Thirty-three football grounds in seven days – Day 2, 9th September 2022: Liverpool

  • 3. Anfield Road
  • 4. Goodison Park
  • 5. Prenton Park
  • 6. Bramley-Moore Dock

The evening’s match at Prenton Park between Tranmere Rovers and Stockport County was already called off last night; and soon all the league matches for the weekend, including the match at Barnsley for which we had tickets, are called off as well. It takes some hours before it is announced that ALL football is off, so we spend some time considering different non-league options, before we realize that we will just have to throw in a few extra ground visits to make up a full schedule.

Anyway, for today, I had already  planned to do Anfield Road and Goodison Park on the trip to Liverpool before the Tranmere Rovers match. But we have more time now, so there is time for me to go to the Manchester city centre to look for football books in the fabulous Waterstones.

On my flight to the UK, I had been reading a Danish novel about a street artist, battling it out with competitors to have her sign in the most prominent places of town. This makes me look at the ever present photos of the late Queen Elizabeth as street art. And as such, it is impressive. All electronic advertising boards display photos of and tributes to her. Estate agents put her portrait among the photos of estate for sale. And instead of the latest odds, the boards of bookmakers show portraits of the Queen.

Waterstones is still just fabulous, even though I have to go to the National Football Museum to get David Proudlove’s recently published book: “When the Circus Leaves Town: What happens when football leaves home”. But I get a few others at Waterstones as well – and warm to the sight of two of the late Dave Roberts’ books. His “32 programmes” is my favourite football book ever. I am truly devastated that he died of cancer last year. I had got into contact with him on facebook a couple of years ago and was so much looking forward to watching a match at Bromley with him one day.

Back in Irlam, we wait for Dale’s eldest son Callum to come from work, before we set off for Anfield Road, Liverpool. I have been a few times. The first match was back in 1981, but I was not really tuned into looking at the grounds and surroundings back then. I went again in 2013, and I found the area looking like a war zone. Row after row of empty, boarded-up terraced housing. The club had been buying up houses in order to make room for ground expansion. As the area deterioated with the many empty houses, local resentment increased. After the club’s plans had been put forward and heavily critized in 1999, alternative plans to build a new ground in Stanley Park and convert Anfield to a recreational area, Anfield Plaza, were put forward. In 2012, however, the new owners, the Fenway Sports Group, found the Stanley Park project too expensive and reverted to the expansion plan.

Soon, the council and Liverpool F.C. joined forces in a new Anfield regeneration project – and in 2016 work on the expansion started with a new main stand. It is really huge. As we drive up Walton Breck Road towards the ground, it towers above the street. And right now, they are building a new Anfield Road stand to match it.

Walton Breck Road, Liverpool 2022. Photo © Hans Henrik Appel

Ever since local brewer and conservative politician John Houlding bought the ground and rented it to Everton F.C. as a football ground back in 1884, Anfield Road has been threatening to outgrow its surrounding residential area. When the first stand was built in Kemlyn Road in the late 1880’s, the owners of the houses complained of the loss of daylight and the noise. But as they gave up their protests when they were presented with season tickets, maybe their biggest loss was that they could no longer watch the matches from their windows. In 1978, Liverpool made plans for expanding the Kemlyn Road stand, but the plans were stopped by the two Mason sisters, who refused to leave their home in the road. In the end, all the other houses were demolished, but the sisters held firm. As the club could not start building, the area around the sisters’ house was converted to an executive car park. It was not untill the Hillsborough diaster 1989 and the ambition to make the ground an all-seater stadium, that the sisters finally gave in to the pressure and moved out. The new Kemlyn Road stand was ready for Liverpool’s centenary in 1992.

On the other side of the ground, however, their seemed to be room for expansion. Houlding had only bought half a field, the other half being left empty. But when Everton won their first title in 1891, the owner of the field said that he wanted to sell it for housing. And, if houses were to be build, Houlding had to give up a bit of his field to make room for a road between the two fields. That would mean that the grand stand at Anfield would have to be taken down, as it bordered on the neighbouring ground. Houlding suggested that Everton were turned into a limited company, so they could raise the money to buy both fields (in fact, he had wanted it for a long time, so maybe he got his neighbour to make up the building plans to put pressure on the reluctant members of Everton F.C.) . Houlding would still maintain 50% of the shares and have a controlling interest in the club (and not have to listen to the growing number of members – liberal tea-totallers!), and at the same time get his investment back. The majority of the members revolted and moved to Goodison Park. Houlding, however, had already had Everton F.C. registered as a limited company, but he was not allowed to take over the name. So he changed it to Liverpool F.C. and started his own, rival club.

In this way, you can argue that it was the growth of Anfield Road with the erection of stands right to the very edge of the neighbouring land that led to Everton moving away and Liverpool F.C. being born. Houlding bought the empty neighbouring field. He didn’t build housing but left it empty, almost as a buffer zone for later expansions. The first one came in 1906, when Archibald Leitch built a new grand stand – without having to squeeze it in, as he had in many other grounds.

When I visited back in 2013, there was still plenty of open space around the ground on this western side, bordering up to the back gardens of houses in Lothair Road. But just about all the houses there were standing empty, waiting to be demolished to make way for the expansion of the ground. On this visit, I had taken a photo in Rockfield Road of the ground, just about visible above Lothair Road in the distance. I now take a photo from exactly the same spot (by Sybil Road). The entire Lothair Road has been demolished. The new stand of Anfield looks like the giant foot from the intro to the Monty Python shows, having trampled out the housing.

I had also taken a photo of Lothair Road, looking down towards the shops in Walton Breck Road. Again I go to (almost) the exact same spot to take a photo. It is not just the terraced housing in Lothair Road that has gone, also the shops in Walton Breck Road. The gigantic stand has completely taken over.

Maybe I am a romantic, but I find the architecture around 1900 so much more attractive than modern architecture. Looking at what Walton Breck Road used to look like compared with today, it just seems so anonymous and soulless.

I guess it must have been the council that has developed the plan for modern housing in the area. It is not just the housing in Lothair Road and Rockfield Road that have had to give way. On the northern side of Walton Breck Road, Bagnall Street, Baltic Street, and Gilman Street have been demolished as well. And on the southern side of the Road, the terraced houses in Venmore Street, Towson Street, and Hartnup Street have been demolished as well.

On a board in Walton Breck Road, you can find a sketch of the proposed vision for the area. There is still some way to go, but it is clear the planners want it to look like a modern City square rather than a late nineteenth century neighbourhood. It is probably great on a match day, but on days such as this, it feels lifeless and anonymous.

The famous Albert Pub is still here. But you wonder for how long. It looks weary, the inn sign is falling apart. I really do hope that it will prevail.

At the Anfield Road end of the ground, work on a new stand is in progress. They are keeping the old stand for as long as possible, the same way they have done at other grounds ever since stands got so big, that they could not just be erected during the close season from May till August.

Despite the gentrification of the surroundings, we agree that it is still not a place, where anybody would dare walk around on his own wearing a Manchester United shirt. It must have been the cue that a little boy around the corner has been waiting for. No sooner have the words been spoken than he appears around the corner, wearing a full, yellow Manchester United third kit. We look at each other – and then at a car that is just passing us with an Aston Villa streamer at the back. Maybe it is not that hostile after all.

We take a walk across Stanley Park to Everton’s Goodison Park – a doomed ground. I have been to four matches there, one in the lower section of Gwladys Street, three in the upper. It is one of the two remaining Archibald Leitch stands in the ground. Despite the restricted view, I just love it. In the lower section, the concourse is nice and spacy; but upstairs, you have a wooden floor, which completely alters the acoustics of the match. I just love it.

Even though the streets around Goodison are almost empty and quiet, it feels homely and friendly. And the knowledge that people are living in houses right up to the ground somehow make the area feel alive.

I had hoped that somebody would be around and that we could persuade them to have a look inside one of the stands. But there is nobody around. At Anfield there were a few security men telling us not to enter the car park, and there were quite a few football tourists with bags from the souvenirs shop. But there are just a few people living in the surrounding houses at Goodison.

We just take a walk around the ground to grasp the contrast to Anfield. The housing borders right up to the ground – and, of course, there is the St. Luke’s church right in the corner of the ground with the Everton memorial garden. I will have to dig a little deeper into whether Everton have had plans to do like Liverpool. To buy up housing and demolish it.

They did so around a 100 years ago, when they bought the houses on one side of the Gwladys Street to make room for their new stand. And in the late 1990’s, a couple of houses behind the Park End stand were demolished to make way for a car park. But it seems that Everton since the Taylor Report have only explored the possibility of moving to a new ground.

And this after Goodison Park, when it was built in 1892, was head and shoulders above any other football ground in the country. And in the early 1900’s, they got Archibald Leitch to draw up a master plan of four covered stands, making it the best ground in the country (although the new Highbury took over in the 1930’s as the most modern ground). At the time of the World Cup 1966, Goodison was still one of the top grounds in the country, and five years later, this was emphasized by the erection of the largest three-tier stand to replace the old main stand. Since then, however, the ground has changed little, with only the Park End being rebuild. On the one hand, this is why Goodison Park is my favourite ground. On the other hand, this is why they now have to relocate.

Having seen how the pubs and chippies around Maine Road have disappeared, I cannot help wonder, what will happen to the shops and pubs in Goodison Road, when the club leaves.

We walk back to Dale’s car via the Liverpool Cemetery, and then head for Birkenhead. The first time I crossed the Mersey.

It is almost 6 pm when we get to Prenton Park. We park in the otherwise empty car park by the ground, but a groundsman comes out and tell us that we can’t park there now. He is about to lock up the gate. I tell him that I have travelled from Denmark and planned to see the game – was there any chance, we could have a look inside the ground? He is great guy. As we have travelled to see his team, he stays on for 20 minutes and allow us inside.

Gate at Prenton Park 2022. Photo © Hans Henrik Appel

Whereas Anfield Road and Goodison Park have been two of the top league grounds since the 1890’s, Prenton Park did not become a league ground untill the expansion of the league with two third divisions (just after WWI). The current main stand was erected in the 1960’s, whereas the two end stands and the opposite east stand were all built in 1994 in wake of the Taylor Report.

The Main Stand, Prenton Park 2022. Photo © Hans Henrik Appel

The groundsman tells us that the owners are planning a new stadium, just across the Mersey from the new Everton ground! They think that the maintenance of the old ground is too costly, whereas a lot of the fans are furious, as the club is very much a community club. It certainly feels like that.

The Kop, Prenton Park 2022. Photo © Hans Henrik Appel

I walk up the stairs of the big Kop stand. From there, I can see over the top of the Borough Road Stand to the housing across the street. Behind the stand at the opposite Cowshed End, you can also see the housing. This must be a wonderful place to watch your football.

