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Everton fans vote 'yes' to Kirkby stadium move

Everton have won a significant mandate from their fans to press ahead with plans to move to a new ground outside the Liverpool city boundary in nearby Kirkby.

In what became an increasingly bitter wrangle with fans' pressure groups and the city council, Everton staged a ballot of around 36,000 fans.

The club agreed to abide by the result of the vote, which was announced by the Electoral Reform Services this morning.

The vote revealed on the club website today showed 59.27% of fans voted in favour of the move, with 40.73% saying no.

It is a far bigger margin than had been expected, with fans - only season ticket holders, shareholders and club members were able to vote - believed to be evenly split on the move.

Everton have also revealed that 36,662 voting packs were sent out, and 25,761 votes were returned, which means that 11,000 declined to vote, with 63 spoiled forms.

The implication of 11,000 refusing to return their forms is debatable. The suggestion could be that many felt the deal was virtually concluded anyway, which Everton deny, or that they were not bothered one way or the other.

If more than 50% of voters had rejected the scheme to build a 50,000-seater stadium in Kirkby, in conjunction with Tesco, they would have had to start searching for a new site.

Everton have been looking for a new home since the Kings Dock plans collapsed three years ago.

Goodison Park is considered too old and impractical to expand, but the Keep Everton In Our City (KEIOC) campaign and Liverpool Council have fought strongly for Everton to stay in Liverpool, and produced other sites for consideration in the city.

All have been dismissed by Everton as too small, but it is believed that the campaign became extremely personal with several club officials subjected to abuse by phone, letter and e-mail.

A club spokesman said: 'We are the only club in Europe who has ever moved grounds and given the fans a vote.

'Even chairman Bill Kenwright, who owns more than 10,000 shares, only had one vote.'

The club are believed to have become angered by the level of personal abuse aimed at them and their staff, and the fact that the local council after years of failing to produce an acceptable new site, have come up with various alternatives at a late stage.

Opponents of the plans have vowed to continue the fight to keep the club within the city boundaries, and KEIOC spokesman Dave Kelly said: 'The ballot has served to split the fans.

'That makes me sad as an Evertonian. There is still a long campaign ahead because public opinion in Kirkby against a football stadium is growing.'

Knowsley Council, who have been involved in the initial discussions with Everton and Tesco, are also facing opposition from local residents over the prospect of a football stadium being built as part of their town centre regeneration scheme.

The club issued a statement after announcing the result of the vote.

The statement said: 'Everton Football Club acknowledges that a majority of those Evertonians who were eligible to vote in the ballot do support the club in its desire to relocate to a new home in Kirkby.

'We are the only major club in Europe to have handed over a decision of such importance and magnitude to its fan-base - something which simply serves to underscore the enormously high regard in which we hold our supporters.

'We now have a mandate to carry on negotiations with our two project partners - Knowsley Borough Council and Tesco.

'The club's board of directors, the management staff and the players would like to thank all those who participated in the ballot.

'We would also like to thank the Electoral Reform Services who ran the ballot on our behalf in a diligent and wholly professional manner.

'While we concede that the proposed move has undoubtedly provoked a heated and sustained debate, it is reassuring to know that the majority of Evertonians do support the club as it pursues its long-held desire to provide a world-class stadium for its world-class support.

'The result comes at the end of a transparent, democratic process and we believe that now is the time for all supporters of Everton Football Club to set aside any differences of opinion and unite for the common good.

'The simple truth is, we all want the same thing - a thriving, ambitious and prosperous club away from the field of play and an attractive, competitive team on it.'