Thirty-three football grounds in seven days – Day 2, 9th September 2022: Liverpool

  • 3. Anfield Road
  • 4. Goodison Park
  • 5. Prenton Park
  • 6. Bramley-Moore Dock

The evening’s match at Prenton Park between Tranmere Rovers and Stockport County was already called off last night; and soon all the league matches for the weekend, including the match at Barnsley for which we had tickets, are called off as well. It takes some hours before it is announced that ALL football is off, so we spend some time considering different non-league options, before we realize that we will just have to throw in a few extra ground visits to make up a full schedule.

Anyway, for today, I had already  planned to do Anfield Road and Goodison Park on the trip to Liverpool before the Tranmere Rovers match. But we have more time now, so there is time for me to go to the Manchester city centre to look for football books in the fabulous Waterstones.

On my flight to the UK, I had been reading a Danish novel about a street artist, battling it out with competitors to have her sign in the most prominent places of town. This makes me look at the ever present photos of the late Queen Elizabeth as street art. And as such, it is impressive. All electronic advertising boards display photos of and tributes to her. Estate agents put her portrait among the photos of estate for sale. And instead of the latest odds, the boards of bookmakers show portraits of the Queen.

Waterstones is still just fabulous, even though I have to go to the National Football Museum to get David Proudlove’s recently published book: “When the Circus Leaves Town: What happens when football leaves home”. But I get a few others at Waterstones as well – and warm to the sight of two of the late Dave Roberts’ books. His “32 programmes” is my favourite football book ever. I am truly devastated that he died of cancer last year. I had got into contact with him on facebook a couple of years ago and was so much looking forward to watching a match at Bromley with him one day.

Back in Irlam, we wait for Dale’s eldest son Callum to come from work, before we set off for Anfield Road, Liverpool. I have been a few times. The first match was back in 1981, but I was not really tuned into looking at the grounds and surroundings back then. I went again in 2013, and I found the area looking like a war zone. Row after row of empty, boarded-up terraced housing. The club had been buying up houses in order to make room for ground expansion. As the area deterioated with the many empty houses, local resentment increased. After the club’s plans had been put forward and heavily critized in 1999, alternative plans to build a new ground in Stanley Park and convert Anfield to a recreational area, Anfield Plaza, were put forward. In 2012, however, the new owners, the Fenway Sports Group, found the Stanley Park project too expensive and reverted to the expansion plan.

Soon, the council and Liverpool F.C. joined forces in a new Anfield regeneration project – and in 2016 work on the expansion started with a new main stand. It is really huge. As we drive up Walton Breck Road towards the ground, it towers above the street. And right now, they are building a new Anfield Road stand to match it.

Walton Breck Road, Liverpool 2022. Photo © Hans Henrik Appel

Ever since local brewer and conservative politician John Houlding bought the ground and rented it to Everton F.C. as a football ground back in 1884, Anfield Road has been threatening to outgrow its surrounding residential area. When the first stand was built in Kemlyn Road in the late 1880’s, the owners of the houses complained of the loss of daylight and the noise. But as they gave up their protests when they were presented with season tickets, maybe their biggest loss was that they could no longer watch the matches from their windows. In 1978, Liverpool made plans for expanding the Kemlyn Road stand, but the plans were stopped by the two Mason sisters, who refused to leave their home in the road. In the end, all the other houses were demolished, but the sisters held firm. As the club could not start building, the area around the sisters’ house was converted to an executive car park. It was not untill the Hillsborough diaster 1989 and the ambition to make the ground an all-seater stadium, that the sisters finally gave in to the pressure and moved out. The new Kemlyn Road stand was ready for Liverpool’s centenary in 1992.

On the other side of the ground, however, their seemed to be room for expansion. Houlding had only bought half a field, the other half being left empty. But when Everton won their first title in 1891, the owner of the field said that he wanted to sell it for housing. And, if houses were to be build, Houlding had to give up a bit of his field to make room for a road between the two fields. That would mean that the grand stand at Anfield would have to be taken down, as it bordered on the neighbouring ground. Houlding suggested that Everton were turned into a limited company, so they could raise the money to buy both fields (in fact, he had wanted it for a long time, so maybe he got his neighbour to make up the building plans to put pressure on the reluctant members of Everton F.C.) . Houlding would still maintain 50% of the shares and have a controlling interest in the club (and not have to listen to the growing number of members – liberal tea-totallers!), and at the same time get his investment back. The majority of the members revolted and moved to Goodison Park. Houlding, however, had already had Everton F.C. registered as a limited company, but he was not allowed to take over the name. So he changed it to Liverpool F.C. and started his own, rival club.