The Borough Road Stand, Prenton Park 2022. Photo © Hans Henrik Appel

Apparently, I am not the only one to think so. The groundsman tells us that when Tranmere are playing at home and Liverpool do not have a match, Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp usually sneaks into the ground just before kick-off. He likes the atmosphere of lower league football. After hearing yesterday that he brought Rose flowers when playing Manchester City, this gives me even more respect for him.

The Cowshed End, Prenton Park 2022. Photo © Hans Henrik Appel

It may be costly to maintain, but the main stand from the 1960’s just looks so much more welcoming and inviting than some of the more modern grounds, that we visit the following days. I had Prenton Park on my list of grounds to visit for a match; but the intimate feeling of the ground being the very centre of the local community combined with the news that the days of the ground may be numbered make it move into the top 10 grounds on my list.

We tell the groundsman that we intend to have a look at Everton’s new ground next. He advises us to do it from this side of the Mersey. You cannot get near enough to see anything really, and from this side, you have a good view. He goes regularly to take photos of the progress. But we have better hurry up, before it gets dark.

There is just time to get round the ground and take some pictures before we head to the area, he has recommended us to go to.

When we get there, the sun has set and it is getting dark. With a proper camera and in daylight, though, this is the place to take some cracking photos. The new main stand of Anfield rises dominantly in the distance, whereas the new Everton ground will get to dominate the waterfront, once completed. And between these two, you can see the top of the three-tier Goodison main stand from 1971. Three grounds in one view. And when Goodison Park has been demolished, a new Tranmere Rovers ground might make it possible to see a similar sight in the future.

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

Thirty-three football grounds in seven days: Day 1, 8th September 2022: Manchester

  1. Maine Road
  2. Old Trafford
Maine Road 2022. Photo © Hans Henrik Appel

It has been three years since my last football trip. So much has happened since then. Brexit, Covid, war in Europe. On top of that, my osteoarthritis now makes it hard for me to get around. So, I am a little apprehensive as I set off to the UK. Fortunately, my friend Dale – who I met at the Manchester United training ground the Cliff some 40 years ago – has offered to drive me around, as I plan to make up for lost time. Five matches, thirty grounds – former, present, and future.

Dale picks me up at Manchester Airport in the morning. We start off in Moss Side, Manchester, the site of Manchester City’s Maine Road ground from 1923 to 2003. On the way to the ground, I tell Dale that I, actually, visited Maine Road as a teenager on one of my trips back in 1980. It was midweek with no match on. But I remember feeling very uncomfortable, as a number of school kids spotted me through a fence, pointing and shouting at me in a not very welcoming way. Eight months later, Moss Side turned into a riot area, as a thousand youths stormed the local police station. I didn’t feel like going again on my subsequent visits to Manchester.

Dale’s memories of Maine Road are even worse. He went to the FA Cup semi-final replay between Manchester United and Liverpool in 1985 and got separated from his friends in the mayhem in the streets following United’s win. A terrible experience.

But as we drive up Kippax Street and park, it all seems quiet and peaceful. I have brought a photo of the Kippax Stand taken on the final match day back in 2003, and I take a photo from the same spot. The terraced housing in the streets around the ground still looks the same, but where the stand used to hover 20 years ago, there are now modern residential houses.

The Kippax used to be the popular side of City’s ground, with terraces extending the full length of the pitch. In its heydays, it could hold more than 30,000, but in its final days in 1994, the capacity was reduced to 18,000. With the conversion of grounds into all-seaters, a three-tier stand with more than 10,000 seats was opened in 1995, at the time the highest stand in England. It rose so high about the terraced housing that many of the houses had to get extensions for their tv-antennas, as the signal was disturbed. And people around the ground complained that their back gardens now were literally in the shadow of the imposing stand.

It lasted only eight years, however, before Manchester City jumped on the chance to take over the City of Manchester Stadium, built for the Commonwealth Games 2002. And the new stand was demolished along with the rest of the ground in 2003.

As I am taking my photo, a woman in her thirties asks me, if I come from the estate agent. I have to disappoint her and tell that I am just travelling around to visit sites of old football grounds. Her face turns into a mixture of surprise and disbelief. A football ground? Here? She had never heard of it.

Now it is me turning into disbelief. Especially as Dale and I shortly after come to what used to be the centre circle of the ground. It is clearly marked out – how can you not be aware that this used to be football ground?

The Centre Circle, Maine Road 2022. Photo © Hans Henrik Appel

The centre circle is surrounded by the new residential houses that in turn are surrounded by the old terraced housing. I would like to walk on into the old streets, but it turns out that all the little passages from the new housing estate are locked off. It almost feels like a throw-back to being fenced in at the old grounds. We have to take the long way to find a road.

I have read descriptions on how City fans made their way to the ground through the many small passages connecting the streets of terraced houses, finding their usual pubs and fish ‘n chips shops along the way (Edensor & Millington: Going to the Match. The Transformation of the Match-day Routine at Manchester City FC). But pubs as well as chippies have gone with the football ground. I recently read that only one out of 19 pubs has survived. Sad. I have found a photo of an old chippy at the corner of Maine Road, and we go to see what is there now. “Khartoum Mini Market”.

I have always been fascinated by aerial photos of Maine Road, as the ground was totally hemmed in by rows and rows of almost identical terraced housing. They must have been built at the same date. They all have the same decoration on the gable. Some of the housing in Kippax Street was put on sale in 1903 – twenty years before the ground was built. I guess that the rest of the housing must predate the football ground as well. The housing has not grown up around the football ground. Rather, the football ground has been squeezed in among the housing.

The site of the ground is oddly trapezoid shaped. It used to be the site of the Moss Side Brick Works. As late as in 1903, the owner of the brick work was fined at Manchester County Police Court for the nuisance caused by the emission of black smoke from his chimneys, that was carried the 40 yards into the Corporations area, when the wind was from the south.

Maine Road in 1923

But four years later the machinery of the brick work was put up for sale, and the site was sold by the owners, Fairhaven Estate Company in 1913. It was, however, a further nine years, before Manchester City decided to buy the site, as they had been refused extension of their lease by the Tramways that owned the site of their former ground, Hyde Road. And because their attempt to find a new ground at the Belle Vue had failed.

Whereas most other main league grounds in the first decades of the 20th century were constructed by football ground architect Archibald Leitch, Manchester City went for the local architect Charles Swain – with Maine Road being the one and only football ground he ever designed (he did, though, design the greyhound racing track in White City, Old Trafford, four years later). Swain has undoubtedly relied heavily on the experience and expertise of his contractor, Sir Robert McAlpine and Co, who at the time was erecting the first Wembley Stadium.

Among the features of the ground were no fewer than 90 turnstiles around the ground, and that “every spectator, no matter where he may be located, will be able to obtain an uninterrupted view of the game”. It also applied for the goalkeepers, as the stadium was designed so that the sun would never shine directly into their eyes.

The era of the motor car was emerging, so the ground was also fitted out with a car park – making use of all the space within the trapezoid ground. All cars and cabs taking spectators to the ground were, according to council regulations, to turn off the Wilmslow Road at Claremont Road, and then go down Maine Road and drop off their passengers by the reserved stand – presuming that everybody going by car would also be seated in that stand. Omnibusses and charabancs were to proceed down Wilmslow Road to Platt Lane, and then go up Yew Tree Road on the other side of the ground – the cheap, popular side. The convenience of a class society.

Similarly, 60 cabs were to take up position in the streets on the side of the main stand, the first ten of them advancing to the main entrance “immediately after the half-time interval”, with the next ones ready to advance in rotation as vacancies occurred. Only 24 cabs were to take up position around the popular stand in Kippax Street, even though this was where the vast majority went.

Passages connecting the streets around Maine Road 2022. Photo © Hans Henrik Appel

There was also good service of tramways, so Maine Road, at the time of building, was considered geared to handle the heavy traffic of a match day. But walking around the streets now, it truly feels like a residential area, so remote from modern stadiums placed next to motorways.

In some places, the football grounds have swallowed up the houses immediately surrounding them. In this case, housing has swallowed up the football ground. If City had stayed at Maine Road, they would probably have tried to buy up some of the housing to demolish it, so they would have been able to expand the ground. That is, if they managed to make it to the top of English football, which is questionable. They were not particularly successful when they made the move to the City of Manchester Stadium, and they were in dire straits just after the move. But then – possibly attracted by the combination of a top modern stadium and an old traditional football brand – Sheik Mansour bought the club and put so much money into it, that City rose to the top of English football. It is highly unlikely that he would have bought the club, if it still had been at Maine Road with little room for building a brand new stadium.

Going down a street behind the former site of the Kippax stand, we see an elderly lady standing outside her house, talking to a neighbor. Dale asks her, if she lived here, when the football ground was still in use. “I still work for Manchester City!” she says proudly.

Rose 2022. Photo © Hans Henrik Appel

Rose, as she introduces herself, is truly amazing. We talk with her and her son for 45 minutes. She moved into the house back in 1958. “All the houses here”, her son tells us, “are made of bricks from the old brick work”. A few of the houses further down the street had toilets in the kitchen, whereas the others had them at the back. “Imagine having a toilet in the kitchen”.

Rose started working for Manchester City in 1974, so she has been working for them for almost half a century. Nowadays, they send a limousine to pick her up on match days – and to take her home around half-time. She really has become an institution at the club. But she has no interest whatsoever in football. She cannot get why people get so worked up over it. And she leaves at half-time, when her job is done.

She is sometimes referred to as the tea-lady, but this annoys her. She has done a number of different jobs at the club, but now she takes care of the 25 photographers, who are allowed in on matchdays. She shows us photos of her office – the walls are covered in photos of Rose together with former and present football celebrities. She shows us a photo from last season of Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp, bringing her flowers when Liverpool played City. Even though I am not a Liverpool fan, it is things like this that make me respect Klopp. In contrast, Rose tells us that City boss Guardiola never has been around her office to say hello. He is the only City manager, she has never spoken to. She shows a photo of Guardiola – and then decides to present it to me. Her favorite manager, without a doubt, was Kevin Keegan.

But there have been many other good moments. When City played Barcelona a few years ago – one of the matches at the Etihad I have attended – everybody in the photographers room were talking of Messi. “Don’t you dare call my room messy!” she had said – which probably was why she had been presented with a photo signed “To Rose – Messi”.

Rose keeps going into the house to find more photos to show us – she also gives us a number of old match day programmes  – while her son tells about what it was like growing up next to the ground. The only particular match that he mentions, is the FA Cup semi-final 1985 that Dale had attended. He points to the nearby passage. The Liverpool fans kicked the gate to the passage open after losing the match and ran up and down the street smashing windows in all the houses. Frightening.

