It’s been ten years since my club Coventry City moved from their old ground of Highfield Road to their new home of the Ricoh Arena. But many Sky Blue supporters dislike our new stadium and miss Highfield Road so much they don’t go to games anymore and some say they should rename it the Marmite Arena as you either love it or hate it.
I embraced the move, as our spiritual home had been knocked down and turned into a large housing estate so it was a new era and a new beginning. But I went back there recently for the first time and standing in the street looking at a block of flats where I used to go through the turnstiles with other City fans it made me realise how much I missed it.
Modern stadia can be a bit bland and many new arenas do look similar, resemble each other and can lack atmosphere,but that could never be said of older grounds could it? As someone who’s been watching his club for decades I’ve been fortunate enough to go to many grounds that no longer exist like Arsenals Highbury. I remember the first time I went there and it was a great experience.
The North Bank was packed with Arsenal fans and we were in the Clock End. I recall looking around at this famous football ground that I’d only seen on the telly and in football books and it gave me the tingles as it was so steeped in history.
One of my favourite old grounds was Maine Road the home of Manchester City – another place with a rich history and it was always rocking especially with the Kippax running alongside the pitch full with Man City fans roaring on their team. To say it was intimidating is an understatement but it made the match come alive and you felt good to be there.
A cracking local derby was always played at Leicester City’s former ground, that when full was loud and noisy and it had character as it was a mixture of old type seating but with a large double decker stand where the home supporters would congregate. You were close to the action and I always enjoyed visiting Filbert Street.
Travelling up to the North East from the midlands was always a long slog especially by coach but I liked my visits to Roker Park the home of Sunderland and Ayresome Park Middlesbrough’s ground as the home fans would get behind their teams especially at Sunderland as they had their Roker Roar coming from the Fulwell End.
A key feature of the old grounds was that they usually had an end which was open to the elements and it was where us away fans were often put, so when I went I’d make sure I took a waterproof jacket with me in even in the summer.
But you knew nothing else back then so you’d stand up for ninety minutes and get a soaking but if your team played well and won you’d go home as pleased as punch. Now standing up at matches at many grounds is frowned upon but ask most fans watching games today if they’d rather stand or sit and I bet the majority would say they’d prefer to stand.
But I never enjoyed going to every ground and a visit to Millwall’s old stadium was a trip where you had to be on your toes as their supporters were passionate to put it lightly and as a fellow fan once remarked it was like going into a Lions Den pardon the pun.
And there’s one ground that I’m pleased is no longer around and that is Southampton’s The Dell, a place I only went to once but I’m sorry to offend any Saints fans but it was a dump and moving to a new stadium was probably a blessing in disguise ?
But the majority of the old grounds that are no longer here were places of character and style like Derby’s Baseball Ground, Hull City’s Boothferry Park, Stoke City’s Victoria Ground and Swansea’s Vetch Field, to name just a few that bring back good memories for me. But having been to their new stadiums I left wishing they’d never moved.
So yes, many new stadiums do look impressive but they lack atmosphere. Give me a wet and windy Spion Kop standing shoulder to shoulder with fellow fans over a plush seated corporate stand any day .
I also liked travelling to the old grounds and seeing the towering floodlights in the distance as I looked out through the train or coach window, especially if it was a night fixture and the lights were on as it was a sign you were near the stadium and it wouldn’t be long before you were in there and cheering on your team.
But a lot of clubs instead of moving to a new place decide instead to improve the facilities at their existing ground. I went to Anfield several times when it had the original Liverpool Kop End and the first time I went there and heard them singing their songs it sent shivers down my spine as it wasn’t just loud – the passion coming from their fans was unbelievable.
Also at Old Trafford the Stretford End was a sight to behold for us away fans when it was packed with 20,000 United fans all squeezed in like sardines and giving it plenty behind the goal. The Kop and Stretford End are still there but as they are all seating the atmosphere levels have decreased somewhat due to safety precautions which while sensible has led to giving stadiums a feeling you’re in a theatre instead of a football ground.
So call me old fashioned but give me the old type stadium over a new one any day. Of course going to a football match should be enjoyable and in a safe environment and after the tragic events at Hillsborough and Bradford something had to be done and grounds are so much safer these days. But ask any fan of a certain age would they prefer watching games at their old grounds or their new ones and I can guarantee I know what the answer would be!