Liverpool snub rivals' plan to share new ground

Everton's hopes of moving to a bigger stadium are dealt a second heavy blow inside a week
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The Independent Online

Everton's week went from bad to worse yesterday when Liverpool dismissed their rivals' hopes of agreeing a ground-share deal. Following the government's rejection of Everton's plans for a new stadium at Kirkby on Wednesday, there was some hope at Goodison that a new home shared by both clubs could offer salvation.

Everton, who face Liverpool on Sunday in an already tense derby between two sides under mounting pressure, had believed a new 50,000-seater stadium in Kirkby would be a major lift in their struggle to stay among the Premier League elite, but have always been open-minded about the idea of a ground-share.

Their chief executive, Robert Elstone, said yesterday that it was now an option for a club with such a history of "creativity and innovation". The idea would be the most radical of its kind in British football, though Elstone said: "If we are the first major English club to look at sharing then we're not scared of making those decisions."

But Liverpool are not prepared to contemplate sharing with their neighbours, despite problems getting their own new Stanley Park stadium off the ground. The view from Anfield is that the credit markets are easing slightly, that there is some prospect of work beginning on their new stadium next summer and that after so many years of difficulty attempting to get the stadium built, going into partnership with Everton now is unthinkable.

Liverpool's rejection leaves Everton, whose depleted squad are four points off the relegation zone after the dire 3-2 defeat at Hull City on Wednesday, back at the drawing board in their attempts to create a facility big enough to bring their match-day revenues somewhere nearer to Manchester United and Arsenal, who earn three times Everton's £900,000 match-day takings.

The club had hoped that a purpose-built stadium at Kirkby, part of a development presented to planners by Tesco and centred around a 15,000sq m superstore, would be approved, but communities secretary John Denham formally announced the rejection of the proposal yesterday – almost entirely on the grounds that the retail development would be damaging to surrounding towns.

Theoretically, Tesco can appeal and seek a judicial review of government-appointed planning inspector Wendy Burden's conclusions, which Denham has supported. But since one per cent of such cases have been overturned on points of law at judicial review, this is unlikely in the extreme.

It is also highly unlikely Tesco, which is considering the detail of the judgment, would reduce the size of the retail development to help overcome Burden's objections. Everton must now go back to Liverpool city council, who strongly opposed the Kirkby plan, in search of a Plan B. The council has offered Everton several city sites in the past but would be unwilling to allow the kind of retail development which made the Kirkby project remotely economically viable for Everton. Even with Tesco's willingness to plough £52m into Kirkby, Everton would have had to find £78m.

Everton said they would be talking "almost immediately" with the council and Elstone is understood to have started that process at Wembley yesterday where he, Liverpool managing director Christian Purslow and Liverpool city council leader Warren Bradley were present to deliver their host city bid for the 2018 or 2022 World Cups. Ironically, the Kirkby stadium plans formed part of that bid.

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