty. It would be perhaps more appropriate to find a successful 4-way deal including the fans who give the club its popularity.

The debate has already met with heated anger, and as one shareholder points out: (See appendix 1)

"It would represent the erosion of our fan base. It would be the equivalent of us hoisting the white flag to Liverpool Football Club that they can "have the city".

In 2002 Everton fans had high hopes of relocating to the King's Docks for a new stadium. Although this did not materialise, it is easy to see that this would have been a far better site for the local fans, being in the heart of the city. To remove the club from Liverpool would also put an end to the rivalry with Liverpool Football Club which in fact creates a healthy "togetherness in football" which is unique to Liverpool.

The proposed takeover by Dubai's government investment of £200m to fund a new stadium in Stanley Park will hugely affect and pressurise Everton to also "upgrade”. However Everton presently fail to sell out Goodison Park every week, so it remains to be seen how they could fill a much larger stadium given the predictable loss of fans to Liverpool Club which will be THE remaining Football club in the city with a brand new stadium. A large part of the emotional ties for the fans are to the city of Liverpool which at present both clubs represent. If Everton is removed from the city, its supporters will dwindle inevitably.

The proposed three-way partnership would incorporate leisure and retail developments close to Kirkby town centre. Already it is being recognised as a welcome source of regeneration for Merseyside. The huge financial benefits for Kirkby are without doubt, but nothing appears to be said about compensating for the equally great loss to the community surrounding Goodson Park. It would appear extremely short-sighted to only consider the positives ahead without looking at the devastation it would leave behind.

As already mentioned, there are some things that cannot be instantly created by money and these are the unique characteristics of Everton Football Club. Over 100 years of tradition, stability, enormous “good" to the community are worth possibly more than a glitzy stadium. Is there a place for not "going with the flow" of "the bigger the better" and rather maintaining the uniqueness and irreplaceable qualities which give Everton Football Club its hallmark of being "the people's club"?

Evaluation of Study

This investigation filled a gap in existing research in this very topical area, and it has raised the pertinent issues which will inevitably have to be faced if and when a relocation of Everton Football Club away from its current home, Goodison Park does take place. It should be of interest to Everton football fans, the club and all parties involved in the relocation talks.

The interviews were conducted with six participants, all of whom have close links with Everton Football Club and the area in the immediate vicinity of Goodison Park. The sample was both purposive and convenient as all the subjects had very relevant links to the study topic and were easily accessible. This helped with the authenticity and validity of the study, whilst the pilot interviews conducted prior to the main interviews also added to the reliability of the study and helped eradicate bias.