Post sports writer reflects on the two great football cities
Manchester is better than Liverpool.
Right, now that I’ve got your attention, there is indeed one area in which that lot at the other end of East Lancs Road far, far outstrip their Merseyside brethren.
Football stadia and the paraphernalia that surrounds them.
Driving up to Eastlands (or the Etihad or the City of Manchester Stadium, take your pick) it was impossible to ignore the pace at which the nearby landscape is changing.
Emerging opposite the stadium is another facility, dwarfed by the main arena but still plenty big enough to be home for most of the teams in the lower two divisions of the Football League.
It’s part of the £100m, 80-acre Etihad Campus that City hope will produce homegrown players to rival the famed academy of European trend-setters Barcelona. The plans went in two years ago. The funds were in place. And already construction is well advanced to develop a part of the city that has sorely needed regeneration.
Compare that to the rate and scope at which Everton, Liverpool and the local authorities have been cracking on with the job of dragging the city’s football quarter – as it is now dubbed – into the 21st Century.
Not great, is it?
More than 10 years ago, this journalist was at Old Trafford for the Champions League final between AC Milan and Juventus, less than 12 months after Manchester, at the stadium already earmarked as a future home for City, had held a hugely-successful Commonwealth Games.
Back then, Everton were licking their wounds after the Kings Dock failure while Liverpool’s plans for a move to Stanley Park were still on the drawing board.
Then in 2008, your columnist was at Eastlands for the UEFA Cup final.
By that point, Everton were pinning their hopes on the ultimately doomed Destination Kirkby project while Liverpool’s plans for a move to Stanley Park were still on the drawing board.
The points made back in 2003 applied that evening. And, five years on, they are no different.
Everton have demonstrated no public sign of either rebuilding Goodison or moving elsewhere, and while Liverpool have made the decision to redevelop Anfield and finally scrap the Stanley Park plans, nothing concrete has yet happened.
Whereas Everton, Liverpool and the city authorities spend interminable hours in meetings and drawing up fancy designs, Manchester seemingly just gets on with things.
Some may call that harsh. But is it? The hard evidence is there for all to see.
Then there’s the matchday experience. Outside the Etihad on Saturday was a buzz of activity, with stalls, video screens, kiosks and even a mini-gig taking place. There was a real sense of event.
You rarely get that at Goodison or Anfield, although the latter has taken some steps in the right direction and recently won an award for the Family Park initiative opened last year.
“But we’re only here for the football,” say the traditionalists.
“There’s nothing wrong with that. But they aren’t the future of the game. They aren’t where the money is, as painful as that sounds.
And, in modern football, money talks. It’s why the Etihad – owned and paid for by Manchester City Council and rented by City, don’t forget – ticks over by hosting music concerts during the summer.
In terms of location, logistics and comfort, it’s a no-brainer, and a financial boost for the city as whole.
Old Trafford, meanwhile, is now a self-serving beast on its own, home to everything from business conferences, corporate days out and rugby league Grand Finals.
They also fit a football game in there now and again.
Of course, luck has played its part. Liverpool and Everton went into decline at precisely the wrong time – the dawn of the Premier League era. And it has allowed United, emerging from the doldrums at the right time, Arsenal and the new money of City and Chelsea to forge ahead.
Everton, Liverpool and the city council are still playing catch-up.
And the sad fact is the longer nothing is done, the more difficult, more expensive and more time-consuming it will be to bridge that gap.