This weekend's FA Cup quarter-finals will be hosted at four of the most historic football stadiums in the country, grounds so rich in memories they are regarded with a reverence that evokes the oft-made comparison between football grounds and cathedrals. Yet, if the host clubs have their way, all four would be rubble within a decade.
Anfield, Goodison Park, White Hart Lane and Stamford Bridge have each staged England internationals and FA Cup semi-finals; Goodision even hosted the FA Cup final. They were all on the CV of the great stadium-builder Archibald Leitch and their names are recognisable across the globe. Yet they each date back to the 19th century and the inner-city habitats that once served them so well now prevent the ground redevelopment necessary to earn their keep in the contemporary game. For each club a new stadium is the only realistic future, though Liverpool's newish owners are researching whether Anfield can be given a makeover.
The economic argument is compelling. Manchester United, who have been able to take advantage of Old Trafford's spacious location to increase capacity to more than 75,000, have a matchday revenue of £3.6m. Arsenal's move to the ultra-modern 60,000-seat Emirates not only brings in £3.5m each matchday, but is also a busy conference centre during the week. The club may not have won a trophy since leaving Highbury, but they are set up to prosper for decades.
Like Arsenal, Chelsea have levered their capital location to work the corporate and hospitality market and charge high admission prices, but with Stamford Bridge limited to 42,449 spectators they take only £2.4m each matchday. This, though, is significantly higher than Tottenham and Liverpool who make around two-thirds of that, with Spurs' ability to charge higher prices compensating for White Hart Lane's notably smaller capacity than Anfield.
Then there is Everton. Goodison Park was, notes stadiums expert Simon Inglis, "the first major ground in England." But that was in 1892 when Everton built it after leaving Anfield after a row with landlord John Houlding, prompting the latter to form Liverpool FC.
Goodison, 120 years on, is a much-loved venue and will host the most atmospheric Cup tie this weekend, but not for nothing do fans call it the "Grand Old Lady". As recently as 1989 it held 50,000-plus, but then came the post-Hillsborough Taylor Report with its insistence on all-seat stadiums. Goodison had more seating than most, but conversion cost the club 10,000 spectators without sufficient corporate facilities to compensate for the drop in income. In gate receipts, catering and associated income Everton now take £775,000 each match – half Liverpool's income, less than a quarter of Manchester United's – per game.
This cherished millstone is one reason Bill Kenwright has found it so hard to find investors. The Abu Dhabi United Group is understood to have looked at Everton before deciding Manchester City, with a new ground kindly donated by a local council that had built it for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, was a better proposition.
Everton have tried to develop a new and larger stadium twice in the past decade, at Kings' Dock and Kirkby, but planning regulations, a lack of finance and their own supporters' resistance have stymied these attempts. Due to David Moyes's ability to accept and work within the constraints imposed by Kenwright's refusal to put the club at risk, Everton have remained competitive, but every year they slip further adrift of the "Big Five" status they enjoyed when the Premier League was first mooted.
To outsiders the obvious solution is a joint venture with Liverpool. Everton were against this idea when it was floated a quarter-century ago but are more accepting now. Liverpool, however, wish to go it alone, either refurbishing Anfield as the American owners did Fenway Park, Boston Red Sox's equally fabled home, or re-activating plans to build a new ground in nearby Stanley Park, for which planning permission was first granted nine years ago. Both proposals are expensive, especially while banks are loth to lend.
Spurs are in a similar position. Planning is granted for a 56,000-seat stadium adjacent to White Hart Lane but costs are formidable. Hence chairman Daniel Levy's hardball tactics over the Olympic Stadium which, in the wake of the Tottenham riots, have wrested concessions from Haringey Council and the London Mayor. As theirs is the smallest arena, only the 12th largest league ground in England, the need to expand is urgent. So, too, at Chelsea, where a railway line, a cemetery, and the Chelsea Village complex limit expansion.
Chelsea are actively seeking a new site. Unlike the others money is not the problem, finding a location is. The Chelsea Pitch Owners rebellion was motivated more by a concern that the club would leave the immediate area than love for a ground which, unlike at Everton, Liverpool and Spurs, older supporters would barely recognise.
