Looking for Archie part 3 – Tynecastle

IMG_0033.JPGThe third and final day of Dynamo Birkerod´s trip of Scottish football grounds is, arguably, the big one. It will probably be the title-decider. And it will be our last chance ever to get a look at Archibald Leitch’s main stand – in a month from now, bulldozers will move in and tear it down. And – it is a category A match.

IMG_0034.JPGTo prevent trouble, the police restrict ticket sales for category A matches. Only fans with a documented buying history as fans of the club are allowed to buy tickets – and only one ticket each. I had established a buying history a month previously – but that was not enough for me to apply for a ticket.

In fact, I had given up on getting 11 tickets, and instead made plans for seeing the build-up to the game, watching the match in a pub, and then paying a visit to rivals Hibernian’s ground Easter Road. But just a few days before the match, I contacted my old conference acquaintance Siobhan to ask her for some advice – and her husband, Chris, managed to pull some strings.

P1270367Not only that. He has also arranged that Hearts marketing officer Dylan will show us around the new memorial garden and museum at Tynecastle, which is otherwise closed on matchdays. I am particularly delighted with that, as I am working on an article about football memorial gardens. Depending on where you draw the line between a memorial garden and memorial monument, there are somewhere between 20 and 30 at British football grounds now.

P1270373.JPGI have told our party about the special story about Hearts and WW1 – and the Archibald Leitch stand. Hearts were building a really good team, and in 1913 asked Archie to build them a new grand stand to match – for £6000. That was the maximum limit for the club – and it meant that they could not afford to have one of Archie’s signature gables put on the top. But by New Year 1914, the cost had risen to £8000 and Hearts had to sell top striker Percy Dawson to Blackburn Rovers for a record fee of £2500.

P1270397.JPGStill, Hearts got off to a flying start to the new league season in 1914 – beating Celtic 2-0 in the opening fixture and winning the first eight matches, 19 out of the opening 21. But as rugby and cricket players (amateurs) suspended their leagues to join the army, criticism of the professional footballers carrying on with their trade increased. And at the end of November 1914, almost the entire Hearts team signed up for the army. They were joined by a number of players from Hibernian, Raith Rovers and Dunfermeline.

P1270400.JPGHearts suffered their first two defeats of the season, when the team had been out all night for military training and had to get straight on the train for matches the next morning without sleeping. Hearts won only 8 out of the last 17 matches after signing up, with Celtic overtaking them for the title at the end of the season – with none of the prolific Glasgow players having signed up.

P1270444.JPGSeven of the Hearts players lost their lives in the war. Several supporters – who signed up with the players for McRae’s battalion – also lost their lives. Attendances dropped – and so the club revenue. A new entertainment tax to finance the war effort added to Hearts’ financial woes.The cost of the new stand, however, went the other way. Completed in October 1915, the total cost was double the original estimate, £12.178. Along the way, the relations between the club and Archie had soured, and on the plaque mounted on the stand to commemorate the erection, all board members were named, but not the architect – Archie – as was customary.

P1270476.JPGSo in the light of history, today’s match could tie up a few loose ends. As well as bidding Archie’s stand goodbye at a time, when Hearts have just been saved from deep financial troubles, Hearts have the chance to dent Celtic’s unbeaten march towards the title. Celtic, who without contributing to the war effort a hundred years ago, benefited from Hearts’ sacrifice and took the title out of Hearts’ grasp.

We call three cabs to take us to the ground. Originally, I had planned for us to walk there, so we could stop by the memorial for the fallen Hearts players along the way, but the walk through Glasgow yesterday had taken its toll on some of the Dynamos who crave a cab for the 4 mile distance. I point out the memorial for the guys in my cab. It is very noticeable with the many wreaths of red poppies around it. In fact, next morning I take a walk past it, and notice that among the wreaths from many Hearts supporters branches, there is also one from Hibernian.

We are dropped by the Tynecastle Arms pub – it is glorious sunshine. We have a first quick look of Archie’s stand, which already forms part of a building site preparing the new stand. I point out the characteristic angling of the stand – another trace of the time, when football stadiums were designed to fit into the space available, rather than just buying up adjacent land.

IMG_0062.JPGWe make our way around the Gorgie Road end to the Wheatfield Street entrance, and meet Dylan in the club shop. He shows us a playing kit designed two years ago to thank the 8000 supporters who gave more than £120 to save the club.  So far, the foundation has contributed five million pounds! Amazing. Obviously, it is a shirt, I have to buy.

P1270306From the shop, we walk around to the Memorial Garden – “Forever in our Hearts”, opened in 2015. It is very different to most of the memorial gardens, I have visited so far. It is not intended to be a place, where you can scatter the ashes or bury the urn of your relatives, although Dylan guess that there are fans who sneak in to scatter the ashes of relatives among the plants.

P1270309.JPGThat is one major difference. Another major difference is that it is strictly designed. Other gardens are a jumble of individual expressions of identity and grief – but here, the only way of expression is to put a text within a metal Heart plaque. There is space for 8000 Hearts – the same number as the number of names on the shirt. At the price of £215.

P1270393.JPGIt is not only supporters featured here, though. There are also deceased former players, mixed among the fans in no particular order. They are important, but not more important than the fans. As a sign puts it: “The fans – the one true constant. Thank you”. It is no coincidence that the statue erected by the garden is an anonymous representative of McCrae’s battalion which had players as well as supporters signing up.

P1270324.JPGAlthough all individual statements have to be expressed within the same narrow frame of the steel heart, there is still room for individuals to stand out. Dylan points out his favourite plaque: “In memory of Dave. He loved the pub. He loved Heart of Midlothian. He tolerated his family”.

P1270308Jes asks Kelly about the values of Hearts – compared to what we saw at Rangers the other day. He doesn’t want to be drawn into discussing Rangers, but focuses on the community work and sponsorship policy of Hearts – they have “Save the children” as shirt sponsors. Of course, you could argue that Hearts are the protestant club of Edinburgh, just as Rangers are in Glasgow, both of them with catholic rivals. And at least some years ago, the “Billy Boys” song could be heard from sections of the Hearts crowd. But the religious element seems to have disappeared from the Edinburgh rivalry, and Hearts have worked deliberately on stamping out that element of the crowd.

IMG_0063

I purchase a Hearts WW1 scarf to supplement the Rangers scarf I bought the other day. Whereas Glasgow Rangers did not contribute in any particular way to the war, still they sell “Battle of the Somme” scarves dedicated to the Ulster Division, stressing militant protestancy. Hearts sell McCrae Battalion scarves with the names of the Hearts players who fought. This seems to commemorate historic roots, rather than signalling sectarian partisanship. I wear my new Hearts scarf for the rest of the day.

IMG_0052You could argue that it is strange that the memorial garden of a club,  emphazising the importance of the fans so much, should be so strictly regulated. All messages put on the standardized plaques. The space is carefully designed around a bronze and steel sculpture of the club crest wit a football in the centre – that brings you could luck, if you touch it.  It is surrounded by three steel benches.

One of the benches is dedicated to Hearts greatest player, Dave McKay. Curiously, it is adorned by a George Best quotation “The hardest man I have ever played against and certainly the bravest”. Curiously, because “bravery” is not usually the main virtue ascribed a footballer in a memorial, and also because George Best had a spell with Hearts rivals Hibernian. To balance the bench dedicated a player, the second bench is dedicated to “The Hearts Family … the Hearts supporters all over the world who helped save their club in it’s hour of need”. And the third and final bench link players and supporters through the 1914-story:

P1270334.JPG“Do not ask where Hearts are playing and then look at me askance. If it’s football that you are wanting, you must come with us to France”.

Over the past few years the WW1 commemorations seem to have sparked a new wave of football memorials and memorial gardens. The story of Hearts and the Sporting Battalion – and the timing with the commemorations – are probably the main reasons, why this garden have more resemblance with an official war memorial than a private garden, where ashes are scattered among personalized objects.

The garden also has a small room, where you can have a quiet service. It contains an impressive artwork, based on a map of the Somme region.

P1270335.JPGFrom the garden, we walk to the other end of the ground to the Gorgie Stand to have a look around the museum. David, the assistant curator, is in to greet us. It is a really nice little museum, set up last year in a room originally build as club shop on the initiative of Ann Budge.

17761174_1719933554689639_352034340900300125_o.jpgAnn Budge formed a consortium to buy the shareholding majority of the club during the 2014 turmoil, to allow the fans’ Foundation of Hearts time to raise the money to take over the ownership officially. When she one day saw the club archive and the objects gathered there, she wanted a museum established to show it to the fans. And it is really made for the fans. For one thing, entrance is free of charge, whereas you have to pay around £ 10 in other club museums, as they mainly target footballing tourists who are prepared to spend to get the entire package.

17760853_1719933728022955_4674173200258208005_oThe Hearts museum is – just like the memorial garden – atypical as a football club museum. They often tend to be designed as branding platforms, reflecting just how much success the club has had, often as part of an argument for being the best, the greatest, the most popular or the first to achieve something. And this argument is accompanied with a hall of fame element. They seem to be designed primarily to win over neutral visitors to become supporters through their claim to greatness.

The Hearts museum seem to be more a room for reflection on the club’s history for its fans. Objects – and relics – tell about the McCrae Battalion, and about Hearts travels to other countries. A map tells about every ground in Edinburgh where Hearts have played. The historical timetable element contain lows as well as the highs as part of the club identity. Visitors be warned! Becoming a Hearts supporter may cause you considerable grief and despair along the way!

P1270339But, of course, there is also a special place for Hearts’ greatest team that won the title in 1958 with a record number of points, goals scored and goal difference. 132 goals in 34 matches! Impressive. But what intrigues me most in the museum are the souvenirs taken back from Denmark, when Hearts visited Copenhagen in 1912 and 1914. A china polar bear, and a swastika needle from the Carlsberg breweries.

As a bonus, Dylan wants to show us the pitch. We enter the ground in the Gorgie Stand, as security staff are walking in lines around the ground, flipping all the seats. Jens asks me, what they are doing it for. “Checking for bombs” I say. He doesn’t really believe me, so he asks Dylan – who confirms.

I am so absorbed with looking at Archie’s condemned stand, that I hardly appreciate the fact that we are allowed to walk pitch side all the way to the players’ tunnel in the middle of the stand.

I have a last look at the pillars and elaborate ceiling. Dylan, though, doesn’t seem to be sentimental about. “As you can see, it needs replacing”. I cannot see it.

We are allowed into the players tunnel. It is really narrow, a far cry from modern tunnels that are made to accommodate television crews and have areas for post-match interviews with players. There is hardly room for two rows of players lined up here before entering the ground.

Over the entrance to the field, there is first a customary “This is Tynecastle” – and then a quatation from Heart legend John Cumming: “Blood doesn’t show on a maroon jersey”.

P1270363.JPGIt is fairly crowded in the tiny tunnel – and noisy. Electronic music is blasting out from somewhere. A camera man from Sky Sports block the tunnel – he is waiting for the Celtic players to arrive – and we have to stand behind him and wait for them to pass. I can see on Dylan that he didn’t plan this – and wants us to get out of there as quickly as possible. When apparently all the Celtic players have passed, he tells us to follow him as quickly as we can out of there.

tynecastle-stadium

As we enter entrance hall, another couple of Celtic players appear – and I make the ultimate sacrifice to avoid causing Dylan too much trouble for taking us through. I don’t stop to take photos of Archie’s Hearts mosaic crest. A sacrifice that keeps me awake late that night. It was the last chance to see it … although Dylan claims that that is the only thing that will be preserved.

17758551_1719934794689515_4389288795540633141_o.jpgAs we gather outside the main stand, everybody seems a bit starstruck and realize that this was a bit extraordinary. Jonas, one of Ib’s son, is excited that he shook the hand of Kolo Toure, as he arrived as one of the last Celtic players.

P1270368.JPGDylan points out where the new stand will be. They will build it in stages, so it will be ready for matches already by September. And then the rest with offices etc. will be completed afterwards. I have a long last look at Archie’s stand …

17545546_1719933881356273_5607249700310073257_o.jpgWe thank for an amazing tour, and take the short walk to the pub “The Athletic Arms”, called “the Diggers” as it is situated between to cemeteries. Most of us have a pint and a pie – and they are really good. It is a really great place. The atmosphere is good, there are plenty of old football photos on the wall – and the television show the Sky Sports build-up to the match, so we get a deja-vu of the Celtic players arriving in the tunnel.

Back to the ground. It is an early 12.30 kick-off. Our seats are in the Roseburn stand, above the Memorial Garden. Half the stand is allocated the Celtic fans – who enter from McLeod Street, the other half home fans, who have to enter through the Wheatfield stand. As much as I love old Archie’s stand, I have to admit that the concourse on the new stands at Tynecastle are nice and spacey. Fans can meet here, no matter where they are seated, and the facilities are ok. In fact, there is even a curry shed – but having just had a pie at the pub, I have room for no more at the moment.

Again, you glimpse the fans commitment of the club with a listing of 500 financial contributors.

P1270395.JPGInside the ground, I send long looks to Archie’s stand. It may look a bit dated between the two larger cantilevered stands, and it is somehow dwarfed by the big white steel gantry in place for its successor.

The crowd is – in terms of gender and etnicity – almost identical to the ones at Dundee and Glasgow, and, in fact, most English grounds. 100% white and 85% male. Unusually, there are a few suits around, but there are also, despite the attractiveness of the fixture, a few empty seats around us.

P1270413.JPGThe players enter the field to the tune of the 1950’s “Glorious Hearts” recording. It goes well with Archie’s stand. I wonder if they will – like Glasgow Rangers – persevere with it, when the new stand takes over, or they will go all ‘modern’ like Glasgow Rangers and play “Simply the best”.

P1270402.JPGOf course, Celtic have a massive turnout for the match – and they are in pretty good voice, although, I must admit, I had expected a bit more from them. They are not as vocal as many other travelling supports, even though they are on the verge of winning the title.

P1270424.JPGThe Hearts crowd, though, are in good voice, as Hearts make a good, highpressing start to the game, unsettling Celtic. Ooohhhs and ahhrsss accompany tackles and passes – and you really get the match under your skin. A stark contrast to the ultra-element at Ibrox the previous day. This is what British football is about. I love every second of it.

Hearts have a few half chances. Niels next to me suggests that the pressure of possibly winning the title today is too much for Celtic, but I reply that they are just waiting to counter and will probably nick a couple of goals – because they do look sharp upfront once they get the ball to Scott Sinclair.

P1270422.JPGWhereas I was way off the mark with my 4-0 prediction for Rangers the previous day, I am proved right. Just after the halfway point of the first half, two Sinclair goals within the space of 4 minutes, put Celtic firmly in the driving seat.