In this way, you can argue that it was the growth of Anfield Road with the erection of stands right to the very edge of the neighbouring land that led to Everton moving away and Liverpool F.C. being born. Houlding bought the empty neighbouring field. He didn’t build housing but left it empty, almost as a buffer zone for later expansions. The first one came in 1906, when Archibald Leitch built a new grand stand – without having to squeeze it in, as he had in many other grounds.

When I visited back in 2013, there was still plenty of open space around the ground on this western side, bordering up to the back gardens of houses in Lothair Road. But just about all the houses there were standing empty, waiting to be demolished to make way for the expansion of the ground. On this visit, I had taken a photo in Rockfield Road of the ground, just about visible above Lothair Road in the distance. I now take a photo from exactly the same spot (by Sybil Road). The entire Lothair Road has been demolished. The new stand of Anfield looks like the giant foot from the intro to the Monty Python shows, having trampled out the housing.

I had also taken a photo of Lothair Road, looking down towards the shops in Walton Breck Road. Again I go to (almost) the exact same spot to take a photo. It is not just the terraced housing in Lothair Road that has gone, also the shops in Walton Breck Road. The gigantic stand has completely taken over.

Maybe I am a romantic, but I find the architecture around 1900 so much more attractive than modern architecture. Looking at what Walton Breck Road used to look like compared with today, it just seems so anonymous and soulless.

I guess it must have been the council that has developed the plan for modern housing in the area. It is not just the housing in Lothair Road and Rockfield Road that have had to give way. On the northern side of Walton Breck Road, Bagnall Street, Baltic Street, and Gilman Street have been demolished as well. And on the southern side of the Road, the terraced houses in Venmore Street, Towson Street, and Hartnup Street have been demolished as well.

On a board in Walton Breck Road, you can find a sketch of the proposed vision for the area. There is still some way to go, but it is clear the planners want it to look like a modern City square rather than a late nineteenth century neighbourhood. It is probably great on a match day, but on days such as this, it feels lifeless and anonymous.

The famous Albert Pub is still here. But you wonder for how long. It looks weary, the inn sign is falling apart. I really do hope that it will prevail.

At the Anfield Road end of the ground, work on a new stand is in progress. They are keeping the old stand for as long as possible, the same way they have done at other grounds ever since stands got so big, that they could not just be erected during the close season from May till August.

Despite the gentrification of the surroundings, we agree that it is still not a place, where anybody would dare walk around on his own wearing a Manchester United shirt. It must have been the cue that a little boy around the corner has been waiting for. No sooner have the words been spoken than he appears around the corner, wearing a full, yellow Manchester United third kit. We look at each other – and then at a car that is just passing us with an Aston Villa streamer at the back. Maybe it is not that hostile after all.

We take a walk across Stanley Park to Everton’s Goodison Park – a doomed ground. I have been to four matches there, one in the lower section of Gwladys Street, three in the upper. It is one of the two remaining Archibald Leitch stands in the ground. Despite the restricted view, I just love it. In the lower section, the concourse is nice and spacy; but upstairs, you have a wooden floor, which completely alters the acoustics of the match. I just love it.

Even though the streets around Goodison are almost empty and quiet, it feels homely and friendly. And the knowledge that people are living in houses right up to the ground somehow make the area feel alive.

I had hoped that somebody would be around and that we could persuade them to have a look inside one of the stands. But there is nobody around. At Anfield there were a few security men telling us not to enter the car park, and there were quite a few football tourists with bags from the souvenirs shop. But there are just a few people living in the surrounding houses at Goodison.

We just take a walk around the ground to grasp the contrast to Anfield. The housing borders right up to the ground – and, of course, there is the St. Luke’s church right in the corner of the ground with the Everton memorial garden. I will have to dig a little deeper into whether Everton have had plans to do like Liverpool. To buy up housing and demolish it.

