Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Jonathan Himsworth: My Favourite Football Grounds of the Stadium Art Movement

Now the good news brings you-- My Favourite Football Grounds

Here are some of the football grounds that have inspired me as
an artist within the Stadium Art Movement. None of my Art could pass without mentioning the debt I owe to the people who built these stadiums. Some of these still survive today. I could go on forever, instead I created a team. I have placed them in my own order.



11)Whitehart Lane

Tottenham in the days of standing-room terraces epitomized all the ingredients of a proper big league football ground. The distinguishing feature of football folklore was of course The Shelf—a stretch of terracing that sat perched upon a sort of um, shelf along the sidelines underneath the huge East Stand—the tallest stand in the land. When the East stand was packed and the Shelf in full voice, it could be as loud as in any nation.

The rest of the ground was already enclosed on all four sides and had seating receding into the shadows. These wooden chairs, behind paddocks of terracing, were all set beneath pitched roofs crowned with iconic gables that were the hallmark of their designer—the patron saint of Stadium Art—Archibald Leitch.

His common signature on many of the great stands of the day was a central roof gable and iron crisscrossing designed into the balcony wall of his upper tier seating (see Ibrox, Goodison, Sunderland-Roker Park, Plymouth Argyle, Fulham). What I liked most about it was the parterre—the little paddock surrounding the pitch that in the old days would allow standing-room-only fans to create the spilled-can-of-baked-beans effect as they surged towards the frontlines anytime a goal was scored. In 1981 the new West Stand was opened, and after the Taylor Report they boxed in the Shelf to make it all-seater, and a verse of football poetry came to an end.

Very little remains today to conjure an image of the glory days, and with all the redevelopment, it is no matter—Tottenham have unveiled plans for a completely new stadium to be built right next to the site. Not worth a visit to this part of London unless you've got six or seven mates to protect you as your girlfriend does cocktails in the West End while being chatted up by art dealers and the European idle rich.



10) The Baseball Ground

I always liked the Baseball Ground since it had the big city football club feel of double-deck stands, no empty exposed corners and paddocks surrounding the pitch that in the old days would allow standing-room-only fans to create the spilled-can-of-baked-beans effect as they surged towards the front-lines the odd time it looked like a goal was about to be scored. A stadium where they actually did in fact once play Baseball, underlining the fact that no matter how American baseball is to Americans, it was still invented in England, and to have such an iconic name for what evolved into a football ground, who could not have a laugh? The Brooklyn Dodgers had their Polo Grounds after all.

It had four distinct stands, each with different levels and compartments—miniature versions of Tottenham's Shelf. It was also in a bleak outstretch of industrial wasteland quite far from Derby city centre, and the trip back to the Railway station was always a bit touch-and-go.

I remember visiting my mother who had moved close to the city, perfect chance to catch my boys playing away at the Baseball Ground. At the end of the match the cops marched me back to the city centre with all the other Londoners despite my pleas that I was visiting my mother who only lived around the corner. My accent got me in trouble. When I showed them a telephone number in Long Eaton, they finally let me go back the other way.

Perhaps if you are one day wondering around the East Midlands of England looking for a pint of beer, for just a chance to get away from your girlfriend while she looks for socks and handkerchiefs in Nottingham, then coming down to where the Baseball Ground used to be and perhaps seeing where the Baseball Ground used to be might be a diversion worth considering since there's no way you can make it back to London in time for dinner. You still might get arrested, however.




9) Highbury

Ok ok, I hate Arsenal and so would you if you were not an Arsenal fan, so that out of the way, the very least we can admit, now that it is gone, is that Highbury was one of the coolest grounds in all of England. Utter class with its twin grandstands facing each other. Utter class with it its art deco moulding and cornices and flourishes. Utter coolness that the entire ground was enclosed—no exposed corners, 60,000 people tightly packed into the urban landscape. It even won architectural awards from the Royal Society of Architects.

