The first thing to say is that this article is based on individual thoughts and interpretations of what was said. It’s not an expert opinion, I’m a fanzine editor, not an architect, and I’m writing this for people who may not have been able to attend. Also, after hearing about all the complexities of the site and the minutiae of what Meis has to take into account, it’s clear he’s earning his coin. The little things, ranging from the orientation of the site, space for people to flow in and out of, where the sun rises and shines on a matchday…all these sorts of things aren’t the issues that immediately spring to mind when we think of the characteristics of a new stadium.
With that caveat out of the way, here’s what I took from the Meis workshop on Tuesday afternoon.
Integration of heritage
It’s clear that the club, and Meis, have to work within the restrictions posed by a historic site such as Bramley Moore. This isn’t just a patch of wasteland where they can do anything they want, and a common theme was the desire to design a stadium that gives the impression of having grown ‘organically’, as traditional stadia have done, integrating it within the various heritage reference points already there. While the site presents a lot of opportunities for this (the hydraulic tower, the wall, the towers at the entrance), they are equally as restrictive in affecting what can be done within the relatively tight footprint. For instance, while people approach Goodison from all directions now, at Bramley Moore everyone will effectively come from the same sort of direction (from town), with a smaller amount from the north end. Unless they swim from the Wirral. The orientation of the stadium (North-South, or East-West) is also something that affects what can be built and why (North-South is the preferred option).
Anyway, Meis spoke about potentially using the hydraulic tower as a particular reference point within the stadium’s footprint, maybe using it as a bar or as part of a fanzone (potentially the ‘biggest in the league’ – add that to the honours list). The use of brick and steel was frequently mentioned, citing the Titanic Hotel as an old building that has effectively been redeveloped in a way that makes positive use of different, and old, materials.
Of course, integrating heritage isn’t just restricted to the existing site, with reuse of the Archibald Leitch stand design and the relocation of the Dixie Dean statute both mentioned. The Leitch stuff was specifically referenced in relation to a ‘Bullens Bar’, using it to theme the concourse areas. The initial design of this huge bar looked ace (though you can bet there’ll still only be 2 people serving, neither of whom know the ‘meal deal’ price of the Pie and Pint offer). Meis spoke about his philosophy of giving a nod to authenticity, rather than directly recreating and replicating things, which made me think (though it is merely speculation on my part) that we probably shouldn’t expect a ground design that takes everything we love from Goodison and rehashes it (this theory would stand up based on the proposed reuse of the Leitch stuff as a concourse design, rather than within the ground and on the stands themselves).
The major revelation here was around ‘Safe Standing’, or ‘Rail Seating’ as it’s also known. In his introduction, while acknowledging that its introduction requires legislative change, Richard Kenyon said that its future incorporation into the ground interests the club. Dan Meis repeated this, and went as far as to say that he believes the legislation will change in the not too distant future. This is quite a step change from previous club comments on this issue, which have generally dismissed the idea. It’s clear the future stadium is being future-proofed for this, though Meis was careful to emphasise this does not necessarily have implications for capacity (rail seating is generally on a one-for-one swap basis with seats) nor for pricing (due to the cost of implementing, installing, and maintaining the standing area, including the need to have flip-up seats ready for European games). The advantage therefore is solely to do with experience, and being able to ‘sit or stand’ in peace.
The current location of away fans in the sketches isn’t an accident; the corner they’re situated in means they have easier access to Sandhills without having to pass through a large number of home fans, though I’d personally question whether away fans would actually use this facility en masse. More likely is that they’ll pitch up in the Wetherspoons branches at and by Lime St and taxi it up to the ground, at least until more pubs spring up. Unsurprisingly, integration of disabled facilities is a hugely prominent part of the ground design, and rightly so given the restrictions of Goodison mean they generally have a very limited choice of seating options, and have spent the last few decades getting pissed on on the front row of the Park End.
One of the key things Meis kept emphasizing was ‘proximity to the pitch’, stating that they are ‘pushing every guideline’ to maximize this. This isn’t just about the front rows being close, but the steepness of the stands meaning the whole ground feels tight, atmospheric, and the word ‘intimate’ was used on more than one occasion. Unsurprisingly, West Ham was frequently mentioned as the extreme example of a new ground failing to achieve this. Avoiding symmetrical stands, so that each side of the ground has some sort of unique character was also a theme.
The capacity was a major talking point. Meis did acknowledge that fan feedback that “leans closer to 60,000 than 50,000” was being taken into account, but was also pretty forthcoming in his belief that scarcity of seats is important, both for atmosphere and for stimulating demand. He believes no seat should be left unsold, and made a remark along the lines of the idea that the most important factors are intimacy and a feeling of home, rather than size alone. A couple of questions about future extensions/developments had interesting responses, along the lines of infrastructure (amenities, design of pedestrian areas for people circulation etc) needing to be designed and oriented towards the ultimate capacity, and that as such adding an extra 5,000 seats might be fairly easy but many more than that becomes difficult.
The main feeling I took away was that ultimately the footprint of the site and integration with the heritage might end up restricting what can be done capacity-wise anyway. But I’m no architect and someone might well be able to come along and tell me I’m talking shite.
My personal opinion is that somewhere around 55-58,000 feels about right for us, but I can understand the arguments for more. My main worry with a smaller capacity is that it will impact on pricing – the harder tickets are to buy and the more demand exceeds supply, the more expensive tickets might be. Meis will produce a good design and I’ve every faith in that, but really this issue about capacity and its impact on ticketing and pricing is one that will only affect us as paying fans.
There were various other things mentioned, including the use and integration of technology (to sell us more stuff, more quickly), environmental sustainability, the sorts of things you’d expect to crop up in any new development. What wasn’t mentioned from the survey, at least in the workshop I attended, was some of the stuff regarding on-site museums, 24/7 use of the facilities, specifics regarding transport links and so on. We can expect all this to come out in the wash over the coming weeks as the club move towards a planning application.
What is particularly striking is that the departure from Goodison is becoming a very real prospect, perhaps more so than at any point before. We may have seen fancy images and designs of King’s Dock, Kirkby, even Peter Johnson’s ideas in the mid-90s, but they never really, truly got going. The depth and breadth of fan consultation, through a large-scale survey of around 10,000 people and workshops involving close to another 1,000 across all four, are also a significant advance on previous haphazard attempts at gauging fan feeling. There has been some understandable cynicism about Bramley Moore, and there’s still a lot of financial and bureaucratic hurdles to jump, but its clear things are moving forward. What really brings it home, in a World Cup year, is that by the next one we could be saying goodbye to Goodison and hello to a new home on the banks of a Royal Blue Mersey.
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