P1270460.JPGJust before the second goal, Celtic’s Swedish full back Mikael Lustig had gone down injured, calling for a foul and probably a card to a Hearts player. But as Sinclair races through to score, he jumps up and runs over to celebrate. The Hearts fans are angered by this miraculous resurrection. When Lustig goes to the touchline for to retrive the ball from the crowd for a throw-in – he gets it full force in the groin. As he turns and squares up towards the fans, they hurl abuse at him. On of them seems to spit at him, as he shouts him right in the face. But he just manages to keep his cool.

A little reminder that despite Fans Foundation, Memorial Gardens etc. not all Hearts fans are charity angles – for instance, the boy at the corner of the Main Stand, waving a Union Jack towards the Celtic supporters seems to have been inspired by Rangers. There are, of course, also quite a few vocal supporters around us, swearing and cursing. A guy in front of me can’t decide whether to call on “f..ing hell” or “Jesus” – maybe his appeals to two competing spheres make things go from bad to worse.

At half time, Niels and I go down to the concourse for a stadium pie. I have completely forgotten about the curry shed. There is hardly any queue, which either illustrates that the stadium have got plenty of catering facilities or that fans are not really up for early kick-offs.

P1270451.JPGThe atmosphere has lost the incredible edge of the opening 23 minutes. Nobody really believes that there is way back into this for Hearts. But still, the crowd tries to get behind the team at the start of the second half. But after 10 minutes, Celtic add a third goal. And that is it. Just like at Dundee on the Friday, the third goal sparks an exodus.

The Celtic supporters, of course, are celebrating – but whereas some of my fellow travellers are impressed by them, I had expected a bit more. Perhaps they have just been too superior this season to really be up for it.

P1270464.JPG

For the past 20 minutes, it is an almost surreal atmosphere. Half the Hearts supporters have left, as they can’t bear to see their rivals celebrating a title at their ground. And the Hearts players have lost all belief. Celtic players go through the motions and win 5-0 – but in the end, it could have been more. I can’t help thinking what would have happened, if Hearts had managed to take an early lead, when they took the game to Celtic.

P1270472.JPGAt the end of the match, the Celtic players run over to celebrate with their supporters. The players also seem a bit subdued in their celebrations. All the Hearts supporters have left – we are almost all alone with the Celtic supporters, players – and the security.

IMG_0045.JPGBy the time we leave the ground, there is no crowd outside. We head for the Royal Ettrick Hotel’s Beer garden to meet up with Siobhan and Chris, and their daughter Daisy. The sun is shining, the beer is good, just like the company. After a pretty tight schedule for three days with a lot of tense build-up, it is almost meditative to sit here and talk in the sun.

17795919_1901693926710889_2880698806067551357_n.jpgBack to the city centre, where we have dinner at The Devil’s Advocate, next to the filming for the Avengers: Infinity War. Afterwards, we head to the 500 year old White Hart pub. I ask each of my fellow travellers if they have taken one particular Scottish team to Heart after seeing four of the top six clubs in action over three matches.

The two young ones go for Celtic. A 5-0 win, a title, and celebrating supporters. One goes for Motherwell for their spirited performance at Ibrox. But the rest all go for Hearts. A few of them add “because of the history and values”. I feel exactly the same, and I am delighted that the tour around the ground, the memorial garden and museum has made such an impact.

17758321_1719933714689623_2775497408754347824_o.jpgFootball, after all, comes from the heart. It is about identity and values. Of course, winning is nice, and loosing is painful. But despite the ever growing media focus on success, and television fans switching their loyalties as quickly as switching channels, there is something beautiful about the material culture of a club seducing a group of grown-up men actually being there and sensing it – despite the club loosing 5-0 at home.

The only slight grudge I hold against Hearts is that they are bulldozing Archie’s stand. Maybe that is why, there is also room for some sympathy for Dundee F.C. in my heart. 17390523_1719934324689562_3995071751066168390_o.jpg

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Football grounds, Football museum, Uncategorized

Looking for Archie part 2 – Ibrox

P1270242.JPGWe are still on a high after Aberdeen’s 7 goals at Dens Park the previous night. And now our Dynamo Birkerod team is completed with the late arrival of Ib and his two sons last night. We are a full team of 11 now.

1280px-Statue_of_Wellington,_mounted,_Glasgow_-_DSC06285In fact, we are so high, that rather than taking a cab from Glasgow Queen Street Station to Hampden Park, the first stop of the day, we decide to go by bus to get a closer look at the city. Finding the bus stop, however, proves a bit of a challenge, as my smartphone sends me first in one and then the opposite direction. We ask a policeman for directions. He tells us to go to the gallery of modern art – “with a statue with a cone on the top of the head”. Nevertheless, we are taken by surprise when we discover,  that it is actually a 19th century equastrian statue of the Duke of Wellington with a modern, orange traffic cone on top of his head.

P1270183.JPGOur wandering around means that we are a little late on arrival at Hampden Park, not only the National Scottish football stadium, but also the home of the Scottish Football Museum. I tell the guy at the ticket office that we are a famous Danish football team, following in the footsteps of Archibald Leitch, the famous Scottish football architect, making a stop at Hampden on our way to Ibrox. He is a Rangers fan himself.

P1270147.JPGAt first, he suggests that we should go on the stadium tour, but on second thoughts he advises us not to do so. If we want a drink before the match, we have to leave Hampden in just over an hour. So we settle for tickets for the football museum. But a few moments after entering the museum, a staff member comes across to us. He has heard of our quest, and offers us a look inside the ground, now that we can’t go on the tour.

P1270149.JPGWe are taken to the VIP box where trophies are presented. It is a really beautiful, harmonic ground. Yet, I can’t help comparing with the photos I have seen of the ‘old’ Hampden. Hampden Park used to be the biggest football ground in the world, reaching a 150.000 capacity. Almost all of them standing on huge terraces. A really amazing, awe-inspiring sight.

P1130972.JPG

I remember my late father telling me about his visit to Hampden in 1951, travelling with the Danish International team. It was the most impressive football experience, he had ever had. In fact, by the 1930’s, Glasgow had Hampden with 150.000 capacity, Ibrox with 120.000, Parkhead with 83.000, and Firhill with 50.000. A total of 400.000 in four grounds for a city with about 1.000.000 inhabitants.

20100520-leitch-hampden-1937

Archibald Leitch grew up close to Hampden Park, which was the best ground in Scotland, before Archie got into football stadiums. So he has probably gained some inspiration there. It was not until the 1930’s, when Archibald himself had retired, that his company got to leave their mark an Hampden. The characteristic patented Leitch crush barriers were erected around the ground, a North Stand was built and the South Stand extended. According to Archibald’s sketches, the ground had a capacity of 163.782 – and if standing in the passages were allowed, it could be expanded to 183.688. In fact, the highest recorded attendance was just 149.415.

17493083_1719934501356211_3950263667158589634_o.jpgThe ‘new’ Hampden just looks nice, seen from the VIP box. It is not as big as Celtic park or Ibrox. Standing inside the ground, it is hard to believe that it can hold 50.000. It looks much bigger from the outside, partly because of the many crush barriers sectioning the stairs around the ground for crowd control. Probably designed in the light of a catastrophe at Ibrox back in 1971. As people left the ground by the end of the match, somebody fell over at the foot of long stairway. The push of people leaving the ground and pouring down the stairway was so strong that 66 people were killed and more than 200 injured – a story that is being told inside the museum. Around the new Hampden, the efforts to control the flow of the crowd are quite noticeable.

P1270163.JPGThe museum tells another, slightly different, story of havoc and crowd control – about the worst ever football riot in 1909. The replay of the Scottish cup final between Celtic and Rangers ended in a second draw, paving the way for yet another moneyspinning replay. Even before the match, rumours were rife that the clubs had fixed the match to go to a replay. Fans of both teams reacted to the second draw by going rampant, not just tearing down the goals, but also burning down the turnstile block. No replay was played and the cup and medals were withheld that year.

On a more cheerful note, our guide tells us that 1st division club Queens Park still play their home matches at Hampden. And that all their 4-500 fans or so prefer to sit in the VIP area where we are standing, as the seats here are clad with leather rather than just cheap plastic seats.

We scatter around the museum. There are many interesting or funny little objects, but most of us seem to be attracted to the screens that show old black and white footage of Hampden and particularly the crowd when it was at its peak. The number of people filling the terraces is unbelievable. I remember sports historian Wray Vamplew telling about his first match. It was in the middle of summer, bright sunshine, but he was still told to put on his wellies. He didn’t understand, till he got into the crowd. It was impossible to move around, and nobody could get to the toilets. So the terraces were used instead, and urine flowed down to the foot of the stand, where he was standing. Programmes were rolled up and used to prevent hitting the guy standing in from of you.

P1270184.JPGWe leave for Ibrox just before noon with 3 hours to kick-off. It is only a 20 minute taxi ride away. Archibald Leitch’s main stand at Ibrox is in stark contrast to the main stand at Dens Park. He wanted Ibrox to be his masterpiece. For two reasons. He was a Glasgow Rangers supporter, and his first ever attempt at constructing a football ground at Ibrox had ended in catastrophe.

17545451_1719934151356246_5256011351525604594_o.jpgArchibald Leitch – who until then had worked on constructing factories –  had for his first footballing commission erected wooden terraces at Ibrox in 1899. During an international between Scotland and England in 1902, however, the construction gave in to the weight of the crowd. 26 people were killed, and more than 500 injured, as fans fell through the construction onto the steel columns and concrete underneath. There was a court case afterwards, where Archie explained the accident by pointing out, that yellow rather than the prescribed red pine had been used for the construction.

P1270192.JPGLeitch pleaded with Rangers to give him another chance, even while the court case was going on. The fact, that they were persuaded, may also have had an influence on the outcome of the case. And it was from this experience, that Archibald developed the solid terrace banking with regular steps, steel barriers, designated aisles and account of sight lines.

P1270190And then in 1926-8, he was invited back to design a grand stand that could raise Ibrox to be the number one ground in Scotland. He had just completed the impressive red brick grand stand at Villa Park, and it was probably this that served as an inspiration. And it really is an impressive sight.

P1270195.JPGUnderneath huge arched windows, there are symmetrical, arched openings all along the front. Huge mosaic crests adorn the sides of the stand. The main entrance resembles the entrance of a hotel, very different to the utilitarian look of Dens Park.

P1270196.JPGThe unfortunate thing about going here on a match day is that we can’t get on a guided tour. And – we haven’t been able to get tickets for the grand stand, so we don’t get to have a look inside. I just can’t wait to get back for such a tour to see the marble floored entrance hall with art deco lights, the polished oak panelling  in the blue room – and the huge concourse enlightened by daylight from the huge windows.

P1270217.JPGOn the corner of the grand stand, there is a statue of former Rangers player John Greig. He was voted best ever Rangers player back in 1999, and the statue was erected two years later. It forms part of a memorial for the victims of the Ibrox disaster in 1971. Whereas the rest of the footballing world started to rebuild stadiums in the aftermath of Hillsborough in 1989, Rangers had by then rebuilt the other three stands of Ibrox as a consequense of the 1971 disaster. Moving from standing terraces to seated stands.

P1270218.JPGWhen Aston Villa made their move towards an all-seater stadium in 2000, they demolished their Trinity stand by Archie, even though it was listed, to make room for more seats. Rangers, fortunately, chose to preserve their listed stand, and at a huge cost make an extension on top of it. So not only does the Leitch stand have an additional deck on the top, it is sandwiched by stairway towers in steelframed glass, taking supporters to the new deck.  The new towers, though, are shielded by Archie’s steel gates, proclaiming that this is the home of Rangers Football Club Ltd.

P1270236While I am absorbed in looking at the stand, the others have a burger outside the ground and then go looking for a drink. They call me to say that they have set up camp in a Rangers club a few hundred yards away and are waiting for me in the beer garden. It is called the “Wee Rangers Club”, and it doesn’t really look much from the outside. There is a £3 entrance fee, and I head straight for the garden to catch up with the others. With the sun shining, it seems a lovely place to tank up for the match – but out of nowhere, a shower makes us go inside to have a look around. 17760992_1721710294511965_4407924979247223343_o.jpgThe main room is fairly dark. Blue Rangers curtains to match the blue Rangers wall paper ensure that fans can follow the action of the Liverpool derby on big TV screens. There is, though, no sound on the telly. Instead a music box is playing pipes and drum militant music, with the fans frequently joining in, singing and stamping. It all has a distinct militant edge. Among the tunes, I recognize the “Billy Boys” song, which was banned by law from Scottish football grounds in 2011, due to its sectarian content.

P1270231.JPGAt the bar, there are several portraits of Queen Elizabeth on the wall, red poppies, Union Jacks and references to the Ulster division and WW1. I am used to seeing fans gathering at pubs before matches, singing songs of their hatred to rival clubs. But somehow the attachment of the songs to historical, religious and political events and figures make this quite scary. The rivalry between the Protestant, unionist Rangers and the Catholic, separatist Celtic is arguably among the most sectarian footballing rivalries in the world. And although the two clubs don’t come head to head here today, it looms over everything.

P1270233.JPGOr maybe it is just me being a historian, paying too much attention to these historical dimensions to it all. One of my teammates, Jon, questions whether the fans actually put any real content in all these unionist expressions. Maybe they have just been brought up with this as the natural way to get into the mood for a match and don’t really think of the content.

IMG_0018.JPGHe is certainly right about the part of kids being brought up on this. Tam suggests that we go and have a look down in the basement, where he says it is all songs about hatred to rivals Celtic. And down there in the darkness, there are quite a few kids at the age of 10-12, listening to the militant battle songs. Maybe the kids are only allowed in, because the match today is against Motherwell. When I afterwards check the facebook page of the Wee club, they have posts for the season’s Old Firm derby days stressing that it is strictly over 18’s only – and that the resident DJ will be playing “all our favourite tunes” with “a cultural evening afterwards”. I wonder what kind of cultural event that is.

P1270234Perhaps, I get an indication on a board on the stairwell to the basement. It proclaims that only those visitors who follow the custom of paying tribute to the queen are welcome here.

P1270238.JPGAs we leave for the ground, I wonder whether we have just happened to land in an isolated sectarian stronghold, giving a distorted view of the true Rangers culture. That there is more to it than the Wee club, however, is reflected in the many stalls around the ground, selling flags and scarves. They all reflect the same sectarianism. “No surrender”, “We stand for our flag, we kneel for our fallen”, “Rule Britannia”, “God save our Queen”.

