Clinging to a glorious past
For most fans of Football League clubs, the experience of going to watch our teams is very different to what it was in our youth. Notably, 26 clubs have moved grounds since the pioneer of this trend, Scunthorpe United, went from the Old Showground to Glanford Park in 1988. Rich Prew celebrates three vintage structures.
In these new grounds we find perfect sight-lines and excellently raked stands. We sit in comfort and we enjoy, at times, a rather soulless experience. For fans of stadium architecture like me, many of these new stadia are very similar. Some design features apart they are often built to similar plans draw up by the same architect and built as if Identikits by a small number of building firms. Seat colours and branding apart, you as a fan could be sitting in any one of a number of stadiums, before afterwards you are ushered to on-site car parks and quickly onto out of town arterial roads. This is understandable, costs need to be low, and stadia need to be built quickly.
Often though I find myself in nostalgic mood. I hark back to standing on rickety terraces, view obstructed by pillars. Parking in terraced side streets, the floodlights in the distance guiding you to the ground. They may be fewer, but that experience still exists. Places where a football geek can enjoy a nostalgic stadium experience as well as the football match, being reminded of simpler times before the Taylor Report and before corporatism captured the game.
So here is my view of one stand in one ground per division of the Football League, where you can wallow away, safe in the football supporters’ masochistic knowledge that if a goal is scored, you just might miss it.
The Main Stand at Fratton Park, Portsmouth FC
This really is a throwback. Built in 1925 and has understandably seen better days. Designed by the pre-eminent football stadium designer Archibald Leitch it oozes character with an old fashioned looking media gantry perched on its roof and raised team dugouts at its front. Sitting in it, with five pillars holding the roof above the upper tier obstructing your view and with little leg-room transports you to a by-gone era.
Pop down for a half time cuppa and its a far cry from the vast concourses below the modern stands. You queue, cramped in a small corridor, as people pass either side of you. It, alongside the top of the West stand at Barnsley’s Oakwell, is the remaining authentic old-style footballing experience left in the Championship.
The Moyes (Away) terrace at London Road, Peterborough United
Always a favourite this one. You stand under a low roof that amplifies the acoustics. Five rows of white crash barriers on the terrace hold a large crowd in place and a whopping six pillars support the roof, placed at the front of the stand. Exits are to the rear, and down a bank where the space is narrow because of the Wall marking the boundary of the Ground. You depart via an always windswept car-park last re-laid before I was born I would think.
Watching a game near the front you can almost reach out and touch a player taking a corner, or a goalkeeper on his line. If your teams manages to score at the Away terrace goal, the players are right on top of you, magnifying the experience already assaulting your senses from the crescendo of celebratory stand from under the roof.
The Cargill Stand at Edgar Street, Hereford United
Sadly the seminal Hereford experience for the away supporter, standing on the curved Blackfriars end, is no more following a failed safety inspection last year but Hereford United still gives something completely different. The Cargill stand, opened in 1974, that runs down Edgar Street is a real experience. Two tier, and standing on the lower tier with pillars around you is enjoyable. Right up close to pitch level. However for real fun sit in the top tier, which overhangs the lower section.
Extraordinarily steep in rake, and only ten or so rows deep, reached only by stairs at the side of the ground it offers a fantastic bird-eye view, but not of your near touchline unless you are in the first two rows. Look back when you climb the stairs and there a few feet away is Edgar Road and passing traffic. Last time I was there I looked wistfully at the home terrace too, a partly covered classic terrace semi-circular in shape that almost encases that end of the pitch, small in stature but big in character.
Which personal favourites amongst the 72 grounds would you recommend to get football character, as well as a football game?