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Oct 15, 2012

Liverpool to expand Anfield stadium

LIVERPOOL, England -- Liverpool announced plans Monday to expand the capacity of Anfield, the club's home for 120 years, rather than building a new stadium.

The 18-time English champions started working on a new $800-million venue in nearby Stanley Park before owner John Henry's takeover two years ago, but it was abandoned due to financial problems.

Henry has decided that a new stadium still doesn't make financial sense, instead pursuing plans to expand Anfield's capacity from 45,000 to an expected 60,000 seats.

Henry, who also owns the Boston Red Sox, followed a similar strategy in Boston, expanding the capacity at 100-year-old Fenway Park.

"There is no doubt Anfield is the spiritual home of the club -- our preference was always to remain at Anfield," Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre said.

Anfield is hemmed in by terraced residential housing, and planning permission will now be sought to demolish some properties to rebuild the stadium.

"This is a major step forward for the football club but more importantly the residents," Ayre said. "This is step one as there is land to acquire, plans to be approved etc., but this is a significant moment."

The club has been financially hamstrung by its aging Anfield, where there are just 34 luxury suites and few amenities to generate funding to enhance the squad.

"If you build a new stadium ... one of the big challenges is that you don't get 60,000 new seats in a new stadium, you only get the difference (with the existing capacity)," Ayre said. "That makes it very difficult to make it viable because the cost of building such a big new stadium doesn't work economically, particularly in this market.

"So one of the things we had to look at was the balance between that solution and a staying-at-Anfield-type solution."

Manchester United's Old Trafford can fit 76,000 fans and Arsenal moved from 38,000-seat Highbury into 60,000-seat Emirates Stadium in 2006, ensuring they raise far more revenue from tickets and other match-day revenue.

That in turn gives Arsenal and United greater financial muscle to attract top players on high salaries, as well as helping them comply with UEFA's new Financial Fair Play regulations.

United and Arsenal have won 16 English championships between them since Liverpool's last title in 1990.

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