P1270211.JPGThe union jack colours of Rangers are mixed with the orange of William of Orange, who defeated the catholic army of Ireland in the battle of the Boyne in 1690. The messages on the banners are open declarations of Ulster loaylism. “William of Orange”, “King Billy on the Wall”, “We are the People”, “No surrender”.

P1270214.JPGSpecial football scarves have over the past couple of years been made to commemorate the fallen of WW1, featuring the poppy, “lest we forget” and last year “Battle of the Somme 1916” – the most bloody day in the history of the British army. At Rangers, the Battle of the Somme scarf is focused on the Ulster division. As I work in a WW1 museum and I am interested in the use of history, I buy one of those out of purely academic interest – and immediately hide it in my pocket, as I don’t want to be seen with it.

P1270229.JPGIn one of the stalls, “brothers” scarves connecting Rangers with a string of English clubs are for sale. Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City. I am relieved that there is no Manchester United scarf. But then I do remember, going to United matches in the 80’s, when sporadic chants of “Celtic” from the Stretford End would be answered by chants of “Rangers” from other parts of the stand. There were also the odd half Celtic or Rangers, half United ski hat. I never really understood it.

IMG_20150425_213441However, it seemed to be that the majority of United supporters favoured Celtic. Some claim that United have a strong catholic element, but perhaps it also played it’s part that Rangers back in 1974 brought 30.000 fans for a pre-season friendly, taking the United Red Army completely by surprise. But judging from United forums, most people in Manchester have forgottten about the link to the Glasgow rivalry. I am, though, at bit surprised that Rangers should have a brotherhood with Liverpool. I would have thought that they would distaste the use of “You’ll never walk alone” – with Celtic and Liverpool sharing the same pre-match anthem.

When I called Rangers to book tickets, I asked for tickets in Archie’s main stand. They could not find 11 tickets there, but offered me tickets for the club deck on top of it, instead. It seemed a good choice at the time. But as we climb the stairs to get on top of the main stand, I realize that it was a bad choice. Apart from not entering Archie’s stand, we will not even be able to look on the characteristic criss cross deck on the balcony of the main stand. An unforgiveable mistake.

Having said that, the concourse of the club deck is quite nice. Plenty of space, good pies on sale from the kiosks, and huge windows overlooking the area around the stadium. Not having had anything else to eat since breakfast, in fact, I have two pies. Peter, Jens and I decide to have a bet on the match as well at the bookmaker stall. Having seen Aberdeen in second-place tear Dundee in mid-table apart the previous day, it seems a fair bet that Rangers in third-place will do something similar to Motherwell, who are just off the bottom. Jens goes for 5-0, I go for 4-0 and Peter for 3-1.

P1270273.JPGAfter about three minutes, Jens and I look at each other in despair – Motherwell take the lead from a corner. And from then on, they seem to be in control and pose most of the danger, as Rangers just seem to be frustrated about things not going according to plan. You would have expected the away support to go wild. In one of my favourite football books “Saturday 3 p.m.”, Daniel Gray writes about the 50 eternal delights of football. One of them is to watch an away-end erupt in celebration of a goal. But he stresses that it has to be a packed away end. A few hundred scattered away fans only “resemble survivors of a shipwreck” waving for attention. This is what the Motherwell fans look like – in stark contrast to the wildly celebrating Aberdeen fans the previous night.

P1270264 (2).JPGAdding to this overriding sense of frustration inside Ibrox, is the small Rangers “ultra” element in the corner below our seats. “Union Bears” a banner proclaim. A guy is standing on a platform with a megaphone, his back turned to the game. Time and time again he tries to get a chant going to a tune you in Denmark associate with drunks, who are too pissed to be able to express actual words. There is also a drum to accompany it. It is completely out of sync with what is going on on the pitch. And it somehow punctures the customary passionate oooohhhhs and aaaarhhhss, when tackles fly in that is the trademark of British fan culture. There is no help for the team in this. The chanting doesn’t influence the match. It doesn’t kick the players on. It just gives an annoying undercurrent, a feeling that some drunken fans are ego-tripping their way through it.

P1270276.JPGThis summer, my son and I went to see F.C. Copenhagen play. We were both annoyed by this fan culture, so different from the passionate, traditional British way of living every tackle, shot and pass of the game. So it seems ironic that Rangers of all teams, whose supporters wrap themselves up in Union Jack and Unionism, should have a – albeit very small – continental ultra element.

P1270274.JPGIn the second half, Rangers do get an equalizer, the game opens up with chances at both ends (by far the best ones to Motherwell, by the way), and on a couple of occasions the ultra element is drowned out by the entire stadium roaring and chanting.

The match ends in a 1-1 draw – with Motherwell unfortunate not to record a surprising but well-deserved win. So much for our betting. We walk all the way back to the city centre and the station. It is about an hours work – where we gradually make our way back to a less sectarian world. We do pass a couple of pubs that also look like Rangers strongholds. But we walk straight back to the station, get on the train back to Edinburgh, and make our way to Inspector Rebus’ Oxford Bar.

We need a completely different scene – and the Oxford Bar provides. Nice and very quiet. Good beer, space – a perfect setting for switching the attention to Edinburgh and Hearts, as Ken Stott, who portrays the Hibernian supporting Rebus of the TV series, is, in fact a Hearts supporter. And above our table is a slice of the original flagpole from the Rugby ground Murrayfield. I love it.

P1270278.JPGI will go back to Ibrox for a guided stadium tour one day – and to watch a match from Archie’s stand. Hopefully before then, I can get into contact with some Rangers fans with a less sectarian stance. Normally, when I visit a new football ground and go in the home section, I develop a warm sympathy for the club. Even though the Rangers fans’ at the Wee club were nice towards us, I don’t go away with a feeling of sympathy this time. Perhaps too much sectarianism sticks to the scarf, hidden in my pocket.

 

 

 

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Football grounds, Football museum, Uncategorized

Looking for Archie part 1 – Dens Park

IMG_0012.JPGAs the purpose of my veteran football club, Dynamo Birkerod, is to provide sports and cultural activities in the Anglo-Saxon football  and gentleman tradition to the benefit of the members’ physical and intellectual well-being, I had decided to organize a three day trip to Scotland to see three classical football grounds with stands made by the iconic stadium designer from the early 20th century, Archibald Leitch.

scan0097Back in the 80’s, almost every other football ground in Britain seemed to get it’s distinctive features from a stand designed by the entrepreneurial Scotsman in the first two or three decades of the century. But after the Taylor report in 1990, almost all British stadiums have been relocated or rebuilt. There is less than a dozen grounds with Archibald Leitch stands left now. Two years ago, I took Dynamo to one of them, Goodison Park, Everton. This time around, we are going for three. Dens Park in Dundee, Ibrox in Glasgow, and Tynecastle in Edinburgh. And just in the nick of time, as the Archibald Leitch stand at Tynecastle is about to be bulldozed away in a month from now.

As things have turned out, it could also be that we will see the Scottish league title being decided. Celtic could win it, if Aberdeen fail to win at Dundee F.C. in the first match. And should Aberdeen manage to win, Celtic could still become champions in the third match of the weekend, if they beat Hearts.

17498558_1899526356927646_7730480214010065989_nAlas, Ib – our club journalist – cannot make the first match due to work commitments, but will join us with his two sons after the match. So we are only eight Dynamo members getting together at the airport at noon Friday. We have a pretty tight schedule to get to Dundee in time. From the scheduled landing time in Edinburgh, we have exactly an hour and a half to get to our hotel in the city center, drop our luggage, get to the station and pick up the tickets from the ticket-collect-machine and catch our train for Dundee.

Things, however, seem to run smoothly. We get an eight-man cab at the airport. Peter and Frank, club cartoonist and webmaster, sit in the front and tell the driver about our plans. When he hears that we are going to Dundee for the match, he says that he can take us. We tell him that we have already got train tickets. “How much are the train tickets?” he asks. “£18” I answer. He makes a quick calculation. “I will take you for £150”.  For a split second, I find it hard to believe that a taxi driver will wait more than two hours outside a football ground to take his customers back. But then I figure out, that he probably wants to see the match himself and see us as potential sponsors of his going there.

Actually, I discover that the £18 is for the outward journey only, whereas the return journey is 4,50, so it would have been cheaper to go with his cab. But now that we have bought the train tickets and only have to collect them, there is no point. But nice to have a plan B, if we should miss the train.

We do, however, catch the train with a few minutes to spare – but not enough time to buy a snack at the station, despite calls for a fish ‘n chips. There should, however, be time for that before the match. But the train only moves slowly. The driver apologizes over the tannoy, but none of us understands his explanation, delivered in a thick Scottish accent.

As the train slowly puffs along, we pass a football ground with a stand that makes my heart pound. It looks absolutely amazing. I look at google maps on my phone to see where we are. Kirkcaldy. The name doesn’t really ring any bells. I look it up at the hotel in the evening, and discover to my embarrassment, that it is an Archibald Leitch stand, I have seen. Raith Rovers play at Stark’s Park in Kirkcaldy. It illustrates my ignorance of Scottish football. But I promise myself to make amends and be back within a year.

17637133_1719934911356170_2322568712404751169_o.jpgWe get to Dundee about half an hour late. There is still about two hours to kick-off, so we don’t panic but decide to walk to the ground, which should be just a 30 minutes’ walk away. The walk, however, is mainly uphill. We meet two other men of the same age as us (that is 50’ish or 60’ish). They have travelled from Middlesbrough to see the match. One of them had been to about a thousand football grounds. After doing the league grounds, he was now doing the non-league grounds as well. In England and Scotland. In fact, he even knows of my Danish club, BK Frem. I am deeply impressed, but he claims that he is just as impressed to meet a Dane, who knows about Archibald Leitch.

P1270013.JPGWe finally get to the ground, shake hands with the Middlesbrough lads and wish each other a good game. By now, there is a desperate craving for fish ‘n chips in our group, but I insist on  collecting our tickets before. I am, however, more business-like than usual, and don’t really get a look around to see what the souvenir shop has to offer.

P1270019.JPG

We ask for a place to buy fish ‘n chips and are told to go down Provost Road and then around the corner. It doesn’t sound very far, but it takes us some 10-15 minutes to get there. “Jamie’s Chippie”.

P1270021.JPGThe staff are not that efficient – or, perhaps, used to customers who are in a hurry. It takes quite some time for them to get 8 trays ready for us. With so much effort put into it, I would have expected better chips. They are rather pale and soft. Tam, who is in the habit of having a beer at halftime when we are playing ourselves, decide to go to an off-license store to get some beer to make the chips go down. He comes back with an eight-pack.

17436237_1719933318022996_6362228272028888146_o (1)By now, I am getting a bit nervous. Apart from the Archibald Leitch stand, what makes Dundee a special place to watch football, is the fact that the distance between Dundee F.C.s Dens Park and Dundee United’s Tannardice is the shortest distance between two rival football grounds in Britain – if not in the world. Just over a hundred yards. A good goalkeeper would be able to kick the ball from the corner of one ground to the corner of the other. No wonder that the away team sometimes prefer to change at home in the Dundee derbies. To have two grounds almost within touching distance is really something to dwell on and take in.

17757080_1901694856710796_6461475371369731477_nMy nervousness increases, as some of the lads start to discuss whether there is time to visit a pub close by. Jes, our literature man, spots my nervousness and sends me off, telling me I have to do my anthropological field work.

P1270028.JPGAs almost all the fans, I have seen heading for the match, had walked down Hindmarsh Avenue, I decide to follow in their steps. I should have checked my google map, as another choice would have enabled me to walk along with Tannardice, Dundee United’s ground. Now, I end up right in the middle of no-mans land between the two grounds. Roughly the distance between the trenches in WW1.

I feel like a child, waking up on his birthday to a mountain of presents, waiting to be unwrapped. Not knowing what is inside them, not knowing where to start. Just feeling overwhelmed and knowing that this is going to be good. A state of excitement that you want to be in for as long time as possible. Two grounds – so close to each other. I am stuck in the middle. Finally, Archie wins me over. His stands are like time warps. They ooze football of the “golden age”, the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Well, maybe these decades were not that golden. But, anyway,  they defined my generations sense of ‘proper football’. And the Archibald Leitch stands are the embodiment of that time.

P1270033.JPGThe main stand at Dens Park is captivating. Built just after WW1 on a tight budget, it is one of Archie’s more utilitarian stands. Everything that could be done to save money, was done. The cheapest materials, the front terracing sunk under pitch level to accommodate more spectators and at the same time keep the height of the stand to a cost-saving minimum. And whereas modern grounds usually are designed as a harmonic unit, the main stand is designed to follow the curve of the road. Where football clubs today would buy surrounding lands or roads, this ground is fitted into the existing structure. On top of these efforts to keep expenses on the new stand down, the predecessing wooden stand was kept and used during the construction of the Leitch stand, allowing the club to get the revenue from spectators despite construction work taking place.

I could be standing there for hours, taking it all in. But there is only 20 minutes to kick-off. I make a quick dash down to Tannardice. There is not time to walk around the ground, but at least I can get a look at Dens Park from the point of view of their rivals.

By the time I walk back towards Dens Park, I see the others arriving, and we go to our turnstile. They are amazed how narrow it is, although it is not really narrower than at other grounds. But the stairways and corridors (I wouldn’t call it a concourse) in the stand are definetely more narrow and sparse than at any other grounds – also than the other Leitch-grounds I have seen. When we collected the tickets, the guy at the ticket office told us to be careful to chose the right turnstile. “Otherwise you might get lost”. I can see what he means. Narrow corridors separated by doors – the doors leading to the toilets not really different to the doors leading you further down the network of corridors or into the stands.

Our seats are right in the middle of the stand, a couple of rows in front of press reporters and journalists. Although the pillars holding the roof (and restricting the view) are plain, cheap, prefabricated concrete pillars, the iron constructions under the roof are elaborate enough to give the stand more character than modern day stadium ‘car park-like’ architecture. And, of course, the angled shape of the stand. It does leave a gap from the stand to the field – a gap that previously has been used for a greyhound race track. When standing was abolished in 1990, the greyhound race track was relaunched, and the standing areas were used by bookmakers.

Opposite Leitch’s main stand is the South Stand from 1959. That was before cantilever stands, and this stand also has pillars obstructing the view. The really odd thing is, that it only extends the length of the eastern half of the ground. The others are puzzled. Why?

scan0098The explanation is probably that the terracing built on the sloping ground on the other sides of the pitch were not the same heights and widths. When they decided to cover the terrace, they went for a very basic cover on top of the existing terrace rather than constructing a completely new stand. And the irregular terrace (constructed on a sloping hill) was not wide enough for the stand in the western half of the ground.

