Is football good for our cities? The poor performances of the national team seem only to prop up the fervour and passion of the domestic game, with support holding steady and TV money going through the roof. There are compelling reasons to say that the football clubs at the heart of the region’s cities are forces for good, but could they do better?
Look beyond the entertainment they provide for thousands of us; and profile and prestige that comes with on-pitch success; and indeed beyond the “economic impact” figures (how do they work those out?). Look even beyond the token community feature on Match of the Day, and you can see there’s tangible development happening right now, bringing construction jobs in the short term and then hospitality industry jobs, community facilities and more in the long term.
Take Hotel Football, which is being built close to Old Trafford by GG Hospitality – Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, as you probably know them. Comprising 138 bedrooms and a five-a-side pitch atop its ten storeys; this adds further weight to recent projects in the area like the Victoria Warehouse hotel and events space. United beat most clubs by a century in moving out to the industrial fringes in 1910, giving itself room to grow. It’s certainly done that since – the scale of the Reds’ hospitality and leisure operation is such that it now employs nearly 800 people full-time and many more part-time.
In September, Liverpool FC received planning permission to extend its Anfield stadium as the centrepiece of a £260m project that also includes a range of housing and community facilities, with Your Housing Group at the heart of it. Demolitions will be required first, so it’s vital this project gives the area genuine uplift.
Everton’s latest plans are still taking shape but should require no demolition work. The club hopes to move to Walton Hall Park, with the city council as a partner in the project along with Liverpool Mutual Homes. A positive is that it’s close enough to the club’s existing Goodison Park home that existing businesses reliant on Everton match days shouldn’t suffer.
East Manchester’s regeneration has long been problematic for the city, but the arrival of Manchester City’s super-wealthy Abu Dhabi owners in 2008 is now showing its wider meaning. The City Football Academy, which opened in October, has attracted near-unanimous praise, giving the club genuinely world-leading facilities. Sixteen of the 80 acres at the campus were put aside at the outset for the development of the Beswick Community Hub, including the Connell Sixth Form College, the Manchester Institute of Sports Science and Sports Medicine, and the Beswick Leisure Centre, which City partly funds. Not every club has City’s resources, of course, but more of this would be good to see.
Sport touches lives and inspires people, but it’s equally true that top level football generates enormous wealth. Anything that helps strengthen bonds, so that clubs and players remain in touch with the communities that created them and sustain them, can be of benefit to everybody. And ex-players with an attachment to their cities showing faith by investing there has got to be a good thing too.