Friday, October 17, 2014

Ranking The English Premier League Grounds: 15-11 - Mid Table Mediocrity

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?



Emirates Stadium

N/H - 8.  “Emirates” is fantastic.  Just a masterclass on how to corporately name a stadium.  History’s a bit lacking, obviously, but this is encouraging, per Wiki: The stadium has undergone a process of "Arsenalisation" since 2009 with the aim of restoring Arsenal's heritage and history.”

A/S - 8.  2006; 60,432 (2nd biggest in EPL.)  It’ll be a decade old next season.  That’s…..something.  The size is nice.  It’s never been sold out but we’ll get to that later.

COF - 8.  Love that one end is both home and away fans.  But it sure does look embarrassing when the away end is filled.  Still, for a 60,000 seater an 8 is a remarkable score.

S/A - 8.  A smaller, knockoff Wembley isn’t a bad niche.

A/A - 4.  As previously stated, capacity is 60,432.  The record attendance is 60,161 for Arsenal and Manchester United on November 3 2007.  Really?  Shit, even MICHIGAN used to fill its spot to capacity without giving away Cokes and their stadium is like double the size!

BT says: Until Arsenal starts, you know, winning things, the Emirates will never be a truly elite English ground. Yes, the 2014 FA Cup was nice, but we need more moments like Andrei Arshavin’s late winner over Barcelona in 2010 to get more impressive ratings in atmosphere and history. Or at this point, maybe just one win over Chelsea, City, or United anytime soon.

^^^ Spot on about Arshavin’s gol vs Barcelona in the Champions League.  LOOK AT THE SMILE ON WENGER’S FACE.  Goodness, that was a beautiful gol and a special moment in Emirates history.  Too bad there have been few others and to this day the biggest match ever played there was ended after like 11 minutes by Park Ji Sung. I had money on Man U that day. Fun times. #neverforget

TOTAL: 36/50


Leicester City

King Power Stadium

N/H - 10.  King Power indeed.  Also: this game is enough history.

A/S - 6.  2002, 32,500 (13th in EPL.)  One can only assume the expansion plans are merely being finalized now that the Foxes look a genuine Premier League outfit for the next several years.  Vichai Raksriaksorn is a rich man.  This could legit be 50,000 by 2025.

COF - 5.  It could be worse...but like all modern stadiums, it’s lacking here.

S/A - 7.  The pretty much all encompassing lower level helps big here.  Unique look in today’s era. Actually not really. I wrote these up in alphabetical order and holy crap there were A LOT of single bowls in the latter half of the alphabet. But this one still has a unique look to it somehow. Plus that photo above makes it look like they play indoors, which is plenty unique in and of itself!

A/A - 10.  They’ve also got the best supported rugby club in England.  And here I always thought that was the Wigan Warriors!

BT says: In line with its awesome name, the King Power Stadium is not messing around when it comes to huge moments in the 2014-15 EPL campaign. The late equalizer against Everton on opening day was awesome enough, but the 5-3 win over Manchester United is one of the greatest games in Premier League history. And as Andy suggested, Leicester looks a likely Premier League mainstay, so we’ll be enjoying the impressive atmosphere for years to come.

^^^ Leicester bought the Championship in the summer 2011.  They bought Kasper Schmeichel from Leeds as their new keeper for the next decade plus.  They bought David Nugent from then-flailing (and still flailing) Portsmouth to be their number 9.  They bought Matt Mills from Reading to be their centre half captain (okay this one didn’t work out too well.)  They were massive promotion favourites but started slowly, canned Sven-Goran Eriksson and brought Nigel Pearson back to the club.  They’ve been building ever since and climaxed last season with a dominant Championship season.  As I noted above, their owner has deep pockets that will continue to provide the funds to keep building.  And like I said this stadium will eventually probably hold 50K and could be hosting European football sooner rather than later depending on how serious the ambitions really are.

TOTAL - 38/50



Turf Moor

N/H - 10.  Turf Moor might be the best tinpot ground name on Earth and it has forever been the home of an Original Twelve member.

A/S - 8.  1883; 22,546 (18th in Premier League)  1883. Seriously, 1883. Also worth noting that according to Wiki there were plans to expand to about 28,000 after they went up in 2010 but those got scrapped after going down immediately.  They’re looking at a similarly short term in the top division again but if they ever build something sustainable they could get up to the 30K range.

COF - 8.  No memorable stand names.  The oldest current stand was built in 1969.  The biggest was built in 1996.  Maybe I’m just finding reasons to dock points so this doesn’t run away and hide and I look silly having the tiniest ground in the country topping my list.