There is still one of the original stairways leading up the hill to enter the uncovered western terracing part of the southern side of the field. But it is an unused wasteland, the crowd now entering the stand from the eastern side, and TV-platforms now taking up the space of the western half.

P1270016.JPGThe reason why the match is played on a Friday night is, of course, that it is being televised. And that is also the reason why it has been easy to get tickets. The Friday night kick-off time hasn’t deterred the Aberdeen supporters. They fill the modern Eastern Stand with some 2.400 fans – out of a crowd of just 7.500.

P1270123Predictably, it is also the Aberdeen supporters making all the noise. There are a few Dundee chants coming out from the southern stand, but they seem rather halfhearted. It is not that Dundee F.C. supporters don’t care. Back in 2010, when the club for the second time was put under administration because of financial problems, the supporters rallied and helped the club survive. In fact, the team also rallied after the club was deducted 20 points and had -11. But a long winning streak saw them survive the drop.P1270076.JPG

It is not stubborn support that Dundee F.C. comes up with tonight. Rather, it is complete resignation. Shambolic defending and lack of communication between keeper and defenders allow Aberdeen to storm into a 3 goal lead within 34 minutes and spark an exodus of Dundee fans, particularly from the Southern Stand. By half-time, it is 4-0 and more than half the Dundee fans opposite us have left.

P1270124.JPGMost of the Dynamo players are disappointed by this lack of support. I try to put up a defence for the Dundee fans. When you really care, your heart is bleeding, whenever you watch such a collapse, and it is unbearable to see the wild celebrations among the rival away supporters. They stayed while it was only 2-0. because there still was – in theory at least – a chance that they could rally the team to get back into it. But now – it is just painful.

We make our way down the corridors to taste the local pies. It proves that people from the main stand have left in numbers as well, because the queue is short and there is plenty of space for all of us to gather to discuss the first half events. We wonder whether Aberdeen will ease off and just go through the motions in the second half – or whether it will be 8-0.

As things turn out, it is something in between. Aberdeen play some exhibition stuff, but then decide to take off their best player. Still, they easily make it 5, 6 and even 7-0. Behind us, an exaltated radio commentator thinks that the scoreline is unbelievable from 5-0 upwards. The Aberdeen support seems to think the same. The battle for the title is still on.

I do feel sorry for Dundee F.C. Their defending is shambolic, but they try to play football all the way. That the club still exists is testament to the strength of the support. And the ground embodies their topsy-turvy history. I have read that the current board has purchased some land with the posibility of building a new ground. Already back in 2002, there were plans to build a new shared ground for the Dundee clubs, as Scotland bid to host the 2008 European Championship. Luckily, the bid failed. Everybody who loves British football should go here – see the two grounds next to each other, sense the development of the game over the past century through the place.

P1270143 (2)We make our way back to the station. It is, fortunately, downhill. We come across a group of four elderly ladies with walking sticks and walkers. They mumble something about football, and I tell them that we were at the match. One of them ask for the score. Reluctantly, I tell her that Dundee F.C. lost 7-0. “I knew it!” she laments, whereas some of her friends express their disbelief.

We proceed to a pub – there is just time for a beer before departure. It is crowded and noisy. There is a karaoke contest on, and nobody in here seems to care about the match. But down at the station we come across a few Aberdeen fans. They are also in a state of disbelief. They have never seen anything as fantastic as this. Whereas most of our group fall to sleep during the 90 minute ride back to Edinburgh, they spend the entire trip analyzing every single action, every single player of the match. Truly, a day to remember. And I will certainly be back to Archibald Leitch’s utilitarian time-warp, the Main Stand at Dens Park.

17637003_1719933814689613_1792085108747221459_o (1)

Tagged with: , , , , ,
Posted in Football grounds

Men of Steel at Stadium of Light

It is Sunday morning, 7.40. I enter Huddersfield station an hour and a half before my 9.18 train is due to leave for Newcastle. I hope to find some breakfast and a quiet place to write on my blogpost about the two matches the previous day. But there is nowhere to have a breakfast in the station, and matters go from bad to worse when I look on the departure board and see that 9.18 for Newcastle has been cancelled!

P1260683Next train for Newcastle is 11.18 – and as I have to check-in my suitcase in Newcastle before going on to Sunderland for the afternoon kick-off, what looked like a nice quiet Sunday, suddenly appear stressful. There is, at least, a lady in the otherwise empty station. “I have a ticket for the 9.18 to Newcastle”. “Well, that has been cancelled”, she says in a way that makes it sound as though it is quite normal.

“What do I do then?” I say. “You get on the 9.46 to Scarborough and get off at Leeds and find a train for Newcastle there”. It doesn’t sound convincing. And my lack of conviction must show in my face, because she proceeds to check on her computer. “No, in fact, you should go to York, and catch a connection there.” She prints out a new schedule, according to which I will have 9 spare minutes in York to catch the connection – which will get me to Newcastle 45 minutes late. Still plenty of time to get to the match.

I ask her, if she knows of a place for something to eat. “Try the city centre”. Having just arrived from the city centre, I know McDonald’s is the only open place there, and as I am not that desperate, I head in the opposite direction. It is almost 8 now, and the owner of Café Caledonian is removing the shutters from the windows of the café. I get in as the first customer of the day, and ask for their full breakfast – with coffee rather than tea which is the standard drink for it. “You will have to pay an additional 40p for coffee”. I don’t mind. “The coffee is not ready yet”. I don’t mind that either. I sit at a table and take out my laptop and start writing.

Soon, local customers come along. They chat about the football yesterday – Manchester United against Bournemouth and Huddersfield Town against Newcastle United. None of them have been to the game. But everybody has noticed the heavy police presence, but, fortunately, no trouble. “They are all right, the Newcastle fans” the owner says. “It is only when they have too much to drink, there are problems”. I guess that that may be bad enough. They also talk about Zlatan.

9.15 I go back to the station. Somehow, I have a naïve hope that the train will turn up after all. But it doesn’t. Instead another one has been cancelled. And the Scarborough train is running first 1, then 2, 3, 4 and 5 minutes late. I am beginning to get a bit nervous.

It is like watching the tide. The calculated delay get as far as 7 of the 9 minutes I will have in York, but then it receeds to 6 and finally 5 minutes. That is comforting, and even more so to see that most of the passengers aboard the train, when it finally arrives, are Manchester City supporters travelling to the match. They discuss the delay, but one of the leading characters say in a calm way that “we should be all right”, it is worse for some of their mates who apparently have chosen another route.

As we approach Leeds, however, the train driver tells that this train will terminate here. Passengers for Scarborough have to catch another train, whereas this train 35 minutes later will proceed to Newcastle. I am caught between two minds. Should I try to get the Scarborough train – with a very high risk that it won’t catch the connection in York, leaving me to wait for this train, which may be full of match-going fans by the time it gets to York? Or should I stay and accept that I will be more than an hour delayed?

As all the City fans decide to do the latter, I consider it wisest to follow their example. After all, they have more experience of the Transpennine Express on Sundays than I do. I don’t listen to all the football talk around me, but concentrate on my blog.

P1260943.JPGWe get to Newcastle and cross one of the impressive bridges over the river Tyne, before reaching the station at 12.20. Newcastle really looks a nice place. As we proceed along the station platform, one of the older City supporters, almost as tall of me, takes a photo of the impressive ceiling of the station with his smartphone. The others laugh at him. “He is playing tourist!” He protests. He just thinks that it is beautiful. They laugh even more.

These City fans probably wouldn’t appreciate visiting a good old Archibald Leitch stand. Brought up on carpark architecture, what seems to matter to them is going out for a drink and a match with their mates. I wonder how many English fans actually care about their home ground. I remember talking to a colleague at the Imperial War Museum who was a Colchester United fan. He wouldn’t go to their new ground – everything was spoiled. A City supporter, also from the IWM, didn’t bother to go to the Etihad after the move from Maine Road. A Derby supporter, I met on the train, told me his heart was bleeding, having to leave the Baseball Ground. But he did go the new ground after all.  Maybe it is only a minority of nurdish historians like me who care about it? The thought makes me shatter.

In Newcastle, I have gone for the Jury’s Inn hotel, which is only 5 minutes’ walk from the station. The Jury’s Inns may look the same in every city, but you know that you will always get a decent quality. Back at the station, I buy a British Rail ticket for Sunderland. I am surprised that so few football supporters are on it – but most supporters chose the Metro that goes directly to the Stadium of Light.

P1260689It is a 25 minutes’ ride on the train that takes me to the centre of Sunderland. It is 1.30, 2 and half hours to kick off. By now, I am desperately hungry and thirsty, and as I see a nice little restaurant just before the Wearmouth Bridge, I decide to have a proper meal before venturing out on the bridge. I don’t like heights.

“Elizabeth’s” it is called. The wallpaper is red and white, probably not a coincidence. And the food is good old fashioned English food. At first, I find the main waitress a little frightening. As she approaches my table, she says “what will you have then” in a very business like manner. I go for a roast turkey with lots of gravy, mashed as well as fried potatoes – and a whole range of vegetables, boiled beyond recognition (well, I do recognize the carrots and peas). The waitress, however, is very friendly with the locals. I can see my drink is put on the bar desk, but the waitress is too busy talking to with an elderly lady to bother. After about 5 minutes, the waitress at the bar desk decides that she have better take action herself and bring it to my table “is this for you?”.

At the table next to me, there is a couple in their 70’s. Her hair is smart, she wears her best clothes, makeup, pearls in her ears. He wears a Sunderland replica shirt. I wonder whether this is some sort of compromise. First going to Elizabeth’s for tea with the other ladies. And then going to the match with the lads.

A couple take their little baby into the restaurant, and my waitress is overjoyed. So much so that she smiles and asks me if everything is all right. I feel accepted. But I fear that I have once again got my logistics wrong. How am I to eat a proper pre-match meal at the ground now?P1260688

I cross the Wearmouth Bridge. It is impressive – with a view of the North Sea in the distance.

P1260696It is 20 years since Sunderland moved to the Stadium of Light from their old ground Roker Park. They have really made a great effort to make it their new home. In the streets leading to the ground, the traffic posts are red and white with Sunderland badges, banners with former players’ names hang from the streetlamps, and huge billboards relive great moments in Sunderland’s recent history.

In front of the stadium, there is a huge fanzone, with beer tent, live music, children’s playgrounds etc. Four other tourists ask me to take a photo of them in front of the statue of manager Bob Stokoe, who led Sunderland to a famous FA Cup victory over Leeds in 1973, the first FA Cup final I really remember. Most clubs nowadays have statues of their heroes outside the ground. But the real special thing about Sunderland is the way they commemorate their fans.

The Stadium of Light is built on the site of the former Wearmouth Colliery. Apparently, the name “Stadium of Light” refers to the miners that emerged from the darkness into the light every day. A giant pit wheel from the mine is displayed outside the ground – and on the hillside leading down to the river, the sculptures “Men of steel” show a group of steel robots rolling coal/stones up from the deep. This really is a moving tribute to the men of Sunderland who have worked down the mine, where the stadium now is.

A little closer to the ground, a bronze statue shows a man, a woman, a boy and a girl carrying a football and something that looks like a globe. It is a tribute to the fans who have passed away, whose support is carried on by today’s fans, it says. The statue is fenced in by small ship-shaped brick walls.

Not only does Sunderland tie the history of the site, the miners and the fans together through these art pieces. They also nit their history into it. A bit of Archibald Leitch’s trademark criss cross balconies are displayed in the car park, and decorated gates “Into the light – Ha’away the lads” mark the main entrance to the ground.

I can’t recall seeing such a fine tribute to its community from any other club. But Sunderland also welcome visiting fans, as they have just opened a hotel next to the ground.

P1260708Whereas stadiums from the early 90s such as Millwall’s, Wigan’s, Stoke’s and Huddersfield’s consist of four separate stands, the Stadium of Light is built as a very harmonic, giant bowl. Even though two of the stands have been extended, it still is very harmonic to look at. After a short visit to the club shop, I enter the East stand.

It is not just on the outside, that the stadium looks good. The concourse is really nice. It extends the entire length of the pitch, although a bit curiously, some of it is sectioned off. The family stand is further away, in the corner of the South stand, and the away fans are put in the upper section of the North Stand. So why they have put up a barrier in the middle of the concourse, I don’t know.

P1260778Fans are busy watching the Tottenham-Everton match on the screens. Despite not really being hungry after my meal at Elizabeth’s, I decide I just have to taste the pies in such a good-looking place. I go for the steak ‘n ale pie, and it is pretty good.

The architecture inside the ground is also top class. The way the old and the new extended stands are fitted together is so discreet. And there is a broad gangway running all around the ground, enabling fans to walk all the way around the pitch if they want to. I guess it is made for the sake of wheel chair users. But it adds to the community feeling of the ground. Some seats in the South stand are covered, segregating a section of the stand from the rest. But it is not the away fans standing here, it is the hardcore Sunderland fans, who stand up during the game.

Talking of the fans, I do my customary count of 100 spectators in my session. And it reflects the special community atmosphere. There are no less than 23% women. The only other ground where I have recorded more than 20% is Old Trafford – but only yesterday, there were just 13% women in the Stretford End. A group of seven Asian tourists also see to that the traditional 98 or 99% white audience(apart from Old Trafford) is broken. Quality music is being played over the PA during the warm up. Led Zeppelin and Bob Marley among others. It is nice here in the East Stand, with the early spring sun spreading a bit of warmth.

P1260783.JPGAs the players enter the field, a huge banner with a Jermaine Defoe picture is unfolded in the South stand. The PA system turns to Elvis Presley “Cant’ help falling in love with you” and the crowd joins in on the chorus.

Sunderland are at the foot of the table, whereas Manchester City will go third in the table with a win. It is hard to see how Sunderland are going to get anything from this game. But the players battle, and whenever somebody puts in a sliding tackle, the crowd makes its appreciation heard. City look much the neater side, but it is Sunderland who carry most threat. A shot from Defoe smacks the post, and Borini gets in a couple of headers. But just before half-time a quick break from City, ends with Aguero tapping in a cross at the near post. The City fans really get going after this, whereas the Sunderland fans go quiet.

That is what happens, when you have seen so many disappointments. You lose faith. When City go 2-0 up on another quick break down the other flank 15 minutes into the second half, many of the Sunderland fans have seen enough. They start to leave with. The exodus gathers momentum. By the time, we enter stoppage time, I guess that less than a third of the crowd are still in the ground.

