"I can't think of any one reason why I want to be a surgeon, but I can think of a thousand reasons why I should quit. They make it hard on purpose. There are lives in our hands. There comes a moment when it's more than just a game, and you either take that step forward or turn around and walk away. I could quit but here's the thing: I love the playing field."
Friday, October 17, 2014
Ranking The English Premier League Grounds: 10-6 - Europa League Contenders
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: http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_football_stadiums_by_capacity
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? T9)
West Bromwich Albion
N/H - 10. You know that scene in Bridesmaids when Kristen Wiig is driving up to the baby shower and the dude gives her the pink lemonade and she drinks it and she’s like, “fuck, this is good?” That’s me right now. Fuck, The Hawthorns is a great name.
A/S - 8. 1900; 26,445 (15th in EPL.) Every time I see the capacity here, I feel like it should be bigger - especially with the ground’s age in history. But then I remember West Brom don’t have the level of devoutness to their fandom that us Wolves fans do :)
COF - 9. They’re really close here and they have my favorite away supporter alignment in England. Though that could just be because every time I think of the away fans at The Hawthorns, I think of this
S/A - 8. For whatever reason, this ground doesn’t always immediately catch my eye and make me think, “oh, that’s The Hawthorns.” I feel like it’s because their stands each look like different stands from different grounds. Like the away fans end reminds me of the away fans end at Ewood Park (except with no upper deck) and the other end behind the opposite goal reminds me of Upton Park. The way their sideline stands rise up so high reminds me of St. James Park. But hey, at least it’s not generic and boring.
A/A - 6. Yay, I can finally take off a chunk of points! There are WAY WAY too many empty seats at almost any West Brom game unless they’re playing one of the giants of the division. West Midlands sides are known for their hardcore support and the Baggies aren’t an exception there so maybe the economy is to blame since the West Midlands is among the poorest parts of England. And to be fair (a) Molineux isn’t full all the time either (nor was it always full when we were in the Prem) and (b) at least they don’t have the attendance problems of the Birmingham clubs (Aston Villa and Birmingham City…….I kinda miss Birmingham City in the Premier League though. It’s like the Jets got relegated from the NFL. You’d miss them after a while. You would.)
BT says: I do love me some Hawthorns. The name is great and so are the fans, even if the team is pretty brutal aside from the year when they hijacked Lukaku on loan. Special recognition for the atmosphere in the derby against Aston Villa -- one of the more underrated rivalries (and atmospheres) in the EPL.
^^^ Villa isn’t even their main rival! THAT’S US GODDAMMIT! But at least you’re shouting out a West Midlands derby, all of which are some of the most intense in England that nobody knows about. Wolves, West Brom, Aston Villa and Birmingham all have a searing level of hatred for one another (and the recent rise of Stoke has pissed all of us off too.) The funny thing here is that West Brom - like rival Villa actually - have actually been a better away side than home in recent years because of their counter attacking style. American sports might blow off the, “oh they’re better as underdogs!” rhetoric as just silly old #narrative but it can be very true in soccer as some smaller clubs are built to soak up pressure and then hit you on the counter when the opportunity presents itself. Another fun fact about the Hawthorns at that at about 500 feet, it’s the highest ground in England. Not quite Coors Field, eh?
TOTAL - 41/50
Queens Park Rangers
N/H - 5. 5 for the name, 0 for the history. That’ll happen when you’re a lower division club throughout pretty much your entire history.
A/S - 8. 1904; 18,439 (20th in EPL.) 1904 is pretty old and I definitely thought this had less than 15,000 people in it. I trying to be generous here because I love this little place.
COF - 10. Wiki - “Because of the size of the stadium, supporters find themselves close to the pitch compared to other stadiums. All four of the modern stands meet with no gaps, giving an overall impression of a tightly enclosed stadium.”
S/A - 10. IT LOOKS LIKE A FRICKIN’ SHOEBOX. HOW COOL IS THAT. Look, if you’re gonna be a tinpot ground, at least have character - and this little place has character in spades.
A/A - 8. The enclosure helps with the noise, of course, but that’s the perks of playing in a tiny ground. This place isn’t always packed though that’s probably not all QPR’s fault - this place isn’t exactly a destination trip for away fans. Most people can only afford so many trips to London and it’s hard to fault them wanting to go to Stamford Bridge, White Hart Lane or the Emirates to play one of the big clubs rather than be packed in like sardines and possibly watch their side fail to win in a freakin shoebox. But QPR fans - like all London fans - are passionate and hardcore and loud.
BT says: QPR is a deplorable club for many reasons, but their brilliant stadium is not one of them. The fans are breathing down the players’ necks, which makes the capacity feel far larger than it’s tiny 18,439. And because of that closeness, it seems like QPR is able to pull off some big results based primarily on the strength of their fans -- the 2011 1-0 win over a nine-man (LOL!) Chelsea comes to mind.
