Everton can make clever new stadium upgrades by learning from unexpected Premier League rival - Liverpool Echo

2021-12-23 06:32:49 By : Mr. Daosen Liao

The ECHO's Chris Beesley travels to London to go behind the scenes at the Premier League's two newest stadiums as work gathers pace on Everton's new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock

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With the first calendar year of construction on Everton’s new stadium drawing to a close – the Blues have just erected the first above ground structure onsite – Chris Beesley travelled to London to visit the Premier League’s two newest existing stadiums and what clues they might offer to a future at Bramley-Moore Dock.

Here is the first instalment of his two-part special.

A riverside site enclosed within a tight footprint, there are two similarities between the Brentford Community Stadium and Everton’s soon-to-be home at Bramley-Moore Dock for starters.

But while I can see the Thames when emerging up the stairs from the platform at Kew Bridge which lies a mere Jordan Pickford punt from Brentford’s tidy new ground, you’ve still got a walk of around five minutes until you reach the station’s granite structure namesake from which you can cross the river and heads towards the Royal Botanic Gardens.

The truth is Brentford is not going to rival either fellow west London outfit Fulham’s Craven Cottage or Everton’s new stadium on the banks of the royal blue Mersey when it comes to iconic vistas by the water.

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Even at street level, the stadium partly obscured by a building site of high rises between the exterior of the stands and the railway track beneath.

After taking the tube from Euston to Vauxhall – ironically the same name of the Liverpool district where the Blues are moving to – there’s a second journey of almost half an hour on South Western Railway to take us to this suburban corner of the capital.

The approach is deceptive though with this little hidden gem of a modern football venue as Brentford’s charm lies within.

While Goodison Park is unique for being the only English football ground to have a church attached – the famous St Luke’s – Brentford’s previous home Griffin Park could also claim to be a one off within the game for less reverential reasons as it boasted a pub in all four corners.

Given such cosy selling point, just how did the club make the adjustment of leaving their base of 116 years between 1904-2020 so smoothly?

Stewart Purvis the chairman of supporters club Bees United, explains.

He told the ECHO: “For all the love for Griffin Park, it was the fans who took the initiative in moving.

“Bees United took control of the club and set about doing a proper move in a proper way, finding the spare piece of land that is now the new stadium.

“When they realised what kind of financial commitment it would be, they thought they better bring in someone with a serious amount of money and that’s how they ended up with Matthew Benham as the owner.

“He told them, ‘to be honest, I’m not that interested in a stadium but if you want it, I’ll build it!’

“So it’s truly the fans’ stadium. There have been changes along the way but it’s pretty much how the supporters wanted things.

“While the leaving of Griffin Park was a big deal, we couldn’t get too upset because it was our idea.”

Purvis added: “Most people have tried to hang on to Griffin Park traditions. Three of the famous four pubs (one in each corner of the ground) remain and many fans still drink in them in the heart of Brentford before the 15-20 minute walk to the new stadium.

“It’s almost like Griffin Park is still alive and well, they just have to walk a bit further.

“We believe we’ve got the best of both worlds. We’ve got a stadium that is bigger than the one we had before but we’ve still got the atmosphere.”

Although in terms of capacity, it holds little more than Tranmere Rovers’ Prenton Park, everything at Brentford seems to be done efficiently.

It was built by Arup for £71million – that’s less money than Everton received from Manchester United for Romelu Lukaku – and they’ve made a little go a long way.

I ask about the inspiration behind the multi-coloured seat design, similar to that of Sporting CP’s Estadio Jose Alvalade in Lisbon and I’m told that it’s to give the impression at first glance on television that the stand is full, even if it’s not.

The stadium is shared with rugby union side London Irish but with Brentford having returned to the top flight for the first time in 74 seasons (only Bradford City, 77 seasons until 1999 was longer) while Swindon Town, Barnsley and Bournemouth were all promoted to the elite for the first time during the Premier League era, that’s not currently an issue.

Stadium size at Bramley-Moore Dock was something of a hot potato – Brentford’s fellow London clubs Arsenal, West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur have all supersized up to plus 60,000 capacities following their ground moves plus Everton’s neighbours Liverpool will do the same with their Anfield Road expansion – but while the Blues chose to settle for 52,888 (still in excess of their record average attendance to date of 51,603 in the 1962/63 title-winning campaign), there is scope for going bigger by another 10,000 seats in the future if desired.

The constraints of the site make that an extremely difficult if not impossible task given Brentford’s footprint so the club have had to look into alternative avenues for revenue streams.

Purvis said: “Before the stadium was built, there was a triangle of railway lines on the site with nothing, other than a few sheds, in the middle.

“The question was how to fit a stadium within that shape and what would be the problems of being by those railway lines.

“A young fan who was an architect worked out a way of fitting the stadium in plus some blocks of flats that were effectively paying for the project in a property deal. It’s all a bit of a pinch to fit it all in.

“However, we’ve probably got the best television gantry in the Premier League.

“It was done in the conscious belief that if you had really good facilities for TV, they would come more often and pay the extra money beyond the requisite number of matches so that should hopefully turn out to be a good investment.”

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That gantry, supplemented by two television studios, a pre-built cable network and ample outside broadcast compound which TV trucks can just drive into, all combine to make Brentford an attractive destination for broadcasters which is a distinct advantage when you’re one of the division’s lesser lights.

Not everything is perfect though and as travelling Evertonians found during their visit last month, lesser light could have been helpful.

While the horizon to the north when at the top of the South Stand offers views of Wembley’s Arch, away fans positioned in the corner of the East Stand are looking directly into low sunlight midway through a winter’s afternoon.

It’s another marginal gain for the hosts but given that this ground isn’t going to grow any bigger any time soon, you’ve got to learn to live with the elements (Evertonians in Bramley-Moore Dock’s West Stand by the Mersey might need to learn to wrap up warm).

The Blues are also preserving the Hydraulic Tower at their new stadium site as a nod to Bramley-Moore Dock’s past and there’s a similar sentiment at Brentford with the brickwork from an old stable wall that stood on the site now incorporated into a wall in the concourse.

Another nice touch is the Championship play-off trophy being displayed in a public area rather than being locked away.

Time will tell how long the Bees’ Premier League odyssey can be sustained – they’ve already given Everton a bloody nose here in the shape of a 1-0 defeat while Liverpool were held to a 3-3 draw – but regardless of the team’s fortunes on the pitch, the club’s future looks bright just a mile down the road from their spiritual home.

Even the regulars at the four Griffin Park hostelries would surely have raised a glass to that.