Paul Newman: Clubs on the move swap character for revenue streams

The FootbalL League column: For people to watch football, modern stadiums are far superior

Sunday 23 October 2011 04:52

There was a time when any self-respecting schoolboy could reel off the names of every Football League ground in the country, but not anymore. Besides the fact most youngsters are more likely to be able to tell you where Schalke play (the Veltins Arena) rather than Shrewsbury (Greenhous Meadow), it is quite a task these days to keep track of the rapidly changing addresses.

When Scunthorpe left the Old Show Ground in 1988 for the purpose-built Glanford Park, it was the first new Football League stadium to be built for more than 30 years. Since then, another 26 of the League's current 72-strong membership have upped sticks.

While some Premier League clubs have also moved – Arsenal, Bolton, Manchester City, Stoke, Sunderland and Wigan have all relocated over the same period – the pace of change is greatest within the Football League. In the Championship alone, 11 of the 24 current clubs – Cardiff, Coventry, Derby, Doncaster, Hull, Leicester, Middlesbrough, Millwall, Reading, Scunthorpe and Swansea – have changed grounds.

Chesterfield, who played at Saltergate for 139 years, and Morecambe, who spent 89 of their first 90 years at Christie Park, are the latest Football League clubs to have joined the rush. Chesterfield have won their first two matches at the rather less romantically named b2net stadium, while Morecambe began life at the Globe Arena with a Carling Cup victory over Coventry.

Burton, Northampton, Oxford, Rotherham, Shrewsbury and Wycombe are the other League Two clubs to have moved, with Brighton, Bristol Rovers, Colchester, Huddersfield, MK Dons, Southampton, Walsall and Yeovil from League One also relocating.

If some lament the passing of so much football history and the lack of character of many of the new stadiums, it should be remembered that it was the 1989 Hillsborough disaster that provided the impetus for such sweeping changes.

Moving into purpose-built arenas has not only created safe environments but has also transformed the fortunes of many clubs, providing income from facilities up to seven days a week rather than once a fortnight. Morecambe's £12m stadium, for example, has function rooms that can cater for anything from weddings to business conferences.

Simon Inglis, who edits English Heritage's "Played in Britain" series and is one of Britain's leading authorities on football stadiums, rejects the claims that the modern trend might be regrettable, architecturally speaking.

"It depends on what you define as architecture," he said. "If it's providing good facilities for people to watch football, then modern stadiums are generally far superior to what we had before. Children can watch matches in safety, elderly supporters have barriers to lean on and staircases to use, women are provided with proper toilets.

"Some of the old stadiums, particularly those built by Archibald Leitch, had good facilities, but many of the rest were cobbled together by people who weren't specialist stadium builders at all. Now you have maybe half-dozen specialist companies which use computer technology and modern methods to build stadiums quickly and efficiently.

"The main difference between so many of the new stadiums and the old ones is their location. For very good practical reasons – affordability, availability of space, traffic, access – many modern stadiums are built on out-of-town sites, and it can be a case of 'out of sight, out of mind'."

As for some of the new stadiums in the Football League, go to the top of the class if you can name the clubs that play at the Weston Homes Community Stadium, the Liberty Stadium, the Pirelli Stadium, the Keepmoat Stadium and the Galpharm Stadium. Schoolboys lacking self-respect can turn to page 16 for the answers.

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