What ever happened to our old football grounds?
West Ham, Spurs and Chelsea are all due to move out of their respective stadia over the next five years, joining a general exodus alongside Arsenal and a wealth of league sides who have ditched their traditional terraces for a face lift.
In most cases this means constructing the most economical design in the most economical place funded in the most economical way. Colchester’s Weston Homes Community Stadium, a flat pack stadium built in the middle of nowhere as part of a corporate sponsorship deal is a shameful example of this, a real two fingers to Britain’s oldest town and its once vibrant stadium.
My own team, Doncaster Rovers, is no exception to the plight. We exchanged a traditional, albeit run-down, stadium next to our famous racecourse and within a stone’s throw of a number of pubs for an industrial estate IKEA job devoid of personality and, until very recently, devoid of life.
One wonders whether we have traded something sacred by letting our old grounds go. Football stadia once belonged to the people. They would reflect local industry, be built into the fabric of the town and form the nucleus around which communities were built. Houses backed on to the terraces where young kids would sit perilously on window ledges at the weekend. Pubs would open early for fans to get watered before the game and chip shops would dispense deep-fried fish, pies, sausages and chips in newspaper wrapping that sported Friday’s headlines and the odd stray boob from The Sun.
Journey to Colchester and you’d be lucky to get a beer near the ground. The same can be said of Oxford United, Stoke City, Southampton, Bolton Wanderers, Huddersfield, Manchester City; I could go on. And so it was with a sad heart that I heard news that Brentford FC would be moving out of the historic Griffin Park and in to a new community stadium. The plans, which will include seven new residential buildings and retail space, are undoubtedly exciting and will bring much-needed urban regeneration to Brentford and an economic boost as a result. But it will also signal the death of one of London’s most historic stadiums.
So I took a trip, courtesy of our betting exchange partner Matchbook, down to Brentford to experience the ground for myself. Nestled in amongst rows of old terrace houses the rickety ground is a makeshift assembly of odd stands that bear little, if any, resemblance to each other, but work well all the same. Dubbed by The Guardian as “probably the most refreshing football ground in the world” there is a pub on every corner which might only host a handful of people through the week, but are bustling with activity come midday Saturday.
Once a mainstay of the lower leagues, the Bees missed out on promotion to the Premier League last season following a comfortable defeat at the hands of Middlesbrough in the play-offs. Now comfortably sitting in mid-table, the South West Londoners look set for a sustained period in the second tier with local rivals Fulham and QPR.
We filtered out from the warmth of a log fire at The New Inn with ten minutes to spare before the game kicked off, picking up a selection of warm pies from inside the ground and taking our seats in the Braemar Road stand. We had hardly sat down when the away stand erupted with the first goal of the game, scored after just 19 seconds! Groans echoed around the terrace, but with the vast majority of the game still to be played most people were happy to excuse the goal as an early blip, and the home side drew level thanks to Joann Barbet’s debut goal in the 26th minute. But despite Brentford controlling most of the play, Charlton pulled ahead after the break and were able to hold on to the lead to pick up three much-needed points.
The gang endeavoured to tick off the remaining pubs after the game and we valiantly made our way to each remaining corner before we started to drop off in a sorry sequence. With a new ground on the way the days are numbered that we can spend a Saturday drinking on the corners of Griffin Park and immersing ourselves in a game on it. But I’d encourage you to get down when you can. It’s a great day out.