It is quite a different experience to leave the ground today compared to leaving Old Trafford yesterday. Although the attendance is 41.000, the gradual exodus has scattered the crowd. I make my way to the station. There are two metros leaving before the British Rail train. I ask the station security crew if my ticket is valid for the metro. “Well, I think it is on match days, but I would wait for the rail anyway. It is quicker, and the Metro will be crowded when it stops at the ground.”

P1260840So, I wait for the train, and the security man is right. There is plenty of room in this, and it only has one stop before Newcastle. I am about to have a look at the match day programme, when a drama starts to unfold in the seats on the opposite site of the aisle. After showing the conductor his railcard, somehow, a young man manages to drop it – and it falls down through the gaps into the heater.

He crawls on the floor, trying to retrieve it, but to no avail. Then he calls the security crew on the train. “How can I get this off?” he says, and points to the heater. “Well, you can’t. You would have to dismantle it down through the entire wagon”. They suggest that a maybe a screwdriver could dig it out. The conductor comes along. Triumphantly, she pulls a screwdriver out of her back, and the security man tries to locate the card with his torch. But in vain.

The guy explains that he has just renewed the card for a month. So he really needs to get it back. And in fact, how is he to exit the station without a ticket? The conductor discusses the possibilities with him. She could write a note for the station about what had happened, and if he could get a transcript of his bank account, he may be able to get a replacement card.

Suddenly, though she gets an idea. She disappears, but a couple of minutes later, she asks over the public address system: “I know it is an odd question, but does any of our passengers happen to be carrying a pair of tweezers?” A lady comes forward. By now, the security crew have gone patrolling the train, so she has to ask, if anybody has a torch. Another lady steps forward. Still, they can’t really get to it. Then she uses her strength to pull off the seat with loud crack. She rises and shouts down the wagon “it’s all right, everything is fine”. A minute later the guy gets up – holding his railcard high in the air! All the wagon starts clapping and cheering. Finally something to cheer and celebrate in Sunderland! The day ends on a high after all.

Well, for me not quite. I decide to head straight for the hotel to have some food there. But as I wait for it in the bar, the fire alarm goes off. We are all shepherded into the backyard, and have to wait some 10 or 15 minutes before we are allowed to reenter. Judging from the waiting time, I could well have been my food burning in the oven. Certainly, they must have started all over again after the alarm, because it takes quite a while.P1260944.JPG

 

 

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Football grounds, Uncategorized

Two matches a day keep frustrations away

P1260502As I get up in the morning, I feel rather nervous and uneasy. I am not quite sure why. I am to sneak off from the conference I am attending to catch Manchester United against Bournemouth, and from there I am heading off to Huddersfield for my first two-matches-in-a-day-experience in England.

I am not sure what the nervousness and uneasiness is about. The sneaking away from the conference? I did my presentation the previous day, but I feel I ought to attend the presentations of good colleagues and friends. Next the United match. I have to store up my suitcase at the station – and I always feel uncomfortable about that for some reason. Next, for only the second time in four months United have the chance to break into the top 5 with a win. Last time they blew it with a frustrating and disappointing scoreless draw against lowly Hull at home. Are we destined to do it again? Three weeks ago, the photographer from the United Review took photos of Dale, Thomas and me with Lou Macari and Bryan Robson. Will they be featured in the match programme today?

After the match. I will have 70 minutes to get back to Manchester Piccadilly, pick up my suitcase and catch the train to Huddersfield. It is quite a few years since I have tried to be in the rush after a match to get on a train to the city centre. I have been based in Chorlton for every match the last four years and therefore been walking to the ground – and anyway, for most matches I have stayed around the ground after the final whistle. Will I make it? And my second match? Plenty of things to worry about.

I have breakfast early at the hotel, hoping I won’t meet anyone and have to explain that I am choosing the football over them. But the Spanish girl Noemi is there, and we have breakfast together. She is to present on a French sports cartoon hero, Michel Vaillant. I later discover that it is in fact a motor racing hero, dubbed Mark Breton in the Danish version, which I read on a weekly basis in my childhood. When I discover it, I feel even worse about skipping the session. Noemi is from Madrid, and I love the way she pronounces Real Madrid. It sounds much better than the Danish and English ways. I have to go some day. I explain that although I ought to support Barcelona having family there, there is more of a connection between United and Madrid than between United and Barcelona – and that the press image of Barcelona as the purists and good guys annoy me. She knows what I mean, but then she runs through Franco’s and the system’s allegiances with Real, and I am reminded why I really ought to support Barcelona.

Anyway, I get on the train and get to Manchester. There are quite a few people queuing up at the left luggage counter, which is quite worrying. All of them are going to the match and will have to pick up their luggage at the same time as me. Fortunately, most people opt out of the queue for some reason, probably having the same anxiety as me, but with a clear-cut idea of an alternative. Well, I haven’t got one, but because others seem to do, it is quickly my turn. “Allow 15 minutes for pick-up” the guy tells me. My train leaves at 15.41, meaning I will have to be back at the station at 15.26 – with the match due to finish around 14.20. That gives me about an hour.

I move on to get on the metro. The queues for the ticket machines are long, and the first train for the ground leaves the crowded platform. Fortunately, a woman turns up selling event tickets to the ground for cash only, and I manage to get on the second train. It is still almost 2½ hours to kick-off, but the train is pretty full. It adds to my feeling of unease. If the trains are pretty full going to the ground at this hour, they will be packed for more than an hour leaving the ground after the match. I have some regrets that I have packed in two matches on the same day. Normally, at this hour, the metro is just about the most quiet place you can be. People on their way to work are quiet and focused, but everybody seems to be talking on the way to the match. It is incredibly noisy.

P1260490Getting off at Old Trafford Metro stop, however, eases my mind. Running the gauntlet among grafters that today not just offer matchday scarves for tourist but “Ibra” or “Zlatan” scarves as well – as well as a few ticket touts who by this hour when the police are out in full force have decided to move from the stadium to the station, I get this sense of home again. The walk up the Warwick Road passing all the stalls, The Trafford Bar which reopened only three weeks ago after curiously being shot down for 3 or 4 months, and finally the row of shops along Chester Road which look pretty much the same as they did the first time I came here about 40 years ago. The Red Star Souvenir shop on the corner, the Lou Macari Fish ‘n Chips and all the other grill bars.

P1260494Normally, I would go straight to The Red Star to say hello to my friend Angelo, but today I head straight to the ground to buy the match programme. Immediately, I browse through it to see if there is a photo of us in it. There isn’t. It feels a bit flat. I had promised to buy copies for Dale as well, but no need for that now. I make my way back to Angelo’s.

As I enter, Angelo’s wife Lisa sees me and smile. Angelo is busy displaying some United trainer shoes to a man. The inside of the box is an inside photo of the ground. Impressive. Angelo asks me about my thoughts on his latest business idea. A 3-D scanner, where visitors can be scanned, attached to a 3-D-printer that can print a statue of them, with Eric Cantona standing next to them, his arm around their shoulder. Of course, people would have to pay, but wouldn’t that be a great idea? I am a bit skeptical. “It depends on how much they have to pay. I say”. One thing is to get your wife to accept you spending time and money to travel to football matches. But to come back with an even more expensive statue to stand in the living room, well that could well be the final straw that will see the end of several marriages.

16804188_1199433033511467_2353172087784903033_oAs I leave the shop, I come to think of another reason, why I wouldn’t do it. I was keen to buy the match programme because there might have been a photo commemorating a fantastic day at Old Trafford, actually meeting Lou Macari and Bryan Robson. It is the actual meeting that I somehow want to extent by having some memorabilia from it. How would it feel to have a statue with Eric  Cantona without even meeting him? Well, I did briefly see Eric some ten years ago, when he was the patron of the football world cup for homeless in Copenhagen. And he smiled and nodded approvingly, as I asked him to sign my ticket for the 1994 FA Cup final, in which he scored United’s two first goals. But a statue produced in this way would not commemorate that meeting. Instead, I imagine, it would lead to some embarrassing situations. Having memorabilia is basically about story-telling. When people see my old authentic player’s shirt with Bobby Charlton’s autograph, I can tell them both the story of how then United manager Ron Atkinson presented it to me, and how I got Bobby Charlton to sign it. But I wouldn’t be able to tell anything from such a statue. In fact, I would have to explain that we actually didn’t meet, but it was made in a shop. Finally, I have always found it a bit smug to have paintings let alone sculptures of yourself.

But it may be of interest to the same sort of event-seeking fans who also purchase matchday scarves.  From Angelo’s shop, I go straight to the chippy. Alas, it is not the same lady who is usually there, and who saw us filmed by MUTV three weeks ago. So my plan to ask for a free meal in return for the good advertising I have given them, seem out of place. I go to the usual house opposite the Bishop Blaize to eat it. The Bishop Blaize is one of the pubs where United fans gather for a song and a drink before the match. But you sense that it is still early hours. The singing is not as loud as normally.

P1260497There is a convenient garden wall that makes it up for a table, although I feel a little guilty every time using somebody’s frontgarden in this way. I am careful not to drop anything, but other less careful fans may get inspired to take up the position. As I dump my tray in a container on the corner of Chester Road, I spot the lovely lady with the Zlatan scarf who I met outside the Cricket Ground the other day. She walks along with a young man talking, but whereas he continues, she goes to the doormen regulating entrance of fans into the Blaze. She talks with them for quite some time, before walking away.

P1260498I walk after her and tap her on the shoulder. “Hello – we met the other day”. “Oh, you remember me!” she says. Of course, I do. She displays her t-shirt under the jacket. Marlon Brando has given way to a drawing of United players. I take a photo of her in the new outfit. She had tried to get inside the Blaize as she wanted to join the singing inside. But she hadn’t been able to persuade the doormen to let her jump the queue. But she loved the singing. She asks for my match prediction. Normally, I am very cautious. Cocky predictions always come back to haunt you. But somehow I feel I have to be optimistic to make a good impression on her, so I go for a 3-1 win. “Oh, do you?” She is sensibly more cautious and go for a narrow 2-1 win, but adds that it is about time we take our chances and give somebody a hiding. As she walks down the road, she starts talking with a couple of men. It does look as though they are going to the match together, but on other hand, she would be talking with anybody she met.

Lifted by this meeting, I take a walk around the ground. I buy the Red News and United We Stand fanzines. I really miss my favourite one, Red Issue. After almost 30 years and some fantastic stunts such as unfolding the “Manchester is Red”-banner on the Kippax stand for Manchester City’s last match at Maine Road, and a 19-times-champions banner at Anfield, they called it a day last year, allegedly because they felt that they had become to mainstream. Today, though, a brand new fanzine hits the road for the first time. “1878” it is called. It is a nostalgic view on the good old days and, of course, I buy that one as well.

P1260517Afterwards, I head for the Stretford End. I take a walk around and watch the MUTV giving the team news and pre-match analysis with Borjan Djordic. As far as I can remember, he only played one or two matches for us some 10 or 15 years ago. I need a drink, and as I only had a bowl of cereals for breakfast, I am not completely full after my fish ‘n chips an hour earlier. So I am tempted by a 3 item offer that will give me a twix bar for the train ride, a drink and an opportunity to taste the “United Pie”. Steak, cheese and fiery chili in a shortcrust pasty base.  I only eat half of it, but almost feel sick. I am glad that I don’t have to go on the pitch.

P1260523There is something about early kick-offs that is not quite right. You have not quite got the pulse up for the match. And quite often, not all the players have. For United, this is obviously the case for Zlatan and Pogba. Or maybe they have had the same problem as me in trying to fit in breakfast and prematch meals before 12.30, and feel just as bad. At the same time, Jones, Rooney, Shaw and Carrick make their first starts for a long time and all seem rather rusty, particularly Jones. In some ways, I identify with Jones. Whenever he makes a clumsy challenge, is turned by an attacker and left struggling for pace, whenever his touch is heavy, or he is caught out of position, I think “that could be me”. In some ways, it is nice to be able to identify with a player, but I prefer United playing central defenders who do not remind me of myself. Jones is lucky to get away with an early slip. But I do feel uneasy. United have all the position and – despite the rustiness and early morning blues – take advantage of some poor Bournemouth defending to create a string of chances, but fail to score. The atmosphere is quite ok. The strange thing about Old Trafford is that when you are standing in the Stretford End, there is almost non-stop singing going on all around you. But somehow the acoustics of the ground with 75.000 bodies covering the concrete, and with the roof almost like a sound bell pressed down over the Stretford End, you can’t hear it at all if you are sitting in another part of the ground.

With United looking rusty at the back and seemingly playing their keeper warm with a string of saves, the uneasiness creeps back into me. But, we do eventually go one goal up, and that makes me relax. Surely, now, Bournemouth have to come forward in the second half, and Mourinho will put on Rashford and his pace to exploit the space. But five minutes before halftime, Jones’ rustiness makes him give away a penalty with a clumsy challenge. That was not in the script. 1-1. A double incidence involving Zlatan leads to chaos and the sending off of a Bournemouth player. Surely we will win against 10 men in the second half, considering the string of chances we have created against 11. But there is still an uneasiness, well merited as it turns out.

P1260528Gradually this uneasiness grows to impatience in the crowd. Bournemouth players keep going to the ground for treatment, making the crowd upset, and this seems to spread to the players.  And the keeper is master at timewasting. All the good moves of the first half disappear. Now we just seem to go for the quick long ball to Zlatan, but that is leading us nowhere. 18 minutes from the end, we do get a penalty. I am right to the middle of the pitch, looking directly down at the penalty spot. Surely, this will sort it for us. The lady in front of me, dare not look, but turns around. Her anxiety is proved right, as the keeper gets down to save it. Now the frustration around the ground is so thick that you can cut through it with a knife. And it gets to the players, so when Pogba gets two guilt-edged chances in injury time, he scuffs them. The performance turns out to be like the chili in the pie, not very fiery after all.

P1260541I feel absolutely sick as I climb down the stairs of the stand. I have prided myself that United have won all matches, I have attended in the post-Ferguson era. 13 matches. And then that run is ended by 10-men Bournemouth! When a win could have lifted us into top 5. I decide that rather than building up more frustration in endless queues for the metro, I will walk to the Piccadilly. According to Google maps, it is a 68 minutes’ walk. I do have 70 minutes. I have to allow time for the luggage, but I think I can speed walk my way out of that. But I forget that 75.000 people flooding out in the streets make speedwalking rather difficult. At first, I plan to cross the railroad via the bridge next to the Stretford End. But the crowd queuing up to get on the bridge seems to be standing still. So I walk through the Munich tunnel. The crowd is moving, but very, very slowly.

