Friday, October 17, 2014

Ranking The English Premier League Grounds: 5-1 - THE CHAAAAAAAMPIONSSSSSSSSS

One of my favorite aspects of sports since I was a little kid is the stadiums. I'm not an architecture buff - although like all children I would assume, I wanted to become one as soon as I learned that word - but I just love stadiums. Their size, their shape, their roles as modern day cathedrals in our sports crazed society. Unfortunately a lot of American stadiums have become increasingly corporatized, santized and vanilla. Luckily, the English Premier League has caught on in America and its stadiums (known as "grounds") are filled with the history, tradition and pageantry that almost all of our stadiums lost a long time ago. Here's a ranking of the grounds, 20-1, in groups of 5 over the next four blog posts.  

Chiming in with his elitist Princeton opinions on each is Blake C Thomsen - a very generous man who took time out of his paid contributions for his much-more-successful-than-mine startup sports website to help me out for free. He is a good man who came up with the as-of-this-moment greatest name for a dorm room in the history of humankind, which also doubles over as # 1 on this list, INCREASING THE DRAMA as we go through the list, bottom to top. Thanks, Blake.


NAME/HISTORY (10 POINTS) - Generally, the older and less corporate the better.  Corporate names lose points unless they sound cool as shit aka KING POWER STADIUM. You're absolutely right that's an English Premier League ground.

AGE/SIZE (10 POINTS) - Big time clubs play in big timey grounds - most old, some new.  Tin pot clubs play in tin pot grounds - most old, some new.  Old Trafford gets a 10.  Anything built after World War 2 with under 15,000 fans gets a 1.  Everything else is in between.  Attendance numbers are from here:

CLOSENESS OF FANS (10 POINTS) - This is where stadiums in many other countries in Europe lose points.  Many Spanish and Italian stadiums, among others, have fans far away from the field due to a track around the pitch or what have you.  A lot of the English stadiums have fans right on top of you.  This is where smaller grounds can make up points on bigger grounds.  Specific supporter sections (Kop, Stretford End, et al.) are also factored in here.

SHAPE/ARCHITECTURE (10 POINTS) - A good litmus test here: if I’m flipping on the television, can I IMMEDIATELY tell where the match is being played?  Uniqueness is key here.  Obviously most stadiums are in the shape of a box or whatever but is it a UNIQUE looking box?

ATTENDANCE/ATMOSPHERE (10 POINTS) - Are the fans filling the place or are there plenty of visible empty seats every week?  Is it a white hot atmosphere or are things tepid and Wiganesque?



Stamford Bridge

N/H - 10.  Stamford is a great name, whether you’re running a wrestling company or a football club.

A/S - 10.  1877; 41,623 (8th in EPL.)  Note that Chelsea themselves did not begin play there until 1905 because Chelsea were not founded until 1905.

COF - 10.  The Stamford Bridge TV sideline is the Cameron Indoor TV sideline of English football.

S/A - 10.  To be fair, this is helped by Chelsea being a Premier League title contender for the last umpteen years as well as a bunch of deep runs in the Champions League over the past decade.  But hey, to the victor go the spoils.

A/A - 7.  A perfect score isn’t proper, plus I thought I’d needle Chelsea fans a bit for historically being aristocratic and muted compared to other blue collar London (and European) clubs.  Hopefully they never tear this thing down because New Stamford Bridge will probably be an awful mauseoleum like this stadium.

BT says: Stamford Bridge is not too far off stadium utopia. Now that Jose Mourinho has been added (back) to the mix, it revs up the atmosphere that much more, whether he’s racing down the touchline to celebrate a winner in the Champions League quarters, going into the stands to celebrate the winner over Man City, or fighting with Arsene Wenger in the technical area. A brilliant ground graced by a brilliant manager with brilliant players at his disposal.

^^^ Well said.  Nick Hornby has a fantastic little chapter in “Fever Pitch” about how Chelsea are the most aristocratic of aristocrat clubs…...and this was back in the 60’s and 70’s.  Don’t get it twisted - this isn’t some tin pot West London club getting bought by some millionaire or billionaire like Fulham or QPR - these guys are the real deal and always have been and this ground being such a cathedral, just like Highbury and White Hart Lane on the North end of London, is a major part of that.  Say what you will about Mourinho’s negative tactics on the road in big games - and believe me, I have and will continue to - but when he’s at home, his side are almost always having a go and it spurs on the always bubbling atmosphere here.