The passage where the Liverpool supporters broke through in 1985. 2022 Photo © Hans Henrik Appel

But it had not just been football. Back in the 1970’s Jehovah’s witnesses had held a congregation at the ground. They had left the place much tidier than they found it. They had even painted it. I browse the internet and find a video from 1971 about the congregation. It seems that Maine Road was used by the Jehovah’s witnesses several more times, from 1960 till the mid 1990’s. But the visits in the 1980’s Rose’s son remembers, are the rock concerts. David Bowie, Rolling Stones, Queen etc. For some of the concerts, they were handed free tickets because of all the hassle in their back garden.

Since the days of the football ground, the area has changed. Prices on housing has gone up dramatically, and lots of new people have moved in. But Rose has still got nice neighbours. And there are one or two of the old ones remaining.

Not a neighbor of hers, but Rose goes on to talk about the Queen. She didn’t look well two days ago, when she welcomed new prime minister Liz Truss. It is strange to think that Rose moved into her house only five years after the Queen’s coronation. And Rose seems still to be going strong.

New houses have replaced the football ground in Maine Road 2022. Photo © Hans Henrik Appel

Dale and I break up, after promising to go round her house on my next visit. It is a nice walk back to the car. I much prefer to walk down these old streets to going to Manchester City’s new ground, which seems to be a desolate place. Maybe because we have been lifted by talking with Rose, the streets around Main Road look friendly and welcoming to us.

We had planned to go to Stockport County’s Edgeley Park in the afternoon, before going to Old Trafford for the night’s Europa League match against Real Sociedad. But we have spent so long talking with Rose and her son that we decide to postpone Edgeley Park till Sunday morning. Instead, we go to Dale’s house in Irlam to pick up his son Aarran, who will be joining us for the match.

By the time we get to Irlam, all the media are alerted by the poor condition of the Queen. “The entire country will grind to a halt, if she dies” Dale says. I suddenly panic. Imagine waiting three years to make sure that Brexit and Covid wouldn’t destroy my plans and going in early autumn to avoid matches being called off by bad weather, only for them to possibly be called off because of the Queen dying. Around 4, just before we leave for the ground, rumors on social media say that she has died – but the BBC keep saying that the doctors are merely concerned, and the family is therefore on their way to be with her.

I normally get to Old Trafford from Chorlton, walking down the lovely streets to the station, past the Cricket Ground and up the Warwick Road to Chester Road. There you find the chippies, the cafés, the pubs, and the fabulous Red Star ‘alternative’ souvenir shop. Stalls are set up, selling souvenirs, burgers all sorts of stuff. You find the sellers of fanzines – and ticket touts.

This time, though, we come from the other side of the ground, on the new metro line, and get off at the new Wharfside station. This is where the Sam Platts Pub used to be. It was shut down to make way for the metro in 2017 – and only a few days afterwards the building was burned down.

You cannot help but admire the foresight of the directors of Manchester United, when they chose Old Trafford as the site of a new ground back in 1908. An industrial area some way away from their old ground Bank Street (which ironically now is the site of the cycling arena in the Stadium of Manchester complex). But it has allowed United to buy up more land, as the industries by the harbor have left, so United have had it much easier adapting to the spatial demands of a modern football ground than other clubs. And the entire harbor area has become a modern cultural stronghold, with the Lowry, the BBC headquarters and the Imperial War Museum North.

The downside, however, has been that United started the development of OId Trafford into a modern all-seater ground right from the kick-off of the Premier League in 1992. It was expanded in the successful 1990’s with extra tiers added to the East, West and North stands, before quadrants were added in the corners in the early 2000’s. United had the money and the land to make this expansion and move ahead of the other clubs in terms of capacity and facilities. But since then, the money in football has become so much bigger, and it really shows that Old Trafford was transformed in the relatively poor 1990’s. The stands are a bit parking house like. The concourses are dull, there is very little room between the seats, the roof is leaking, and the acoustics are poor. I am to visit the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium and Anfield Road later on my trip for comparison. But there is little doubt that Old Trafford is no longer state of the art.

There are ongoing discussions at United as what to do about it. One idea is to add another tier on the Southern stand – but that will not improve the existing three stands from the 1990’s; and there are problems building over the railway that runs just behind the southern stand. They would probably have to buy up and knock down the terraced housing along the railroad. Another idea, therefore, is to “do a Tottenham”. To build a new ground next to the old one in the huge car park next to the current (original) ground, before demolishing it or turning it into an alternative venue for less attractive matches.

While the club is considering its options, they have done something to make the ground look less weary. They have in recent weeks repainted the red steel work. Somehow, the hue of the red doesn’t seem quite right; or maybe I have just gone used to looking at the old faded one. The new color looks ok on the 2000-ish quadrants of glass in the corners, but not really on the concrete and steel stands of the 1990’s.

The terraced housing, south of the railroad, seen from Chester Road 2022. Photo © Hans Henrik Appel.

Another new feature, are two walls hemming in away supporters, waiting to enter through the turnstiles. Allegedly, they were erected for the match against Liverpool a couple of weeks ago to prevent fighting. And there is a new line of security guard searching all visitors to the souvenir shop, probably fearing that anti-Glazer protesters will storm the shop.

Maybe it is because it is just a Europa League match, maybe because of the rumours of the Queen dying, but the place seems more quiet than usual on a matchday. We head for the residential and chippy/pub area behind the south stand by Chester Road.

Back in 1981, three days prior to United playing at Anfield, a ticket tout here offered me a ticket for the match. I told him that I already had one – through the supporters’ club. “Seat?” “No, standing”. “Standing at Anfield is murderous. They use knives” he told me. I got so apprehensive that I went down to the supporters’ club office and asked, if there was any chance, I could swop my standing ticket for a seat. I could. I went back to the ticket tout and thanked him for his advice. He was about to find the ticket in his pocket, when I said, “oh no, I already swopped it”. I still remember the expression of annoyance in his face. Ever since, I have spotted him at every single match I have gone to, hanging around the Chester Road. And he is still there.

We go into Angelo’s Red Star Souvenir Shop. Angelo’s wife recognizes me and calls for Angelo who is having a small break. So good to see him and chat again after three years. I leave the shop with a new Cantona-hoodie. We go to Lou Macari’s chippy next to Angelo – a fish ‘n chips from there is essential in my pre-match rituals. When I didn’t do it for the local derby in 2013, we lost 2-1.

As usual, we eat outside Angelo’s shop, next to the Bishop Blaize pub, which, as usual, is packed with singing United supporters. While we are eating, a man is chased down the streets by a couple of policemen, soon followed by two police horses. Apparently, he gets away, because after a few minutes the police officers return with a group of their colleagues, deep in conversation. While we are observing this scene, we suddenly notice that the tune from the Bishop Blaize has changed. For the first time ever, I hear them sing the National Anthem. I don’t notice whether they sing “the Queen” or the “the King”. But I notice that once they have ended it, all the singing and chanting stop. We check our phones, and yes, news of the Queen passing away has been announced. Maybe that is what the policemen are talking about. Will the match go ahead? It is just about an hour till kick-off.

Prematch meal outside the Bishop Blaize 2022. Photo © Hans Henrik Appel.

Suddenly, everything has gone quiet and somber. I must admit that all my thoughts are on this and the subsequent four matches. Will they be postponed? Having finished our fish ‘n chips, we walk down the streets of terraced housing to the little bridge across the railroad to the Stretford End. We start to wander around. I had planned to take a lot of photos of the surrounding area, but I am to worried about the match going ahead to concentrate on it. Instead, we enter the ground – somehow irrationally feeling that maybe it will make it little more awkward to postpone the match, if the ground is already full.

The bridge across the railroad 2022. Photo © Hans Henrik Appel

We have got tickets for the new safe-standing section. Usually, we go to the Stretford End, where everybody is standing in front of their seat throughout the match, anyway. There only seems to be two differences. Before the match and during half-time you can sit on your seat in the Stretford End. You are also supposed to be able to do that in the safe standing area, as a seat has been attached to the crush barrier behind you. But there is even less leg room than in the normal seats, and I find it impossible to squeeze in my long legs. So, it means standing uninterruptedly for three hours. The only positive is that you now have the crush barrier behind you to lean against. Which, I suppose, is an improvement, but nothing really to get too excited about.

The atmosphere inside the ground is just about the strangest atmosphere I have encountered at a football match. Everybody seems anxious and uncertain about the match going ahead. Even when we read confirmation on our phones, there are still rumours circulating that it will be called off. There is no music being played over the PA system, no messages or information on line-ups. The electronic advertising boards are switched off and black. Some half-an-hour before the kick-off, the Spanish supporters start chanting, but it is quenched by booing around the ground.

It is not until the tunnel area gets busy, preparing for the players to enter the field that an anti-Glazer chant is heard from the Stretford End, and when the players enter, they are accompanied by the usual “U-N-I-T-E-D, United are the team for me”. There is an announcement of the Queen’s death. The players wear black armbands and line up around the centre circle for the observance of a minute’s silence. It is observed impeccably by everybody – the Spanish supporters holding up their scarves – although you can hear some distant music, probably from one of the stalls on the concourse.

A minute’s silence at Old Trafford, 8th September 2022. Photo © Hans Henrik Appel

The match is a strange, flat non-event. Maybe it is the somber atmosphere. Maybe it is because the static Maguire, Lindeloff, Casimero and Ronaldo along with the erratic Fred have replaced the dynamic Martinez, Varane, McTominay, Fernandez and Rashford in the line-up. The match has a scoreless draw written all over it, when the referee decides to give the Spanish team a very soft penalty in the second half. They take the lead, which should have sparked a reaction from United to get back into it. But it is the Spanish team that is buoyed by it, and they are closer to adding a second goal than United to equalizing.

After the match, it is back to the somber silence. Usually, you would be listening to post-match interviews with managers and players, and analysis from the pundits. But there is absolutely nothing. In a way, it is a throw-back to the 1980’s, before the advent of Sky Sports. In those days, at least you bought the match day Pink Final that was printed or sold literally 30 minutes after the final whistle. I subscribed to the Pink Final as a boy in Copenhagen. It arrived Thursday after the match – and the match reports were basically written as the game progressed. You could have a report describing all United’s good play and many chances, as a storyboard that would end saluting a famous United win – only for the last two lines of the report laconically informing that the opposition won 2-1 thanks to two last minute goals. But that disappeared with the internet – which is now all about the Queen.

We get back to Dale’s house. Even Sky Sports is all about the Queen. But there are still two – worrying – football related news. All Friday matches have already been called off, and the possible cancellation of all weekend games will be discussed in the morning. So, Friday’s match at Tranmere Rovers’ Prenton Park is already off. Usually, the frustration with that and the anxiety about the other matches would have kept me awake, but as I have been up for 21 hours, I do manage to fall asleep.

Posted in Uncategorized

The cultural and material history of the English football league ground 1888-2020

“The cultural and material history of the English football league ground 1888-2020”. That is the working title of my new project. As you may know from my blogposts, I am fascinated by the way football grounds encapsulate the history of clubs and the ways football have been consumed for more than a century.

