Friday, October 17, 2014
Ranking The English Premier League Grounds: 20-16 - Relegation Fodder
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?
N/H - 5. Perfect corporate name. Absolutely no history.
A/S - 1. 2002; 25,400 (17th in EPL.) Tinpot ground built in this millennium is an auto 1.
COF - 4. They’re kind of close on one end….I think? God, this is such a basic stadium.
S/A - 3. It’s probably not a good thing when I go on your Wiki, see that you’re known as “the circle” and supposed to have a circular shape…...and I am completely befuddled by this. At least they tried?
A/A - 8. About the highest I can go, honestly. Always going to be empty seats but that’s because they’re on an island - NO other club is remotely close to Kingston upon Hull. There’s not a single gate they can rely on to pack the house and yet they still do relatively well. Brownie points for this paragraph from the Wiki: The stadium hosted Premier League football in the 2008–09 and 2009–10 seasons, with all 20,500 available season tickets selling out shortly after Hull City's Championship play-off victory at Wembley Stadium.[
BT says: As far as teams go, they don’t come much more anonymous than Hull in the Premier League. And it must be said, their stadium is perhaps even more anonymous than their players, of which the notable lads include Nikica Jelavic and Curtis Davies.
^^^ Hull had a ridiculous first ever season in the Prem back in 2008-2009. Won at Arsenal, were 2-0 up and drew at Anfield and were top of the table in the fall….before an EPIC collapse that nearly saw them relegated but they escaped on the final day. Hung around for a few more seasons before going down but have struck gold with Steve Bruce and rebuilt properly in the second division despite the natural restrictions that come from being a northern coastal outpost. And my man Blake is seriously shortchanging the work Bruce did on transfer deadline day but that’s okay, Abel Hernandez will just have to keep banging them in to shut all the haters up.
TOTAL - 21/50
N/H - 7. I will give England (and in this case Wales) this - they do their corporate names right. No Smoothie King Centers or Jobing.com Arena’s or any of that crap. No history here yet other than this game really - although if we’re speaking candidly THE JONJO SHELVEY GAME was history in and of itself - but it’s already seen European football so that’s something.
A/S - 1. 2005; 20,750 (19th in EPL.) No age, no size….I WAS gonna give them some dap for wanting to expand the size because it clearly needs it in light of Swansea’s Premier League success….and then I read this: Plans for a new McDonald's fast food restaurant to be opened near the stadium threw expansion plans into doubt.
COF - 3. Everyone just looks so far away on TV. It’s not as bad when you look at pictures online but man, every time I watch a Swansea match it just sticks out to me the lack of intimacy.
A/S - 9. I’ll be nice here. It’s unique looking compared to everything else in the Prem. That divide between the first 10 rows or so and the rest of the lower bowl has something to do with that. It’s kind of like Loftus Road in that it’s small and it knows it so it embraces its coziness. Plus, the cool loving cover over the stands earns it a point or two.
A/A - 9. If Stoke’s the toughest fortress from a newly promoted tinpot club in recent Premier League history, Swansea’s a close second. Though in the Swansea case, the football may have a bit more to do with it than the fans - we know that’s not the case with Stoke :)
BT says: Swansea supporters are generally excellent, and they make for a pretty good atmosphere every time out. My personal bonus point here: The Liberty hosted one of the low-key greatest moments in recent English football history. What am I talking about? Eden Hazard KICKING A BALLBOY, of course. One of the league’s best players kicking a child in a stomach to retrieve a ball… What a time to be alive 2012 was!
^^^ YES!!! I HAD FORGOTTEN ABOUT THAT!!! Oh man. If that’s not on Youtube, it’s time to scrap the internet and start over. Here we go! That was right before the end of the match too so it essentially functioned as a stalling tactic. The only thing that would’ve made that better is if Mourinho was the manager. Could you imagine Jose Mourinho defending his own player kicking a ball boy? Frankly, there’s still time. Swansea fans are hardcore as you say and I’m sure they’ll probably always have an inferiority complex with all the English clubs that comes out in the vitriol and makes the Liberty an even more difficult place to play. We need more Welsh derbies in the top flight. Get your stuff back together Cardiff.