P1260542As I eventually get through and hit Warwick Road where the fanzine sellers are back in position, I see my new lady friend talking with one of them. Once again, I tap her on the shoulder, she grasps my hand and shakes her head in frustration, but says some words that I can’t quite hear in the din of the crowd, but she appears to be upbeat. I instinctly grab a card from my pocket and hand it to her. Chances are that she is not the emailing type, and will never drop me a line. But I am somehow intrigued by her, and would dearly love to spend a match day with her, as she walks around the ground, chatting with people and trying to get to a sing-song.

Rather than continuing down Warwick Road, I turn left down Chester Road. At least we are at normal walking pace now, but it is difficult to overtake people. It is not until the Trafford Bar Metro station that I can hit full speed. All along the way, there are scattered groups that have opted for the walk back to town just like me. And when I get a glimpse of overcrowded trams inching towards the city center, I am glad I have the opportunity to vent my frustration by some exercise.

I get to station after exactly 60 minutes, with ten minutes to train departure. Fortunately, there are only three people in front of me at the luggage pick up, and I do manage to get on my train in time.

Knowing that I would be short of time, I have booked a room in the hotel, which on google maps looked most convenient for a stop enroute from Huddersfield station to the ground. “The New Huddersfield Hotel” it is called. That sounds good. But “new” turns out to be a bit premature, as it is very much work in progress. The receptionist seems surprised that a guest turns up at all. Having checked that I have made a reservation, he asks me to follow him. It would have been impossible to explain the way around several corridors and stairs, half of them looking like a building site, and the place apparently empty apart from the two of us.

I am reminded by a 1970’s episode of “The Persuaders”, where Roger Moore as Lord Bret Sinclair thinks he is in hospital. But then finds out that he is kept by villains in an empty country house, where they have furnished a single room to look like a hospital and kept him drugged with a hospital-soundtrack in the background to fulfill the illusion. Somehow, this looks like a similar deception.

In my room, I can hear the singing of Newcastle United fans, who swarm outside the pub that is next to the hotel. Room without view and wifi but with match day atmosphere outside. My shirt is sweaty after the speedwalking, so I change and hurry outside.

P1260545There is quite a lot of police in the streets, preparing to take on the Toon army. But there does not seem to be any trouble. There is steady flow of people walking towards the ground. So if I had any doubts as to the whereabouts of it, they would quickly have been repelled. Anyway, I have several times looked down on The John Smith Stadium from the train running through Huddersfield. It is located down in a valley, so the direction more or less gives itself. Downwards. On the way, I pass a car that serve as an old programme stall. All profits, it says, are to an Alzheimers and heart foundation. Which remind me that Sporting Memories actually does some great reminiscence work. This is another way of helping out.

P1260548I am full of anticipation (but still sick at United’s draw) as I head towards the ground. The John Smith Stadium belongs to one of the first new stadiums after the Taylor Report in 1990 (although Huddersfield apparently had been contemplating a move even before that), and it distinguishes itself by being an architectural award winning stadium. Whereas most other grounds from the early 1990’s before the money got really big were at best functional and nothing else, this was designed to be inviting as well.

P1260556Like most grounds at the time, it is not built as a bowl but consists of four separate stands. The special thing about it is that the stands are not square but rounded and sort of tied together by some impressive white floodlight pylons. It looks more like some futuristic octopus-like underwater world from a 1970’s movie than a football ground. Only two of the stands were built, when the first match was played in 1994, the north and south stands first being added in the following three years. I wonder what that may have looked like.

P1260549There are several  car parks incorporated in the complex. “Nearly there” a giant sign proclaims. Not only the 20 or 30 coaches or so with Newcastle fans but also a lot of the locals are parked right next to the ground.

P1260557When I arrive, it is only 25 minutes to kick-off, so there is not that much time to walk around the ground and take in the atmosphere and little details. Most people seem to be in a bit of a rush to get inside, and I find it difficult to dwell on what I see. Maybe this is why, I find it surprisingly barren. There are no statues, no memorials. The only two elements inscribing some element of history are a sandstone ornament from the Huddersfield Cricket Club of 1874, and two gravestones. The two latter ones are both for Rugby players, Ronan Costello and Dave Valentine.

Mark, the curator at the Manchester United’s museum, who lives in Huddersfield, told me that when Leeds Road was demolished, he asked the curators at the local museum if they had done any collecting to document the history of the club and ground. They hadn’t. “Huddersfield does not have any history of importance”, was the answer. To which Mark had replied that they were only the first club to win three successive league titles back in the 1920’s. There is no trace of the history either in the souvenir shop. No books on the club’s past.

Instead of something to commemorate the history, there is a fitness center and a giant “Odeon – fanatical about film” behind the ground.And a guide to watching the bird life by the river.

Inside the ground, the stairways and the concourse all look nice and stylish, but it is too crammed with people. Somehow, they have got the dimensions wrong, certainly compared to other more modern grounds. I am still feeling full after my double prematch meal at Old Trafford, and although the pies look tempting, I decide just to have a drink.

Inside the ground, I see to my horror that each seat has a clapper attached, just like the King Power stadium at Leicester. I really hate the noise they make and they seem to me to be a modern marketing colsutant’s attempt at reviving a fading atmosphere. Strange, because in both previous matches I have seen Huddersfield – at Bolton and Preston – they have had an excellent away support. Great numbers, vocal and with some great chants. At Preston, they kept going till they went 3-0 down – and although they by then got a little more quiet, they were still as noisy as the home fans. Why would they need clappers here?

P1260577This is not the only ‘foreign’ fan element, however. There is a touch of latin Ultra to it, with blue and white boards being held up in the air by the Huddersfield fans behind the goal, they wave some gigantic flags, and in my section, the air is full of confetti before kick-off.

To my surprise, it is the home fans doing the singing and chanting prior to kick-off, and not the famous, travelling Toon army from Newcastle. I am seated almost right next to them, in the corner of the ground, so I can see their faces. I grab the opportunity to do two stadium counts rather than one – one for the home fans and one for the away fans. As for the home fans, it is pretty much average, with 98% white 86% male crowd. The Toon army, though is 99% white and 93% male. But then travelling to away matches is not really a family thing.

P1260604Although there is this “Huddersfield Ultra” section behind the goal, most of the ground join in on some of the chants. And all the ground take part in the oohs and aahs. It really is a passionate atmosphere. In my section, close to the Newcastle fans, a lot of the fans are preoccupied by the visiting fans. People are standing, shouting, chanting, and gesturing towards the visitors. Right in front of me, a Huddersfield fan has brought his girlfriend with a spectacular hairstyle along to the match. She is a bit upset that she has to stand up to be able to see anything. But some 10 minutes into the match, he spots that the two seats to my left and the two seats in front of them are still vacant, so they move up next to me, enabling her to have a fair view despite sitting. Further to my left, all fans are seated.

An Away End Erupts

Newcastle are top of the league, and they look very solid and confident. After less than 10 minutes they are awarded a penalty. The Huddersfield fans think it is very soft, and maybe rightly so. I am not quite certain. But now I have the perfect opportunity to film “an away end erupt” – a chapter in one of my favourite football books, Daniel Gray’s “Fifty Delights of Modern Football” (my other favourite books being Dave Robert’s books on “32 programmes” and “Home and Away” with Bromley in the Vanamara league).

P1260599Newcastle score, and the Toon army gets a boost. But – the Huddersfield fans don’t go quiet. They chant to rally their team. Although Huddersfield have a lot of possession and put in a lot of effort, spurred on by the crowd, Newcastle seem to me to have the match under control. After some 35 minutes, a Newcastle player tackles the ball away from the Huddersfield keeper as he dives to pick up a long cross in the penalty area, and the Newcastle player rolls the ball into the net. The keeper is furious, so are the Huddersfield fans. They hurl the clappers towards the pitch. The woman with the hip hair next to me is hit by one, and her boyfriend, who has been busy hurling abuse towards the referee and linesman, now directs it to the crowd behind us. One of the policemen down by the corner is filming us, detecting and documenting offenses. The stewards grab one or two of the fans closest to the field and issue a warning to them.

P1260610Maybe it is the sense of injustice, but the Huddersfield fans seem even more up for the match now. The fan with the girlfriend next to me wheels his arms in the air as he tries to get a “Hud-ders-field, Hud-ders-field” chant going. In the second half, Huddersfield enjoy even more of the possession, and they do put together a couple of decent attacks. However, it takes a penalty 12 minutes before fulltime to bring them back into it. The fans in my section go wild with even more gesturing towards the Newcastle fans. You would have thought that Huddersfield were winning by now, judging from that.

Huddersfield fans celebrate

The fan next to me shouts out something that sounds like a mixture of “magpies” and “maggots” towards the Newcastle fans, laughs diabolically, before assuring his girlfriend that he doesn’t even know what it means. You sense that there may be a way back in this for Huddersfield after all.

P1260639As the match enters injury time, Huddersfield win a corner. Their keeper comes up for it, but has to make a hasty retreat, as the corner is cleared. Huddersfield do win the ball back, but the keeper is still way outside his penalty area, as a Newcastle clearance is belted up field. The keeper runs to head the ball forward, but somehow he mistimes it, and the ball skids of the top of his head as he falls to the ground, leaving the ball to a Newcastle forward who can just walk it into an empty goal. The Huddersfield fans are stunned into silence, whereas the Newcastle fans go mad. Several of them tear off their shirts and wave them in the air. I am wearing my winter jacket as well as thermal underwear and am still freezing by now. But not the Newcastle fans (and to be fair, there are also Huddersfield fans around me wearing only a short-sleeved replica shirt). I spot a boy of no more than five or six years of age in the Newcastle section. He is sitting on his father’s shoulders and has also taken off his replica shirt. Like the hard core fans, he is also waving his shirt, bare wasted. I wonder if his mother would approve, if she knew.

P1260651That’s it. The final whistle, and the Huddersfield fans curse their luck and their keeper as they leave the ground. I take a quick look around outside to see if there is anything I missed before the game. But in the darkness, I don’t really see anything new. I make my way back towards the city center. Police escort a long line of coaches with Newcastle fans towards the highway. By now, only scattered groups of Huddersfield fans are walking towards town.

P1260675Finding a place to eat in Huddersfield on a Saturday night without having reserved a table turns out to be difficult. I ask for a table in the first half dozen of places, but they are all fully booked. So I have to settle for a 20 minutes wait at “Nando’s”. I have some chicken and rice and a glass of wine. Afterwards, I head back to the strangely abandoned hotel. The receptionist is still there, but in a world of his own listening to music in his earphones. Apart from him, the place seems empty. I get to my room and turn on the television to see the football highlights.

Match of the day focuses on the Zlatan incidence. A Bournemouth player trampled on his head, apparently deliberately – then Zlatan clearly elbowed him. Not surprisingly the match of day crew argue that the trampling could be accidental, whereas the elbowing couldn’t, so United had been aided by the referee. They also argue that the first booking for the sent-off Bournemouth player was a bit harsh, and  that Zlatan went to the ground too easily when he was pushed over for the Bournemouth’s player to get his second yellow card. To top off their argument, they point that the United players got him sent off, because the referee initially overlooked that he already had booked the player. Well, the embarrassing thing about that is that all officials overlooked it – and deliberately pushing a player in the chest Is an offence whether you go to ground or not.

I turn off the telly and go to sleep, but I am woken up at about 3 A.M. Some men are banging on a door, trying to wake up somebody sleeping somewhere in the building. It is, in a sense, comforting that there is somebody else here after all. But I can’t fall back to sleep. The bed is so short – no more than 180 centimeters, and it is so shaky that whenever I move, it makes an alarming sound.

I finally decide to get up at 6.30 and go looking for somewhere to have breakfast. I want to have a shower, but discover there is only a bathtub. Well, I have a bath and go downstairs. There is nobody at the reception, only a sign asking to leave the keycard in a basket. I do that, and go down the main street, hoping to find somewhere they serve breakfast. The only place, however, is McDonalds. I gather there must be something at the station, and go there.

P1260680They may not have any statues outside the football ground, but there is one outside the station. Harald Wilson, the former prime minister, apparently was from Huddersfield. I also notice that the pub “The King’s Head” in the station complex has a portrait of Jimi Hendrix underneath, although I can’t quite come to think of any connection between Hendrix and Huddersfield. I enter the station to start on the next adventure: a trip to the Stadium of Light in Sunderland.P1260681

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Football grounds, Uncategorized

Broken Hearts at Tynecastle

Following the trip to Rochdale that ended in Bury, I am off to Edinburgh. From a financial point of view, one of the most important things about groundhopping is getting the train tickets right. You have to buy in advance – and find the cheap departures. As my train is not until 12.46, I have time to meet up with Emily, a good friend and colleague who always find a new hip place to meet. This time, we are at the Ezra and Gil in the Northern Quarter. It is Emily I have to thank for becoming a groundhopper. It was her who tipped me off on a football museum conference in Manchester back in 2012, which led to my working at the Manchester United museum for a month, doing 17 matches in that time from my base in Chorlton.

The train ride is great. I write on my blog, but often stop to look at the beautiful landscapes that we cross, And there is even a little sunshine to give it a glossy appearance. That is a good omen. Surely, this match cannot get postponed like the one in Rochdale the other night because an alleged water-logged pitch. For another trip, it would be ideal to put in Carlisle on the way from Manchester to Edinburgh. I have already been, but Carlisle would be a great choice, if there are no fixtures at unvisited grounds.

The train arrives at Edinburgh 16.25. That leaves me just about one hour before it gets dark. I have almost given up on taking decent night time photos with my camera, so if I am to get any of the Archibald Leitch stand, I have to hurry. I check in at my hotel and leave my suitcase and rucksack. But Edinburgh being such an incredibly beautiful city, I decide to walk to the ground rather than getting on a tram, train or bus. I choose the way along Princess Road and look up on the castle, rather than taking the Royal Mile towards the castle.p1260368-kopi

Approaching Haymarket, I notice a memorial with poppy wreaths beneath it. It turns out that it is not just any memorial (well, memorials are by nature special). It is a memorial erected in 1922 for the Hearts players who lost their lives in The Great War – with the casualties of WWII added as well. The entire Hearts team volunteered in 1914 as the first team to do so, and the club send them packages with tobacco, food etc. – and footballs. Seven of them never returned. From a Danish perspective, the 1914 Hearts team was also special. They had taken part in the annual football festival in Copenhagen back in May 1914 and won it. Later that summer, there was a debate in Britain whether they should boycott playing continental teams after some bad episodes in Central Europe. The chairman of Hearts wrote a letter to a newspaper and stated that an exception should be made of the “unspoiled” Scandinavians, as you could have crowds of 20.000 for matches there without a single policeman. It was the absence of gambling, he thought, that kept the Scandinavians in this unspoiled state of the game.

