AFTER decades of broken promises, years of discussion and endless artist’s impressions, a new-look Anfield is finally a reality.
Liverpool face Premier League champions Leicester City in front of a brand new Main Stand on Saturday with outline planning permission in place to extend the Anfield Road end at a future date, although the club and the owners remain tight-lipped on whether that will actually happen anytime soon.
Anfield’s new capacity, of 54,074, is a far cry from the plans of 60,000-plus seater stadiums that were being touted back in the dark days of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, though the need for a new stadium and easier access for match-going fans goes back even further.
As far back as 1971, secretary Peter Robinson talked about the issue of demand being greater than supply and here we are 45 years later with the same problem only just starting to be truly addressed.
But it was just after the turn of the century that the plans for a new stadium started to be drawn up. At this stage the club announced that they were planning to build a 60,000-seater stadium on Stanley Park, with the potential to expand to 70,000.
Just under a year later they were considering ditching these plans in favour of moving to a 75,000-seater ground in Speke, in the south end of Liverpool — which didn’t go down well with many fans.
These plans were quickly abandoned amid fans’ concerns and it was back to the green land that divides Anfield and Goodison Park — Stanley Park.
Plans were drawn up again, alongside some artist’s impressions of what the new ground would look like, and it seemed as though the big move was just around the corner — with a planning application being submitted to Liverpool City Council for what was dubbed ‘The Parry Bowl’ by supporters, a design that with hindsight looks more Bolton Wanderers than Liverpool FC.
Proposed Liverpool ground 2002
The club managed to secure a lease on a site at Stanley Park but were struggling to cobble together the funding, as suitors were concerned about the club’s ability to go through with the project.
The word was that Liverpool needed an answer from potential investors in Dubai, before ordering steel to allow construction to begin. However the investors were stalling over negotiations to buy the club and the deal — along with the steel order — fell through.
Then the cowboys — Hicks and Gillett — came knocking, and so came the famous promise to have “a spade in the ground within 60 days”. An area of Stanley Park was actually fenced off for work to begin but the spade never did hit the dirt.
Then the new owners threw some new plans in the mix, drawn up by Dallas-based firm HKS. The more futuristic designs proposed another 60,000 seater, however the ground would now have the potential to expand to 80,000.
The Hicks And Gillett ‘Spade In Ground’ Stadium: 2007
Despite securing public funding, the plans — allegedly — quadrupled in price and so began the Americans’ excuses. Fans were starting to wise up no matter how often Mr Hicks gave fireside TV interviews in front of artist’s drawings of the super stadium that never was.
Hicks and Gillett were using the credit crunch as an excuse for the lack of progress on the construction of the new stadium, and it was clear that the promises of a new ground, or even the funding to pull it off, were never going to be realised.
Around this point there was a mad frenzy of new stadium ideas, from all corners, including bizarre ground share solutions with Everton popping up from a variety of weird and wonderful sources, including this comedy suggestion of a ‘Siamese’ ground.
The idea of ground sharing was encouraged by the former leader of Liverpool City Council Warren Bradley. He insisted that it would allow the clubs to thrive — and that without it they would not feature in the plans for England’s 2018 World Cup bid, as Anfield and Goodison didn’t meet FIFA’s stadium criteria.
Eventually the cowboys were chased out of town, as Liverpool won a High Court verdict to sell the club to New England Sports Ventures — with accounts, published at the time, showing that Hicks’ failed stadium plans had cost the club around £35m. The council wanted to know the new owners’ intentions over the plans, as it quickly became clear that John Henry favoured redeveloping Anfield.
The new plans for the Anfield Village redevelopment scheme were revealed and, despite early opposition from local homeowners, plans to expand the Main Stand and the Anfield Road end were revealed.
Soon after, derelict houses that backed onto the Main Stand were knocked down and construction began in December 2014.
As not to interrupt the action on the pitch, the steel structure was built around the old Main Stand, until the last home game of the season finished and the bulldozers moved in to knock down the old structure.
After agreeing to switch the Burnley game to be played at Turf Moor, the Reds are finally set to play their first game in front of the new stand — despite the finishing touches not yet being completely applied, with temporary changing rooms being used in the meantime.
When, and if, phase two — redeveloping the Anfield Road end — takes place, Anfield’s capacity could one day be close to 60,000.
Listen to the latest *free* Anfield Wrap podcast here: