20 Years of New Stadia

Posted by on Oct 19, 2010 in Uncategorized | 15 Comments

It’s now over twenty years since the publishing of Simon Inglis’s seminal The Football Grounds of Great Britain, a book that predated Hillsborough and the first of the breed of stadia, Scunthorpe United’s Glanford Park. So, I thought it would be informative to analyze some of the successes of the subsequent period: an era that has seen great change impinge upon the game. Debate as to what the turning point was – the aforementioned disaster, the setting up of the Premier League, Italia 90, MDMA, all seaters, Fever Pitch and even Michael Thomas’s 1989 winner at Anfield for chrissakes – all have their apologists and the changes have often not been for the better but, as far as stadia is concerned, and away from Goodison or Fratton Park, our forefathers wouldn’t recognise the match going experience as we would. Which clubs have gotten it largely right?

I’d characterize the period as being a transitional one in stadium design in the UK. In the US, where I reside at the moment, a trend for featureless bowls dominated the latter years of the twentieth century – big was better and concrete was King. The last 20 years in the UK have seen a following suit – the list of identikit stadia is now worrying long, with Southampton, Leicester and Cardiff all prominent examples at the larger end of the scale and Northampton and Colchester among those representing the diddier. Stateside, there has been a move underfoot now to pay respect to tradition by incorporating old fashioned, traditional elements of stadium design into new builds, with Baltimore Orioles’ Camden Yards the most praised example and Citi Field, home of the New York Mets paying respect to the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Ebbets Field – the Plough Lane of America.

We are yet to pick this fashion up in the UK but rather than harp, I shall acknowledge the impact of cost (Notts County’s revamped lane cost a bargain £8 million and it’s a case of needs must for most clubs). So, what factors have inspired the more successful developments since 1990:

Colours

It sounds simple, but Wolves’ reworked Molineux and Hull City’s KC Stadium look a whole lot better because they aren’t a dull blue or red – the most overused colours in English football. I was at Molineux for a season opener in 1984 and that was the changeover moment for me – even losing 1-0 despite outplaying the home side and being attacked after the match for the one and only time in 34 seasons of spectating didn’t curb how impressed I was, although they could do with getting rid of that underpass outside the ground: the Chilkoot Trail of soccer.

Retention of original features

The retention of original features, even if only in the car park, is a nice touch although I am getting a bit bored with statues (Bob Stokoe, West Ham’s 4-2 win over another “West”) and that Throstle at the Albion looks a bit forlorn. Hence, Boro’s Ayresome Park Gates are a nice touch. Criminally, Norman Foster could have retained the Twin Towers as an entrance to the Wemberlee complex but instead chose to provide us with the blandest national stadium since Warsaw’s Stadion Dziesięciolecia in 1955.

Corners filled in

Despite my praise for Notts County, this is one mistake they made, although the worst example is Stoke City. It may be fun to recreate Henry Blofeld observations on passing buses when sipping champagne in St. John’s Wood in July, but not when the wind is whipping in off the Staffordshire Hills. Thankfully, this has now been accepted as a no no, although the credit crunch will have left more stadia half complete.

Pillars avoided

Again, thankfully consigned to history – largely because of the influence of Inglis. How unlucky were Scunny and Walsall in this regard? Pioneers in replacing crumbling old homes, they have ended up with life as the Betamaxes of English stadium construction.

Curves

Two of the more pleasing of newbies were at Bolton and Huddersfield although the former spoiled it with their stadium name and the latter by taking their time building a fourth side, a bit like Oxford United. Still, both are sleek arenas indeed and it’s surprising that more clubs haven’t followed suit

Advanced design

It’s a pity that a couple of stadia built twenty years ago now – those at Nîmes in France and Genoa in Italy have not been matched in the UK. designed by high profile architect Renzo Piano, they are still two of the most attractive in Europe, with the latter playing host to one of Ireland’s greatest ever afternoons. Perhaps only Preston North End’s rebuilt Deepdale echoes these two – although again, the money dried up for a time.

Location

St. James’s Park may be the most lopsided ground in history, with a telescope needed to watch the match from the away end, but its centre city location makes any trip enjoyable. Unfortunately, the influence of Thatcher and her spiritual successor Clarkson continue to dominate, as witnessed by Colchester’s far flung new location and a host of others, including Coventry and Reading.

