Liverpool £400m stadium plan doomed to failure as 'spectacular' Kop hopes dashed - Apkcombat

Liverpool £400m stadium plan doomed to failure as ‘spectacular’ Kop hopes dashed

It was 17 years ago today that Tom Hicks and George Gillett unveiled a futuristic Liverpool stadium – but it was doomed to failure

When Liverpool supporters return to Anfield on Saturday they will see the new £80m Anfield Road End take one step closer to being the finished article.

The redevelopment continues apace with the club hopeful of opening hospitality against the Clarets to push the capacity of Anfield up to 60,000. Some work still remains in the back rows of the upper tier and in the away end to take the capacity to 61,000, but the opening of hospitality means the club are edging nearer to completing a project originally planned to be ready at the start of the season.

Reds owners Fenway Sports Group have previously overseen the £110m construction of the current Main Stand with the experience around the ground having also been improved. But had former owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett lived up to their promises, Liverpool could have been playing in a very, very different home.

Seventeen years ago today, the Reds agreed a deal with the American pair and a year later unveiled grand plans to move out of Anfield and into a 60,000 all-seater stadium on nearby Stanley Park as part of a £300m investment.

“It’s very exciting and I think the designs are fantastic,” said then chief executive Rick Parry. “It’s a testament to the new owners and the architects they have brought on board. The architects have understood the challenge and understood the need to make the stadium uniquely Liverpool. It will sit so well in Stanley Park and will be an integral part of it.”

The designs, drawn up by Dallas-based architects HKS, were certainly unique. All four stands were intended to be deliberately different – a step away from the uniform ‘bowl’ approach of other new stadia at the time – with a vast single tier Kop, holding almost 20,000 fans, as the centrepiece.

“The whole stadium will be spectacular, but the Kop will be extra spectacular,” said Hicks. “Apart from the Kop, everything else about the stadium will be brand new. It’s futuristic, imaginative and very exciting. People who see it will think Liverpool.”

It wasn’t a surprise, given Gillett had stated the new owners’ views of a new stadium at their opening press conference in February 2007 when he infamously declared: “The spade has to be in the ground within 60 days.”

That was in reference to the already-existing plans, drawn up in 2003 by Manchester architects AFL, of a more traditional 60,000-seat structure on the same Stanley Park site. Initially due to be completed by 2006, the scheme was put on hold due to an inability to raise the £215m required before being reassessed and ditched by Hicks and Gillett, who wanted a grander statement.

“The construction will start as soon as practical,” added Parry. “We hope the new designs will find favour and excite the planners. Our aspiration is to be ready for 2010.”

Hicks and Gillett weren’t afraid to think big. “It’s designed to hold up to the high 70,000s,” said Hicks. “We have to go through an approval process to increase it to 75,000 or maybe up to 80,000.

“That will be done during the three-year construction cycle. We want to be competitive and we have over 60,000 fans on the waiting list. We need more seats so something in the high 70,000s would be better.”

But as with much of what the American pair promised during their ill-fated Liverpool ownership, it was all bluster rather than actual reality, the scheme doomed to failure although some reasons for which were out of the control of Hicks and Gillett such as the global credit crunch that, by the end of 2007, had seen the cost soar to £400m.

Final planning permission was granted in June 2008, which prompted some minor site preparation the following week. But within four months, Parry announced work had been paused due to difficult economic conditions.

And by the December, Parry admitted the plans would be “not quite as dramatic” as those drawn up by HKS and wouldn’t be completed until 2011 at the earliest.

The increasing financial travails of Hicks and Gillett and the in-fighting that threatened to tear the Reds apart meant the stadium was placed on the backburner as the very future of the club became under threat. And when the duo were ousted and replaced by FSG, the new owners announced in January 2012 they were ditching the elaborate HKS redesign and were again looking to the more conventional initial design for a new stadium.

Club accounts in 2012 revealed the entire botched enterprise had cost Liverpool almost £50m. And come the end of that year, FSG chose to permanently ditch plans to build a new stadium and instead concentrate on redeveloping Anfield.

Liverpool will next month reach the point Hicks and Gillett had envisaged 15 years ago by stepping out in front of 60,000 fans. Few, though, will quibble over the long wait given the anticipated end result. This is Anfield – and remains so.

A version of this piece was first published in July 2023

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