TOTAL: 47/50


Newcastle United

St. James Park

N/H - 10.  They briefly changed the name for three quarters of 2012 to Sports Direct Arena.  Then the hero showed up.  Wonga - yes, WONGA - became the primary sponsor of Newcastle and restored the original name.  In honor of their good deeds, maybe I will borrow from them if I need Orioles World Series ticket money in a pinch.
A/S - 10.  1892, 52,405 (3rd in EPL).  According to Wiki, football has been played there since 1880.  Like, people in Newcastle upon Tyne literally just put together park games there a decade before the club was created.

COF - 8.  I’ve GOT to take a couple points off for a triple deck - although I still need to get up to the top of my alma mater’s significantly worse triple decker and see the Washington Monument - but the lower level does an absolutely marvelous job here.

S/A - 10.  My favorite shaped ground in England.  Totally unique, totally gigantistic (is that a word?  I’m making it one), totally awesome.

A/A - 10.  Newcastle fans are arguably the most hardcore in all of England.  They’re THE North Power Club.  Every country has one and it’s usually the one with the craziest fans.

BT says: The perfect stadium for the most fiercely-supported club in England, marked by its distinctive “all black and white everything” motif, a rarity in the generally colorful Premier League. Few stadiums erupt like this one when the home team does well, and NO stadium brings the heat on its hapless manager like this one. Long live St. James Park.

^^^ The outrage with the name switch to Sports Direct Arena was just fantastic.  Why can’t that stuff happen in America?  For as great as they are, why didn’t Trail Blazers rail against the Moda Center and rename it back to the Rose Garden?  Okay, fine, Moda Center is kind of cool sounding.  Yeah, well, I STILL want Giants fans to demand AT&T Park go back to Pac-Bell Park.  Then again maybe Lily Adams is the cause of all this #evenyearbullshit.  ANYWAY.  You’re right about the black and white thing - that strip’s more common in other European countries but Newcastle are one of a kind in England.  St. James is so awesome.  I remember being wowed by it the first time I saw it opening weekend 2010 when Newcastle came back to the Premier League (yes, the 09-10 season when they were down was my first season.)  And then I was wowed as they STOMPED Aston Villa 6-0.  That was some game.  Joey Barton scored an opening golazo AND Andy Carroll had a hat trick.  Seriously, here’s the proof.

TOTAL - 48/50


West Ham United

Upton Park/Boleyn Ground
N/H - 10.  Can’t name a single super memorable game here but it doesn’t matter because it’s got one name that makes you think about this and another name - the Boleyn Ground - that makes you think about this.

A/S - 9.  1904; 35,345 (11th.)  Five years earlier and they would’ve had a 10.  Five years later, maybe they will if they can pack the Olympic Stadium routinely.

COF - 9.  They’re a little further away on the one end (the one WITHOUT the away fans) than you’d like.  That’s a pimple on the beauty queen though.  They’re packed in like sardines here.

S/A - 10.  Right there with the Lane as my favorite ground to look at in England.  I make a point to try and catch West Ham home matches/highlights whenever possible.

A/A - 10.  It will forever remain ironic to me that the meanest thugs in England have freaking BLOWING BUBBLES as their thing, though.

BT says: As Andy points out, the irony truly is beautiful that the most dangerous hooligans in England giddily sing about blowing bubbles. And the ground is beautiful, too, with fans right on top of the action, as I was when I sat in the away end (and enjoyed some top chant banter with the WHU fans) and watched my beloved Norwich fall 2-1 on New Year’s Day 2013.

^^^ Please tell me you spent New Year’s Eve getting drunk with West Ham hooligans.  That’s an even better story than going to this ground itself.  Anyway, maybe my favorite thing about this ground - and there are a lot of favorites - is the view of the high rises in London that make up the ground’s skyline.  There aren’t very many skylines of grounds in England - the covers over the stands, the lower bowls that extend vertically, the fact that the non London grounds are in the middle of nowhere - but Upton Park has a beautiful one and one that reminds you that you’re in the London projects and rooting for the most blue collar Premier League club in the city and maybe in the entire country.  This is a really, REALLY great ground.  It’s too bad its tenant plays such negative, unwatchable football so much of the time - though they’ve had a few really fun games here in recent years.  Scott Parker taking Liverpool apart was one and, of course, The Gareth Bale Gol.