The walk seems pretty straight forward. But there are not any signs leading towards the ground – and there are not yet any other matchgoing people in the street. So I do wonder if I am heading the right way after all. Fortunately, I finally encounter a programme seller, who has taken up her position quite early and quite a long way from the ground. I missed out on a programme for my recent match at Burnley because they sold out before I went to the shop. But even though I have vowed never to leave it to that late again, the descending dark makes me ignore her – I have to get some photos while there is still a glimmer of daylight left.p1260381

I finally see The Tynecastle, the pub on the corner of Gorgie Street and MacLeod Street. To my horror, the area in front of the ground is a building site. It appears that they have already started on the new stand to replace the Archibald Leitch main stand!p1260383

I am not an archaeologist but a historian. But I guess this is what it must be like to be an archaeologist. To be alerted to some fascinating historical site that has been unearthed because of a new building enterprise – but the archaeologists are just called in to register the location of the elements, before the bulldozers destroy them and their history forever. It is almost unbearable.p1260384

As the area is a building site, they only allow staff in before the gates open. I look at it from the distance, There are no delicate ornaments like the Craven Cottage stand, but the light yellow skeleton of concrete holding the red bricks in place and the factory-like windows tell of a different age. This stand is also from 1914, although some of the stadium web sites claim that it was not completed till 1919. I am quite upset that it is about to be demolished.p1260385

If it wasn’t for this condemned gem overshadowing everything else, I probably would have appreciated the look of the Roseburn stand from the 1990’s, with a big stairway to a seemingly inviting concourse. Much more inviting and distinct than most stands from that decade.p1260388

I also discover that Hearts have a club museum as well as memorial garden. Alas, both are closed today – and I have an early morning train the next day, so I won’t be able to make it. I cannot even peek into the garden through the gates. It must be a bit strange to have the ashes of your nearest in a memorial garden that is closed on match days. I gather that most people would go here and want to remember their loved fellow supporter on matchdays rather than Thursday between 10 and 16. But then again, you would risk having drunk away supporters shouting at you – and the website says that it is for security reasons it has to be closed on matchdays. There is something special about Tynecastle, Hearts and their fans. When the club was in debt some seasons ago, a move to Murrayfield was suggested. But so strong was the fans’ sentiments for Tynecastle that the move was given up.

It is not quite Evertonian, but Hearts also have a neighbouring church that along with the other houses lining the ground towards Gorgie street gives it a distinct Edinburgh feel, just like the wall hedging in the car park and the football pitch for the academy in front of the Wheatfield stand.p1260397

Around the pitch, barbed wire has been added on top of the wall, and there are signs prohibiting any photography. Basically it is good that everything is done to prevent child abuse, but it does seem sad that it should be necessary to lock kids up behind barbed wire when they play football. I think of my childhood with hundreds of kids gathering on the pitches on the outskirts of the park playing football every afternoon.

I go to the club-cum-ticket office, collect my ticket and ask if there is any possibility of getting a quick look at the memorial garden. “No” is the answer. Equally disappointing, Hearts do not sell any books on their history from their shop. I have to settle for the matchday programme.

Outside, it is getting dark, and I decide to go back to the Dalry Road leading to the stadium where I had spotted a few restaurants. I haven’t had lunch and it is rather cold, so some food and warmth will probably be a good idea, rather than hanging around in the cold outside the ground for two hours before kick-off. I go for the place I encounter, a very tiny Chinese restaurant where I get a table next to a couple in their 50’s (which is another way of saying roughly my age).

As the waitress come down to take my order, the man – having spotted a group of fans with Hearts scarves – ask her, if there is a match on. “I wouldn’t know. I don’t really like football, I prefer racing”. As I had planned to go through the programme during my meal, I decide that I have better come clean and say “Yes, I am actually going to the match”. “Who do they play?” “Ross County” “And who do you support?” he asks.

I explain that I don’t really support any of the teams, but that I am groundhopping. He is dumbstruck. He has never heard of groundhopping, and he cannot believe that anybody will go and watch the football served up at Tynecastle unless they really have to.

If they had planned a dinner for two, well, then it is spoiled. We talk about quality of football, about Klopp and Mourinho, about Lou Macari and Scotland, and then about Laudrup and Denmark. And on to what is happening in Denmark at the moment. I do not dare put the issue of Brexit to him. It somehow seems embarrassing to me to remind Brits about the fact, in case they are just as frustrated as me.

As they are about to leave, I write down the name of my blog for him – he is a bit intrigued by this groundhopping phenomena that he hadn’t heard of before. In fact, we keep talking so much so that the waitress later discover that his wife has forgotten her glasses on the table. Just under an hour before kick-off, I also leave for the ground. Now I can get close to the Main stand. One of the stewards explain to me that the groundwork being done is to prepare office buildings, shop etc. and that the stand will be demolished after the last match of the season and building on the new one will commence.p1260408

I guess that they must have started ripping the façade of the stand of elements, as all the electricity is hanging randomly from the wall. It looks hazardous if not downright dangerous.p1260418

People are making their way through the turnstiles, and I look at the numbers. At first, I cannot find my turnstile, but then discover that it is still locked in the dark. There are a few other people standing there, all a little confused. A steward explains that the ticket scanner doesn’t work, and that they for security reason cannot let anybody in without being registered in the system. But he assures us that the electricians are working on it right now. More and more people gather. And suddenly two electricians enter the ground. And another steward tries to calm us down by saying that now the electricians are on it. Shortly afterwards, they leave again to pick up a ladder.p1260431

People are getting a little frustrated by now. “You cannot get in before we get the scanner to work” “But you must have a plan B!” a lot of people say in their wonderful Scottish accent. I am by now pretty convinced that my premature registering of the planned grounds on my groundhopping map HAS jinxed this trip. But rather than panicking, I take it as quite a unique experience.

Eventually, 15 minutes before kick-off, the four broken down turnstiles are opened. I can see that the people in front of me in the queue have plastic season tickets to be scanned. I have a good old fashioned paper ticket for once, although with a bar code for the scanning. When it is my turn, I think I have to put the ticket in a scanner. But there is no scanner. An elderly chap that I can only assume is Mr. Scanner, has a look at my ticket, and allows me in.p1260437

Oh, how I love these old stands! Odd stairways, bricks, wooden panels. Really intimate and distinct. I had only taken a very light meal at the Chinese restaurant, so I still have appetite to try a Scotch Pie. It is difficult to tell what is in it. Probably a mixture of mashed potatoes and boiled minced meat. Still, it beats the Scouse Pie I had outside Goodison some years ago.

I cannot quite point to what it is. But the crowd looks a little different to the average English crowd. I guess that it is something about the way they are dressed. The nearest I can think of is the Fulham crowd. Not posh in any way, but more middle-class-like. Or maybe it is because there is no alcohol served under concourse, and they therefore do not seem to be in the same high spirits.p1260450

Entering the ground is fantastic. There is something about wooden floors in a stand, rather than the modern concrete. When I visited Bradford back in October and read about the Bradford City Stadium fire, I decided that that was the end of my romantic feel for wooden stands. But now that I am once again sitting in one, it just feels like the real thing. The concrete stands give another acoustic experience, and you feel basically as though you are sitting in parking house. The wooden stands with it’s vaulted ceiling, pillars obstructing the view but given a superficial decoration, and a less hard acoustic soundscape give you a sense of being in the theatre.

As the players are about to enter the field, an old Hearts tune is played over the tannoy. That enhances the feeling of travelling back in time.

This is my first match in Scotland, and I am curious what the crowd will be like. As the match is about to kick-off, the announcer appeals to the crowd over the tannoy “let’s make some noise!” And there are all the oohs and aahs of a British crowd living the flow of the match, but no singing or chanting at all. Well, there is one attempt at the start of the second half. And a single chant for the scattered few Ross County supporters who have made the journey. But still, it is an enjoyable atmosphere.p1260461

I am surprised by the style of play. It is all neat passing and one-touch moves. Which the crowd seems to appreciate, although they appreciate sliding tackles just as much. But there is not much cutting-edge in it. Hearts have a lot of possession but seem reluctant to put the ball at risk and therefore don’t really get into dangerous positions. Hearts only dangerous effort is a long-range shot against the crossbar, with a forward miserably ballooning the ball over the bar on the rebound. Ross County seem to be slightly more direct when they go forward.

At the start of the second half, the pattern is the same. But the very moment I decide that I will write that the players seem remarkably comfortable on the ball, Hearts Greek midfield general takes a very heavy touch inside the penalty area, and a Ross County forward pounces and scores. From that moment, you really sense the frustration in the crowd. Nobody seems to believe that all the possession will ever get them a goal. And moans and groans take over, having a reverse effect on the players. 15 minutes before the end, with the score still only 0-1 and Hearts still having 60% of the possession, the first fans start to leave. The guy next to me leave 5 minutes before the end after another attack breaks down. “I have had enough of this”.p1260474

And that is how it ends. 0-1. Although Hearts have some good footballers, I can see the point of my friend in the restaurant. It never ever felt like Hearts were going to get goal, despite all their neat touches. I take the same way back to my hotel. It is 15.000 crowd, but very quickly there are only a few scattered groups making their way the same way towards the city centre. Most of Hearts supporters probably live in the opposite direction.

I take a stroll on the Royal Mile just to have been there, and go to the bar of the hotel. I really ought to have a whisky, now in Scotland, but I have to catch a train at 6.50 the following morning, so I ask for a single glass of red wine. The bartender asks me which one. “The Spanish” I say. The bartender discovers that there is not enough wine in the bottle for a full glass, and calls somebody and ask for another bottle to be brought up. It will only be a minute, he assures me. The minute drags out, and eventually the bartender himself go searching for the bottle. It turns out they have run out of Spanish wine, so after a 15 minute wait, I eventually get a glass of Chilean wine to take to my room and digest the impressions of Tynecastle.

I know that it is inevitable that the old stands will have to go. And I feel privileged that I did get to experience it. But I still feel a little sad. That said, the new stands at Tynecastle does have a distinct Edinburgh look and the claret of Hearts – and in the light of the floodlights the white steel tubes that hold the roof the new stands do look impressive.  p1260411

Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in Football grounds, Uncategorized

Delights and perils of groundhopping

End of February means that I am off to my annual meeting up with the Sports and Leisure History network at Manchester Metropolitan University in Crewe. And, as usual, I throw in a handful of football matches before and after. This year is something special. Only matches scheduled for Wednesday before our meeting up on the Thursday are in Scotland. As I only make slow progress in visiting all the English football grounds, it is a bit hazardous to put the Scottish grounds into the project. Nevertheless, I decide to do so as this is probably the last chance to see Archibald Leitch’s main stand at Tynecastle, which is to replaced by a modern one this summer. At the same time, it will serve as preparation for a trip with my old boys’ Dynamo Birkerød exactly a month later. Hearts are also at home in that weekend, but they are playing Celtic in a category A match, which means that you have to have a buying a history to even apply for a single ticket. So without a previous visit, there is no chance of getting to see that one.

That has an impact on my choice for match Tuesday night. I have Grimsby Town high on my list, but train connections from there to Edinburgh are not very good. So I decide to go for Rochdale’s Spotland, which allows me to stay in Manchester and meet up with friends.

I land at the Manchester Airport at 9.30 as planned. But the airport is in a state of panic, and we have to wait for 40 minutes on the runway, before we arrive at gate. I am mildly irritated, as I have promised the guys at the Manchester United Museum to come around with some freshly imported Danish pastry for a morning brew. But I really ought to have been mildly relieved, as it turns out that for the previous 40 minutes, planes had been directed to Birmingham or Liverpool because of the snow – and we were just feeling the after effects as they started sending off the delayed flights still occupying the gates.

Being short of time, I take a cab to the ground. I am a bit anxious about bringing my suitcase with laptop and all. They have gone very strict on security at the ground, as proved when the ground was evacuated for the last game of the previous season, as somebody discovered a dummy bomb left from a security exercise the previous day. I contemplate what to do, if they turn me away. I hope that it is one of the security guys from my stint with the museum some 4 years ago, so I may be able to talk me out of any problems.

It turns out that it is guy, I have never met before, but he quickly makes up his mind that I am no terrorist, when I show him the pastry I have brought from Denmark. He wishes he could join, and after a quick look into my suitcase, he puts it in a locker.

It is great to be back at the Manchester United Museum, scene of arguably the most adventurous month of my life, when I volunteered as a researcher there for a month, started my groundhopping project with 17 matches in a month, and followed United’s route to Alex Ferguson’s lasts title. The rooms, the objects, the sounds, the smells – it feels like home. Tom, who had just started at the museum, when I was there hurries past me – “hey, I remember you!” – and Mark comes up to greet me and take me down to the office.

We update each other on museums and football. The United museum can really feel the Mourinho-Zlatan effect. Visitor figures, use of audioguides, tours etc. things are better than ever before. And busier. After the League Cup win against Southampton, the club currently holds three of the four top trophies in English football, and everybody wants to set up events with them

We also talk about Zlatan. Mark admits that he never really rated him, so I also admit that I found him overrated. Afterwards, I have a walk around the museum. A bit of nostalgia – and I am also curious to see the current special exhibition – on the FA cup final triumph in 1977. And that is even more nostalgia! It is not just the final – it is the Doc’s Red Army years that they have put in there. And brilliantly put the fan culture just as much in focus as the actual games.p1260229

My heart really starts pounding when I see the special belt for the final, consisting of 14 small plastic frames, 12 of them with signed photos of the expected line-up, the last two rolls of titles. In order to stick the plastic belt into your jeans, you had to first remove the frames – which meant that you could rearrange  them in whichever order, you liked, thus personalizing your belt. Working in museums, I know that this is really the dream of a modern curator. User-generated content or co-creation being some of the buzz-words. Well, we did that as supporters in the 70’s. Actually, I think I can recall feeling a bit silly doing it, especially as the first plastic frames were torn after a couple of times wearing them. So after a few months, I gave up the belt, and cut out the small photos with autographs and put them on a sheet of paper instead. Maybe that was what got me into chasing autographs….

p1260223

The satin scarves and bar scarves, the satin banner, the replica shirt. And in the background 70’s music to a video showing goals and the crowd at the Stretford End swaying down to celebrate them. It is like a little time pocket taking me back to my teenage years.