One significant aspect of the quartet's ambitions is that they all want larger grounds with at least 50,000 capacity. The most notable new stadium to open overseas this year is in Turin, where Juventus have swapped the unloved 69,000-capacity Stadio delle Alpi, which was only built in 1990, for a 41,000-seat arena. The club will own this stadium and therefore increase revenue, but it is hardly a statement of faith by Italy's best-supported club.
The chill winds of recession blow in England too but the major clubs clearly believe the future is in thinking big, just as it was more than a century ago. They were right then, but it has not always been so – Chelsea in the 1970s, and Spurs in the 1980s, had financial problems brought on by ground redevelopment. So while all four clubs know they cannot afford to stand still, they need to move with care.
1 Moyes breaks the mould by putting the FA Cup first
"The FA Cup is not what it used to be, clubs only care about the Premier League." How, then, to explain David Moyes fielding a weakened team in a Merseyside derby to protect key players for today's FA Cup quarter-final with Sunderland? A 17-year wait for a trophy, the last 10 under Moyes, has much to do with it, but how refreshing to see a manager prioritise silverware. Perhaps, come May, he will be able to avenge Tuesday's defeat with a full-strength side, at Wembley.
2 Blackpool won friends, but goal-shy Wigan survive
Blackpool scored 1.5 goals a game last year and went down. In seven seasons in the top flight Wigan have scored 251 goals in 256 games and, so far, survived. Is this a good thing?
3 Mkandawire is honoured for knife crime campaign
Congratulations to Tamika Mkandawire, who was voted PFA Player in the Community in the Football League awards. The Millwall player was honoured for campaigning against knife crime. Portsmouth's Joel Ward and Noel Hunt of Reading were runners-up.
4 Turner earns award for services to Welsh border
Also deservedly honoured at Sunday's dinner was Shrewsbury manager Graham Turner, one of the stalwarts of the game, whose contribution to football along the Welsh borders has been immense with Wolves, Chester and Hereford also owing him a debt. To judge from Shrews' promotion challenge the 64-year-old's enthusiasm and ability remain undimmed.
5 Disowning Richards is not enough – he has to go
Much as the Premier League attempted to disown Sir David Richards this week, it was notable that Fifa vice-president Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein (one of the governing body's few good guys) referred to him as "Premier League chairman" in his statement on the affair. Hiding him away will not work; Richards needs to be fired.
Everton v Sunderland
Odds Home 10-11; Draw 12-5; Away 16-5.
Kick-off Today, 12.45pm (ITV 1; Highlights ITV 1, 10.30pm)
Referee A Marriner (West Midlands)
Tottenham v Bolton
Odds Home 2-7; Draw 9-2; Away 10-1.
Kick-off Today, 5.30pm (ESPN; Highlights ITV 1, 10.30pm)
Referee H Webb (South Yorkshire)
Chelsea v Leicester
Odds Home 2-7; Draw 9-2; Away 10-1.
Kick-off Tomorrow, 2.05pm (ESPN; Highlights ITV 1)
Referee L Probert (Wiltshire)
Liverpool v Stoke City
Odds Home 2-5; Draw 7-2; Away 15-2.
Kick-off Tomorrow, 4pm (ITV 1)
Referee K Friend (Leicestershire)
Fulham v Swansea City
Odds Home 5-6; Draw 5-2; Away 7-2.
Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.45pm)
Referee M Halsey (Lancashire)
Wigan V West Bromwich
Odds Home 8-5; Draw 23-10; Away 7-4.
Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.45pm)
Referee M Oliver (Northumberland)
Wolves v Man United
Odds Home 8-1; Draw 4-1; Away 1-3.
Kick-off Tomorrow, 1.30pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 2, 10pm) Referee A Taylor (Cheshire)
Newcastle v Norwich
Odds Home 4-5; Draw 13-5; Away 7-2.
Kick-off Tomorrow, 4pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 2, 10pm)
Referee P Dowd (Staffordshire)Reuse content