With Thursday’s announcement that Everton’s new stadium at Bramley Moore Dock will have a proposed capacity of 52,000, it is pleasing to see the club refuse to get carried away with such a monumental project.
Among the folk disappointed with the size of the new ground, which the Blues should move into early next decade, their main gripe was that the club sold them a dream of an even bigger arena, nearing, if not surpassing, the 60,000 mark.
Yet the fact that Everton’s new home will have the potential to increase its capacity by up to ten thousand more shows the club are approaching this in a practical, professional fashion. In truth, on matters as polarising as this, the entire fan base would never have been satisfied regardless of the announcement.
Even with a current capacity at Goodison Park of roughly 40,000 seats, a season ticket waiting list of 10,000 and, of course, the away fans’ allocation of 3,000, to move into a stadium with 20,000 more seats would have been a dangerous leap for the club to take from the offset.
Until Everton move house, we can never be categorically sure just how big a ground they can sell out on a regular basis.
Given the above figures, though, 52,000 seems more than feasible, and as a season ticket holder myself, I know I would rather sit in a full stadium with a raucous atmosphere than in a ground larger in size but also greater in empty seats.
It is better for Everton to test the water with this idea, as it is so crucial to the club’s future that it is an opportunity they can ill-afford to squander.
It is not like taking a risk on a player or a manager, where the club will only benefit from an investment for a finite amount of years; this is a decision that could dictate Everton’s future decades down the line.
With architect Dan Meis spearheading the project, and with the club having been sensible enough to gauge fan opinion in the recent ‘The People’s Project’ meetings, every sign emanating from Everton is that those in charge of this development know what they are doing.
Any dissatisfaction among fans from today’s news should be tempered with a sense of relief that the club are intent on delivering a stadium that fuses the fan’s desires with a degree of realism. 62,000 may not be attainable from day one, but 52,000 surely is.
Goodison could never be replaced, but Meis and co. seem the right fit to build something as close as possible to the ‘bear pit’ that is the Grand Old Lady. That, ultimately, is far more of a necessity than the number of seats inside the new ground.
The sorry stories of West Ham United’s lifeless Olympic Stadium (coupled with its design patently ill-suited for football), or the hardships Manchester City are facing generating a rousing mood inside the recently-expanded Etihad Stadium despite lifting trophy after trophy, are hazardous paths Everton must avoid to make a success of this project.
If they were to dive straight into the deep end with this, they could well end up falling flat on their faces.