The North Bank was a legendary terrace that even I have to admit, could send your hairs on end as the Gunners advanced towards it on an attack. I watched mostly from the opposite side—the Clock end (right side of picture), where the visitors were crammed in like animals, in front of the famous clock, which was made from no more than just a simple plank of wood as far as I could tell.

My worst memory was of sitting amongst the home fans on the one day in thirty years my team actually beat them there, only to watch my brothers in the Clock End go mental, while my friends restrained me from cheering, holding my fists to the armrests like a death-rower, preventing me from getting beaten up like a tourist from Boston on Montreal's Ste-Catherine Street.

What I liked most about Highbury was the parterre—the little paddock on each side of the pitch that in the old days would allow standing-room-only-fans to create the spilled-can-of-baked-beans effect as they surged towards the front-lines anytime a wonderfully-crafted offside trap was executed by the white-sleeved Reds. It is no joke to say that not much remains of Highbury since the Arsenal moved to the sterile confines of the Emirates, but you have to applaud the fact that they have turned the wonderful old grandstands into apartments, and have therefore saved two of the most attractive examples of 1930's art deco architecture in England. For all of London's charms, the Old Highbury is certainly worth the visit if you are an Arsenal fan, otherwise forget visiting the Emirates and go shopping with your Girlfriend for socks and hankerchiefs in Oxford Circus.


8) Hillsborough

Hillsborough cannot be mentioned without thinking of the disaster of the same name. To all intents and purposes, it was our 911. It changed the entire face of football stadiums across Europe. Gone were the little paddocks surrounding the pitch that in the old days would allow standing-room-only fans to create the spilled-can-of-baked-beans effect as they surged towards the front-lines anytime the pies arrived.

But before the disaster, Hillsborough was one of the most important grounds in England. The home terrace held the biggest in Europe—23,000 behind the goal. The North Stand beside it is an engineering masterpiece which introduced the first truly cantilever stand to England in time for the World Cup in 66. Opposite it was another prized example of Archibald Leitch`s handiwork with the usual paddock and pitched gable done in his hallmark fashion.

The away end (pictured) which is where the disaster occurred, had until that

time been my favourite part—a steeply-sloped stand affording an amazing view of the pitch and the rest of the city, propped above a lower deck for standing.

Meanwhile the South Stand has been redeveloped and the new design has paid homage to Archibald Leitch's gable yet not much has changed since that fateful day in April 1989 except that a lot of the terracing has had seats simply tacked on to the cement.

If you happen to be in Sheffield and your girlfriend is hanging outside a steel mill being chatted up by unemployed metal workers on parole, not jumping on the 49 bus to Owlerton in the outskirts of the city to see one of the North of England's most historic landmarks would be an act of absolute negligence. Since the beer is so cheap.



7) Goodison Park

Goodison Park reminds everybody that there isn't just one team in Liverpool. In fact, till the mid-sixties, Evertonians could claim to be the more accomplished of the two outfits. And to give weight to that assertion they had the ground to prove it. Double-decked on all four sides until the late 60s once the famous East Stand was erected, this 'New' stand remains the first three-tier football stand built in the United Kingdom.

What I like most about the ground is the parterre—the little paddock surrounding the pitch.

Not much has changed at Goodison since the Taylor report except the rather crass nailing of seats onto what once were standing-room terraces, so it is easy to imagine the old days where the bells of St. Luke's church still watch over the pitch from the north west corner, while the magnificent artwork of Archibald Leitch contains the swells of Evertonians dancing in rare victory.

Definitely worth passing up the Beatles Museum (where you would only be watching your girlfriend getting cruised by begging scousers) while you and your mates have a beer across the road from the famous main stand.



6) Vila Belmiro, Santos

Yeah, yeah, we know, Brazil is cool and all that. Basically they are the World's darlings, and of course there is Rio, Carnival, Copa Cabana, Fiesta, the skyscrapers of Sao Paulo and those beautiful female fans of indeterminate origin who take up a lot of our imagery whenever we think of the country, or even the nut, which actually came first. This country, named after a nut, can be summed up by one person: Pele. Ok, so a few of us can name some other Brazilians, and think of other cool things to say about the place, but talk to any granny in Stockholm or Nairobi concerning Brazil, and she'll soon enough mention the word Pele.

