20 Years of New Stadia
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.