The football ground was the platform for professional football. The income of clubs used to be almost totally dependent on gate receipts (especially if you include subscriptions/season tickets). So football being played in virtually empty grounds for the past year, is the perfect time to take a look at the way football grounds (and football economy) has changed since the league was founded in 1888.

You can give me a helping hand for this project with very little effort – by voting for my previous book “Barrison-feberen” as History Book of the Year 2020 in Denmark. The book is among 5 nominated, and voting is open till 31st March 2021 on http://www.historie-online.dk/aarets-historiske-bog-2020

The title comes with a prize of 20.000 Dkr (roughly £2500), which would enable me to go on a trip around grounds and archives in the UK to gather material for the project. And winning the title would probably make publishers more interested in this new project.

I really would appreciate your help.

Below, you can read a description in English of “Barrison-feberen”, so you have an idea, what you would be voting for!

Thanks!

Hans Henrik Appel

Barrison Fever!

The story of ‘The Five Barrison Sisters’, the Danish-American pop phenomenon who shocked Europe’s metropoles in the 1890’s, as they challenged the ruling views of gender, body and morality.

‘Barrison Fever!’ is a micro-historical account of the cultural upheaval in the fast-growing metropolitan cities of fin-de-siecle Europe. By focusing on the remarkable story of how The Five Barrison sisters overnight became an international celebrity pop phenomenon, the book gives a vivid description of fin-de-siecle cultural tensions as new perceptions of gender, body and morality were breaking through in the wake of the emergence of consumerism, the leisure industry and international mass media celebrities.

The book

The book tells how the five Danish-American Barrison sisters (between 13 and 21 years old) in 1894, overnight become the most coveted stars of the variety scene in the western world. They create a sensation with their almost identical appearance, the synchronicity of their moves, their skinny bodies without corset and feminine curves, and their double entendres and dances that balance between childish innocence and bubbly sexuality. They are among the very first celebrity stars in an emerging international news feed, and wherever they go, they create a stir with their appearance, whether cycling around cities wearing bloomers or being coveted by noblemen and rich businessmen at parties and balls.

Helped by an unprecedented (and strategically planned) marketing through cabinet cards, posters, merchandise, scandals and gossip spread by news agencies, the Barrison sisters make the headlines in newspapers internationally, at the same time as the phrase ‘The New Woman’ is coined. Therefore, they invariably become central figures in the debate about female emancipation, embodying this new concept. To some, they serve as a model for a new emancipated way of life, to others they are the very incarnation of the moral decay of fin-de-siecle. They become the enemy that spur Christian defenders of traditional morals to rally and organize, especially when it comes to light that their manager, the husband of the eldest sister Lona, William Fleron was convicted for his anarchist activities in Denmark back in the 1880’s. Surely, this pop phenomenon must be the latest anarchist onslaught on bourgeoise society?

The Barrison sisters become a big name in Paris, they make Berlin go wild, and they are the centre of attention in Vienna. In their native Copenhagen, however, the police decide to ban them immediately after manager William Fleron’s anarchist past is drawn to their attention. In the English-speaking world – London and New York – the reception is reserved. In the fall of 1896, Lona Barrison triggers a scandal in New York as she tries to enter the Madison Square Garden’s Horse Show, riding astride in a split skirt on a men’s saddle.

After this American scandal the sisters return to Europe in January 1897. But by now the Barrison phenomenon is confronted by Christian, conservative, nationalist and anti-Semitic forces in Austria and Germany. In a whirlwind of censorship, lawsuits, legislation and bans, the troupe disintegrates, though their manager, William Fleron, and his wife Lona Barrison try to keep her solo career going for another 10 years.

Through 10 chapters, the book follows the emergence of the Barrison fever, its heyday, the disintegration of the troupe, and Lona’s and Fleron’s subsequent battle against censorship in Germany and Denmark. With the sisters’ (and Fleron’s) career as the focal point of the story, readers are led on a journey through fin-de-siecle culture as it unfolds in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, New York, Copenhagen and other metropolitan cities.

The book is an historical account, based on thorough archival research, but written in the ‘historical present’, using a dramatic plot structure and ‘thick-descriptions’ to convey a sense of immersion, rather than academic distance.

Reviews

“What really makes Hans Henrik Apple’s book worth reading is his excellent ability to put the Barrison sisters into a context that extends far beyond the artists themselves. In this way, the book provides an excellent snapshot of 19th-century fin-de-siècle, social tensions and clashes of culture, burgeoning socialism, New York’s theater scene, eroticized Paris, Puritan movements and much, much more … From the first to the last page it is an absolute joy to read.”

– Ph.d. Joachim Lund in Dagbladet Information 

“Hans Henrik Appel has made a scoop of a book … [he] gives a detailed and absorbing description of life in Europe’s major cities at the turn of the century … It’s brilliantly written throughout and the illustrations do the wicked girls full justice”

– (Six stars out of six) Bent Blüdnikow in Berlingske Tidende

 
Posted in Uncategorized

The 2019 Race for the Football League – Tradition vs. Entrepreneurship

IMG_7711The race for winning promotion to the Football League is entering its final stage, and my son Thomas and I have the perfect opportunity to compare two of the leading contenders – Leyton Orient and Salford City – as they both play at home on our last trip to the UK this season.

Whereas Leyton Orient is one of the oldest London clubs, and had continually been members of the Football League from 1905 until their relegation two seasons ago, Salford City have never played in the Football League, and their current status as a National League club is their best ever position. And this position has been achieved by winning promotion in three of the four seasons since the six former Manchester United players – Giggs, Beckham, Scholes, Butt and the Neville brothers – each bought 10 percent of the club. The race for the football league seems to be a battle between footballing tradition and footballing entrepreneurship.

IMG_8072

It is not that Salford City is a brand new club. According to the club website, it was formed in 1940 as Salford Central. It doesn’t tell about the circumstances, although it would be quite interesting to know the story of a football club being formed in the very year that the phoney war turned into the Battle of Britain. On the other hand, Leyton Orient did not adopt the name Leyton Orient until the end of WW2, having previously been named Orient and later Clapton Orient – after originally playing as Eagle Cricket Club’s football team. To add to the confusion, they took over their current ground from Leyton F.C. in 1937, after which they changed their name from Clapton Orient to Leyton Orient. And for a 21 year long spell from 1966, the club reverted to the short version of the name – “Orient”.

IMG_7721 (2)

In fact, Leyton Orient have had a quite turbulent history, which is reflected in their ground. You can start with the name of it. When Leyton F.C. played here, it was called Osborne Road. Clapton Orient renamed the ground Brisbane Road after moving in – before changing the club’s name to Leyton Orient. Then, when boxing-promoter Ben Hearn bought the club for £5 in 1995, he renamed the ground after his company “The Matchroom Stadium”. And currently, the Breyer Group has a 2-year deal for the naming rights.

But – with this blog focusing on football and material culture – it is the ground itself that is really fascinating. When Leyton Orient won promotion to the second tier of English League football in 1956, they invested in a new main stand. Or rather- they bought it from the Mitcham stadium. A stadium built just a couple of years before Leyton’s move to Brisbane Road by the housing entrepreneur Sydney Parker. He figured out that the many people moving into the newly built semi-detached houses of the area, would need some sort of entertainment. He build a stadium with a capacity of somewhere between 30.000 and 60.000 – and experimented with rugby, greyhound racing, baseball and football. According to an excellent article by Totts on http://www.gandermonium.com/2018/10/mitcham-stadium-mysteries.html,  Parker almost persuaded Clapton Orient to move into his ground just before they decided to go to Leyton in 1937; and apparently, he was also in talks with the Fulham F.C. owner to move to Mitcham, so Craven Cottage could be converted to housing. In the end, Mitcham Stadium didn’t find a viable concept, and the ground folded in 1955. So what Leyton Orient did, was to buy up one of the stands from Mitcham and move it to Brisbane Road.

IMG_7723

Oddly enough, Leyton Orient only put up 3/4 of the newly acquired stand in 1956. It was not until Orient won promotion to the top tier of English football in 1962, that the stand was completed.  And even more oddly, the distinctive white roof gable with the club name is not positioned at the centre. According to Simon Inglis’ authoritative “Football Ground’s of Britain”, this second oddity is a consequence of the first. They put the gable in the centre of the firstly erected 3/4; so when the stand was extended towards the south, the gable lost its central position. However, Tott’s excellent article on Mitcham Stadium features a photo that shows, that the gable at Mitcham was similarly off-centre. But Inglis do point out that the gable is said to have housed the steward’s box for the dog racing at Mitcham. That seems to be the explanation – that the gable was at the finishing line of the racing track at Mitcham stadium –  which was not at the centre.

IMG_7611

The gable apparently runs all through the roof of the stand, as it can be seen from the outside as well. But inside the stand, you can actually see that the two gables do not quite fit. The one towards the street has probably housed a staircase to get up to a gantry walk, leading to the steward´s box in the gable towards the ground.

IMG_7655

I discover another oddity, as I take my seat in the old main stand. Under my left foot I have wooden floor, under my right foot I have concrete floor. In other old stands, it is fairly common to find a mix of wooden and concrete floor, as concrete was used in the standing paddocks at the front, and wooden floor in the seated area at the back. And you can find the odd stand, where part of the original stand with wooden floor has burned down and been rebuilt in concrete.

IMG_7652 (2)

Although Inglis points out that the East Stand nearly burned down on it’s opening day in 1956, there may be another explanation for this oddity. Looking at photos back from the 1970’s, there seems to have been a segregation of the section of the stand under the gable, starting right at the column immediately in front of me. I guess that the stand came from Mitcham Stadium with wooden floor for the section around the finishing line of the racecourse, as this section would be the most attractive and exclusive. The cheaper seats after the finishing line got concreted floor. Inglis points out that the embankment around the ground was built up and concreted by Leyton Orient from 1949-1962. This part was probably done, when the main stand was erected in 1956. But if any Leyton Orient fans reading this has the explanation, please let me know.

IMG_7617I had been in two minds whether we should buy tickets for the new West (Main) Stand, so we would have the pleasure of looking at the old East Stand with the gable during the match, or whether we should go for the “traditional” old stand experience. In the end, I decide for experiencing the old stand rather than looking at it. I am glad I did. I like the quirkiness of it. The East Stand used to contain offices, dressing room, club shop etc. Or rather – small buildings containing such facilities have been attached to the stand  from Mitcham Stadium. A big black O with the club crest in the middle between the words “Leyton Orient” and “Football Club Ltd” make up the decorations on the rather drab grey cladding, along with red and white attached buildings.

IMG_7624

The East Stand is located in Brisbane Road – which is linked to High Road Leyton by the terraced housing of Osborne Road. The community of Leyton is on this eastern side of the ground, whereas there used to be a water works and an isolation hospital between the western side and the railway. Now, you find mainly allotments here. It has a sense of ‘back-yard’ to it. No wonder the prestigious new main stand was put in Brisbane Road to the East.

