Old Football Stadiums had a certain magic that is now lost

When Scunthorpe United moved into Glanford Park in 1988 it marked the first club to move to a purpose built stadium for 33 years, if you count Southend United moving back to Roots Hall in 1955 and even decades longer if you don’t. Scunthorpe’s purpose built stadium may have only cost £2.5 million to build and a relatively small capacity of 9,088 but it was to mark something of a trend over the following decades in English football.

In those 23 years since Glandford Park opened there has been over 25 clubs in the Football League to have moved into modern and purpose built stadiums. The most obvious are the likes of Arsenal with the mighty Emirates Stadium which seemed to rise out of nowhere in between old Victorian houses and railway lines a long goal kick away from Highbury.

I feel it is a huge shame that we have lost so many traditional old stadiums in the past two decades which have been replaced by new modern stadiums that completely lack atmosphere (Leicester City’s Walkers Stadium) or are so far away from the city centre you need to have a car or face walking down a motorway (Reading’s Madejski Stadium).

People say that it is just a coincidence that Arsenal have not won a trophy since leaving Highbury and it’s probably true, but I am sure that it has a small part to play. The pitch at Highbury was one of the smallest and teams often found it a struggle to play there.

I understand why some clubs have moved stadiums like Derby County who’s Baseball Stadium I only remember from watching on Television as a kid, but heard many who visited say how dodgy the pitch was and run-down the stadium looked. The same can go for a few others like Sunderland’s Roker Park and Middlesborough’s Ayresome Park were falling to bits by the time they moved to the splendid Stadium of Light and Riverside respectively.

However, whilst football clubs in these new stadiums have increased revenue, capacity and moved into the modern age they’ve all left behind that charm, tradition and charisma that these old stadiums had in abundance.

I count myself fortunate enough to have visited some of these lost stadiums like Highfield Road (Coventry City) and Vetch Field (Swansea City). Coventry’s stadium move is hard to understand as the Highfield Road site was big enough to redevelop into what they have now with the Ricoh Arena.

Having also visited the Ricoh, I have to say that it’s only one of a few modern stadiums I actually liked. Unlike Pride Park, Walkers Stadium and The Madekski where you feel too far away from the pitch in a bowl like structure, the Ricoh is quite compact and square.

Whilst my experience of The Vetch Field wasn’t as pleasant, standing on the terrace looking at the bizarre half roofed cover across the stands, a buffet behind a cage in which you have to poke your arm through to be served and a view of a prison on top of a hill lurking down upon the ground only added intimidation and atmosphere.

These new stadiums may have done more harm than good to some teams, especially in the case of Cardiff City who have been so close but yet so far in their bid for promotion to the Premier League. Ninian Park was an extremely tough place to visit with an intimidating atmosphere which their new better looking stadium severely lacks.

The only positive out of following Queens Park Rangers to the depths of League One was the chance to visit grounds which I had previously never got the chance to visit. Chesterfield’s Saltergate was 139 years old until the club relocated out of the town centre to their new and modern B2net stadium.

Judging by the pictures, the new ground looks common, square open box style with no character whilst Saltergate had plenty, don’t get me wrong, it was old, so old I actually got a splinter from the wooden seats during one visit but it was within the Town and full of history.

This article was prompted by the latest talk of new stadiums, Q.P.R., Chelsea, Fulham are all rumoured to be looking into a new stadium around West London with all three clubs currently playing in old stadiums that have reached their expansion limit.

Whilst Liverpool are still in search of either a new stadium or aiming to expand Anfield if at all possible, let’s not forget the debacle with Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United over the Olympic Stadium.

Having been to White Hart Lane and Upton Park on plenty of occasions, they are both excellent football stadiums. Spurs should not be leaving their territory, whilst the owners of West Ham are happy to play with the running track which would ruin the atmosphere like Upton Park promotes.

I regretfully never got the chance to visit Maine Road before Manchester City moved to the City of Manchester Stadium as those that visited had praised it highly. When I see the likes of Southampton and Wigan Athletic playing in their new modern stadiums, I forget that it was only in the Nineties that these teams called The Dell and Springfield Park as their homes.

So what does the future hold over the next two decades? Will Stamford Bridge be turned into a huge hotel, Loftus Road a Council Estate and Upton Park a huge Supermarket? Most probably, whilst there will be new bigger stadiums built, with comfy seats, fancy box office suites and flash press areas.

Whilst I can appreciate modernisation and progress, there are a few things these new stadiums will never, ever own and that’s history, tradition, romance and atmosphere. The old style Football Stadium are becoming to be a thing of the past.
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