They did so around a 100 years ago, when they bought the houses on one side of the Gwladys Street to make room for their new stand. And in the late 1990’s, a couple of houses behind the Park End stand were demolished to make way for a car park. But it seems that Everton since the Taylor Report have only explored the possibility of moving to a new ground.

And this after Goodison Park, when it was built in 1892, was head and shoulders above any other football ground in the country. And in the early 1900’s, they got Archibald Leitch to draw up a master plan of four covered stands, making it the best ground in the country (although the new Highbury took over in the 1930’s as the most modern ground). At the time of the World Cup 1966, Goodison was still one of the top grounds in the country, and five years later, this was emphasized by the erection of the largest three-tier stand to replace the old main stand. Since then, however, the ground has changed little, with only the Park End being rebuild. On the one hand, this is why Goodison Park is my favourite ground. On the other hand, this is why they now have to relocate.

Having seen how the pubs and chippies around Maine Road have disappeared, I cannot help wonder, what will happen to the shops and pubs in Goodison Road, when the club leaves.

We walk back to Dale’s car via the Liverpool Cemetery, and then head for Birkenhead. The first time I crossed the Mersey.

It is almost 6 pm when we get to Prenton Park. We park in the otherwise empty car park by the ground, but a groundsman comes out and tell us that we can’t park there now. He is about to lock up the gate. I tell him that I have travelled from Denmark and planned to see the game – was there any chance, we could have a look inside the ground? He is great guy. As we have travelled to see his team, he stays on for 20 minutes and allow us inside.

Gate at Prenton Park 2022. Photo © Hans Henrik Appel

Whereas Anfield Road and Goodison Park have been two of the top league grounds since the 1890’s, Prenton Park did not become a league ground untill the expansion of the league with two third divisions (just after WWI). The current main stand was erected in the 1960’s, whereas the two end stands and the opposite east stand were all built in 1994 in wake of the Taylor Report.

The Main Stand, Prenton Park 2022. Photo © Hans Henrik Appel

The groundsman tells us that the owners are planning a new stadium, just across the Mersey from the new Everton ground! They think that the maintenance of the old ground is too costly, whereas a lot of the fans are furious, as the club is very much a community club. It certainly feels like that.

The Kop, Prenton Park 2022. Photo © Hans Henrik Appel

I walk up the stairs of the big Kop stand. From there, I can see over the top of the Borough Road Stand to the housing across the street. Behind the stand at the opposite Cowshed End, you can also see the housing. This must be a wonderful place to watch your football.

The Borough Road Stand, Prenton Park 2022. Photo © Hans Henrik Appel

Apparently, I am not the only one to think so. The groundsman tells us that when Tranmere are playing at home and Liverpool do not have a match, Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp usually sneaks into the ground just before kick-off. He likes the atmosphere of lower league football. After hearing yesterday that he brought Rose flowers when playing Manchester City, this gives me even more respect for him.

The Cowshed End, Prenton Park 2022. Photo © Hans Henrik Appel

It may be costly to maintain, but the main stand from the 1960’s just looks so much more welcoming and inviting than some of the more modern grounds, that we visit the following days. I had Prenton Park on my list of grounds to visit for a match; but the intimate feeling of the ground being the very centre of the local community combined with the news that the days of the ground may be numbered make it move into the top 10 grounds on my list.

We tell the groundsman that we intend to have a look at Everton’s new ground next. He advises us to do it from this side of the Mersey. You cannot get near enough to see anything really, and from this side, you have a good view. He goes regularly to take photos of the progress. But we have better hurry up, before it gets dark.

There is just time to get round the ground and take some pictures before we head to the area, he has recommended us to go to.

When we get there, the sun has set and it is getting dark. With a proper camera and in daylight, though, this is the place to take some cracking photos. The new main stand of Anfield rises dominantly in the distance, whereas the new Everton ground will get to dominate the waterfront, once completed. And between these two, you can see the top of the three-tier Goodison main stand from 1971. Three grounds in one view. And when Goodison Park has been demolished, a new Tranmere Rovers ground might make it possible to see a similar sight in the future.

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