No, I haven’t got secretly married and it’s gone wrong…..again. Grounds are now referred to as stadiums, though I always felt that stadiums were something you watched athletics in. They’ve changed over the years. Even more dramatically since I’ve been watching the game. (Not down to me, I might add.) Even with disasters at both Burnden Park, Bolton in 1948, and Ibrox, Glasgow in 1971, it took the inquiry into the Hillsborough one in 1989 in Sheffield for things to really change. it was possible that the inquiry coming so soon on the back of two disasters in 1985 at Valley Parade, Bradford and Heysel in Brussels, Belgium (Involving Liverpool) influenced the report by Lord Justice Taylor, but something needed to change. Since the Second World War, few grounds in Britain had seen major developments. Most had nothing much done unless they had been subject of German bombing raids during World War II and stands had needed to be be rebuilt. I’m not going to bore you with details of what and where, I’ve bored myself enough with what I’ve written already anyway. It’s up to you if you feel so inclined to delve deeper into the history of football grounds. If you are lucky enough to find a copy, I fully recommend Simon Inglis’ wonderful book, Football Grounds of Great Britain. The upshot of the Taylor report were the recommendations that were to be endorsed and enforced by the then, Conservative government, F.A. and Football League. Gone would be the terracing I loved so much. Chairman/owners up and down the country, set about the implications and implementations. It was blindingly obvious that some grounds were just not viable to be developed, some made the basic mistake of selling the ground before purchasing a piece of land for a new ground to be built on. That happened to both Brighton and Hove Albion and Wimbledon. An awful lot (Awful being an operative word.) of clubs discovered that land is of course cheaper on the outskirts of towns and cities than it is where the original ground is. Jump in that Tardis, fire it up and take yourself back to when clubs were formed. The ground that is now close to the town or city centre, would’ve been built on the edge of the town or city because, well, the land was cheaper. It’s only because the place has grown, that the land it was actually built on, has increased in value. Social attitudes, taste and lifestyles have changed dramatically since clubs were formed. It’s not like the automobile was as available and financially affordable as it is now. The ground itself would’ve been little more than a basic stand for the well to do and shareholders, plus three fairly shallow banks of terracing. Before that, it was pretty much just a patch of land, a bit better than jumpers for goalposts. As people were attracted to the game and aligned their loyalties to particular clubs, so the gate receipts grew and the company coffers bulged through a regular income. Some clubs would purchase a nearby (Are you listening football club owners of the country? I said NEARBY) piece of land and built a new ground. Otherwise grounds evolved, the stand was replaced by something more substantial and grander. It would be joined by a stand along the opposite touchline. The terracing would’ve been increased. Attendances grew. Right, back in the Tardis, have your return ticket ready for inspection, back to implementation time. The edge of town and city, all singing and dancing grounds of today were to come in three sizes depending on fan base. Large and impressive, boring identikit bowl size, or shoebox. The majority of clubs chose to remain where they were, and just replace the terracing with new purpose built stands. Quite frankly, the old style of ground, had character due to the evolution of it. I don’t know if this was just propaganda from the new owners of Blues, or these were actually the plans, but the Kumar’s who owned the club when the Taylor Report was published, were just going to remove the crush barriers on the Kop and the Tilton, and have rows and rows of seats bolted to the existing terracing. The new owners of Sullivan and the Gold brothers had plans drawn up with the ambition of completing the whole ground. It was an open promise they were to go back on, and we have what we’ve got now. I sometimes wonder how it would’ve worked. (Or not.)
You won’t need to have the detection skills of one Mr Holmes or even his trusty sidekick Dr Watson to have ascertained that I don’t like out of town grounds. Indeed, Bolton Wanderers ground is in another country, it’s that far away from Bolton and Burnden Park. Just taking a side step, I absolutely hate grounds having advertising sponsored names. The Emirates and The Etihad to me, will always be Ashburton Grove and Eastlands respectively, to name just two.
Like I’ve admitted to, I cried my eyes out when the terracing went down St Andrews. I could stand with my mates, and even if it was a big attendance, I would be able to find them. Very few would move game by game, but would stand in roughly the same place. Where they felt comfortable. Where they could get a good enough view. I’m of average height, (Which is ok, as I’ve only an average personality.) I can understand that someone who is shorter than average, wouldn’t enjoy the experience. Someone taller than average, had no such problems other than feeling guilty about blocking someone else’s view. Thing was, you could and did move. You could let yourself go, you were packed in close enough that body heat kept you warm in the harshest of winters. You leant, you pushed, (Not shove I might add.) you bounced together, sang together, you felt as one with those around you. Even when you were losing, you had fun, had a laugh. With a disappointing performance on the pitch, (Most of the time.) you kept yourselves amused. When your team scored, it was a guttural reaction, an unbridled release of tension. You jumped up and down like loons, you hugged, you didn’t scrape your shins on the stupid seat in front of you, didn’t bruise your calf on the damn seat behind you. Anyone who fell in the melee, would be grabbed and hauled to their feet. You looked after each other, people you didn’t know, people you probably wouldn’t see again, but it was like unwritten code, the unwritten rules of the crowd. A few years ago, I saw Stone Roses at Eastlands, (Told you I don’t do sponsorship) I was close enough to the barrier at the front of the stage, that the old terracing experience came back. As we were bouncing in unison to the music, kids half my age lost their footing, I noticed it was the people my age that were springing into action, grabbing and hauling the kids back on their feet. We had that crowd knowledge.