Just down the road from Sao Paulo, on the ocean, is a port town of a half million or so people called Santos. This is where Pele remained his entire career, away from the limelight here in this little matchbox of a stadium and great distance from the big metropolises. He embodied the spirit of loyalty, fairness and humility, and this stadium has not changed since the days he scored 1000 goals. To the tune of some anthem, it is a glorious gift to the world of football fan-dom that this ground could nurture the likes of Pele, a history of which they can never shake off no matter how small a club in stature they might remain.

The double-deck art-deco structure, with little niches and angles that are strange but beautiful, has class and vintage. Of course there are several parterres.

This is holy ground as far as I am concerned. So, while your girlfriend is hanging out in Copa Cobana getting chatted up by dance instructors on a drum break, and you don't take a quick flight down to Santos to visit this sanctuary of what little remains from the truly golden age of civilization as we know it, then you might not even have bothered going all the way to Brazil.



5) Azteca

Mexico isn't that big a country once you jump on a plane so next time you are in Cancun or some other cheap getaway, make route for the capital city, which is one of the great capitals of the World. Ignore the people bribing you to take a visit to the far-off volcano where you can see snow, instead make your way to Azteca Stadium, home of the Game of the Century—a 1970 World Cup Semi-Final played between Italy and Germany that saw something like six goals in extra time. Whatever the failings of the Mexican team on the World stage, any foreign observer would have to be well impressed with how strong the support for football is in this country, considering how close it is to the football desert to the north.

Considering there are very few North American stadiums that date back as far as 1970, it is astounding it hasn't perished like the others. Yet it still remains today such a modern-looking ground. Almost all the current stadiums we see opening around the world owe the Azteca a tip of the hat in homage to their design.

What I liked most about it was the parterre—the little paddock surrounding the pitch that in the old days would allow standing-room-only fans to create the spilled-can-of-baked-beans effect as they surged towards the front-lines for little more than the winning of a throw-in. Since the all-seater rule doesn't really mean much in Mexico it seems, nothing has really changed here except a slight reduction in capacity where they've tacked seats onto old terracing. Otherwise, in the bench-like sections the mass of headcases in the upper tiers hardly stop from jumping up and down the entire match.

A friend of mine was recently posted to Mexico City for work and of course I asked him to do some freelance football reporting on my behalf. “Don't ask me to go to any matches again. It`s too dangerous.” This coming from a guy who is no small dood and has spent time in a Russian prison, so when you do go to Mexico City, while your girlfriend hangs out drinking mojitos in the Pink Zone while getting chatted up by a bunch of Mariachis on a lunch break, missing out on Azteca stadium, a true international trophy, a monument to the original founders of the city, and the sight of the Hand of God, I mean site of the Hand of God, then you'll have committed a major crime of negligence.



4) Real Madrid, Santiago Bernabeu

Ok so everybody hates Real Madrid. I hate them, you hate them, even the King of Spain has a bone to pick with them right now, but nothing off the pitch matters to me except the bricks and mortar rising up in cascading tiers and set-backs to enclose the ground in a womb of Castilian passion. Right outside is a boulevard that might as well be the Champs-Elysees—with palatial apartment blocks of the Beaux Arts style. No need to argue with the Royalty tag.

What I like most about it is the parterre—the little paddock surrounding the pitch that in the old days would allow standing-room-only fans to create the spilled-can-of-baked-beans effect as they surged towards the front-lines anytime a pass was completed. Since the all-seater rule, nothing much has changed here except a slight reduction in capacity where they tacked seats onto old terracing.