The most talked about upcoming stadium is the one at Brighton and, given the tortuous process of permission, one can only wish the club well. The design does adhere to much of the best of the past 20 years judging by the plans, so here’s hoping that we can view the Falmer Stadium as the first of a new epoch.

Rob Langham
Rob Langham (pen name: Lanterne Rouge) is co-founder of the defiantly non-partisan football league blog, The Two Unfortunates, a website that occasionally strays into covering issues of wider importance. He's 47 and lives in Oxford while retaining his boyhood support of Reading FC. He tweets as @twounfortunates and has written for a number of websites and publications including The Football Attic, The Inside Left, When Saturday Comes, In Bed with Maradona, Futbolgrad and The Blizzard as well as being nominated for the Football Supporters' Federation Blogger of the Year Award in 2013.

15 Comments

  1. Duncan
    October 20, 2010

    appropriateness. Darlington's stadium is a really good one, location aside, and would be ideal for a championship/ambitious league one side. utter folly for darlo though.

    completely off topic, but i guess this is one of the few places that might appreciate this sort of thing, my blog's league two quarter season review is now up here.

    http://www.cruelgeography.com/2010/10/quarter-season-league-two-review.html

    Reply
  2. gerschenkron
    October 20, 2010

    Really good post this (despite the needless reference to the “up for grabs” moment). Could we have a list of clubs who've built new stadia in this period alongside their financial and football perfomance since?

    Reply
  3. Stanley
    October 20, 2010 Reply
  4. Stanley
    October 20, 2010

    I messed up the previous list, so here's the revised version. All of the below have moved to new grounds since 1990.

    PL:
    Arsenal
    Bolton
    Man Citeh
    Stoke
    Sunderland
    Wigan

    Championship:
    Cardiff
    Coventry
    Derby
    Doncaster
    Hull
    Leicester
    Middlesbrough
    Millwall
    Reading
    Swansea

    L1:
    Bournemouth
    Brighton (pending)
    Charlton (The Valley was redeveloped extensively after they moved back there in 1992)
    Colchester
    Huddersfield
    Southampton
    Walsall
    Yeovil

    L2:
    Burton
    Chesterfield
    Northampton
    Oxford
    Shrewsbury
    Wycombe

    Plus, Darlington's gold-plated arena while they were still in the Football League. Too many clubs to mention have redeveloped substantially in the last 20 years.

    Reply
  5. Stanley
    October 20, 2010

    Millwall's performance in the last 20 years could be described as up-and-down. Challenging for promotion to the top flight immediately after the move, relegated and in administration two seasons later, back in the second tier at the half-way point, down again and now restored. The finances haven't been great in that period: losses have been at around £3-4m. per year since admin and not likely to break even in the short- or medium-term.

    As for `The New London Stadium' itself, it was the first to be built after the Taylor Report and looks outdated, despite being only 17 years old. The corners should have been filled in, while segregation requirements mean that we can fit a maximum of just 16,000 home fans. Which isn't too much of a problem most weeks, but 20,000 could have been sold for a few games last season.

    Of the grounds in the list, Molineux is a clear favourite. The worst has to be the Ricoh: one-tiered bowl, way out of Cov city centre and built to facilitate a massive supermarket.

    Reply
  6. Lanterne Rouge
    October 20, 2010

    Arsenal is undeniably lovely – especially the location where car driving is discouraged. The Gunners are a little outside the purview of this site though.

    Wycombe's isn't that remarkable but is pleasant due to the tree lined vistas. I am a big fan of Charlton's redevelopment – includes good from new and old.

    Reply
  7. Lloyd
    October 20, 2010

    Don't forget Morecambe's new ground, the Globe Arena.

    Still to tick Millwall off, although judging by their poor attendance in a biggish game against Pompey last night, those corners would be mighty quiet most of the time if they were in place.

    In terms of whether a new ground brings success, I'd argue that it's no coincidence when teams pick up form upon arrival. The “feel-good” factor is an obvious bonus, and the fact that the board of the club has invested in new facilities generally indicates that people are pulling together in the same direction. Exactly that seems to be happening at Brighton right now where you can really sense the anticipation ahead of their move to Falmer.