TOTAL - 48/50


Tottenham Hotspur

White Hart Lane
N/H - 10.  Docking a couple of points for history because I can’t remember a single super memorable game there other than when Gareth Bale crapped on Maicon.  Actually you know what?  That was memorable enough.  This is a 10.

A/S - 10.  1899; 36,284 (10th in EPL.)  They used to house in the 70,000’s back in the day when terraces allowed for ridiculous attendances, which goes to show you the club’s popularity.  They’ll be moving into a 56K stadium sooner or later (hopefully “later” like “after I make enough money to make the trip to London” later.)

COF - 10.

S/A - 10.  Maybe the most easily spottable ground in England and arguably in all of Europe.  It’s simply one of a kind in appearance.

BT says: The name is awesome, the aesthetics are awesome, the painted “To Dare Is To Do” signs are awesome. WHL is pretty damn special, and it will be greatly missed when it’s replaced by a 21st-century “upgrade.” My one complaint, and it’s an obscure one: the pitch can get incredibly worn down by the end of the season. Like, it’s pretty jarring at times, especially compared to the Emirates across the way, which is constantly pristine.

^^^ WHL is the one ground that seems like I’m in imminent danger of never getting to see because they ARE replacing it in the near future.  In fact, Spurs will be playing one season - either 2016-2017 or 2017-2018 - in a temporary venue because construction needs to be expedited on the new ground.  The article notes that, “Stadium MK in Milton Keynes appears the most likely solution, despite being 55 miles away.”  This is hilarious for a number of reasons and let me list them.  1) LOOK AT ALL THE FOOTBALL GROUNDS IN LONDON.  They can’t play in ANY of them?  If West Ham’s moving to the Olympic Stadium, why can’t they use Upton Park for a season?  2) This wouldn’t be the first - or most furious - time people in England have been mad about a London club moving to Milton Keynes and 3) Coventry City actually just did this last year, playing their season 30 miles from home at the Sixfields Stadium (great name) in Northampton.  The fans were so mad (and boy did I enjoy this as a supporter of a different West Midlands side!) that what was supposed a 3 year deal turned in to only one.  So I’m sure whatever happens, it will go smoothly.  As for WHL, Blake notes the “To Dare Is To Do” signs so I have to point out the “COME ON YOU SPURS” in gold all around the banners of the stadium.  Man, what a place this is.  I’m already sad we’re losing it and it hasn’t even happened yet.

TOTAL - 50/50.


Manchester United

Old Trafford

N/H - 10.  Also known as the Theatre of Dreams.  The history is that it’s a theatre that has shown dreams over the years.

A/S - 10.  1910, 75,635 (1st in EPL.)

COF - 10.

S/A - 10.

A/A - 10.  And the perfect score is complete with the record attendance of 76,962 being Wolves and GRIMSBY TOWN.

BT says: I hate Manchester United with a burning passion, and I still named my college dorm room the “Theatre of Dreams” because I’ve never heard a cooler place description in my entire life (predictably, it didn’t help me get any girls, but I still thought it was sweet). And what a fitting nickname for a stadium that’s truly seen it all. Absolute perfection.

^^^ That is just sublime.  Luckily I didn’t finish college yet so I’m completely jacking that idea if and when I ever go back.  And it’s not like I got any girls either in my failed time at Maryland so I don’t have anything to lose!  Anyway, yeah, this stadium is just the best.  This is THE stadium. The best American comparison I can think of is the Garden but if the Knicks were the Celtics or Lakers (not this year's Celtics or Lakers.) Anyway, Man U fans get a plastic rap but they’re always filling this place up, they really know their football (as most fans of historically great sides who have been watching the game for decades do - there’s a reason why Yankees and Red Sox crowds are the smartest baseball crowds in America) and the Stretford End has definitely passed the Kop in terms of most historical stand in England (although that’s more in part to Liverpool’s irrelevance over the past two and a half decades.)  This place is so magical that it even controls the added on time at the end of matches and adds on to it with an invisible Scottish hand whenever is deemed necessary.  A truly special building that I hope is never torn down and that I can get to attend someday.

TOTAL - 50/50.

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