Back Rockfield Road, Liverpool, L4, should be one of the most evocative football streets in Britain because, as you walk down it, the most famous piece of any stadium anywhere in England looms into view. That is The Kop, more than 100 years old, sitting practically at the end of the street.
It is one of those streets that you see in old black-and-white pictures of kids playing football in roads free of cars. To the right are roads of Victorian terraces and to the left are the backs of the grander houses of Rockfield Road. But supporters walking down Back Rockfield Road do not stop to admire the view. Rather, they keep their heads down and quicken their step. The area is virtually destitute.
I walked around there before the Champions League match against Lyons last week and stopped to read the notice in a small public garden, on a patch of wasteland near The Kop where the television vans are parked. The garden was planted by the children of the Anfield-Breckfield community and the sign asked politely for people to treat the flower beds with respect. It was a poignant oasis of order among so much urban decay.
The area north of the Anfield stadium, arguably the greatest, most authentic football stadium in the country, is in a desperate state. There are families living in streets where the majority of houses are boarded up and anyone playing street football would have to be careful of the security spikes that line the walls around abandoned houses. It is not a vision of Britain in 2009 you will find in any tourist guidebook.
The question of blame for this awful mess on the doorstep of one of our most famous clubs is a delicate one. The city of Liverpool has had to cope with community disintegration on a huge scale, born of a population decline from 850,000 at its peak to 430,000 now, driven largely by unemployment. But one thing is certain. The longer the development of Liverpool's new stadium drags on, the slower the regeneration.
The lives of the people who live around Back Rockfield Road are not the responsibility of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, the co-owners of Liverpool. But these two Americans, who once promised a gleaming new 60,000-capacity stadium on nearby Stanley Park, should know that their failure to make good on that promise has a direct effect on some of the least fortunate people in the city.
Many Liverpool fans marched in protest against Hicks and Gillett yesterday and, for some of them, the issue of the new stadium relates only to their team, its success and the funds available to Rafael Benitez. But this is a great club of the people – a club with a conscience – and most Liverpool supporters will also recognise how crucial the new stadium is to the people who live around it.
One man who has never been afraid to remind Hicks and Gillett of their wider responsibilities is Peter Kilfoyle, the Labour MP for Walton whose constituency encompasses Anfield. He is adamant that a new stadium, as promised by Hicks and Gillett, is the area's best chance of a revival. It would encourage investment, perhaps even new hotels. At the very least it would put an end to the shame of fans approaching Anfield through some of the worst streets in the country.
Kilfoyle tabled a Commons motion in June to try to prevent the nationalised Royal Bank of Scotland refinancing Hicks and Gillett's debt. He hoped it would force them to sell up. But RBS went ahead anyway. "I'm not putting all the problems down to Liverpool football club, but there would be a lot of answers if they got their act together over the stadium," Kilfoyle told me this week.
He met Christian Purslow, the new managing director at Liverpool, for the first time 10 days ago and does not believe that anything will change with the stadium until the club is sold. "I have watched various dignitaries of the club over the years try to come to terms with the area," Kilfoyle said. "They seem puzzled by how the club ended up surrounded by destitution. But maybe that tells you more about football these days."
It is telling that when the government regeneration initiative, New Heartlands, embarked on compulsory purchase orders in Anfield, not one resident opposed them, unlike in the Edge Lane area of Liverpool where many locals fought to the bitter end. That would suggest that people around Anfield are as desperate to leave the past behind as the football club round the corner are to recreate their former glories.
The financial mess at Liverpool has many victims: the most obvious are the supporters who are watching as their club is squabbled over by its co-owners. But indirectly there are others too, others who are less able to organise themselves to protest.
On Tuesday night, many Liverpool fans were as generous as ever, waiting behind to applaud Lyons' fans and players for their last-minute victory. As those French fans streamed out on to Anfield Road, giddy with excitement at the victory, they will have reflected on the perfect night of European football.
If they walked past The Kop to catch a cab back into town they might have glimpsed the burnt-out roof of one house on Rockfield Road, a reminder that not everyone in Anfield has their hopes and aspirations measured out in the results on the pitch. For those people, Anfield is not just a place they visit for home games.
If Cole can grin and beard it to 100 caps he'll win over fans
Intriguing to read Ashley Cole pour his heart out to the News of the World yesterday, on why he thinks he is booed by England fans. "Some say it's because of what they thought happened with my wife, some say it was the football," he said. So it's either the alleged infidelity, the move to Chelsea, the arrest outside the nightclub or all of the above.
I have always admired Cole for his absolute tenacity as a player so here is some free advice. Ashley, you've won 77 caps for England. Hang on for another 23 and those discerning fans at Wembley will clap and cheer you just for warming up on the touchline, even if you grow a beard.
Gift of restraint will help England's bid to bag 2018 World Cup
"A handbag?" asks Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest, when she discovers that her prospective son-in-law Jack was a foundling, discovered in such a bag. Lady B might have the same incredulity about the decision by England's 2018 World Cup bid team to lavish £230 Mulberry handbags on Fifa executive committee (ExCo) members.
The 2018 committee has one of the toughest jobs because most people are convinced that England are a shoo-in to host the tournament. We are not. We might just lose it for a whole host of reasons including the – ahem – "unpredictability" of some of the ExCo characters. So let's give it our best shot but, please, no more gifts for Jack Warner.
Chameleon calmer Vidic
I don't wish to alarm Nemanja Vidic but, on Jonathan Ross's show on Friday, Boy George said that pictures of the Manchester United defender on his cell wall had "got him through" his prison sentence. That's got to be worse than Fernando Torres breathing down your neck.Reuse content