TOTAL - 29/50
St Mary's Stadium
N/H - 7. St. Mary’s is pretty cool. It’s a lot cooler than, “The Friends Provident St. Mary’s Stadium” so I’m glad the supporters got that changed after 2006 and kept my “no joke coporate names in England” argument alive. The ground it replaced - THE DELL - had arguably the coolest name in England so I’m giving a bonus point here for that. No real history yet but the way this club is going, that should change very soon.
A/S - 7. 2001; 32,589 (12th in EPL.) THIS is the size you make a new ground. Not almost 50,000 like SOME PEOPLE SLIGHTLY HIGHER ON THIS LIST but a reasonable, just over 30K ground. Hell, you could even argue north of 30K is ambitious for a South Coast side that will never fill it out because of no away fans….but they were a power in the 1980’s and before so unlike SOME PEOPLE SLIGHTLY HIGHER ON THIS LIST they had legit reason to believe they could rise again (and look at that, it looks like they have!)
COF - 6. Two of the ends are pretty close, the other two are not so close. It’s a newer ground. You know the deal here by now.
S/A - 2. Yes, a 2. It’s a one level bowl, all the seats are red (I actually kind of like this - that’s why this isn’t a 1) and all of the stands are of the exact same height. This is the missionary position of English football grounds.
A/A - 7. You have to remember Southampton’s on the South Coast. Especially with Portsmouth all the way down in League TWO, they’re not gonna have anything resembling a local rival for a long damn time. Pretty much any home game that isn’t against a London club is gonna have an almost completely barren away section (so OF COURSE they put the away section on one of the ends where the TV camera catches it all the time, smh) but their fans do well for themselves. Their attendances were in the 20K range when the club was bankrupt and in League One. That’s pretty impressive. Than a Swiss businessman bought them and they’ve been upwardly mobile ever since.
BT says: St. Mary’s isn’t a particularly inspiring ground for any reason, but it’s average to above average in just about every category, so that’s something. As Andy mentioned, it’s a shame that that empty away section is always on TV. The home fans are pretty good, and the current Southampton side gives them an awful lot to cheer about.
^^^ Southampton home matches are probably my least favorite in all of the Prem to watch. All those empty seats are just so depressing. But at least the side are living up to their fun, flair filled history. Maybe if they can get in to Europe and get some home games against big sides that will travel we could see those stands filled up? Man. It continues to blow my mind how they formatted that ground. SO MANY places have the away fans way from the pitch/cameras/everything but not these clowns. It’s like they watched a Europa match in Serbia/Greece/Turkey/Russia and saw the empty arenas due to the fans chanting racist stuff and thought, “THAT’S the look we want for our stadium!” Oh well. Guess we’re doomed for a lifetime of facepalming every other week when a Southampton home match comes on Match of the Day....
TOTAL - 29/50
N/H - 7. Meh. “Britannia” is kind of cool, kind of generic and kind of reminds me of an encyclopedia. Giving a history brownie point or two here because this place was a legitimate fortress like none I have ever seen for a newly promoted club in the Premier League when Stoke came up a handful of years ago.
A/S - 6. 1997; 27,740. Another meh. Maybe this is just a meh stadium for me but 1997 isn’t super old and 27,740 isn’t super big. Of course, this thing could’ve been built in 1967 and nobody would know because of how freaking irrelevant Stoke were before their promotion.
COF - 7. They’re pretty close here and I especially like how close the away fans are. Hugo Rodallaga running the short distance to his supporters after heading in the gol that kept Wigan up in 2011 was a moment I’ll never forget. Mostly because about 10 minutes later, Stephen Hunt kept MY club up with one of the greatest gols in our history. But still.
S/A - 2. See St. Mary’s. It’s basically the exact same thing.