IMG_7613.JPG

We have definitely made the right choice by going for the East Stand. This is a proper old school stand. I love the wooden floor. It gives a completely different soundscape to modern concrete stands. I love the column obstructing my view, making me have to move from one side to the other with the flow of the game. And I love the irregular concourse underneath the stand where I find the “Leyton Lunch” (although the Pukka Chicken Balti pie, I have, is not properly heated).

IMG_7644IMG_7645IMG_7649Our choice of stand may have cost us the sight of the iconic gable as a lovely bacground scenery for the match, but in its own way, the new West Stand is just as fascinating to watch. Above the ordinary rows of seats is a gallery with seats for the visitors to the executive boxes. And at the top of the stand, there is a spectacular gallery for the press. It really looks impressive, when the lights are turned on.

IMG_7693

All the four stands are hemmed in by residential blocks with flats in the corners of the ground. The corners were sold off in order to finance the building of the West and the North Stands. The houses have balconies overlooking the pitch. It must really be exciting to be the estate agent showing the flats to potential residents. Who will get the thrill of their life when they see the view? And who will walk out in protest? I would certainly love to live there – but I am pretty sure my wife would be horrified by the thought.

IMG_7670IMG_7691Anyway, the onlooking residents on the balconies somehow rounds off the press gallery at the top of the West Stand with their silhouets matching the journalists. A fascinating effect – I wonder if it was intended.

IMG_7683.JPG

The South, West and North stands were completed in 2000, 2005 and 2007 respectively, after a grand plan to completely rebuilt the site, turning the pitch 90 degrees, had been abandoned. The selling off of land to help finance the rebuilding sums up the struggle to keep up with the stadium transformations after the Taylor Report. Much to my surprise, I really like the presence of the residential blocks. In Parken in Copenhagen, I find the offices in one of the stands highly distracting in the overall impression. But somehow, it works here. In fact, further residential blocks have been built behind the South as well as the North Stand, but you can only see the blocks in the South Stand from the inside of the stadium.

IMG_7635

The entrances to the South and North Stands are located in the residential blocks. It looks like a modern day version of the Oak Road End entrance through a terraced house at Luton Town’s Kenilworth Road – and the now gone Filbert Street at Leicester City. And it is fascinating in the same sort of way – the ground and the surroundings growing together organically. In the same way, the statue of one of Leyton Orient’s greatest ever players, Laurie Cunningham, is not at the ground but in the Coronation Gardens next to the residential blocks.

IMG_7631.JPG

The new West Stand not only contains club shop and offices and a supporters’ bar. There is also room for parking facilities, a pharmacy and a policlinic. Mainly due to the bar, it is quite lively – and once again gives this impression of the ground having grown together organically with the community.

IMG_7580IMG_7593

In fact, right from the moment we got off the tube at Leyton, we have got this feeling of being in a vibrant, busy  community with people in the streets. It may have something to do with the time of day – Tuesday at 6.30 – but it is a stark contrast, when we take the bus to Salford City’s Peninsula Stadium at Moor Lane Saturday morning at 11. There is hardly anybody in the streets. The ground is in a residential area but not very heavily populated. Opposite the ground is a church and Kersal Moor.

IMG_8059.JPGAnd arriving at the ground, the contrast is even starker. Salford City has been playing here for 40 years, but until the Class of 92′ owners took over five years ago, it was a very basic football ground with a perimeter fence around a Sunday League pitch – with the addition of two small stands opposite each other by the centre line. The capacity was just over 1.000. But as part of the project of taking Salford City into the football league by 2020, the new owners have built a brand new stadium around the pitch. It was all done in 10 months – raising the capacity of the ground to just over 5.000.

IMG_8081.JPG

The four stands – standing terraces behind the goals and seated stands along the length of the pitch – are integrated in a bowl-like design. It gives the impression of being a proper ground. An amazing transformation over such a short time.

IMG_8077.JPG

There are no concreted embankments here – and no wooden floor either. It is all metal. Some 15 years ago, I organized an annual tournament of knights at the Danish Military Museum. The stands remind me of the temporary seated stands that we erected for these 10-day events. It looks like a temporary stepping stone on the way to the top tier of English Football – and I have, indeed, heard rumours that they will have to play their matches in another ground, if they do win promotion to the Football League.

IMG_8078

A sign tells fans no to bang on the rear panels. The odd dent in the panels tell the reason why.

IMG_8088

You sense that the ground was really built in a hurry. Near the away end, it seems that they suddenly became aware that the number of seats between the aisles didn’t add up, and an additional aisle has been thrown in somewhat randomly.

IMG_8163.JPG

There are some executive facilities in the main stand along Moor Lane (where my mate spots Gary Neville), but otherwise the stands are too small to contain facilities. They have all been places in containers behind the stands – toilets, kiosks, souvenir shop. And it seems that the dressing rooms are not much different.

IMG_8069.JPG

Although it is quite cold, the sun is fortunately shining, and it makes it a pleasant area to enjoy halftime refreshments. And, in fact. it is not unlike some old school grounds like Griffin Park in Brentford, where you also have to spend half time in the open air.

IMG_8151.JPG

The most distinctive feature of the ground, though, is the pitch. It doesn’t seem as though it was relaid as part of the rebuilding project. It must be sloping more than a yard from Moor Lane towards Neville Road. Standing behind the goal, looking down the other end of the pitch, it is really striking when you follow the lines of the roof and the crush barriers.

IMG_8155.JPG

In fact, the pitch look more like the one where my super veteran team Dynamo Birkerod plays every Sunday than a football league pitch. We see groundsman sprinkling the pitch with a garden hose;  although later it is revealed that a couple of sprinklers have been built into the pitch – so some pitch work has been done.

IMG_8096

Whereas the ground at Leyton Orient oozes tradition, history and community, the Salford City ground is underpinned by sporting ambition. This is a necessary stepping stone to becoming a league club – and probably to getting all the way to the top. There is not much history around, but statements about intent like this one of the staircase: “There is no elevator to success; You have to take the stairs”. But Salford City seems to be jumping rather than walking up the stairs.

IMG_8072

Or “You don’t just support a team. You belong to it”. This statement, however, would perhaps be more appropriate at Leyton Orient. It is not just the stadium buildings that differ; the atmosphere in the two grounds differ as well. It is not just that the crowd at Salford is just under half the 5,200 at Leyton Orient. There doesn’t seem to be the same passion around the ground. Maybe it is because the club by many Manchester United fans are seen as a sort reserve team. Plenty of people go to the match wearing their Manchester United colors, and will probably be on their way to Old Trafford for United’s match against West Ham later in the day. Just like we are.

IMG_8127.JPG

There is a group of Salford fans standing behind the goal with banners, doing some singing and chanting. But the response to Salford City taking a rather undeserved lead some 10 minutes into the match is quite muted, where we are sitting. Maybe because everybody just expects Salford to record a routine win; maybe because people don’t quite belong yet. In fact, it is the away fans from Maidenhead United, who are having a great day out. They are all dressed up. Superheroes, ghosts and ghostbusters, pirates, wizards, you name it. My favourite is a guy sitting on the shoulders of president Trump.

IMG_8129IMG_8130

That is, there is a group of 15 Maidenhead fans who – with the exception of one – hasn’t dressed up. The one exception really stands out with his bare arms and legs, especially considering that it is bitterly cold. Reminds me of the Bridget Jones’ Diary: “Where are all the other tarts and vicars?”. But, the dressedup guys seems to enjoy himself.

IMG_8134.JPG

It is, though, a far cry from the atmosphere at Brisbane Road. The crowd there is really passionate, living every single tackle. It is ooohss and ahhhs and plenty of chanting from all stands of the ground. A cracking atmosphere, much better than at some Premiership and Championship grounds. I guess it has to do with the tradition. Losing their league status has been a completely devastating blow to the Leyton Orient supporters; it is absolutely essential for them to get back now. Whereas the vast majority of Salford City fans seems more laid back. Feeling confident, perhaps even knowing, that with the backing of the Class of ’92, it is just a matter of time, before they will be in the big time. If they go up this year, they will even be ahead of schedule.

IMG_7706

Maybe the actual games influence this impression. Leyton Orient go down to a brillant early goal from Eastleigh. But spurred on by the crowd, they equalize, only for Eastleigh to retake the lead with another spectacular goal. You begin to sense the frustration. But in the second half, the fans rally again, and Leyton grab two goals within five minutes to take the lead. It is a pulsating game – and the quality is surprisingly high. My son and I are both impressed with the technical ability and some of the flowing football displayed by both teams, if fact.

IMG_8161The match at Salford is the opposite. It is quite scrappy, littered with technical mistakes and plenty of long balls just being whacked forward. Maybe the pitch doesn’t help. Salford capitalize on two technical mistakes by Maidenhead to break and score within the first half hour. Still, they don’t play very well. But on the stroke of halftime they go 3-0 up from a penalty after some chaotic defending of a corner.  Nothing much happens in the second half. There is nothing for the fans to get excited about, except some pushing and showing at set-pieces.

IMG_7724.JPG

There is something exciting about new clubs suddenly making headway through the league system. For instance, Bournemouth’s rise to the Premiership has been exciting to watch. But I must admit that my favorites in the race for League football are Leyton Orient. It is one of those little gems like Grimsby Town that just win me over with their passion and their tradition. And really good football on top of it. I know that they tried to move to the Olympic Stadium before West Ham United beat them to it. I think that they are fortunate that they didn’t get it. Brisbane Road is a brilliant place to go – I will certainly recommend to anybody going to London wanting to have a proper match day experience. As I am writing this, both Leyton Orient and Salford City are ahead in their matches – with another two matches remaining. Leyton Orient are two points ahead. What an exciting race for football league.

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

Pittodrie – from gallow hill and dung yard to cemetery and football ground

IMG_6851 (2).JPG

It is almost surreal. It is February, the sun is beaming down, it is hot – and I am sweating on my way up the sloping Park Road in Aberdeen. A green bus stop marks the summit. Standing out against the blue sky. As I approach, the landscape on the other side gradually unfolds. The sea, the coastline, a cemetery – and the giant eastern stand of Aberdeen’s ground, Pittodrie! Like a scenery from the movie “Bagdad Café”. An strange but awesome sight.

IMG_6859 (2).JPG

The basic no-nonsense of the scenery is captivating. I love football grounds surrounded by terraced housing and small gardens. The day before, I visited Tannadice with allotments in the back yard. Grounds where the neighborhood over a century has evolved around the ground –  football ground and neighborhood growing together organically. But this is somehow raw. As though the cold winds from the sea have prevented nice little gardens and terraced housing from growing.

