Land of Our Fathers: England's Lost Football Grounds
To many older readers the names conjure up memories of a simpler time when football shirts weren’t human billboards and the titles of stadiums stood for something relevant and real:
Highbury, Maine Road, Roker Park, The Victoria Ground, The Dell, The Den, The Baseball Ground.
Thoughts of Malcolm Allison - Manchester’s playboy answer to Jose Mourinho - Stanley Matthews, Charlie George, Mick Channon and the great Brian Clough.
The pitches were bumpy and muddy in the winter and sometimes bone dry in the couple of days that are an excuse for the English summer but crammed into the middle of industrial towns and cities they often provided the lifeblood of a passionate people without much else in life to cheer about.
These weren’t the vast corporate domains of the champagne-swilling nouveau riche that so enraged Roy Keane in his waning days at United. These were working people who looked forward to a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon when they could escape from the harsh drudgery of their everyday lives.
The Emirates sounds more like an airline than a football stadium because that’s exactly what it is. I had to Google Etihad to find out that’s an airline, too. It’s only really a matter of time before Anfield and Old Trafford go the same way. It’ll be something like IKEA Stadium and Old Navy, mark my words.
In the same way that high streets shriveled away to leave city centers devoid of life, the legendary football grounds of yore are gradually making way for what we call progress.
For those that missed it, last month the BBC carried a fabulous article about England’s lost football grounds. The article went back to see what became of the shut down stadiums and found Highbury, closed in 2006, as a housing development with the facades of the old East and West stands preserved and the pitch preserved as a garden and a shrine for Arsenal fans.
Maine Road in Manchester, closed down in 2003, is now covered in homes, as is Roker Park in Sunderland, The Dell in Southampton, The Baseball Ground in Derby, The Den in Millwall, South London, and Ayresome Park in Middlesborough.
There’s still nothing at Sir Stanley Matthews’ old strolling ground in Stoke, The Victoria Ground, and Bristol Rovers’ Eastville Stadium is, you guessed it, an IKEA now.
West Ham is due to move to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, East London in 2016 but I can’t imagine it ever beating the atmosphere at Upton Park when ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ is in full song.
Will the ghosts of White Hart Lane like Jimmy Greaves and Johnny Haynes haunt the spiffing new home the club is building for 2018, complete, no doubt, with plenty of hospitality boxes.
Football has to move with the times like everything else and cash flow is vital to keep struggling clubs alive.
But must we always take a sledgehammer to football’s glorious past and bury it under six foot of concrete before we can move forward?