Space-age Dome a great venue to play football in - but no good for a sing-song

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At the end of a long day of drinking, chanting and striking up hopeful conversations with Japanese girls, the England supporters' rendition of God Save The Queen would have been a challenge to the acoustics of any stadium.

At the end of a long day of drinking, chanting and striking up hopeful conversations with Japanese girls, the England supporters' rendition of God Save The Queen would have been a challenge to the acoustics of any stadium.

But rarely has the National Anthem sounded so strange. It rolled backwards and forwards around the round reaches of the Sapporo Dome, words and music crossing and recrossing one another, occasionally – as if by accident – coinciding. It was the first time that England had played in a sealed stadium since Detroit in 1993, and whatever it did for the football it did nothing for the singing.

The Sapporo Dome must be one of the most ingenious sporting venues in the world, a Swiss Army knife of a stadium which has staged exhibitions, concerts, baseball games, and Japanese domestic football, as well as three matches in the World Cup. It contains an art gallery, a viewing observatory, a children's baby-sitting service, half a dozen cafes and a branch of the memorably-named Mosburger, the Japanese hamburger chain. I am quite sure that, if it proved necessary, you could use the venue to sharpen your pencils and remove a stone from a horse's hoof.

Many of the photographs show the Dome from the air, but it looks best from the ground as you emerge from the subway station. Fukuzumi, the Sapporo suburb where it is located, is immaculate and uninteresting, a Japanese Acacia Gardens. And looming over it, like an atmospheric biosphere on a harsh outer planet (which Sapporo, during its Siberian-style winter, resembles), is the Dome.

Its skin is matt aluminium. Silvery walkways straddle the road and carry the crowd into the stadium. The temperature is perfect, that of a cool summer day. The artificial lighting is gentle and undistracting. And yet there is something very strange about the atmosphere.

The mechanical brilliance has been much commented on: the baseball mounds retract beneath the floor; the 110 pieces of artificial turf are lifted off the concrete floor; and an entire wall off the stadium slides open. The "floating" football pitch, which sits outside absorbing the rain and sunlight, is levitated inside on wheels and a cushion of air, and the seats shuffle and rotate around it, extending backwards in a gentle and elegant curve. The official stadium brochure specifies their exact angle: 27 degrees.

It looks very pretty, but it feels not at all like a football ground, and compared to ones with a steeper rake you are a very long way from the pitch. Because the pitch does not quite fit the space available, a concrete no man's land separates it from the spectators.

Rather than dangling over the turf, the supporters' flags are draped across a kind of high wall over which only the most wayward volley can ever hope to soar. If some people were to attempt to get on this pitch, under the misapprehension that it was all over, they would need to be trained alpinists or abseiling commandos.

But oddest of all is the sound. The Dome ought to echo like a cavern, but the appliance of science has also touched the roof. Sound absorbing bars permit a certain amount of resonance, but not enough. The ceiling may be 68 metres high but from the upper rows it feels insistently low.

But it is also a technological wonder, a mad professor's extravagance that could only exist in a country as rich and spendthrift as Japan. As the England fans' magazine, Three Lions, puts it: "If the evil Dr No ever wanted to disguise his evil underground missile bunker to prevent Her Majesty's Secret Service foiling his devious plot to blow satellites out of orbit, then he could do a lot worse than to go for a Sapporo-style convertible baseball stadium."

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