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Goodison Park - The Home Of The Blues

The country's first purpose-built football stadium when it opened in 1892, when you walk into Goodison Park, you are entering a magnificent sporting arena, a place of true heritage and stature. When opened on Thursday August 27, 1892. Everton spared no expense in its creation: £552 to clear the site; £1,640 to build two uncovered stands each holding 4,000 and a covered one seating 3,000; £150 for hoardings; £132 10s for gates and sheds, and another £7 for turn-stiles, as part of the overall bill of almost £3,000.

Mere Green was immediately renamed Goodison Park (the entrance was on Goodison Road) and proudly opened on 24 August 1892 by Lord Kinnaird and Frederick Wall of the FA. But instead of a match, the 12,000 crowd saw an athletics meeting followed by a concert and a fireworks display. The first game followed on 1 September with a pre-season friendly against Bolton that was watched by 10,000.

'Behold Goodison Park' reported the journal Out of Doors '...no single picture could take in the entire scene the ground presents, it is so magnificently large, for it rivals the greater American baseball pitches. On three sides of the field of play there are tall covered stands, and on the fourth side the ground has been so well banked up with thousands of loads of cinders that a complete view of the game can be had from any portion. The spectators are divided from the playing piece by a neat, low hoarding, and the touch-line is far enough from it to prevent those accidents that used to be predicted at Anfield Road, but never happened...Taking it all together, it appears to be one of the finest and most complete grounds in the kingdom, and it is hoped that the public will liberally support the promoters.'

This they most certainly did, at least more than Houlding's Liverpool, who drew only 1,000 for their first game at Anfield, which for some reason was staged on the same night as the Bolton game. In fact during each of the Football League's first tean seasons Everton recorded highest average gates, topping 17,000 in their third season at Goodison. Meanwhile the FA were sufficiently impressed to stage the 1894 Cup Final at the ground, watched by a crowd of 37,000. This was less than hoped but still substantial for the period.

Not surprisingly Everton were by then the richest club in the country, and shortly after the ground's first international was staged in April 1895, a new Bullens Road Stand was built at a cost of "3,407. The open Goodison Road terrace was also fitted with a cover at its rear, for "403, with a press box perched above its centre. By 1905 the ground was said to have cost Everton a total of £27,000, for a capacity estimated at 55,000.

Rivalry in the city was now well advanced. Everton were yet again runners-up in both the League and FA Cup, while across Stanley Park, Liverpool won their first championship in 1901. Just as importantly, by 1905 Anfield's gates were catching up and sometimes even surpassing those at Goodison.

The two grounds started to develop in tandem also, each in their own style but also in the hands of the same designer, the ubiquitous Scottish engineer, Archibald Leitch. In 1906 Leitch had designed a Main Stand and the Kop at Anfield. A year later, bolstered by the profits from their first cup final win, Everton hired him to design a �13,000 two-tiered stand at the Park End of Goodison.

But this was only a taster for Leitch's next creation, a mammoth new Main Stand, opened in 1909.

Athletic News gushed, 'Visitors to Goodison Park will be astonished at the immensity of the new double-decker stand.' Costing �28,000 it was Leitch's largest yet, towering five-storeys above the houses on Goodison Road, with a pitched roof topped by the now familiar Leitch central gable. The stand also featured the criss-cross steelwork balcony which would become his trademark.

In recognition of the ground's new found excellence, Everton hosted the 1910 Cup Final replay, attended by 69,000. Then in July 1913 they became the first League club to host a visit from a ruling monarch, when George V and Queen Mary came to inspect local schoolchildren at the ground. During the First World War Goodison was used for drill practice, while soon after, the Chicago White Sox and New York Giants played an exhibition baseball match, during one which one batter managed to slug a ball right over the Main Stand.

The next development followed in 1926, when at a cost of �30,000 another Leitch designed double-decker was built on the Bullens Road side. This was linked in 1938 to a similar stand, costing �50,000, at the Gladwys Street end. George VI and Queen Elizabeth came to view the structure, which must have been a great honour for Leitch, who was now over 70 and whose son, Archibald Jnr, was almost certainly running the practice.

But if the Gladwys Street Stand was the standard Leitch design, hardly an advance from his Main Stand of 30 years earlier, its completion did mean that Goodison became the first ground to have double-decker stands (and indeed standing and sitting) on all four sides. It might also be said that Everton were the first club to complete a long term masterplan; hardly modern, but with a genuine sense of unity. Some writers referred in awe to Goodison as 'Toffeeopolis'.

But apart from a further �5,000 worth of patching up after war-time bomb damage, and a number of minor alterations, the stands which packed in a record 78,299 for a derby in September 1948 were essentially those that survived unchanged until 1969.

In many respects, Goodison's greatest era came during the 1960's. In common with the 1930's, Everton twice won the Championship and the FA Cup once, while unusually the club maintained the same level of support which had built up in the immediate post-war period. Then in 1966 came first, in January, an England game v Poland (which shamefully would turn out to be the last England home game outside of Wembley for 29 years), followed in July by five World Cup games (including North Korea's epic quarter final with Portugal). This was more than any other venue apart than Wembley. Attendances at Goodison were also higher than for any other venue other than Wembley.

