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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wherever I Lay My Hat

Nobes on three League Two teams - Chesterfield, Morecambe, and Rotherham - and the impact of the places they call their home ground.

Chesterfield moved into the b2net stadium over the summer

There's no place like it, so goes the old saying, anyway. In football terms, your form there can make or break a season - the difference between success and failure.

And, if you're a Gillingham fan, it's the only place you've seen your side win a league game at in the past 18 months. It's difficult to downplay the importance of home matches.

Which is why the current trend of clubs moving to new purpose built stadia - a topic I discussed towards the end of last season - throws up the fascinating scenario of a 'bedding in' period.

After all, a new stadium doesn't just affect off the field issues - bringing the all-important incremental revenue that a seven-day facility offers a lower league club.

It also provides the team, players, and coaching staff with the kind of facility they should enjoy playing in. A facility which should make all of their lives more comfortable and easier. Anything to inspire them to perform better when they cross that white line.

Inspire it can, too - as a quick glance at the League Two table can tell you. Despite Saturday's 2-1 loss to Burton, Chesterfield sit proudly top of the division largely thanks to an imperious home record.

While the Brewers may have left the new b2net stadium with maximum spoils last weekend, the home side have pocketed seven wins and a draw from their other eight games there.

The Derbyshire club really have made themselves at home - crucially continuing the fine home record at former ground Saltergate which saw them finish just a couple of points shy of last term's top seven.

In truth, that was a third season of underachievement from a squad which should have made the play offs at least.

Indeed, the Spireites are currently experiencing somewhat of a prolonged spell in the fourth tier of the English game, having spent 11 out of 12 years in League One between 1995 and 2007.

This is a club who feel they belong at a higher level and, with the aid of a new ground, hope to finally get things right on the pitch to return to it.

It certainly seems to have captured the attention of the Chesterfield public - with attendances massively increased as the town seem to reflect the mood - that this new stadium is the start of better things for their club.

Contrast their mood though, with that of League Two rivals Morecambe. The Lancashire outfit also moved grounds in the summer - from the antiquated Christie Park to sparkling new Globe Arena.

Morecambe have struggled to find their form at the Globe Arena

It appeared to come at just the right time for the Shrimps, too. A couple of years of consolidating in the Football League following promotion in 2007 had been followed by an outstanding 4th placed finish.

Although Sammy McIlroy's side were eventually unsuccessful in their promotion attempt, the future appeared bright for the men from the Bay. Morecambe were a club moving forwards both on and off the pitch.

However, much of their success had been built on a solid home record belying the resort famous for its shifting quicksands. Only Champions Notts County and runners-up Bournemouth had better home form than the Shrimps last season.

Just three sides managed to leave with all the spoils. However, after Saturday's 2-1 defeat to Lincoln, two away teams have already won at the Globe in the nine league games played to date.

The loss to the Imps leaves Morecambe sitting just a couple of points above the relegation zone. True while they've been slow starters in previous seasons and recovered, they could always rely on their home form to see them through.

Not any more. Unlike with Chesterfield, Morecambe's relocation has so far not transferred to an improvement on the field of play.

Perhaps that's because, like so many smaller clubs in a division, an old-fashioned and dilapidated ground can actually be used in their favour.

Christie Park, although full of character, was a tight ground. The home fans were close to the pitch, the dressing room facilities not the best, and the pitch unreliable.

In short, it was not the easiest of away grounds for teams to visit. By moving, Morecambe may have increased their options off the pitch, but have surrendered an advantage on it.

At the Globe Arena, visiting teams are afforded brand new facilities and a good, big pitch on which to play.

Unlike at Christie Park, where the home players would know about any kinks in the pitch they could use to their advantage, or where the ball might bounce higher or run faster, they are still getting used to their new surroundings.

Morecambe's home might have their name on the entrance, but they've yet to find their slippers.

Rotherham are in their third season at the Don Valley Stadium

Imagine then, the difficulties of a third League Two outfit, Rotherham, to get to grips with their surroundings.

Ground-sharing isn't a new concept, the likes of Brighton & Hove Albion and famously Bristol Rovers at Bath's Twerton Park have found themselves playing outside their home town because of ground issues.

Like Albion though - who thankfully finally move to their impressive new ground at Falmer next year - Rotherham are currently trying to make an athletics stadium their home.

Disputes with landlords at their traditional Millmoor ground forced the Yorkshire club to use Sheffield's Don Valley Stadium as their temporary home.

The vast, often wind-swept, arena is hardly conducive to hosting football - with large parts of the 25,000 seating uncovered and difficult to make a noise from.

The typical problem of an athletics track surrounding the playing area also detaches fans from the action.

Despite their impressive league performances in the two seasons they've been playing in the Steel City, the Millers haven't won as many games as they have won in their temporary home.

Last season was a case in point - United were the only one of the top seven teams in League Two to win more games away from home than on their own patch.

While fans will rightly point to the team and tactics of manager Ronnie Moore perhaps lending themselves better to playing away, it's hard to imagine that playing at the Don Valley actually helps the Millers.

News earlier this year then that the club revealed plans for a new 12,000 capacity stadium to be built in Rotherham in the next couple of years can only be seen as a massive boost to United's future.

Of course, they'll be hoping any settling in period to their new home will be significantly more like near neighbours Chesterfield's rather than that of Morecambe's.

That's because even in these days where packed midfields and lone strikers seem to lend themselves to life on the road, good home form makes life so much easier. Just ask a Gillingham fan.

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