With less than an hour before meeting my friend Dale and his son Aarran, I leave the ground. Memories, passion – everything has been stirred up. I try to take it all in, and look closely at the buildings along the way. I have never before noticed the motto on the Trafford Town Hall: “HOLD FAST THAT WHICH IS GOOD”. I can only agree.

p1260252

Just as I feel that things can’t get any better, they do. As I pass the cricket ground, I see an elderly lady crossing the railroad. She wears a black´nred-scarf with an inscription and a picture. I wonder if it is an old Alex Ferguson scarf and try to judge from the distance. “Are you looking at my shirt?” she shouts, as we approach each other. I notice that her hoodie is in keeping with the scarf, a Marlon Brando Godfather hoodie. “No, I am looking at your scarf”, I say as we meet  Her face lightens up in a big smile. “Oh Zlatan! He is just fantastic” and she adds in her half pleading, half frightened voice “He must’n leave, he must stay. I just love him”.  She looks up at me. Now that we are standing so close to each other, we both realize that I am least two foot higher than her. “Oh my God, you are just as tall as him!” she adds. I feel flattered. Just the other day I was reminded by facebook that I some four years ago typed in my height and weight in a “which-footballer-do-you-resemble-app” and the app came up with Zlatan as the answer. A split second I think of telling her, but as the weight no longer holds true, I decide to limit myself to “yeah, we are exactly the same height.”

Anyway, she is already on to raving about Zlatan’s two goals this Sunday. She had been out celebrating till 3 AM, but for some reason I didn’t’ really get, she had not gone till bed till 7 AM. Whatever the reason, she looks very remorseful as she tells me. We say our goodbyes and continue our separate ways. But after a few strides I stop, turn around and look after her, as I pull my camera out of my pocket. At the same time, she also stops and turn around. We both smile, she spreads out her arms and poses, as I take a picture of her and her Zlatan scarf. “Bye luv”

p1260254-2

Somehow this is the icing on the cake. It is not just about nostalgia. This really is home.

I am to meet Dale and his son Aarran at the National Football Museum at the Urbis. Dale and I met back in 1982 hunting autographs at United’s training ground the Cliff, and the following year I stayed with him and his family on my trip to Manchester. We lost contact a couple of years after, but Dale found me on Facebook just over a month ago, as I had a 1979-photo of me and Lou Macari as a profile photo. We had been reunited at Old Trafford two weeks previously as I went over with my son Thomas, and MUTV had arranged for Lou Macari and Bryan Robson to join in.

I am bit anxious that Dale and Aarran  may not be as fond of the football museum as me, especially as Dale ask me how long it will take. I know that he is the one in charge of getting us to Rochdale in time for the match, and that it therefore is only a natural question to ask. But I start to point out some of my favourite objects rather than allowing them to discover for themselves.

p1260255

Any doubts that they will not enjoy the visit as much as I are, however, dispelled by Alan. Alan Maul, working at the museum. As we struggle to identify Roger Hunt on the team photo of the England team, he decides that we need guidance. And it turns into a 40 minute tour of anecdotes and remembrance. Alan tells that he has actually been a footballer at Shrewsbury Town back in the 70’s. The ground was located by the river, and any ball hit over the stands therefore landed in the water. Therefore a ballboy was equipped with a tiny rowing boat each matchday to retrieve the costly balls. “I kept him busy” Alan tells. The highlight is the hot iron of the Maul family from 1966, on display with the original box. It is on exhibit in the Cup final timeline, just before the German equalizer to 2-2. Alan’s mum had not been the slightest interested in the game, so with ten minutes to go, she had demonstrably put up her iron board in front of the television. Naturally, it had generated the most heated discussion ever in the Maul family. No wonder the German’s managed to grab a late equalizer in such pandemonium.

p1260258

We take a bus to a stop near Dale’s work in Cheetham, where his car is parked. It has started raining, but not as heavily as predicted by the weather forecast yesterday. And as we start making our way out of Manchester, it stops. Dale tells me that we are near United’s former training ground, the Cliff , where we went autograph hunting some 35 years ago. “Will you have a look?” Of course, I will.

We pull up outside the ground. It is now used for training of small kids by the Manchester United Foundation. Two security men stop everybody who tries to get in. There was no security back then when it was ‘only’ the Bryan Robsons and George Bests of this world who used the facilities. The only security we saw down there, was when Julio Iglesias joined our little group of autograph hunters before the Manchester derby in 1982. He arrived in a limo with 6 security men all dressed in black. I was sitting on the stairway watching the players, and hadn’t noticed his arrival. Suddenly the press photographers down pitchside hurried towards the place. For a brief second, I thought that they had heard that I had come all the way from Denmark to watch the match, when I suddenly became aware of a strong scent of perfume. I turned around – and saw Iglesias on the stairway behind me.p1260266

However, when the security guys hear the story of us having just reunited via Facebook some 34 years since we met hunting autographs down here, one of them takes us inside for a look. In many ways, the place looks the same. But the main building with dressing rooms and gymnasium is standing empty, with a couple of trophies left in a window. The manager also used to have an office here – and according to Andy Mitten’s books, Ron Atkinson who was manager then, had a sunbed installed. Down from the pitch, the players could see the light from it, when Big Ron was ‘busy’ in his office.

p1260260

The security guy listen to our stories. We tell about the corner drill before the match against QPR, with Big Ron pointing out that QPR would be without their strong centre back Steve Wicks. We could, in theory, have been QPR fans, spying on United’s preparations. Dale recalls that Frank Stapleton as the only player was reluctant to sign autographs. I don’t have any recollections of that, on the contrary. But as he in other ways was very unimpressed with the lack of professionalism in those days, he may have annoyed by our presence.

p1260261

Whereas the main building now looks like a condemned house just before being boarded up, the pitch that used to be muddy now looks in top state. Our new friend tell that this is no coincidence. The first team now train on a pitch with exactly the same measures and the same mixture of real and artificial grass as Old Trafford. He admits that he is not a United but a Wigan supporter. So when he recently had a turn out for a photoshoot event with the FA Cup, he made sure that it was turned so the inscription of Wigan as winners in 2013 could be seen on the photos. The only teams that he really didn’t like, though, were Liverpool and Manchester City.

The five minute stop by the Cliff turns into a 30 minute stop, so by the time that we finally head towards Rochdale, we hit the heavy traffic. Dale had read that parking facilities near the ground were limited, so he had online booked parking on a private address next to the ground for a fiver. Rochdale has announced that for this fixture, all tickets are only £1, so maybe this stunt will attract a really big crowd. So nice to have our parking sorted out.

p1260268

We only get there as it starts to get dark. Strangely, the floodlights are not on yet, but maybe Rochdale are trying to compensate for the lost gate revenue by cutting the electricity bill. We are all hungry by now, and spot the local fisn ‘n chips, but I want to walk around the ground to take some photos before darkness is full. As we pass the ticket office, I decide to ask if we can buy a ticket in advance or have to pay at turnstiles. We don’t want expected hordes of fans attracted by the stunning offer to fill the ground before we have had our fish ‘n chips.

p1260281

And that was when I experienced one of those nightmarish moments in life where you just want to rewind and hope something else will happen next time. “The match is called off” the girl at the counter said. I heard the words but did not comprehend them. “They have called of the match half an hour ago after a pitch inspection” she elaborated.

p1260272

I was stunned. This was a first for me. I had been at White Hart Lane for a January fixture in heavy with a pitch inspection just an hour before kick-off – for a match where I had spent £300 on a ticket. But that had gone ahead. I had been behind the scenes at Leicester, when they battled to get a match on despite heavy snow, so several players had to abandon their cars and walk to the ground. And that match also went ahead. So why was this one postponed? It can’t possibly have been that little rain in the afternoon?!

p1260270

My first thought was that Rochdale must have been hit by a very local and very heavy shower. But my second thought is that I have jinxed it. When I filled Turf Moor in on my groundhopping map a couple of weeks ago, I did the thing that you mustn’t do. I filled in the grounds I had planned for this trip as well. The first of which being Rochdale. Of course, that was tempting fate. The prospect is frightening. How many more of the scheduled matches will I miss? In fact, this prospect is too frightening, so my thoughts go for a conspiracy theory instead. An accountant has figured out that even if Rochdale managed to attract 8.000 by lowering the price, the revenue would only be £ 8.000, compared to £ 36.000 if the normal 2.000 supporters paid their full £ 18. A staggering loss of £ 28.000. He must have told a director, who had stopped the match from going ahead.

p1260308

While was still feeling cheated and smarting at the thought of having to erase Spotlands from my map, Dale kept his cool. “that’s what happens when you share your pitch with a rugby team”, he reasoned. And then he asked Aarran to find an alternative match. Fortunately, nearby Bury also had a match. Also in league one. Although it is only 15 miles away, it appears to be unaffected by the weather. The prospect of getting to see a match after all makes me catch my breath again. Although it won’t really count in my groundhopping, as I have been to Gigg Lane in Bury twice before. That, however, was to watch FC United before they build their own stadium, so at least it is a first in the sense that I have never seen Bury play there before.

And in many ways this is  a more interesting match. Bury play Coventry City, a relegation battle with a lot at stake. And I always have had a soft spot for Coventry. On my first visit to England in 1976, we went to Coventry Cathedral. On our way from there, I saw the floodlight pylons of a football ground, and from the backseat craved that we went there. So we did. It was in the middle of July, and everything was shut down. But a groundsman was so flattered that we had come from Denmark to see it, that he not only allowed us pitch side but opened the souvenir shop for us.

And then I have a good footballing friend back in Denmark, who is Coventry City supporter. I never met anyone better at remembering scorelines, goalscorers etc. When our common Danish team, Frem, play a non-league team in the cup, he can always tell when the teams last met, what the scoreline was and who scored in what minute of the match. He is having a hard time with Coventry’s present bad spell. Most Saturday’s he sent me an update on how their position might turn out at the end of the day depending on the results of the matches. And at the end of the day, I get a report on what it now will take Coventry to get out of the relegation area. In that sense, it is easier to be a Manchester United supporter this season. Whatever the results, we have been locked in sixth place ever since November. But then again, of course, Coventry have been rooted to the bottom of the league for just as long. It is the hope that kills you, as they say.

So, we are on our way to Gigg Lane. We haven’t sorted out carparking for this one, obviously, but once again Dale is a man of action. He works in a bus company and calls the local depo and ask, how long it will take to get to the ground from there. 20 minutes they say. But one of the guys there says, he can give us a lift from the depo to the ground.  So we head for the bus depo rather than the ground.

At the depo we ask about the way back to the depo from the ground. The guy tells us that he wouldn’t walk the distance himself. There had been some stabbings. But another guy thinks that we should be all right, as we are a group. Technically, I suppose he is right. Two may not be a group, but three definitely are. But still we decide that we have better sort out a cab for the way back.

p1260309

Gigg Lane is a nice little ground. We are in the old main stand, which has the feel of a proper football ground. Brickwalls and pylons that obstruct the view with an old ceiling that gives it a real intimate feeling. We are right next to the press and the VIP area, although I do not spot any VIPs that I know of. Also, we are close to the Coventry supporters. We have bet on scoreline, crowd and number of Coventry supporters.  That is the only bet I win. I go for 100 – and having counted the number of supporters in half the section at half time (73), I put the unofficial number at 146, making we the winner.

p1260318

We never got our fish ‘n chips at Rochdale. So we are quite hungry by now. Whereas FC United always had at least a burger stand outside the ground, there is nothing today. We walk into the Shakers lounge after declaring ourselves home fans, but they only serve drink. We ask for food, and they say that there is a burger stand in the forecourt, so we go and have a second look around. Nothing to be found.

p1260322

So we have to wait till they open the turnstiles to buy a snack from the bar inside. Dale and Aarran go for a burger, I go for a Balti pie. I read a pie study recently describing the amazing rise of the Balti pie at football grounds, and I have decided to do my best to help it challenge the meat-and-potato and steak pies at the top of British football’s pielist. It is a standard Pukka pie that is being served in many a ground, so no real surprises here.

p1260325

We make our way into the stand. Our tickets are not numbered, so we find three good seats at the back. An elderly chap takes up the seat next to me. He looks at me, so I smile, nod and say hello. Some 10 minutes later, he is joined by another guy, who point out that they always have our seats. Feeling like intruders, we apologize and go to some other seats a couple of rows below. When I pass the first chap at half time, he smiles. We got away with that one. I make sure that I do my mandatory crowd survey – and Bury’s is very much like any other crowd. 98% white, 85% male. I have not yet found a quick method for estimating age composition. But once again the 40-65 segment is well represented. People who like me grew up with the football of the 70’s and 80’s.

p1260339

In the first half, Bury plays some good football. They have quite a few good attacks with particularly a fast right wing-back overlapping, but also some good movement and one-touches. One brilliant touch inside the area ends with Bury taking the lead. The Coventry supporters takes it in good spirit. “We are **** and we know we are”, they sing, followed by “you are nothing special, we lose every week”. When they go two 2-0 down, a couple of them get a bit agitated, claiming the Bury striker was off-side, but, in fact, he isn’t as one of the Coventry full-backs has failed to push up. Coventry look completely disjointed. And all Henrik’s efforts to calculate a way results can lead to safety for Coventry seem to have little to do with real life. They look a doomed side, and I regret that I hadn’t gone for 4-0 final score rather than 3-1.

p1260329

Credit, though to the Coventry manager. In the second half, he puts on a winger to prevent Bury’s right back from overlapping. Bury are playing a 3-5-2 formation, but as their wingbacks are suddenly pushed back in a 5-3-2, all the good moves in midfield and upfront from the first half evaporates. And Coventry do begin to put a couple of decent attacks together and have one or two shots at goal. That generates a little excitement among the Coventry faithfulls. And then the unthinkable happens. A nice move and a cross by the new Coventry winger – and a beautiful headed Coventry goal. Strangely enough, after the initial excitement has died down, the Coventry fans seem to be more quiet now. They have gone from putting up a brave face in defeat to the tension of sensing that there may be a way back after all.

It really is the hope that kills you. Coventry don’t get the equalizer their second half display probably merited. And from singing their way through yet another defeat, the Coventry supporters have gone completely quiet, as they don’t get their reward. They have won 5 matches all season. And they need 5 wins while the four teams above them all lose to get to safety. But still, for some 20 minutes, they had a glimmer of hope today.

At the final whistle, Dale calls for a cab. It will be there in 10 minutes they say. But within 30 seconds the driver calls and says that he is waiting. We get into the cab, and I wonder if it wouldn’t have been more safe to walk after all. The driver speeds his way through the crowd – a miracle that nobody steps into his way. Full speed around corners, over pedestrian areas etc. He probably wants to get back to pick up some more supporters wanting to leave the ground.

So at 10.30 we get back to Dale’s house, where his wife Natalie has prepared some nice chicken sticks for us. A bit exhausted. One flight, two football museums, three football grounds, braving the winter weather. Maybe I didn’t get a new ground on the list, but plenty of good memories in the bag.

 

 

 

Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Football grounds, Football museum, Football museums, Uncategorized