^^^ Yep. Funny that a 2011-2012 home campaign that began on the opening day with a 4-0 pounding from BOLTON turned in to such magic and a Great Escape completed by this goal kept Rangers up at Bolton’s expense (quick aside - that was a STUNNING relegation for them that year. They honestly looked like Europe contenders after that first week or so and then the bottom just fell out. And they haven’t even come close to coming back either although Neil Lennon may be about to change that.) Also included in that season’s home fixtures was that memorable Chelsea game as well as wins in the space of 10 days over Arsenal and Liverpool. That Liverpool fixture pretty much laid the blueprint for Palace last year. Good times.
A/S - 7. 2003, 55,000 (3rd in EPL.) Splitting the difference of 48,000 capacity and the new 62,000 capacity starting next season. Still feels like it can be bigger and I'm sure it will be if City continue to be annual title contenders and play annual Champions League football.
S/A - 9. Looks more like an NFL stadium than any other in England. Manchester Jaguars were the plan all along?
A/A - 10. City fans have always been known for being the TRUE footy fans of Manchester. Them: Royals::Man U:Best Fans In Baseball
BT says: As Andy said, any stadium that boasts the modern Premier League’s preeminent moment (and there’s not even a close second) can’t score too low here. And the rise of City as a dominant force has added even more shine to an already impressive ground. Outside of Stamford Bridge, it’s the league’s top “fortress,” and the sea of sky blue makes for attractive viewing, especially when they’re jumping up and down doing the Poznan.
^^^ I would be remiss not to mention how dominant and lethal the City attack so often is on its home ground. Even though Chelsea has the guns firing at home, they’ve often shot blanks in recent years thanks to strikers being old, ineffective or both. The Citizens (great, underused and probably inappropriate nickname in the modern day given that this club is essentially one of mercenaries) haven’t had that problem with top striking options and Yaya Toure randomly becoming the best offensive defensive midfielder on the planet whenever he feels like it. The one thing this ground is missing is an all time Champions League moment as City have yet to find their way in that competition ever since becoming regulars in it. That’s partly because they’ve drawn Bayern Munich and an Italian side like 400 times but that excuse only goes so far - I mean, even PSG had that classic draw with Barcelona in the quarters last year before beating them in group this year.
A/S - 8. 1892; 40,563 (9th in EPL.) Two points off for being at least 2 spots low on the biggest in England scale.
COF - 10.
S/A - 10. This and Stamford Bridge - still to come - are very similar if you’re not looking carefully - which is a compliment to both for their overall…….blueness. But they’re both very distinct, very unique, very loud, very close stadiums.
A/A - 6. We Need To Talk. A whopping four points off for this: The record for the highest attendance in women's football was set at Goodison Park in 1920, which stood for 92 years until 31 July 2012. This game's high attendance resulted in women's football being banned by the Football Association for 50 years as they felt it threatened the men's game. Way to go, Goodison. You literally set the feminist movement back 50 years.
BT says: Everything about Goodison is quintessentially English, which makes for an excellent all-around stadium. Everton is good value to deliver a 1-0 win or two over a top-four team each year (or a 3-0 hiding over Arsenal), and few places in England erupt like Goodison when some random, marginally-talented dude (usually Steven Naismith) scores a title race-altering winner.
^^^ Everton fans are really good and Goodison is almost always packed. Their relationship with Liverpool is like Man City’s with United with two key differences - (1) Everton have literally never been relegated (which also preempts them from being a non “glory hunting” club - they’re the safe, upper middle class choice of the Premier League for American fans) and also (2) Everton haven’t been bought by oil money to make THEM the new biggest club in town. Their fans - the actual ones on Merseyside, anyway - are tortured and loyal and create a proper atmosphere. Much respect.
A/A - 10. Brownie points are for record attendance of 61,905 before the days of all seats coming against my Wolves in 1952.
BT says: The Kop’s pregame bellowing of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is one of sports’ coolest traditions, and it sets the tone for a consistently superb matchday vibe. Last season’s title chase made for some of the better atmospheres we’ve seen in several years, and after a breathtaking 3-2 win over Man City, the Reds looked like they’d be bringing back a long overdue Premier League trophy. Unfortunately that SLIPPED away (pun inevitable), and so did the Kop’s flesh-eating hero, robbing us of much of the luster that made last season’s games at Anfield so much fun.
^^^ Yeah, LOL me for not mentioning “You’ll Never Walk Alone” aka YNWA aka the greatest pregame ritual on Earth. Liverpool is pretty much the Notre Dame of England and probably of all of Europe (Celtic probably have more overt Catholic connections but not nearly the success or region wide fandom.) The English media even treats them almost the exact same way American media treats the Irish. But just as Notre Dame Stadium has the golden domes and Touchdown Jesus and all that, Anfield will always have YNWA and the Kop. Also, Liverpool fans are a more closely knit bunch than any on the planet thanks to the tragedies they experienced at Hillsborough and Heysel.