IMG_6970 (2).JPG

I check a map of the area from 1879. This area was very much out of town. There were two hospitals – an epidemic and a boys’ hospital. A militia depot with a rifle shooting range right on the edge of the current football ground – and there used to be a police dunghill. There was no cemetery yet in 1879, but a gallow hill at what is now the western corner of the cemetery. A map from 1883 shows that the western half of the cemetery had been established by then – and the gallow hill had been converted to a powder magazine. In 1894, a huge gasholder was built between the cemetery and the shooting range. According to Simon Inglis, Pittodrie football ground was established in 1899 – and in the 1902 map, you can see how the football ground has taken over part of the rifle range and all of the dung hill. The golf club has also set up its club house, although the golf course itself is not marked on the map yet.

Aberdeen 1879Aberdeen 1897Aberdeen 1902

Simon Inglis suggests that the name Pittodrie might derive from a celtic word for “place of manure”, but point out that it could also refer to a village 20 miles north-west of Aberdeen. Looking at the maps, the latter seems to be the most likely explanation. Pittodrie Street might lead to the site of the old dung hill, but a map of 1897 shows Pittodrie Place slightly to the north, whereas the road leading to the dunghill has been named Merkland Road East – and in fact continues around the dunghill where you now find Pittodrie Street. It seems as though Pittodrie doesn’t originate from the dunghill. Whatever the origin of the name, it adds to the magic of the place. Pittodrie. It is just as captivating as “Tannadice”.

IMG_6863 (2).JPG

Maybe it is the setting with a cemetery and the sea – and the history with a gallow hill, a rifle range and a dunghill –  but as I walk around the ground, I feel that there is certain rawness to it. The towering Eastern (or Richard Donald’s) Stand, for instance, is so overwhelmingly huge. It has the appearance of a giant bulwark against the cold winds and floodings from the sea. It absolutely dwarfs the rest of the ground – or shelters it.

IMG_6868

The Richard Donald Stand is the only stand at Pittodrie built after the Taylor Report. It was opened in 1993. Most clubs have built one or more stands since 1990, trying to comply with new ground regulations including all-seaters. But Aberdeen were not really forced into building a new stand. Pittodrie had been an all-seater stadium since 1978 – the first all-seater ground in Britain. So the Richard Donald Stand was mainly a statement, a testimony to the club’s status as the challenger to Celtic and Rangers during the 1980’s under Alex Ferguson.

IMG_6898

Continuing around the ground down Pittodrie Street, I find the oldest stand – the main stand from 1925. It is the age of Archibald Leitch, although the great man wasn’t behind this one. But it does have the appearance – just a little more raw. There are no fancy sandstone ornaments in the bricks like at Craven Cottage; no club crests; no elegant doorways or window openings like at Ibrox. Just plain red bricks with raw steel framework, factory-like leaded windows, and very basic entrance gates.

IMG_6918.JPG

The eastern end of the stand was ravaged by a fire in 1971, and had to be rebuilt. It is quite visible from the outside. The rebuilt section has the same bricks and windows, but does not feature the same steel framework. Also, it is slightly higher, because – as can be seen from the inside – the roof construction is slightly different. The main stand entrance also stands out. It may just be that they have rebuilt the original main entrance – but I would have thought it would have featured right in the middle of the stand like at Ibrox or Dens Park – and not at the eastern end of it.

IMG_6906

The overall impression of the original main stand has thankfully been preserved, but nevertheless the old part has a little bit more character. It seems more authentic. Especially at the end of it. I think it is mainly due to the steel framework which seems more ornamental than functional here.

IMG_6953.JPG

The stand-out ornamental feature of Pittodrie, though, is the granite entrance gate at the Western (Merkland Road) End of the ground. I curse the beaming sunshine as it casts a shadow of the neighboring house down the middle of it. But with no clouds in the sky, I figure out I will have to wait quite a long time for the chance of taking a decent photo of it. So I have to settle for this.

IMG_6926

The gate is almost just as old as the main stand – it is from 1928. The terraced embankment behind the wall was roofed as early as 1934 – another proof that Aberdeen was well ahead of the rest when it came to cater for their crowd. Probably a reflection of the rough weather conditions with Pittodrie not only next to the North Sea but also one of the most northern grounds on the British Isles.

IMG_6941

To my knowledge, it is still the original embankment, but in the early 1970’s Aberdeen put benches on to it, making it a seated area. During the 1980’s the roof was replaced by a new one, and the benches replaced by plastic seats.

IMG_6943.JPG

In comparison to the other stands, the South Side looks rather dull. Like the Merkland Road End, it used to be a terraced embankment. But whereas the Merkland had a roof long before the seats, seats were installed here in 1978, completing Pittodrie as an all-seater stadium – before a roof had been put up. The untenable in this was quickly realized, and two years later the current cantilever roof was built. But it doesn’t extent all the way to the corners of the stand. You still have the possibility of enjoying a seat in the rain.

IMG_6872.JPG

As I walk back around the ground, there is a gate open, and I take the opportunity to have a look inside. Seen from the South Side, there is a marked difference between the roof at the western and eastern end of the main stand. And oddly enough, it is the roof over the original western end that looks new and bright. I find the explanation when I am allowed a walk around the ground in the evening before the match.

IMG_7045

The main stand was – like almost any main stand of the time – divided into roofed seats at the back, and an uncovered standing paddock at the front. As seats were installed in the paddock in 1968, it became necessary to extend the original roof to cover the paddocks. An extension was added on top of the original roof, probably in connection with the rebuilding after the fire 1971.

IMG_7060.JPG

The difference is even more apparent, when I take my seat at the back of the stand for the match. But it also strikes me that just as the outside is devoid of ornamental features, the roof construction and pillars look basic and raw compared to Archibald Leitch’s work at the time. The functional structure, though, is basically the same. But without the little extras. It may be that they have disappeared. I have seen photos showing that the roof used to have a Leitch style gable. And the Craven Cottage-like pavillon that used to be in the north eastern corner of the ground next to the main stand, also had one. As though the cold winds from the sea have swept any ornaments away.

IMG_7026.JPG

Whereas the front of the main stand was upgraded from standing paddock to seating in 1968, the back of it was upgraded from seats to executive boxes in the early 1980’s. I guess the visitors must be celebrities guarding their privacy, as all of them have white curtains drawn down right until kick-off.

IMG_7034 (2)

Apart from being the first all-seater stadium in Britain, Pittodrie was the first ground to erect a dugout for their trainer, so he could keep his notebook dry. That was in the late 1920’s. But with no substitutes in those days, he would probably only have needed one or two chairs. Not a bench long enough for 8 or 9 men. So I guess the current dugouts are modern constructions.

IMG_6875.JPG

Another kind of dugout has been constructed for wheel-chair users on the South Side of the ground to shelter them. But there are no such comfort for people visiting the Y-section in the south-western corner of the ground (background of the photo).

IMG_6887

Nor to a section of the visiting supporters. If you as a home supporter chose to go in the uncovered Y-section, you can save £2 on your ticket. I wonder if the away fans getting an uncovered seat get a similar reduction. Or whether it makes much of a difference, because I can imagine that quite a few of the away supporters under the roof get soaked as well during bad weather, as the wind from the sea is likely to sweep under the cantilevered roof of the stand, as it has no wind shield at the end.

IMG_6968.JPG

I take another look at the ground from Broad Hill before going back to my hotel to get some rest before the evening’s match – the Dons against the Academicals. Whereas Hamilton’s Academical is a link to the club’s roots as a school team, I guess Aberdeen’s nickname refers to the river Don, though – and not to the university. Anyway, my expectations are high. When I saw Aberdeen play less than two years ago, they won 7-0 away to Dundee FC, with their away support in full voice. I know they have had a few disappointing home results of late, but Hamilton seems to be in an even worse state than Dundee FC were – and they have a fresh 5-0 defeat against Rangers from the weekend.

IMG_6995

Approaching the ground in the dark is quite spectacular. There is always something special about a floodlit football ground. Two things make this more spectacular than most. Seagulls keep flying around in the floodlight over the ground. They glow in the air from afar. It is almost like the 1978 World Cup confetti in Argentina.

IMG_6988.JPG

And the floodlit cemetery is also a spectacular if not a spooky sight.

IMG_7006IMG_7014

But the ground is also an enjoyable sight. Especially the main stand, where the glassed windows glow and the floodlights beam from the pylon in the corner.

IMG_7018.JPG

And the granite gate of the Merkland stand looks impressive in the lights.

IMG_7024 (2).JPG

Inside the ground, the Richard Donald stand looks even bigger with the lights on along the roof.

IMG_7059.JPG

From my seat in the eastern end of the main stand, I can look right across to the away support. A yellow fence and yellow stairs separate them from the home fans. I wonder if the away fans section is extended to the yellow gangway when Celtic or Rangers visit with their massive away support. Hamilton have only brought 32 fans. Even though the weather is dry, none of them opt for the open-air seats in the away section. Usually, away support gather as one single group, however few they are. But the Hamilton fans scatter out in 4 or 5 groups.

IMG_7055.JPG

After my visit, I regret that I didn’t try to map out the concourse – to find out why the ceiling is sunk in part of it. I almost bang my head into it. Again, it is not like Archibald Leitch at his best, but I love it. With lots of redpainted doors and staircases, and at the same time pretty spacious.

IMG_7054.JPG

For some reason the queues at the kiosks are not that long, not even at halftime. One explanation, of course, could be poor quality – but that is not the case. I have a good pie as well as a nice cup of coffee. I can only assume that the ratio of kiosk per spectator is higher than usual. Especially because the concourse of Pittodrie is much more appealing than the stands before kick-off.

IMG_7070.JPG

Not really for keeping warm, as I had expected going to a match in Aberdeen in February. It is 6 or 7 degrees in the evening. It is more the loudness of the music played over the tannoy in the stands. It is absolutely deafening. I try to have a conversation with the season ticket holder in the seat next to me – but it is next to impossible because of the loud music.

IMG_7075.JPG

When the music finally is turned off at kick-off, the crowd respond with – silence! At last, they seem to think. Or is it just that I have been deafened by the music? I don’t think so. When I visited Tannadice the previous day, fans grouped in the stand irrespective of seat numbers. There was a constant din of talking – with ooohhhss and aaaahhhs rising from the crowd whenever a promising seemed to be under way. But everything seems so quiet inside Pittodrie, despite the crowd being 3 times bigger than at Tannadice. I can hear some talking in the distance – it sounds almost like whispering from one or two people. And it takes a very big chance for Aberdeen to raise the crowd to an oooohhhhh. Most of the time, you only hear some groans over poor control and misplaced passes.

