Everton’s new stadium: can football be a force for good?

As Everton announces plans to move to a new-build stadium on the Mersey Docks, John P. Houghton – consultant (and Liverpool fan) – argues for the ‘people’s club’ to pioneer football-led community regeneration.

Everton Football Club were on the front pages this week following Kelvin McKenzie’s bigoted attack on one of their homegrown young players, and the club’s subsequent decision to ban his publication from their premises. Meanwhile, a much lower-profile decision, made a few weeks earlier, has the potential to transform the fortunes of the club and the city as a whole.

Everton styles itself as the ‘people’s club’ on Merseyside; more community-minded club and supported by the locals, as opposed to the commercial outfit followed by tourists and day-trippers on the other side of Stanley Park. Its intention to move to a new-build stadium on the Mersey Docks is an opportunity to add real substance to the claim.

The re-location, which is now formally supported and financially backed by Liverpool City Council, is part of the ‘monumental regeneration scheme’ of both sides of the River Mersey that is led by Peel Holdings.

‘The construction of a new development – sport stadium, shopping mall,

culture quarter – does not equate automatically to urban regeneration’.

However, it’s absolutely crucial to recognise that the construction of a new development of any kind – sport stadium, shopping mall, culture quarter – does not equate automatically to urban regeneration. This is particularly true of football grounds. Look at the new stadiums erected for the World Cup in Brazil, the mixed fortunes of the Plaine Saint-Denis development in Paris and, closer to home, the limited local impact of the new Wembley.

If it is prepared to be ambitious, the ‘people’s club’ could pioneer football-led community regeneration where others have failed. Learning from the above examples and others, there are four connected components to achieving this.

  1. Be a great, not just a good, citizen by going beyond your obligations in terms of local economic and community development. Among other practical measures, this could mean paying the living wage to all direct and supply chain workers and instituting an active apprenticeships and trainee programme in all aspects of the club’s business, from sports science to ground maintenance.
  2. Use your purchasing power to create and sustain local jobs. Neil McInroy, chief executive of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (Cles), has argued that ‘procurement is the new regeneration’. In other words, with no ‘special funds’ available anymore, the pressure is on local institutions to bend their spend in ways that boost local economic activity. For a club like Everton, this means using its budgets in areas like catering, security, repair and maintenance to buy from local providers.
  3. Open your infrastructure by offering space within the new development to social enterprises and small business. Given their local rootedness, clubs can act as ‘anchor institutions’ to local organisation, providing a part -time base for activities that benefit local fans and the wider community.
  4. Energise and connect. The spaces around most football grounds on non-match days are dead zones. One of the reasons Wembley did not generate the hoped-for wider area regeneration is that the environment around the stadium was uninspiring and unwelcoming. There was no reason to go there. Investment in imaginative public art, provision for market trading, and local history tours are but three things that can energise the surrounding space and create a connection between the people and the ground.

As well as helping its own supporters, being a pioneer of community regeneration is a chance for Everton to put one over their city rivals. I took a Scandinavian architect for a stroll around Anfield last year. He compared Liverpool’s ground to an alien spaceship hovering above a city; dominating the skyline, but disconnected from daily life. Everton could achieve the opposite by making football-led community regeneration a reality and demonstrating that it really is the ‘the people’s club’.


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james Williams
james Williams
7 years ago

Enjoyed the article. Definitely a big opportunity for a football club to set a new standard and create a new model for maximising social value. Everton make a fantastic contribution to Merseyside the Everton Free School being a great example wor king with more challenging young people.

John P. Houghton
John P. Houghton
7 years ago

HI James, Thanks for the comment. The opportunity / potential of football clubs to play a really significant is what is so exciting. I will do more digging into Everton Free School to find out more. Thanks for the pointer too.

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