And yet when, 30 years later, England prepared to host the 1996 European Championships, Goodison failed to make the final list of eight selected venues, a list which, much to the chagrin of Evertonians, included Anfield.

To understand how this fall from grace occurred would take deeper analysis than can be afford on these pages. Perhaps because Goodison had for so long enjoyed a reputation for quality, its flaws were too readily overlooked. Perhaps, because the ground was so quickly converted to an all-seater masked the fact that it remained an essentially outdated ground, with limited facilities on three sides, more restricted views than any other leading ground, and a particularly bleak, industrial exterior.

In certain of these failings Goodison was by no means alone. But for a club which prided itself as belonging to the so-called 'Big Five', Everton appeared to be the least ready to finance radical reconstruction.

Or had they simply shocked themselves with the brutish enormity of their new Main Stand, which replaced Leith's double-decker during 1969-70?

The old stand had cost �28,000 and was considered immense. The new, three-tiered stand cost �1 million, was nearly twice the size, and until 1974, when Chelsea opened their mammoth East Stand, was by far the largest stand in Britain, holding 10,045 seats on the upper two tiers and 4,900 standing on the lower terrace.

Because the new stand was so tall, the floodlight pylons were taken down and replaced by lamps mounted on gantries along the roof (Anfield's lights followed the same pattern a year later). But if this was a departure from the norm, as was the use of escalators within the public concourses, in other respects Goodison's new Main Stand was disappointingly conventional, certainly compared with the type of column free stand with executive boxes completed only five years earlier at Old Trafford.

Furthermore, crucially, the next 20 years at Goodison were spent not on additional restructuring but on refurbishment. In 1981, for example, 12 lean-to executive boxes were added to the rear of the Main Stand paddock, as had been done at Ipswich and Birmingham. Somehow, from Everton one expected more style.

And yet in other respects the improvements were quite progressive. In 1972 the Bullens Road Stand's pitched roof was replaced by a deeper, sloping roof which cantilevered forward from the original columns, thus providing some shelter to the paddock and lending Goodison a more enclosed feel. This roof was continued around the corner to replace the original Gladwys Street roof in 1986.

The number of seats in the ground was also steadily increased. First the rear half of the Bullens Road paddock was seated, then the Main Stand paddock, so that by 1990 Goodison held 41,266, of which 29,396 was seated. Because of this gradual process, Everton could afford to face the Taylor Report with a degree of confidence.

That may partially explain why the club decided to reject proposals from the city council and a team of developers for a 67,000 seat Merseyside Stadium on a site near Aintree, to be shared with Liverpool. The scheme, one of many speculative superbowls launched during the post-Taylor period, was in some respects sensible. Here were two clubs, rather like AC Milan and Inter, with a shared past, whose fans were seldom antagonistic (often being drawn from the same families), and whose grounds could hardly be expanded without imposing on their immediate environs. A Merseyside Stadium could also have provided a much-needed regional alternative to Wembley.

But neither Liverpool nor Everton were convinced, not least by their likely share in the financing and operation of the proposed stadium, and so yet another glossy brochure had to be filed away in the section marked 'Great British Opportunities - Missed'.

Besides, Everton were now in an akward state of transition, both in terms of the ground and behind the scenes. Admirably, they had virtually achieved all-seater status, at little cost and without recourse to Football Trust grants. But as is often the case with those that move quickest and soonest, their efforts were far from ideal. The converted terraces suffered from poor sightlines and were effected without significantly upgrading spectator ammenities. As a result, within a couple of years it became apparent that developments at other clubs - those which had waited and tested the post-Taylor water - were by now quite superior.

At the same time, as Everton's links with their glory years were severed by the death of Sir John Moores in September 1993, long term planning was fudged at a crucial period. This meant that by the time the new regime of former Tranmere chairman Peter Johnson took over in 1994, work had already begun on a new Park End Stand, to replace the oldest of the surviving Leitch structures.

As in the days of Leitch, Everton were now being advised by the same architects as Liverpool. Atherdon Fuller (also responsible for Old Trafford and Ewood Park) had been working on Anfield since the early 1970's.

Their �2.4 million new Park End Stand, holding 6,000 seats, opened in 1994 and was instantly popular, if only because it offered good sightlines, unrestricted views, comfortable seats with reasonable leg room and a modern concourse. And yet in another respect the new Park End Stand was completely at odds with the rest of Goodison, not just in terms of its glossy exterior but because it was a single tier. For it to blend comfortably with any redevelopment of the other two, older stands - which would have to be double deckers in order to maintain a reasonable capacity - would therefore require removal of the roof and addition of an extra tier.

Technically this would not be too difficult a task, but the fact that it has to be considered at all may well cause the new regime to curse as it turns its attention to the inevitable redevelopment of the Bullens Road and Gladwys Street stands.

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