At the same time, the Aberdeen players look like a team short of confidence – and the groaning and moaning seem to get under their skin. Aberdeen have the majority of possession, and they do create some decent chances. But, somehow, lowly Hamilton with their 32 supporters look the more likely team right from the start. Especially the wee Miller up front seems to give Aberdeen all sorts of problems with his movement. And suddenly, Hamilton’s Oakley fires in a stunning volley from the tightest of angles – with shades of Marco van Basten in the 1990’s. Although Aberdeen still create a number of chances, they seem to lack belief, whereas Hamilton grow in confidence.

For the second half, someone has taken out a drum in the Family Stand at the Merkland end. I didn’t hear it in the first half. Normally, I hate drumming at matches, but in this case, I can understand the need to do something break the silence that hangs thick in the air. Even though the drumming is not particularly good, and nobody joins in to clap, sing or chant.

It is not really a surprise, when Hamilton go two up in the second half. Silence. The 32 Hamilton supporters don’t make much nice – even though they dance around wildly. The season ticket holder next to me gets up. “For f***’s sake, take a good look at yourself, Aberdeen!” he yells. It rings out loudly amidst the silence. There is still the odd Aberdeen chance, but a comeback doesn’t seem to be on. Not even some unsporting behavior by Hamilton’s Oakley, as he wins a very soft free-kick and laughs in the face of the penalized Aberdeen player sparks a reaction from the crowd.

IMG_7078.JPG

By the end of the match, security gathers by the gangway in the away section to prevent a pitch invention. The 32 Hamilton supporters, seeing that they are outnumbered, abstain.

The difference between the Aberdeen performance against Dundee two years ago and tonight is beyound belief. Not just the performance of the team – which oozed confidence and belief – but also the supporters, who were having a carnival time, singing and chanting. It may be that it is just the lack of belief and confidence after five home games without a win. Or maybe there is more to it. Maybe more than 40 years as an all-seater stadium has created a more restrained fan culture. Or is it the noisy pre-match music that makes the fans long for some silence. Or the usually cold weather, which makes fans want to wrap up in some warm clothers over a cup of hot coffee? Or have I just witnessed one of those off-days that every experiences?

IMG_7085.JPG

I ask the season ticket holder next to me and a couple of other fans about their thoughs on the new ground. One of them is quite convinced that this is, what the club needs. It is embarrassing that they don’t have proper training facilities – and you need a modern ground in the modern game. The season ticket holder is not sure. He can see the point of improving training facilities, but it is a big step to leave behind all the heritage at Pittodrie. The last fan is negative. At the end of the day, it doesn’t make any difference if a football match is played in a modern or an old ground. But moving away from the city will spoil the match day of having a drink in the pub before walking to the ground.

IMG_7087.JPG

From a groundhopper’s perspective, I identify with the latter views. It is the heritage of Pittodrie and the place that have made me make the trip to visit the ground. And will make me attempt to throw in another match at Pittodrie on my next trip to Scotland. Whereas the new Kingsford Stadium will find itself way down the list of football grounds, I wish to visit. But, of course, Aberdeen have to cater for their own fans, not groundhoppers.

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

Tannadice – what gives a football ground character?

IMG_6661.JPGWhen I made my list of the top 24 English football grounds back in December, I was asked about the criteria. Well, they are not clear-cut. If I should nail it down to just one word, I would say “character”, something that stands out from the rest. Of course, there are many ways of doing this. Dundee United’s Tannadice Park does so in a number of ways.

To start with, there is the name. “Tannadice”. Taste it. It is like a smoked malt. And compare it to “Bet365” or “Amex” or the “SportsDirect” or some other sponsor named ground. When I listened in on the BBC Saturday afternoons in the 1970’s and 1980’s, I was always fascinated by the sound of the name – especially when pronounced with a proper Scottish accent.

IMG_6483

Then, there is the place. Tannadice is not located outside town, next to a recycling station or a McDonalds by a ring road. You climb the steep Hilltown from the centre of Dundee and walk through residential areas before arriving at Tannadice Street to find that there is not just one football ground but two! They are – apparently with the exception of a couple of back-to-back grounds in Budapest – the two closest football grounds in Europe. A good goalkeeper will be able to kick the ball from one ground to the other. I am a big fan of Simon Inglis’ encyclopedic work on British football grounds, but I cannot share his lament that Dundee FC and Dundee United didn’t go ahead with plans of a shared ground in 1990. THIS is magic – and Inglis does admit that “all the while we are secretly captivated by the absurdity of it all”.

IMG_6581.JPG

Well, I don’t find it absurd. As I said. It is about character. And a ground that had to be the home of the tangerine side of a city one week, and then the home of their rivals from the blue side the following week just wouldn’t have as much character. I have not studied the early days of Dundee football properly, but whereas Dundee FC at Dens Park down the road proudly state that they are the oldest club in Dundee – from 1893 – Tannadice can, according to Simon Inglis –  lay claim to being the oldest ground, as football has been played here since 1891, although admittedly it was Dundee United’s predecessors Dundee Wanderers who made it their home that year, calling their ground Clepington Park. It was Dundee FC challenging an existing football club, when they moved to Tannadice Street in 1899 – despite laying claim to being the oldest club. At least, this is what Simon Inglis writes. I have had a look at maps of Dundee from 1891 to 1910 – and whereas Dens Park is clearly marked as a football ground from 1903, there is no marking of a football ground down Tannadice Street before 1910.

When the Irish community of Dundee set up Dundee Hibernian in 1909, they ousted Wanderers from Clepington, renaming the place Tannadice after the name of the street. But you could argue that it was a completely new ground, as Wanderers – much to the surprise of everybody – took stands and fences with them. As I said, I am not that much into the early history of Dundee football; but the story of rival clubs competing for a home in the farmland that was then on the outskirts of the town does tell of the importance of football club identities.

IMG_6629.JPG

Currently Dundee FC are discussing plans to move to a new ground. From my point of view, it will be a pity if they just throw away their heritage, having one of the remaining eight Archibald Leitch stands. But to me and other football ground enthusiasts, it will not just be Dundee FC losing their magical appeal; Tannadice will lose some of its attractive magic, if Dens Park is demolished. The proximity of the two grounds is compelling.

IMG_6590.JPG

On my first visit to Dundee, I went to watch a match from the Archibald Leitch stand at Dens Park. Therefore, my first view down Tannadice Street was from the Dens Park end. With the classical Leitch main stand in the foreground, Tannadice looked very much second best. But if you approach from the other end of the street, the tangerine of United and the façade of Tannadice’s main stand look the more appealing, with the blue of Dens Park looking more like a background curtain.

IMG_6573

I spend more than an hour in the afternoon, walking around the grounds, not being able to decide which is the most fascinating. Archibald Leitch’s Dens Park, or the tangerine Tannadice? It is a truly unique place. To add to it, the area behind the East Stand of Tannadice (named the Eddie Thomson Stand) are allotments. Or rather, the East Stand has been given an oddly irregular shape to be able to squeeze it in behind the allotments.

IMG_6641 (2)

That is another element in the “character” of a ground. That it is not a modern spaceship-like designed ground that has been constructed on a drawing board and could have been put up anywhere. It has taken shape from the surroundings – it has become an organic part of them. It is not just the north corner of the East Stand that has been sliced off to squeeze in behind the allotments. The western corner of the North (George Fox) Stand is also sliced off by the Sandeman Street, giving this otherwise fairly regular stand a characteristic look.

IMG_6560.JPG

In fact, all the stands seem to have irregular shapes. From the East Stand, you cannot help noticing the asymmetrical look of the West Stand – or the Shed as it is called. There are almost shades of Carlisle United’s Brunton Park, as it looks as though the builders have got it wrong and placed it way too far to the south. The southern end of the stand extends beyond the touchline and the South Stand – and probably therefore, this part of the stand is not in use. On the other side, the northern end of the Shed doesn’t even reach the touchline by the North Stand. Were they drunk when they build it? Maybe. But the reason for the asymmetrical look is probably the two-stepped construction of the South Stand – the main stand.

IMG_6530 (2).JPG

The South Stand is probably the most irregular one of them all. It was built as the first cantilevered stand in Scotland and opened in 1962 – the third in Britain after Scunthorpe and Sheffield Wednesday. It doesn’t extent the entire length of the pitch, though. This isn’t unique. You can find plenty of old stands not spanning the entire length of the pitch, but the peculiar thing about this one is that rather than placing it centrally, it spans only the eastern half of the pitch – and then curves around the eastern corner in an L-shape and takes up a little bit of the East Stand. Just like Archibald Leitch’s main stand at Starks Park, by the way.

When the East Stand was built in 1994, it was linked to the L-shaped South Stand. But not much effort was put into unifying them. On the outside of the ground, an extension building – with club offices – was added with a glass façade that contrasts sharply to the profiled steel of the stands. On the inside, the roof is not quite the same height, and the top tier is much smaller in the East Stand, whereas the lower tier is much bigger than the one of the main stand.

IMG_6640 (2)

Similarly, an extension of the L-shaped cantilever stand side from 1997 stands out. In 1971, the lower tier of the stand was replaced by a glass-fronted sponsor lounge (the first one in Scotland). In contrast to this, the extension has a lower tier of ordinary seats. This lower tier takes up much more space than the lounge, almost encroaching on the pitch – and it is probably this extension that makes the Shed look misplaced. Almost to underline the difference between the L-shaped main stand and the extension, the roof is much bigger over the extension, trying to shelter all the seats in the lower tier.

IMG_6691

It doesn’t stop there. The pitch is visibly sloping from west to east, at least judging from the advertising boards along the North Stand.

IMG_6528

And the floodlights are also an odd mixture. I presume that four classical, identical corner pylons were put up in 1962. But in the 1990’ies, floodlights were fixed along the roof of the new North Stand, making the corner stands in the corners of the north side redundant. One of the pylons, though, remains in place, but in a strangely amputated version. And as the new East Stand was built and linked to the L-shaped South Stand, there was no longer room for the original pylon in the southeastern corner of the ground. A stubby new one has been placed on the roof of the stand instead.

IMG_6634.JPG

It is not just the appearance of the irregular shapes and features that make the ground so full of character. Each of them embodies a little piece of club history. According to Inglis, Dundee United became the first Scottish club to operate their own pools in 1956, raising the money for the Shed at the West End in this way. Then, promotion in 1959 gave a new cash injection that was invested in the L-shaped, cantilevered main stand. The erection of the sponsor lounges also marks a new development in Scottish football in 1971.

IMG_6678.JPG

Whereas these traces of history can still be seen, others have disappeared along the way. When Roy Stewart was sold to West Ham in 1979, the money was spent on a roof over the terraces on the north side of the ground. And in 1987, Dundee United’s fans won a prize from UEFA for their sporting behavior as they reached the final of the UEFA cup – a prize that paid for a roof over the northern terrace of the South Stand. Both these two new roofs were swept away by the changes in the 1990’s, once the plans of ground sharing had been abandoned. Incidentally, according to Simon Inglis, these changes were mainly financed by selling four players to Glasgow Rangers.