Oh who cares what side you were on during the civil war, of course everybody knows Barcelona had the moral high ground. So Camp Nou became a cathedral of Catalan spirit where they could sing together in their banned language and fly the colours of their banned national flag (kinda like the Nordiques did) in defiance of Franco. However, visiting Madrid and not stopping past Estadio Santiago Berni even while your girlfriend checks out the Picassos and Carmen at the Opera, getting cruised by Senors on a coffee break, remains a major crime of negligence.


3) Nou Camp

FC Barcelona hasn't always had a big stadium. Until the Nou Camp came along, they played to less than 40000 spectators round the corner. But the Nou Camp did come along, and what`s more, they are about to change its exterior with a bunch of hi-tech LED lighting made by some flash starchitect so check it out before it`s ruined. They will also extend the top tier to increase the capacity to near on 100000 making it the largest ground in Europe.

What I liked most about it is the parterre—the little paddock surrounding the pitch that in the old days would allow standing-room-only fans to create the spilled-can-of-baked-beans effect as they surged towards the front-lines anytime they caught as much as the sight of a fifth-choice substitute warming up. Since the all-seater rule, nothing much has changed here except a slight reduction in capacity where they tacked seats onto old terracing.

Promoting a visit to the Nou Camp to a bunch of football fans is rather obvious but it goes without saying that a visit to Barcelona without stopping by the Nou even if your girlfriend gets chatted up along the Ramblas by sensitive macho guys talking about Gaudi, Picasso and Bolero over wine and tapas goes down as a major crime of negligence.



2) The San Siro

The Guisseppe something-or-other Stadium (San Siro to football fans) in Milan is older than it looks. In advance of Italia 90, two extra tiers were assembled on top of the original four-sided enclosure that makes the first floor base of the stadium. Then some flash starchitect added the rest. One of the truly great world stadiums for the passion of the fans (think vespas thrown from the top deck) and the ingenuity of its design, the San Siro cannot be matched for it`s simplicity.

What I like most about it is the parterre—the little paddock surrounding the pitch that in the old days would allow standing-room-only fans to create the spilled-can-of-baked-beans effect as they surged towards the front-lines anytime a goal was scored, or a stray vespa (or lambretta) thundered down from above. Since the all-seater rule, nothing much has changed here except a slight reduction in capacity where they tacked seats onto old terracing.

For all the epic culture, innovative couture, fine cuisine and sleek prestigious design standards Milan is known for, visiting this city without checking out the San Siro Stadium even if your girlfriend is getting chatted up by barristas discussing Verdi and Sauxi Doux goes down as a major crime of negligence.




1) The Bombonera

This is a natural inclusion—one of the few examples of a stadium with three vertical tiers of standing-room-only terracing (see picture of home 'ends') that have crush barriers to protect the crowd from tumbling down like a row of open cans of baked beans—this stadium is the one they show you whenever they want to illustrate South American football fans in their graphic displays of banners, confetti, ticker tape madness, latin yo la tengo, smoke bombs, flares and cocaine-crazed barros bravas throwing missiles. It is an architectural gem surrounded by a cozy neighborhood of colourful houses—many painted in support of the resident football club—Boca.

Which everybody knows means 'mouth' since the district is on the mouth of the river something-or-other, or as everybody knows the houses are yellow and blue because the team founders decided on their colours by choosing whatever national flag the next ship that came to dock happened to be flying—Sweden.

A visit to Buenos Aires is a complete waste of time if it doesn't include a mention of one of the THIRTY TWO professional football venues. Almost all of which feature mad terraces full of standing-room-only nutters producing that spilled-can-of-beans-effect anytime a goal is scored or a fan's been kidnapped. Might as well make it the Bombonera. River fans might object but the fact remains, not even my girlfriend could resist a place whose nickname is literally 'The Chocolate Box.'


All of this is of course viewable on a very readable blog at the Burgundy Lion Website

thanks to all who advised with the photos

2 comments:

Unknown said...

Fantastic list! So happy to see Goodison take its rightful place.

Unknown said...

Fantastic list! So happy to see Goodison take its rightful place.