Architecture: We'd have built great stadiums, but they showed us the red card: Simon Inglis accuses football's guardians of destroying their best hope for better grounds

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
The new North Bank Stand at Arsenal's Highbury stadium, north London, is one of the most sophisticated being built in Britain. Designed under the direction of Rod Sheard, of the Lobb Partnership, the 12,500-seat stand is part of a pounds 16.5m redevelopment and opens this August. The design embodies the spirit of the FSADC, disbanded last month, of which Rod Sheard was a driving force. Its structure and design as well as its safety aspects match the highest international standards. Without the impetus and advice of the FSADC - and in the case of Arsenal FC, its articulate fans (Arsenal has many architects, designers and engineers among its regulars) - it is not clear how such standards will be maintained.

THE Football Stadia Advisory Design Council (FSADC), created on the recommendation of Lord Justice Taylor's Report into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, won many friends during its short life. Unfortunately, few of them were in the world of football.

Standards of design and comfort, research and long-term planning are qualities prized in the boardrooms of few football clubs today. It is hardly surprising therefore that the Football Association and Football League's decision to kill off the FSADC last month has caused barely a ripple, despite being a flagrant breach of the Taylor Report.

But what the hell. Designing decent football grounds, as one football club director once boasted, is common sense, and nothing to do with design, is it? Lord Justice Taylor didn't think so. His original model for the FSADC was Coni, the highly respected Italian National Olympic Committee, which provides technical support to the designers of all sport venues in the country.

Working with another body set up after the Hillsborough disaster - the safety- oriented Football Licensing Authority, which still thrives and has teeth - the FSADC was to be Britain's chance to emulate Italy, France and Germany, where a commitment to modern, well-designed stadia is regarded as a vital element of civic planning.

Coni has a large staff and offices in Rome. The FSADC had one full-time staff member and a secretary. The Football League appointed a steering committee, including myself, then left us to get on with it, providing 'it' did not cost more than pounds 200,000 over three years.

As part-time editor of FSADC publications, I ended up overseeing nearly half that sum, which was spent on design guides for stadium seating, roofing, PA systems, facilities for disabled fans and, following David Mellor's decision last year to allow standing accommodation to remain at lower-division football grounds, safe terraces. A stadium bibliography, the world's first, was also published, with a long-overdue digest of stadium criteria.

Professionals and local authorities lapped up the publications. Had they been compiled by universities, government departments or private consultants, we, the members of the FSADC were told, the costs would have been three or four times higher, and they would have taken years instead of months.

We were all swept up in the spirit of the Taylor Report; united in the belief that British football clubs might at last aspire to stadiums of quality - not necessarily by copying the extravagant Italia '90 World Cup stadiums, but at least by capturing their boldness and imagination.

And so 20 or so experienced stadium architects, engineers and other specialists gave generously of their knowledge and time to various FSADC working parties. Their portfolios featured some of the best stadium designs in Europe: Old Trafford, Ibrox, Twickenham, the new north Bank Stand at Arsenal and Millwall's new Senegal Fields stadium in south London.

The FSADC's advisory service was widely used by public, private and academic institutions, and more than 80 senior football clubs, either directly or through their professional advisers.

Although it was often accused of being a talking shop for academics and aesthetes, nitty-gritty issues such as seat design, toilet provision or the interpretation of existing standards formed the bulk of the daily workload.

But at the end of the day it is the result that counts, and those who lead the Football Association and League could not see any. The FSADC was, we were led to believe, killed off because it was not felt it provided value for money.

Typical was the club chairman who telephoned with a question just before the FSADC's demise. Having received an answer he then derided the service as a waste of money. ' pounds 200,000 for one question,' he complained. He had no idea that his own architects had previously sought advice from the council. Most prominent among the sceptics was the Football League President, Gordon McKeag, who also serves the FA and the Football Trust, an organisation that distributes about pounds 30m a year for ground improvements.

McKeag did not appear to grasp the connection between good design and economy, or between good design and safety. If a club's builders, architects or engineers were receiving valuable advice from the FSADC, they should be the ones to pay for it, he argued. But the ultimate beneficiary of an efficient, well-informed architect or engineer is the football club itself.

British football clubs should fork out for research and development because they have possibly the worst safety record in international sport - that is not something architects should foot the bill for.

No response to these points was ever forthcoming. Instead, the guardians of football wanted it both ways - all the benefits but none of the costs.

Simon Inglis was a member of the FSADC; he is the author of 'Football Stadia of Britain and Football Stadia of Europe'.

(Photograph omitted)

Comments