IMG_6594.JPG

The closer you look at Tannadice, the more fascinated you get by all the irregularities and the stories behind them. Simon Inglis labels it “an odd assortment of angles and awkward corners, but at least now partially unified by external styling, orange seating and plain grey roof fascia”. Once again, I don’t share Inglis’ view. To me, it is precisely the assortment of angles and odd features that gives the ground character, making me increasingly fond of it, whereas the external styling at first made the ground look a somewhat pale background to Dens Park.

IMG_6714

Still, there are more stories to be discovered. As she kindly allows me pitch side to take some photos of the stands during my afternoon walk around the ground,  Dundee United communications manager Riki Dauer tells me that over the years fans have had their ashes scattered inside the ground, and in fact, former Dundee United hero Ralph Milne, who tragically died at an early age a few years ago, has had his ashes interred by the Shed. Many modern, anonymous grounds derive their character from memorial gardens and statues erected around the ground; Tannadice doesn’t need that.

IMG_6665.JPG

I go back to my hotel to rest my weary legs before the evening’s match – Dundee United against Inverness. I have asked for a ticket for the part of the ground with the best atmosphere – and the lady at the ticket office doesn’t hesitate. The East Stand. Before the transformation of the ground in the 1990’s, the Shed used to be the most stronghold of the Dundee United supporters. From 1957 to 1979, it was the only covered terrace, so that was where the home fans preferred to go. But now the Shed alternates between holding the away support and home support, depending on the crowd and the number of away fans anticipated.

IMG_6693.JPG

For this match, there are about 150 Inverness supporters in the Shed. But I am told that when the two clubs meet again the following Sunday in the FA Cup, a much bigger crowd and away support is expected – and the away support will be transferred to the main stand, with Dundee United fans able to take over the Shed.

IMG_6724 (2).JPG

As the main stand in this way also alternates between holding home and away support, it is no surprise that it is almost empty. Only a tiny section in the middle of it is completely full – presumably the director’s box. Quite strange, as they seem lost in the emptiness of the surrounding stand. Whereas the Shed and the main stand are almost empty, the East and the North stands are pretty full. It underlines the irregular shapes of the ground and makes the atmosphere a bit surreal.

IMG_6686

I had bought a ticket in advance, but it turns out that you can also pay at the turnstile. Not really thinking about that, I try to find my allocated seat, only to find it occupied, of course. You just have to find a free seat. Which is great, because it enables supporters to group together as they like. With mates going in groups, there is constant din of talking around the stand – a sharp contrast to what I experience at Aberdeen the following day. But whenever there is a chance of a promising Dundee United attack, ooohhhs and aaaahhhs take over. There is very little chanting – but the constant mumble and the engaged oooohhhs and aaaahhs make it a great atmosphere.

IMG_6709.JPG

The most disappointing feature is probably the Scotch Pie I have on the concourse during half-time. Somehow, it is unusually greasy and dry at the same time. And I must admit that the concourse doesn’t have the same charm as the narrow corridors of Archibald Leitch’s main stand down the road at Dens Park.

IMG_6721

Dundee United play some very good attacking football in the opening stages of the game and ought to have taken the lead. But as they don’t, Inverness gradually gets a foothold, and it becomes a fairly even contest. And gradually the crowd seems to become more engaged in pushing their team forward to score. They eventually do from the penalty spot in the middle of the second half. But the relief of getting the breakthrough is almost immediately followed by a second yellow card to a United player for a reckless challenge.

IMG_6722

That makes for a tense final 20 minutes. If  Inverness’ former Dundee United player, Donaldson, who was involved in the sending-off incidence, wasn’t already the pantomime villain, he certainly becomes that as he shortly afterwards lashes out at a Dundee United player in an off-the-ball incidence that neither referee nor linesmen spot. It adds to the tense atmosphere – and the United crowd delights, when Donaldson sees a deflected shot just being tipped over the top by United’s keeper in injury time. He buries his head in his shirt, accompanied by triumphant jeering from the East Stand.

IMG_6736.JPG

The match ends with a 1-0 win for Dundee United. Exiting the ground, the surrounding streets are lit up by the floodlights. And the two functioning pylons can be seen from afar, whenever I turn to have a look back, as I make my way back to the city centre. I look forward to being back in Dundee for football – and hope and pray that there still will be two football grounds in Tannadice Street.

IMG_6739.JPG

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

Top English Football Ground Advent Calendar 2018: 24th December

01 Everton (1)

Day 24 – Ground no. 1: Goodison Park, Everton.

It is almost like an open-air museum. The Archibald Leitch stands at Bullen’s Road and Gwlady’s Street are top-drawer. The stairs, the concourse in the lower section, the wooden floor and the criss-crossed steel balustrades in the upper section. The rows of terraced houses leading to the ground, which so dominates Goodison Road. And the St. Luke’s church with the Memorial Garden right in the corner of the ground. It just has everything – hurry up, before it is too late.

Merry Christmas

 

01 Everton (2)01 Everton (3)01 Everton (4)01 Everton (5)01 Everton (6)

 

1 Goodison Park, Everton

2. Hillsborough, Sheffield Wednesday

3. Craven Cottage, Fulham

4. Fratton Park, Portsmouth

5. Kenilworth Road, Luton Town

6. Brunton Park, Carlisle United

7. Blundell Park, Grimsby Town

8. Griffin Park, Brentford

9. London Road, Peterborough

10. Selhurst Park, Crystal Palace

11. Bramall Lane, Sheffield United

12. Loftus Road, Queens Park Rangers

13. The City Ground, Nottingham Forest

14. Priestfield, Gillingham

15. Valley Parade, Bradford City

16. Villa Park, Aston Villa

17. Boundary Park, Oldham Athletic

18. Turf Moor, Burnley

19. Bootham Crescent, York City

20. Anfield Road, Liverpool F.C.

21. Elland Road, Leeds United

22. The County Ground, Swindon Town

23. St. Andrew’s, Birmingham City

24. St. James’ Park, Exeter City

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

Top English Football Ground Advent Calendar 2018: 23th December

02 Sheffield Wednesday (4)

Day 23 – Ground no. 2: Hillsborough, Sheffield Wednesday

So much football ground history packed into this. The impressive Kop Stand, one of the very few stands that have kept the original embankment underneath. The first full-pitch-length cantilever stand looking very 1960’ish. The renovated Archibald Leitch stand with a replica gable. The two-tier West Stand built in time for the 1966 World Cup. Surrounded by a park to the one side and terraced housing to the other, a river flowing along the ground, a memorial garden. And a cracking atmosphere inside.

02 Sheffield Wednesday (2)02 Sheffield Wednesday (5)02 Sheffield Wednesday (6)02 Sheffield Wednesday (3)02 Sheffield Wednesday (1)

2. Hillsborough, Sheffield Wednesday

3. Craven Cottage, Fulham

4. Fratton Park, Portsmouth

5. Kenilworth Road, Luton Town

6. Brunton Park, Carlisle United

7. Blundell Park, Grimsby Town

8. Griffin Park, Brentford

9. London Road, Peterborough

10. Selhurst Park, Crystal Palace

11. Bramall Lane, Sheffield United

12. Loftus Road, Queens Park Rangers

13. The City Ground, Nottingham Forest

14. Priestfield, Gillingham

15. Valley Parade, Bradford City

16. Villa Park, Aston Villa

17. Boundary Park, Oldham Athletic

18. Turf Moor, Burnley

19. Bootham Crescent, York City

20. Anfield Road, Liverpool F.C.

21. Elland Road, Leeds United

22. The County Ground, Swindon Town

23. St. Andrew’s, Birmingham City

24. St. James’ Park, Exeter City

Posted in Uncategorized

Top English Football Ground Advent Calendar 2018: 22nd December

 

03 Fulham (2)

Day 22 . Ground 3: Craven Cottage, Fulham

There is a reason, it is listed. THAT stand by Archibald Leitch. Well, many more ought to be so. But this is just wonderful. The Dutch renaissance-like facade with red bricks, limestone and velvets. The wooden floor and wooden seats pitchside + an Archibald Leitch roof that gives a much better soundscape than modern grounds. The elegant columns, the charming concourse. Just great. And, on top of that, you have the cottage and a riverside location.

03 Fulham (1)03 Fulham (4)03 Fulham (5)03 Fulham (3)03 Fulham (6)

3. Craven Cottage, Fulham

4. Fratton Park, Portsmouth

5. Kenilworth Road, Luton Town

6. Brunton Park, Carlisle United

7. Blundell Park, Grimsby Town

8. Griffin Park, Brentford

9. London Road, Peterborough

10. Selhurst Park, Crystal Palace

11. Bramall Lane, Sheffield United

12. Loftus Road, Queens Park Rangers

13. The City Ground, Nottingham Forest

14. Priestfield, Gillingham

15. Valley Parade, Bradford City

16. Villa Park, Aston Villa

17. Boundary Park, Oldham Athletic

18. Turf Moor, Burnley

19. Bootham Crescent, York City

20. Anfield Road, Liverpool F.C.

21. Elland Road, Leeds United

22. The County Ground, Swindon Town

23. St. Andrew’s, Birmingham City

24. St. James’ Park, Exeter City

Posted in Uncategorized

Top English Football Ground Advent Calendar 2018: 21st December

04 Portsmouth (4)

Day 21 – Ground number 4: Fratton Park, Portsmouth

As you walk down the Frogmore Road and see the mock-Tudor club office and the remains of the pre-Archibald Leitch stand, you know that you are in for something special. And, of course, the Archibald Leitch stand itself. The stairs with the old ticket sign, the concourse, the pillars, the barely recognizable criss-cross steelwork, and the backgardens between the stand and the terraced houses. Phew. The other stands look cracking as well. And a wonderful walk down Specks Lane behind the Milton End.

 

04 Portsmouth (2)04 Portsmouth (5)04 Portsmouth (1)04 Portsmouth (3)04 Portsmouth (6)

4. Fratton Park, Portsmouth

5. Kenilworth Road, Luton Town

6. Brunton Park, Carlisle United

7. Blundell Park, Grimsby Town

8. Griffin Park, Brentford

9. London Road, Peterborough

10. Selhurst Park, Crystal Palace

11. Bramall Lane, Sheffield United

12. Loftus Road, Queens Park Rangers

13. The City Ground, Nottingham Forest

14. Priestfield, Gillingham

15. Valley Parade, Bradford City

16. Villa Park, Aston Villa

17. Boundary Park, Oldham Athletic

18. Turf Moor, Burnley

19. Bootham Crescent, York City

20. Anfield Road, Liverpool F.C.

21. Elland Road, Leeds United

22. The County Ground, Swindon Town

23. St. Andrew’s, Birmingham City

24. St. James’ Park, Exeter City

Posted in Uncategorized

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 145 other followers
Follow Football and material culture on WordPress.com