S/A - 10.  The sky blue seats (with the claret upper deck!) might be the most iconically grasping sight of an empty ground in England.  It’s up there at least.

A/A - 3.  Wow these are some depressing percentage of capacity numbers:

BT says: And you thought Fenway Park was old? I didn’t even know soccer was invented by 1883… This place is freaking sweet; it’s just unfortunate that Burnley look like they’ll be relegated by Christmas.

^^^ Yeah, it’s one of those hilarious things like baseball when you’re just not quite sure WHEN it was invented because there were teams and places that existed in the 1900’s, 1890’s, 1880’s, 1870s and 60s…..this is far from our last ground that’s well over a hundred years old.  It’s a real treasure….but ultimately it’s no different than Deepdale.  What’s Deepdale, you ask?  This is Deepdale.  Who plays there?  A League One club who whiffed on a bunch of playoff chances in the 2000s.  The only thing that separates Burnley and Preston is a few miles and the quality of managers that have passed through town over the past decade (hopefully Man Utd doesn’t “do a Preston” and struggle to replace David Moyes…..)

TOTAL: 39/50


Crystal Palace

Selhurst Park

N/H - 9.  Taking off a point on general principle - the club name sounds cooler than the ground’s.

A/S - 6.  1924; 26,309 (16th in EPL)  Honestly, I thought it was both older and smaller.

COF - 7.  The sideline stands don’t feel quite as on top you as a lot of other London grounds and/or a lot of other tinpot grounds.

S/A - 7.  Like Craven Cottage and Bloomfield Road had a baby - for better and worse.

A/A - 10.  I mean, I’m probably going to give West Ham a 10 on reputation alone, even if they long since stopped being the meanest street in London.  Palace deserves a 10 for building a fortress that kept them up for one year and counting.  Yeah, Dwight Gayle earned them a few extra points here.  That’s just how it goes sometimes.

BT says: As Andy alluded to, why the hell is this place not called The Crystal Palace? Sure it’s kind of dilapidated and unsightly and looks nothing like a palace, but that would still be a ridiculously awesome name for an otherwise drably-titled stadium.

^^^ Seriously, Selhurst is the section in South London where the club are located.  Why not call the team Selhurst and play in The Crystal Palace?  Or Croydon - the larger area in which that section is located?  Croydon FC - sounds like a Quidditch team, which is perfectly fine - playing in The Crystal Palace.  Can’t we AT LEAST get a Kickstarter going for this?  Cardiff City has gone from Bluebirds to Redbirds and Hull City almost (officially) became the Hull City Tigers in recent years.  And it’s not like the club would turn down the money - it wasn’t THAT long ago they got out of the jail that is administration.

TOTAL - 39/50


Aston Villa

Villa Park

N/H - 10.  Simplest of names and how many stadiums on this list used to have FA Cup semifinals?  Sorry Sheffield Wednesday - we’re only doing the Premier League.

A/S - 10.  1897; 42,785 (7th biggest in EPL.)  If Villa ever get their shit together and start contending regularly for Europe, we’ll need to top 50 large here but that’s a ways away still.

COF - 7.  Some fans are further away from the pitch than they need to be and the fans on the sidelines could be closer.  Holt End would boost this up to an 8 if Villa didn’t have its laughable attendance problems as of late.

S/A - 10.  The sky blue seats (with the claret upper deck!) might be the most iconically grasping sight of an empty ground in England.  It’s up there at least.

A/A - 3.  They get a 3.  Sunderland get a 2 because they were legit stupid enough to build the Stadium of Light with way too much capacity in the modern era.  The 1 is reserved for Wigan if Wigan were still in the Premier League.

BT says: It’s a shame that Paul Lambert is yet to get Villa soaring again like they did in the middle portion of the last decade, because his lack of success (as well as his generally shit players) have turned a once brilliant stadium into just another mid-table stadium.

^^^ He hasn’t had much of a treasure chest.  It’s worth noting that Villa fans have been jerked around by Randy Lerner (yeap, Browns Randy Lerner) for most of the past decade and nothing kills attendance quite like toxic ownership.  But Villa just don’t sell out EVER.  You NEVER see them playing in front of a packed home crowd.  Which is even more hilarious when the sky blue seats stick out like sore thumbs.  Of the Major Midlands© clubs, I’d venture to say Villa’s don’t even come CLOSE to medaling in terms of best fan support (then again neither do Birmingham’s, who are probably dead last on such a table - maybe it’s a Second City thing?)

TOTAL: 40/50

(ground images from Turf Moor is from its Wiki page and Villa Park is from its GERMAN Wiki page)

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