Football supporters are a sentimental, superstitious lot really. We wear lucky pants to matches, as last time we wore them we beat our fierce arch rivals 3-0. We always take the same route to the stadium, as last time we did, our star forward scored a hat-trick of such high quality, the press were demanding he represent England for their next fixture. We like to sit or stand in the same place inside the ground too as it’s comforting – besides, the nice girl to your right in her early thirties is quite cute. What do you do when your club announces it will be leaving the age old location it has frequented since before the birth of your grandad and move to a new location? Or worse still, share a stadium with an accursed local rival?
In particular with British football supporters, we regard our ground, our stadium as sacra scant – it’s as precious to the fans of a club as any religious sight throughout the world is the followers of that faith. How can we go to a place where the previous Saturday some other ‘lot’ were using it as their cathedral of hopes and dreams? Somehow I can’t imagine Rangers and Celtic ground sharing, or the Manchester and Merseyside clubs. But in other countries, this has happened and what is quite surprising - appears to work.
In Italy, both Milan clubs have been located at the San Siro since just after the Second World War. Only fans of these teams in their twilight years will remember when this was not the case, the same for Lazio and Roma. They are quite used to sharing facilities with the dreaded local ‘noisy neighbour’. Even when Juventus had to share with Torino for a few years due to their stadium being redeveloped, no-one batted an eyelid. Here in Britain though, we’d be up in arms.
Take the Juventus situation, for example. ‘The Old Lady’ is Italy’s best supported club, their version of Manchester United if you will. If Old Trafford was to go through a huge overhaul that would take several seasons to complete, can anyone seriously see them going to Eastlands and using that as a temporary home, until their own ground on the edge of Moss Side is fit for use again? Don’t worry, I know it’s a rhetorical question, but at the back of everyone’s mind who has United inclinations is that nervous snigger, followed by ‘What if?’
Here in Britain, clubs have left their age old grounds for fresh, new and ultra-safe state of the art stadia. Even Arsenal upped sticks and left Highbury. The problem here is the vast majority of these new stadiums are owned by the local council, not the teams that play there every other Saturday afternoon. Thus, the landlord tells you a new place to reside is going to be built, and upon completion you will have to move to it, you’re not going to have much say in the matter. The cost, gaining planning permission and appeasing local residents is something beyond the abilities and capabilities of virtually all football clubs, so a so-called ‘new era’ begins at a new location.
As a Coventry City supporter, I was upset when the Sky Blues left their old ground, Highfield Road. We had played there since the mid-1920s, and while it had some major faults, it was our home. I saw City beat Everton in May 1985 there 4-1 with my father in order to stay in the First Division (my first match). I saw Darren Huckerby rip United’s defence in late 1997 to shreds and score a goal of such dazzling brilliance, I’m yet to see anything better since in a Sky Blue shirt. I recall taunting David Beckham with my grandfather at my side (he was joining in too) as he was about to take a last minute free-kick to save his side’s blushes. He missed. But above all, I remember how in awe of Cyrille Regis I always will be when the big centre forward was on the ball, and let loose with his exocet-like right foot. Even now, I regularly hear supporters of other bigger, more fashionable teams say they hated visiting Highfield Road when I’ve spoke of the past in conversation. They disliked its small compact size, no cover over the standing area, and its location making it a bit of a ball ache to get to and from the train station. The council provided the club with the all new and very shiny Ricoh Arena close to junction 3 of the M6 on the north of the city. So in 2004, we moved - lock, stock and barrel - to pastures new.
No doubt in time, I’ll gain some special memories from our new home, but it just doesn’t feel the same – not quite yet, anyhow. With the much publicised problems my club are under currently, the ground share they have with Northampton Town is far from ideal. Having to travel a sixty mile round trip to see a home game may seem like small beer to some who travel the length and breadth of the country – sometimes the continent - with their team, but it’s once again to do with sentimentality. Our club is called Coventry City, and the vast majority of Sky Blues supporters just want us to play our home fixtures there, within the City of Coventry. Look what happened to Wimbledon when it was moved to Milton Keynes by new owners. We don’t want that to happen to our club.
I’ve just had an idea – in the spirit of a very famous old film, I’m going to see if my fiancé has a pair of ruby slippers in her wardrobe, squeeze my size 12s into them, click my heels three times, and keep repeating “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home. ” You never know.