Oi Polloi

Grounds for Divorce?

Published: Thu Jun 16 2011

Football. It’s everywhere these days isn’t it? Marketed to the masses and to within an inch of its life, the game has never appealed to so many. And that’s good right?

Well, in the opinion of this old stick-in-the-mud, not quite.

Of course I’m a hypocrite and I watch football whenever it’s on the telly. I still play despite my knees telling me I’m an idiot for doing so. But although I’ve not fallen totally out of love with the game, I’m finding myself increasingly fed up with it.

One of the biggest changes in the last couple of decades is the introduction of new stadia in this country. Clubs forced to comply with post-Hillsborough legislation have often adopted a ‘throw baby out with the bathwater’ approach and relocated their homes to the edge of nowhere. Often, the lure of selling well located land in the heart of the community together with local council support is too much to resist and instead of tastefully updating their traditional grounds, they instead move to industrial estates or next to motorways.

Some think this is progress. I don’t.

I’ve somehow managed to see my team play at around 80 different grounds, most of which are in England. The transient league status of my ailing club means I’ve got around a bit. And without question, the places I much prefer to watch my football are the ones that are imperfect. Give me Shrewsbury’s brilliantly named Gay Meadow over their unimaginitively titled New Meadow any day of the week. I’d rather get soaking wet and feel like I’ve lived a little than be told to sit and be quiet in my numbered seat.

With bitterness threatening to get the better of me following a fruitless, infuriating trip to Chesterfield’s B2Net Stadium earlier this year, I scowled my way onto that famous auction website and found a book that is probably the source of my angst. As a kid, I was football-mad and with a fairly large family I always ended up with some kind of football-related gift at Christmas. I forget who first bought me ‘The Football Grounds of Great Britain’ by Simon Inglis but I’d like to both shake them by the hand and knock them into the middle of next fortnight. Because having bought a new copy recently it reminded me just when the seeds of good-ground appreciation were sowed. 

Upon flicking through the book, it’s clear some grounds had to be replaced. But some didn’t, and furthermore the samey, boring domes occupied by Derby, Middlesbrough, Swansea and Reading needn’t have been so characterless. Good design to my mind offers a point of difference and in buildings a chance for those using it to make a lasting emotional connection. How can the former denizens of the Baseball Ground feel proud of Pride Park when it looks like a black-seated version of the Madejski Stadium?

The Football Grounds of Great Britain is a superb account of the football stadia I remember. My original copy ended up being eaten by fieldmice in the shed, true story. They too must have preferred the flavour of football before Gazza cried in Turin.

If any of this rather tragic/geeky rant strikes a chord, try and find a copy of the said book. It depicts football grounds as we knew them.

Next season I’ll sadly be watching my team in the fifth tier of English football. The majority of grounds at that level have terraces and most haven’t changed in years.

Every cloud and all that…