I miss it. I’m sure that there’s a few out there who experienced terracing and were more than happy to see the back of it, but there’s far more that lament its passing. I know that Val and John who are each now closer to their 70s than they are their 60s, always go in the ‘safe standing’ section at the New Meadow, Shrewsbury. (I could refer to it by its sponsorship, but that’s just not going to happen here.) There wasn’t any consultation with the supporters around the country who always watched their club from the terracing, the choice of whether we wanted to stand or sit was taken away from us. But then, why would we be? We were the low end of the pay scale. Obviously we would want to sit rather than stand right? We only stood because we couldn’t afford to sit surely? No actually. Even had I been able to afford it, I would’ve still stood. I still do whenever I get the chance.
There’s just a few of ‘new builds’ that are truly easily walkable, (Sunderland, Wigan and Huddersfield.) The rest are either a half your weekly wage taxi ride away, or a combination of bus and aeroplane or boat away. Supporters are an afterthought. It’s a very much ‘Build it, and they will come’ attitude. Most are built as part of soul sapping retail parks, Wycombe’s is built on the edge of an industrial estate. Just because owners have chauffeur driven cars and they’re obsessed with the middle class nuclear family unit view, doesn’t mean that there isn’t anyone else who wants to watch football, or are they attempting to push the traditional fan base away? Well we know how the owner of Forest Green feels. That particular vegan dictator doesn’t allow meat anywhere near the ground, let alone the horror of serving a steak and kidney pie to an away fan. While I’m at it, The New Lawns is situated in the village of Nailsworth. In itself, it’s a bus ride from the nearest station, which is in Stroud. Anyone wishing to attend an evening kickoff, will have to leave before halftime and get the last bus back into Stroud. Otherwise, the taxi fare will be a full months wage. That’s if you’re fortunate enough to get a taxi to come out of Stroud to you anyway, as they’re reluctant because it’s busy due to a football match being staged. In respect of this common knowledge, has that dictator been mindful enough to lay coaches on for the many Stroud based Green fans who catch the bus for a Saturday afternoon game? Has he fu…… He’s much more bothered with his plans for a completely wooden ground in a field, somewhere in the Gloucestershire countryside. Why doesn’t he just go the whole hog and build the thing in a tree? There have been attempts or at least, an attempt made by one club to cater for fans getting to an from the new ground. Brighton and Hove Albion incorporates a return train journey within the match ticket from Brighton to Falmer. They also have an agreement in place to have more trains laid on. While I’m at it, they even show goals videos of the away club, for the away fans. They even serve real ale to away fans. It’s not perfect, as fans of Crystal Palace aren’t afforded the same treatment, but it’s a giant step in the right direction. Other clubs have had stations built, but it’s been an afterthought. Bolton were playing at their new ground long before a station was built. Coventry City had platforms built, but then found out the trains were far too small to cater for the number of fans. There’s a 6 hour bubble round the game where trains won’t stop on a match day. Unlike Brighton, the owners of Coventry City are notoriously belligerent and bullish when it comes to negotiations with anyone, hence why they’re having to share St Andrews with Blues. So what is the way forward for new grounds? First and foremost, should be transport plans. Before any plans and CGIs are drawn up, negotiations should be entered with local train and bus companies. Never mind away fans, home fans should be catered for. They don’t all drive, have cars or even want to drive on a match day. Approach roads are imperative. One road in and out is simply not good enough. Local councils should work far more closely with clubs when planning is just that, planning. Instead of pushing a club as far as it can away, councils should be looking at clubs as community assets more. Most clubs take the city or towns name. Local dignitaries are quick to jump on the bandwagon when things are going right. They enjoy the publicity and hospitality at a high profile Cup game, how about giving something back to the people they’re supposed to be representing? Football fans aren’t all thugs and shouldn’t be seen as such, shouldn’t be seen as an inconvenience. Away fans bring in much needed local income. This current pandemic will attest to that. More financial help should be given to clubs in their search for land within the boundaries of a town or city. Walking to a ground is better than transport on so many levels. At the moment it seems to be, that as long as the ground is far enough out of town as to not inconvenience anyone but the supporters, plans are passed. Back to safe standing. Any new ground should have safe standing incorporated. Along with many grounds on the continent, Shrewsbury Town and Celtic, safe standing not only exists but has proved both popular and successful. Plans have been submitted by other clubs, but as yet, I haven’t seen any developments. Talk is cheap. I have experienced safe standing thanks to Val and John at Shrewsbury and although not the old style terracing, I enjoyed it. Again, more should be done to encourage and financially help clubs to convert part or whole sections of their grounds to (rail/seat) safe standing. I of course, will watch on with envy as the Muppets who own Blues are snail pace slow on the uptake with absolutely anything. Even Wolves have submitted plans for safe standing. The last major gripe I have, (I’ve still got minor personal taste ones, but won’t send you to sleep with them. ) is the preoccupation with ‘Event style’ temporary stands erected just so a higher level criteria can be met. A timescale should be drawn up and adhered to in regards to replacing these temporary stands with permanent structures. How on earth the scaffolding holding the away end up at Priestfield stadium, (Not a stadium, it’s a ground.) doesn’t collapse in a storm, I don’t know. I dread to think what would happen if Blues were to visit there with a huge number of Bluenoses in tow. The target for my complaint is actually Moor Lane, (Told you, I won’t do advertising.) Salford City. It’s publicly known who their famous owners are, and I haven’t got a problem with it. Couldn’t care less if I’m being honest. What really angers me is that the whole ground is made up of a combination of event style stands, mobile cabins including toilet facilities, (The likes of which are seen at music festivals and on building sites.) and converted shipping containers. I understand they’re ambitious, but do it correctly and not on the cheap. The whole ground gives you the feeling it could all be taken down overnight and moved on a fleet of low loaders and erected in a field the other side of the country. Maybe next to a wooden construction in the Gloucestershire countryside.