Anfield, home of Premier League champions Liverpool.
Fans of rival teams will be wishing that 128 years ago, the owners of Everton had been willing to pay a bit more rent. Because it was a commercial property lease row that gave birth to Liverpool Football Club, who last week were crowned English league champions for the first time since 1990. If only regional foes Everton, Manchester City and Manchester United could roll back the clock.
Originally, local rivals Everton played in the Anfield stadium, which Liverpool today call home. The land on which the stadium was built was owned by a local brewer and businessman, John Houlding, who in 1885 agreed to build Everton a stadium at a cost of £6K (£777K today), in return for £250 a year in rent. He also owned the nearby Sandon Hotel, a pub still standing to this day and popular with Liverpool fans, and which was originally the home changing room for the new stadium.
The deal worked out well, and in 1891, Everton won the league. Houlding proposed that Everton buy the ground from him, a proposal the club’s owners and members didn’t fancy. It then emerged that another local man, John Orrell, owned part of the land on which the stadium was built, and he claimed another £120 a year in rent on top of the £250 being paid to Houlding.
Everton had an offer to build another ground nearby at a cost of £50 a year, took it, and Goodison Park was built. The two famous stadiums are separated by Stanley Park, less than a mile apart. Everton originally had a seven-year lease, and are still in situ today, until their new ground in Liverpool’s dockland is built.
Houlding tried to retain the Everton name for his own use, but the Football League blocked him. So, stuck with a football stadium but no team to play in it, he created a new team, named after the city in which they played, and Liverpool Football Club was officially established in June 1892.
Liverpool and Everton played their first match in 1894, and it is now the most-played fixture in English football history.
Until the mid-1960s, the two teams enjoyed a similar level of success, having won six and five league titles, respectively. But in the 1970s and 1980s Liverpool streaked ahead, and by 1990 had won 18 league titles to Everton’s nine.
After a 30-year hiatus, for Liverpool that number has grown to 19. For Everton fans tired of watching their rivals’ success, they can only dream of an alternative reality where the club’s owners swallowed that 50% rent rise, or bought their stadium, and Liverpool never came into existence.