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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Grounds for Moving

With two more clubs - Chesterfield and Morecambe - moving to new grounds for the start of next season, Nobes reflects upon this growing trend and why it's become increasingly necessary.

An aerial shot of the construction of Morecambe's new Globe Arena

It's impossible to ignore the importance of history to football supporters. It's the tales of golden years told by elders to inspire future generations of fans.

It's the memories which they cling on to when the going gets tough and their team sinks to a new low. It's also the hope, the dream, that one day their club will return and recapture those past glories.

However, in the fast-moving and ever-changing world of football, there is increasingly less room for history and sentiment if success is your goal.

Indeed, as more clubs look to move grounds it is their traditional homes - the scenes of many triumphs over the years - which are being consigned to history.

For Chesterfield and Morecambe supporters it is a reality that is dawning ever clearer. The end of the season is fast approaching, and with it, the end of their playing days at their current grounds.

The Derbyshire club's Saltergate ground is believed to be one of the oldest football grounds still in use - that proud statistic will be forgotten as soon as the Spireites move into their new b2net Stadium, however.

And a trip to the Lancashire coast to play Morecambe will take place at the Globe Arena rather than Christie Park from August. Two old, traditional grounds are being put to rest.

Both clubs' moves are being made in the hope it will make them more competitive in the future. Cramped surroundings and a lack of corporate facilities are no longer feasible in the 21st century game.

Chesterfield, currently in the promotion hunt from League Two, hope it will help them re-establish themselves back in the third tier.

The Shrimps believe their new stadium will properly establish them in the Football League and allow them the opportunity to move even higher up the pyramid.

Chesterfield have played their home games at Saltergate since 1871

It's a common story. In recent years, clubs like Shrewsbury, Colchester, and Cardiff have all relocated to new purpose built arenas. All three have allowed the club to attract better players on increased budgets.

Brighton are currently constructing their long-awaited new ground at Falmer, and Peterborough, Bristol City, Southend, and Rotherham are all planning on re-locating in the near future too.

Moving is in fashion, and all in the hope that the incramental revenue a new facility can bring outside of matchdays can help make a club richer and, therefore, stronger.

Does the theory stand tall though?

There are certainly some good examples which prove that a new stadium can be a new dawn for a club.

The rise of Hull City from the depths of League Two to the Premier League in just five years was no coincidence. The move from the outdated Boothferry Park to the 25,000 KC Stadium finally unleashed the potential on the banks of the Humber.

It took a new stadium to finally awake the sleeping giants of English football after a century of underachievement. It is a compelling and inspirational story.

Championship play-off contenders Swansea City hope too that their rise up from the bottom to the top will be concluded at the end of the season.

If so, it would be difficult to downplay the importance that the move from their old Vetchfield ground to the new Liberty Stadium in 2005 has played in that progression up the footballing ladder.

Ground Force: A new stadium at Swansea aided their rise up the divisions

Burton Albion built their Pirelli Stadium in the belief it would help them get into the Football League and establish themselves there. The Brewers success in their debut season in League Two has born true.

Doncaster ended their 50-year exile from the top two tiers of English football in 2008 - aided by the transition to their new Keepmoat Stadium.

It is an ever-growing list of moves that have led to promotion that clubs like Chesterfield and Morecambe aspire to match.

It could also be argued that clubs may have to move not to gain promotion and establish themselves at a higher level, but simply to survive in their current division.

With more Non Leagues teams looking to emulate Burton, how long can League Two teams with old-fashioned grounds continue to raise the revenue to stay in the 92?

It's one of the reasons clubs like Dagenham and Barnet have built new stands at their respectve grounds, and why Hereford are to do a similar development at Edgar Street.

How long before sides like Aldershot, Torquay, and Lincoln consider whether they need to make alterations or even more from their homes if they are to remain in the Football League?

Torquay's Plainmoor ground is charming, but is it still practical?

However, if the dream scenario is the unlocking of untapped potential, then the opposite is being left at a ground expensive to run and drawing crowds not big enough to fill them.

Not only do new grounds all look a little too similar and badly lacking in any charm or character, they can turn out to be souless, silent shells, missing the atmosphere of clubs' former homes.

Few fans would suggest a visit to grounds like Northampton's Sixfields are their favourite away trips of the season.

While the comfort might be greater too at the new stadiums of Cardiff and Swansea, once you've seen one new stadium, you've pretty much seen them all.

There is also the fear that upgrading to a new stadium could leave you with a stadium too big for your needs, unlikely to be ever be filled, and costing you so much in upkeep that they become a millstone.

Just ask Darlington, gearing up to host Non League football next season in their 27,500 arena. It is also a growing concern amongst Wycombe fans, as their club looks to move to a new, far too big, ground.

It is the kind of concerns which will be at the back of the minds of those running Chesterfield and Morecambe, although perhaps not when their new stadiums come into play next term.

The dawn of an exciting new era - they hope.


  1. Cracking post. Well researched, some good examples to boot.

    I remember when Sunderland moved from Roker Park to the Stadium of Light - it was one of the first of the new generation of stadia along with Pride Park in Derby and The Alfred McAlpine Stadium in Huddersfield. Leaving Roker (£6 standing ticket) to move to the SoL was exciting - though it did come when Sunderland had jsut been relegated.

    The decision to move to a bigger ground has no doubt saved the club from obtuse debts. A steady 35,000+ crowd in the Championship and 40k+ in the PL certainly helps with the bills.

  2. It's a very inciteful and informative read Seb.

    I have to agree with Mike it was an exciting feeling when Leicester City decided to make the move to a new stadium as it made a firm statement as to the club future intentions. It was just a shame that like Sunderland, it's inagural season showcased division one football rather than games in the top flight. Fortunately, Leicester City has always had a strong, devout fanbase so we've never suffered from the perils of drastic cuts in attendance despite a season in League One.

    However, after costing well over £30 million pounds to build, initially the stadium became a noose around the clubs neck when we entered into administration so I'm well aware of how new stadia can make or break a team.