    Finally, of the new stadiums I'd say there's slimp pickings but I've at least enjoyed days out at Charlton and Reading. I'd list Derby, Southampton and Oxford amongst some of the worst grounds, although part of that is due to poor results…

    Reply
  8. Frank Heaven
    October 20, 2010

    The overwhelming majority of clubs who moved to new grounds have screwed it up.

    They have also made zero contribution to sports architecture.

    The one exception is Arsenal – where the care and attention to detail that went into the building of Highbury seems to have been replicated at the Emirates to a degree.

    But all the best grounds – those with the most character, best atmosphere – are the old ones: Hillsborough, Goodison Park, Loftus Road.

    I feel sorry for some of the clubs who moved to new grounds in the early 1990s, like Millwall, and were more constrained by cost.

    But other clubs have no excuse, given the boom in football since.

    Reply
  9. Lanterne Rouge
    October 20, 2010

    Architecturally, I'd agree with you Frank but it was galling to see Pompey spending millions while failing to have workable dryers in the away end loos. Loftus Road is a cracking little stadium but anyone over Five foot five will have trouble with the leg room, the toilets at Everton would be more fitting in rural Madhya Pradesh and, magnificent stadium as it is, there will be more than a few Liverpool fans who'll disagree with you on Hillsborough. Point taken on design though. Bring back the gables!

    Reply
  10. scarf
    October 21, 2010

    My favourite new ground is, without doubt, The New Lawn, Forest Green. A great combination of modern facilities with good terracing and you can walk round three sides of the ground, too… Other new grounds that I've enjoyed visiting are Darlington and Walsall. I think the out-of-town factor can be partially compensated for by a big, cheap and quality supporters' bar that lets in home and away fans – Walsall and Forest Green both do this especially well.

    In terms of contributing character and architecture, I would argue that until the law changes and terracing is allowed in the upper divisions again, we will never see anything other than an extension of the Americanised, corporate 'soccer', currently showcased by the Premier League and aped to by many Championship clubs seekingto jump on the bandwagon. Sadly, my own club's ground, Edgeley Park, is a poor imitation even of these, having been redeveloped in the mid-1990s when it looked like we might become an established second-tier club in time. We can't afford to maintain those expensive new stands and the ground now just looks crumbling and derelict. I love where it's situated, but I don't enjoy going there for home games at all – and that was true even when we were doing well.

    Reply
  11. Stanley
    October 22, 2010

    Apologies for forgetting Morecambe's move. Being a bit of a retro-freak, Goodison Park is probably my all-time favourite ground. Narrow, rusting turnstiles and wooden planks underfoot: what a football ground should be. Obviously, post-Bradford and Hillsborough, we know the limitations of such structures. But, as the Emirates and many of the developments in Germany show, with some consideration for the fan's experience, we could have progress in design without homogenisation.

    Picking up on Lloyd's observation, the attendance and lethargy of the Millwall crowd on Tuesday night suggests that complacency has taken hold of the supporters as well as a few of the players. The corners of the Den will likely remain void for a while to come.

    Reply
  12. Ben
    October 26, 2010

    Tedious defence of St James' Park time: personally I think it's a magnificent stadium (not just for the location). No impeded views, even if you're a long way from the pitch, and the fact that they managed to complete the renovations and expansion with minimal disruption should be applauded.

    I went to Fratton Park last month – great atmosphere, but when you're inside the bowels of the stand it feels like the 1950s (and not in a good way). On the flip side, Pride Park is horrible – dumped in the middle of an industrial estate close to the train station but nowhere near any kind of decent pre- or post-match watering hole.

    I quite liked Edgeley Park when I went a few seasons ago (the 7-2 derby thrashing by Rochdale, I'm afraid…) – for faded and crumbling I'd point to Elland Road as significantly worse. It also one of the grimmest locations of any ground I've visited.

    Reply
  13. Lloyd
    October 26, 2010

    Pride Park does want for a good pub (unless you count Old Orleans as an option), but the Brunswick isn't too far away. A lovely little pub, that.

    Reply
  14. Ben
    October 27, 2010

    Really? Not heard of it. Will have to look it up if I go again.

    Forgot to mention the Kassam – worse even than Pride Park. Awful half-arsed retail park outside and only three stands, making it seem bizarrely lop-sided. What atmosphere there is escapes out that end.

    Reply
  15. Lanterne Rouge
    November 18, 2010

    But not bad enough for it to put off one of Oxfordshire's leading publishers from having their xmas bash there!

    Reply

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