A/A - 9. I’m taking a point off because the Britannia isn’t the fortress that it used to be and because I hate Stoke City and their fans and how their tinpot club has completely stabilized in the Premier League….but they’re good, passionate, proper West Midlands fans.
BT says: It’s hard not to get romantic about the Britannia in the halcyon days four or five years back. The weather is awful, the fans are as loud as they come, and Rory Delap is absolutely hucking long throw-ins into the mixer. And the results came. Nowadays, Mark Hughes has made Stoke into a better footballing side, but the Fortress Britannia lives no more (see 1-0 home loss to Norwich last year and Leicester this year).
^^^ The Premier League just isn’t the same without Rory Delap’s long throws. Also, you just wrote the words, “Nowadays, Mark Hughes has made Stoke in to a better footballing side,” which might mean it’s time to hand in your resignation. That is a truly terrifying sentence. And yet, it actually might be true just because of the (largely successful) style Tony Pulis had them playing (and now has Palace playing.) Like we both noted, it’s not nearly as difficult to win there as it used to be but the fact remains that it’s never gonna be easy to play there particularly on, say, a Tuesday or Wednesday night when it’s cold and rainy? Even Messi would struggle.
TOTAL - 31/50
Stadium of Light
N/H - 7. The name gets a perfect and the history gets a 2. Literally 2 memorable games in the stadium’s history: one and two.
A/S - 6. 1997; 48,707 (4th in EPL.) Twenty years old in a few years, it’s not a spring chicken of a stadium anymore. Still one of the newest in the country but I won’t dock it like I would one built in the 2000’s. But they built a 42,000 seat stadium in 1997 for a club that had been in the Third Division a decade prior and that most DEFINITELY deserves some point dockage.
COF - 6. I guess you could say this ground is 6’s and 7’s.
S/A - 9. Here we go. Defining, single deck box shape. Per Wiki, the design was purposefully simple for potential future expansion to 66,000. Don’t think that will be happening anytime soon, though.
A/A - 5. I’m actually gonna be generous with them because they’re REALLY loud. They don’t fill the place but it’s not their fault the creators installed too many seats. Sunderland have proper fans who are as loud and rowdy as their North East neighbors. They’re just the Auburn to Newcastle’s Alabama and forever will be so they’re unable to get 50K on a weekly basis (yes that’s an awful comparison since Auburn and Bama both get 90-100K on a weekly basis I DON’T CARE.)
BT says: It’s a decent stadium for a decent club, and, like the squad, is generally nondescript. That doesn’t mean the atmosphere isn’t pretty great, though, so much love to it in that department. Aside from that, Andy nailed it. It’s just a little too big.
^^^ I have to harp on this again - the name is truly fantastic. Again, from Wiki: According to Sir Bob Murray then chairman of Sunderland F.C. the name Stadium of Light "was chosen for 2 main reasons; namely as an ever-lasting tribute to the region’s mine-workers and proud industrial heritage and in the expectation that the stadium would be a guiding light in the future. The name is very much a symbolic link to the thousands of miners and Sunderland supporters that emerged from the darkness and into the light every day when they returned to the surface after working in the mine." A Davy lamp monument stands at the entrance to reflect the coal mining industry that brought prosperity to the town. Well it hasn’t quite guided any light to the future - maybe if it could produce a striker out of coal it’d make some progress to that end - but the rest is awesome, especially that lamp. That lamp should be shown EVERY TIME Sunderland has a home match on TV. Alas.
TOTAL - 33/50
(ground images from http://www.fansshare.com/gallery/photos/11200688/kc-stadium-stadium/?displaying http://internationalstadiagroup.com/projects/liberty-stadium http://worldsoccertalk.com/2013/09/11/what-the-matchday-experience-is-like-at-southamptons-st-marys-stadium/ http://www.wrenbridge.co.uk/stadium-of-light-sunderland.html and the Britannia image is from its Wiki page)