No 215 Burnden Park

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The Independent Online
There'll be no more: "Walking down the Manny Road to see the Burnden aces". That 102-year tradition came to an end for fans of Bolton Wanderers last night when Charlton Athletic became the final visitors to Burnden Park for a professional football match.

The bulldozers will move in along Manchester Road, when the ground, is sold to carve up this famous site, where the ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies would have provided gripping television drama material.

Who can forget Nat Lofthouse, the teenager plucked from the nearby mines to become the epitome of post-war English centre-forwards and lion-hearted hero of the Burnden terraces?

We will remember the tragedy of the 1946 FA Cup sixth-round tie with Stoke City, when 33 people died following the collapse of crush barriers on the steep Embankment terrace. The lesson that too many people were being squeezed into football grounds clearly went unheeded, given the disasters at Ibrox in 1971 and Hillsborough eight years ago.

And what about the club's roller-coaster ride in the last 10 years, down to the depths of the Fourth Division in 1987 and up to the Premier League in 1995, only to be relegated last season?

Now they are back in the top flight as the most convincing of First Division champions since the Red Enemy, a dozen miles up the road at Old Trafford, ran away with the old Second Division in the mid-70s. But Burnden Park - whose terracing has clung on to the bitter end, accompanied by the delightfully dated wooden stands - will not witness the Trotters' triumphant return.

No longer will the fat cats come to conquer in the cup competitions only to be treated like dogs - the Wanderers have seen off Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool and Tottenham in the last four years while still a Nationwide League outfit.

No more will Alan Green be able to say: "Welcome, folks, to Burnden Park. And there really is no better place to be on a Tuesday or Wednesday night than this atmospheric old ground, when the crowd scents the possibility of another famous cup upset." And for the last time, we've heard Green's Radio Five Live colleague Jimmy Armfield, a Bolton manager in the 70s, say at his old stamping ground: "What happened there was..."

But at least we are rid of The Superstore. You know, the one we all thought was going to be built on the back of the ground but which now occupies half of the Embankment.

And what are we getting instead? The Reebok Stadium. Catchy name, huh? We are promised an all-seater venue fit for the 21st century and, from what I've seen, this out-of-town arena does indeed look mightily impressive: sprouting up in a spaceship kind of a way by some fields close to the motorway.

The attendant entertainment village - comprising a multiplex cinema, US-style restaurants, bowling alley, shopping complex, motel, gym and other leisure facilities - could not be further removed from the aged feel of the terraced houses that are crammed up close to one side of Burnden

But, I ask you, couldn't a club with the proud tradition of Bolton Wanderers have come up with something more original than naming their new ground solely after the club's sponsors. What happens when Reebok end their sponsorship?

Even Middlesbrough, the embodiment of big bucks and commercialism, managed to retain some dignity when naming their new home the Cellnet Riverside Stadium.

Surely, even the Brand Spanking New Fit For The Millennium Close To The Fields Just Off The M61 Stadium has more of a ring to it than the Reebok Stadium?

But, whatever its name, it will never be Burnden Park...

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