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Having failed to modernise at the same rate as their Premier League rivals when the going was good, Merseyside's best are progressing slowly in their attempts to catch up

SPECIAL REPORT
By George Ankers

More league titles have been won in Liverpool than any other city in England. Twenty-seven, it boasts, to Manchester's 23 and London's 19 – but none since 1989-90.

That particular corner of the world respects its history in a manner rarely paralleled, as it should, and there have been close calls and cup triumphs in between, here and there. But a place of such footballing pedigree expects and deserves more.

On Saturday lunchtime, Everton and Liverpool will convene at Goodison Park for the latest in what locals will argue is the purest derby to be found. But it will be played at an old venue – a bit shabby, with restricted views from many of the 40,000 seats.

On the same weekend, in London and in Manchester, Arsenal and Manchester City will welcome their latest visitors to their ultra-modern stadiums. They will welcome many more executives, sponsors and VIPs into their extensive facilities. And they will make a lot of money in doing so. It is here that the Merseysiders most notably fall behind.

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When Sky's TV money flooded in in the early 1990s, Liverpool were still the biggest dogs in the kennel but, since the rebuilding of the Kop and 1998's new Anfield Road End upper tier, the Reds have failed to drag their ground as far into the 21st century as their rivals. Goodison has seen no major work since 1994.

Between then and now, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea have all rebuilt or redeveloped to great effect. Man City and Tottenham are set to push ahead with their own projects in 2014. But both Liverpool teams are still waiting to get their own belated plans off the ground.

Updated facilities can make a serious difference. In their 2011-12 accounts, United posted £99m worth of matchday and gate income. Arsenal had £95m, Chelsea £78m. By contrast, Liverpool made £42m and Everton £17m.

The gap is clear and, as Tom Cannon, professor of strategic development at the University of Liverpool's Management School tells Goal, the Liverpool sides are losing out to their rivals.

"It's a much bigger issue for Liverpool because they could sit 50,000-plus in a stadium and probably could accommodate the same executive facilities – and fill them – that you see at Old Trafford and the Emirates Stadium," he explains.

"You are probably talking about the difference between a stadium of 60,000 versus 40,000 so, I would imagine that Liverpool could be looking at the kind of revenue flows that are in the same ballpark as Arsenal – taking into account that Arsenal can charge London prices. You're probably talking, over a season, £10-15 million [of difference], even if they were paying interest off a new stadium and all that involves."

Liverpool's plan, however, is not to build a new stadium. With talk of a move to Stanley Park ditched, owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) have committed to a redevelopment of Anfield and the surrounding area.

CAPACITY CONUNDRUM

PREMIER LEAGUE STADIUM SEATS
Old Trafford
Emirates Stadium
St James's Park
Stadium of Light
Etihad Stadium
ANFIELD
Villa Park
Stamford Bridge
GOODISON PARK
White Hart Lane
Upton Park
St Mary's Stadium
Britannia Stadium
Carrow Road
Cardiff City Stadium
The Hawthorns
Selhurst Park
Craven Cottage
KC Stadium
Liberty Stadium
76,212
60,355
52,387
49,000
47,726
45,362
42,788
42,055
40,157
36,310
35,303
32,689
28,383
27,033
26,828
26,500
26,309
25,700
25,404
20,532
But getting a green light on the project is a slow process. A grand plan to rejuvenate the area with Liverpool City Council, a mammoth £260m project of which £150m will be put towards the club's involvement, has been announced but negotiations remain ongoing with the owners – at least, those who can be found – of the 30 remaining vacant and derelict properties needing to be bought up so that they can be demolished.

It is only a matter of time – in October the council gave itself the power to use compulsory purchase orders as a last resort should agreements not be reached – but it was long overdue to begin with and will take time to bear fruit.

The revamped Anfield would seat around 60,000 fans but Professor Cannon adds: "The big thing is not so much absolute capacity, it's the share of capacity which is given to executive facilities - what Roy Keane would call the prawn sandwich brigade – and Liverpool probably could move from 100 to probably a couple of thousand of those kinds of facilities, because of their global reach.

"To compare with Arsenal in terms of their surpluses, bearing in mind that they're not in London, let's say it takes them two years to redevelop Anfield then the new stadium will be generating additional income within three years.

"And, of course, a lot depends on the structure of the borrowing by FSG when they invest in the new stadium. If the development starts soon, I would expect them to compete in the transfer market within the next three-to-five years."

Though staying at historic Anfield rather than building anew might be considered a gamble, Reds fans will be confident that John W. Henry is the man to oversee it.

When his FSG bought the Boston Red Sox in 2002, the baseball franchise's iconic but small and ancient Fenway Park stadium was on the way out. All the talk had been of a New Fenway Park but, before long, Henry spearheaded a $285m renovation that extensively modernised the arena and commercially capitalised on its history and character. More than ever, Fenway Park is seen as a real 'experience' for spectators.

While Liverpool have a blueprint to follow, Everton's aim is to start afresh. A groundshare is all but completely ruled out given the Reds' redevelopment plans and chairman Bill Kenwright told the club's EGM in June that progress is being made on a new stadium.


"It will pay for itself. It's actually a positive. It's one of the reasons we are doing it ... the number of properties is being reduced. The Council is doing everything they can"

- John W Henry on redevelopment

Money is the key but does that mean that Everton, who have long been openly for sale if Kenwright can find the right suitor, need to find a buyer before they can do what needs to be done?

"I don't think it's that, actually," says Professor Cannon. "They're quite a long way down the road in terms of a new ground.

"A new buyer is unlikely, in the current climate, to come in before they've got a new stadium so all their efforts are directed towards finding the right location and constructing the financial package to do that.

"Out of London, significant overseas buyers with a lot of money predominantly come in where there's a stadium in place. They want to invest in the playing staff rather than the building costs – certainly, if you look at Manchester City and Sunderland."

However, as chief executive Robert Elstone told fan website Bluekipper in December, Everton cannot do it all on their own dime.

"Like all new stadia developed over the past 20 years or so, it will require third-party support," he declared. "It will need an external boost of one sort or another from the private or public purse."

Although Kenwright will continue to spend the club's money wisely, highlighted by this summer's transfer dealings, Everton fans may have to brace themselves for even more frugal transfer business than usual.

"Everton's priority at the moment is to search for the resources to develop a new stadium," remarks Professor Cannon. "Probably not to a much greater capacity than they currently have – I think they'll be looking for possibly 45,000 – but, again, quite a sharp shift in balance towards executive facilities.

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"The priority for Everton is not so much bringing the capacity overall up to 50- or 60,000 but ensuring that they can get a much larger array of executive facilities because, frankly, that's where the serious money now lies in football.

"And, of course, the other big factor for both clubs is getting into Europe, not only with the BT deal for the Champions League but the likelihood that the next Premier League deal will see new levels of investment by Sky or BT to push the other one out of the market."

While both clubs are finally doing something about the infrastructure that has held them back for so long, then, progress is coming slowly. The Reds are likeliest to catch up quicker but there are years yet to come of lagging behind the biggest spenders.

Which makes it all the more vital that both continue their early-season success. Brendan Rodgers' plan appears to be coming together and now is as good a time as any to nail down a top-four finish.

Everton, too, hardly had any right to land so neatly from losing their manager of 10 years. This time next year they surely will not have Lukaku on their side – now is the time to capitalise and secure Europa League football again in a period when every penny will count.

The Merseyside derby remains one of the highlights of the Premier League calendar. But this Saturday, unlike those long past, will not be a duel of heavyweights. For the next couple of years at least, this fixture will be a tussle to see who best can rise above the pitch on which they play.

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