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Everton’s new stadium is the biggest opportunity in the club’s history

Move to Bramley Moore Dock set to transform the Toffees’ fortunes

Bramley Moore wall
Bramley Moore wall
Royal Blue Mersey

The news that Everton have reached an agreement to purchase land for a new stadium is one of the most significant moments for the club in recent times.

It brings to an end an often-desperate search for a new stadium that began more than 20 years ago when former chairman Peter Johnson first proposed the club move from Goodison Park in 1996.

However, the seeds for a potential move from Goodison were sown much earlier, thanks to the boardroom inertia in the 1980s and early 90s.

Goodison was one of the first purpose built football grounds in the country but precious little has been done to update it since the Goodison Road Stand was built in 1971.

As a consequence the ground began to fall behind the times, slowly at first, but accelerated with the advent of all-seater stadia in the 1990s.

The Taylor Report published in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster saw top clubs across the country convert their grounds to all-seater suitable for the modern spectator.

Everton demolished the old Park End Stand in 1994 but instead of building a two-tiered stand with corporate facilities the board decided on a (cheaper) single tier stand.

By going for the cheaper option Everton looked to have put the final nail in Goodison’s coffin, even if it has taken two decades for them to realise.

For if the Grand Old Lady was to be renovated the work should have begun a long-time ago, not least to try and create space around the ground by which to grow.

Liverpool spent 20 years buying houses behind their old Main Stand in order to demolish them and allow for building work last summer. In the process though they drove those communities into the dirt, with residents feeling bullied out of their homes.

EVERTON V WIMBLEDON
Goodison Park has witnessed some extraordinary matches, including Everton’s last-gasp escape from relegation against Wimbledon in 1994

Everton, with its prominent community programme, would never do something similar around Goodison.

Therefore the cost of rebuilding Goodison on its original footprint and –crucially – still playing at the ground while it was going on has proven prohibitive.

There have been some supporters who believe it is possible, though the club have never deemed it viable. Many involved knocking down the Park End first despite being the newest of the four stands, further highlighting the lack of foresight on the board’s part in 1994.

Instead alternative sites have been sought for a new purpose-ground to be built.

As mentioned Peter Johnson pushed for a move in the mid 1990s to a site near Kirkby golf course. The fans even voted in favour of the proposal, though financial problems and Johnson’s ultimate resignation in 1998 brought an end to those plans.

In 2001 new chairman Bill Kenwright wanted to move the club to a prime site at Kings Dock on the city’s waterfront.

It was a move that captured the imaginations of the supporters who envisioned their club – the original club on Merseyside – taking their place on the banks of the royal blue Mersey.

Everton were named as preferred bidder for the site and Kenwright even famously claimed the money was “ring-fenced”. But the Toffees ultimately couldn’t come up with the cash and they pulled out of the move in April 2003.

The smaller Echo Arena, a concert and conference venue, now stands on the site and acts as a downtown dagger through the hearts of all Evertonians who frequent it.

Four years later Everton announced a fresh set of stadium plans, this time at a retail park in Kirkby in partnership with Tesco supermarket.

The supporters were once again asked for their opinion and voted in favour of the move, though several fan groups smelt a rat and questioned the details of the proposals.

They doubted the financing of the move, labelled the “deal of the century” by former CEO Keith Wyness.

They also fiercely opposed Everton moving outside of the city boundaries to a desolate retail park out-of-sight and out-of-mind.

The government ‘called-in’ the Kirkby plans for public inquiry and were ultimately rejected in 2009.

Liverpool European Capital Of Culture
The Echo Arena at Kings Dock - A golden opportunity missed
Photo by Jim Dyson/Getty Images

With finances tight any talk of a new ground went quiet for a few years, bar the usual speculation – quickly dismissed – of a possible ground share with Liverpool.

Then there was Everton place, a redevelopment on land outside the Park End featuring offices, conference facilities and a museum.

Building work was delayed on numerous occasions for various reasons before being permanently put on hold. It later emerged that a charge on the land meant Everton were embarrassingly unable to build on it.

Then in 2014 it emerged Everton were exploring a site for a new ground at nearby Walton Hall Park, less than a mile from Goodison.

Local residents were fiercely opposed to the move, even though the plans included additional redevelopment proposals aside from just a new ground.

Funding remained an issue though with Everton appealing in vain to the local council for financial help.

All the while Goodison was crumbling and Everton’s rivals, with shiny new grounds and modern corporate facilities, were powering off into the distance.

No matter what they did in the transfer market or academy the club’s growth was always hemmed in by the limitations of their ground.

Everton v Hull City - Premier League
Dixie Dean will join Everton at their new home
Photo by Mark Robinson/Getty Images

It was with great joy, relief and excitement therefore when Farhad Moshiri swept into the halls of Goodison last February.

The Iranian-born businessman seems to have the vision, ambition and crucially the resources available to push Everton forward. The Toffees have lacked such drive at the top since John Moores was in charge in the 1960s.

The emergence of Bramley Moore Dock as a viable alternative is the chance of a waterside stadium dream we all thought had passed.

There is no doubt that leaving Goodison will be an emotional, gut-wrenching day and the club will never be the same.

But sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the greater good and if Everton are to reach the very top again, they need a ground fit for the modern era.

The Grand Old Lady has served her time with distinction; it’s time to pass on the baton.