What do Pride Park, The Emirates Stadium and Coventry’s Ricoh Arena all have in common? The answer is, well, pretty much everything.
Aside from choosing different colours from the Dulux chart, or the odd extra tier here and there, these are just a random selection of three ‘new’ grounds that boast absolutely no character, no identity and no individuality. Welcome to the 21st Century and its Ikea flatpack stadiums.
When the bulldozers moved into such classic grounds as Maine Road, Filbert Street and even the old Wembley (which was admittedly a bit worse for wear), we said goodbye to chunks of footballing history and genuine character.
Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the need for new and redeveloped stadiums. Safety factors, capacity factors and ultimately financial factors all come into play and often result in the requirement for a new stadium, but the one factor lost in all this is that horribly clichéd ‘X’ factor.
Throughout the course of my football match attendance days (roughly 16 years), I’ve watched and played games at 97 different grounds. And despite being able to tick off the likes of the new Wembley, the Nou Camp and the New Defence (Horley Town FC for all you non-league foes), my favourite ground is undoubtedly Oakwell. Take a bow Barnsley Football Club.
Oakwell is a ground with amazing atmosphere, real old-skool character and most of all, when you see it on the Football League Show, it’s immediately recognisable as Barnsley’s home (The proper northern style pub down the road also helped – ed).
Fratton Park was another from a similar mould. Alright, so all us Chelsea fans got a right soaking, but for the ‘proper ground’ experience (and the 5-0 win!) it was well worth it. Deepdale, too, deserves a mention.
But for how much longer will there be such stadiums left to visit and enjoy? Talk of new homes for Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton to name a few, mean the likely loss of yet more iconic grounds. And even non-league teams are heading in the same direction - Dartford’s relatively new Princes Park looks like James May had some spare grey bricks left over from his life-size Lego house.
It’s a harsh reality of the modern game. In a sense, the decline in character and individuality can also be seen in aspects such a kit design (oh for the days of Chelsea’s ‘tangerine and graphite’ number) and even managerial press conferences (Mr Mourinho’s eggs and omelettes aside of course).
Some new grounds have tried to replicate or replace old ‘landmarks’, such as the Wembley arch in place of the Twin Towers (admittedly in this case more for structural reasons than sentimental) and in a way, it’s nice that the time is taken and thought given to such traits, but they’ll never truly bring back the history of the Towers themselves.
Whatever highs your club reaches, whether they make a cameo appearance at the Champions League final, the FA trophy final or just manage to scrape three points on a Saturday against the local pub side, you can’t beat an away day at a proper ground, with 4 detached stands, half a roof caving in and a grubby old man in a string vest flipping burgers in the back of a van.
That’s what the beautiful game’s all about and long may it live that way...but I won’t hold my breath.