Football: No more jokes if United move to Wembley

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The Independent Online
OK, so we've all heard the jokes: what do you buy a Man United fan for Christmas? A road map of Manchester. I was recently discussing this attitude towards United fans with an American friend and he was surprised by the idea that you had to have a direct connection with the location of the team you support.

In the States, it is far less common, for historical reasons which began with baseball. Until the 1960s, baseball was the king of American professional sports. Basketball and American football existed but did not achieve prominence until widespread television coverage.

Before the Second World War, nearly all the main sports teams were based in the East since that was where most of the population lived. But after the war, widespread use of the car led to a shift of populations away from the cities and into the suburbs. The population also began a westward migration towards California and later the south west, to places such as New Mexico and Arizona.

In the meantime, the West Coast was booming and wanted major league sport, quickly and off the shelf. The great change began with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Dodgers, originally called the Trolley Dodgers, were in Brooklyn, where the population was beginning to migrate to the suburbs.

Los Angeles dangled a good offer in front of Dodgers' owner, Walter O'Malley, and he moved the team lock, stock and barrel to a brand new stadium provided by the citizens of Los Angeles.

The Dodgers' move opened the floodgates. During the 1950s, the Giants moved from New York to San Francisco, the Braves from Boston to Milwaukee (then to Atlanta in the 1960s), the Athletics from Philadelphia to Kansas City. In addition, the Lakers (basketball) moved from Minnesota to Los Angeles, as did the Philadelphia Warriors to San Francisco.

The retention of the original team names led to the anomalous Los Angeles Dodgers (not a trolley in sight), the Los Angeles Lakers (retained from Minnesota, land of a thousand lakes), and perhaps the most bizarre of all, the Utah Jazz (retained from New Orleans).

Today, the transplanting of sports franchises especially in American football has become an epidemic. And so, the Baltimore Colts upped and went to Indianapolis, the St Louis Cardinals left for Arizona. Both Los Angeles teams are now gone, the Raiders moving back to Oakland where they had moved from just a few years before, and the LA Rams relocated to St Louis. It all makes Wimbledon's proposed move to Dublin look tame.

Alex Ferguson said recently his ultimate dream is an 80,000 capacity ground which he is convinced would be filled at home games. The same thought has occurred to Arsenal who have the idea of moving to Wembley.

But one problem is that Arsenal would never be able to fill it, while United could. And given the experience of the United States, it would not be quite so fantastical for a new London mayor to push for United to move into this new home in north-west London.

Obviously, it would be re-named New Trafford. One thing's for certain - if United were based at Wembley, the fans wouldn't need a road map!