By Tony Attwood
“Did the new stadium force Ogbonna to misplace a pass that handed Arsenal an early lead? Was the new stadium responsible for West Ham’s half-baked recruitment over the summer?” These questions are posed by the Daily Telegraph, and their conclusion (without of course considering any evidence, for that is never their way) is “Probably not”.
Mr Wenger added a little more substance to the debate saying that there is little that a manager can do beyond delivering results to make a new venue feel like home. “You can try, but you cannot create something artificially that doesn’t exist,” he said, adding, “You have to create a history. Now, there is no history.”
We all know what happened when Arsenal twice moved stadium in recent times. In terms of the Champions League we had two miserable seasons playing at Wembley where the crowd numbers went up but the results went down.
As for the move to the Emirates we found the days of winning the league and FA Cup were over and instead we were into the “fourth is not a trophy” era. I still view that era of achieving at least fourth each season in a new stadium with finances curtailed was a masterful achievement. Others of course disagree.
So two problems arise with stadium moves. One is that the move itself is disruptive and it is hard to find a club (whether the move is a natural upgrade to a new ground or an artificial move of the type outlined below) that has experienced it as anything other than a pain. The other is that it can affect the club’s finances – curtailing the chance of player purchases for several years.
Running up to the move of West Ham from Upton Park to the Olympic Stadium no one was really sure how much impact each of these two issues had – was it mostly the fact that the finances got messed up, or mostly the psychological issues concerning the move that caused the problems?
The move of West Ham however has given us quite an answer – for even when the stadium is gifted by the state to the club a move, particularly to a stadium that is not a football stadium, can be problematic. I suspect it has been made far worse than it might have been by an unsympathetic media-ignorant group of owners, but arrogance has often walked hand in hand with football club ownership.
Looking back through history what is interesting is that two of the biggest clubs that had moves like West Ham’s (Juventus to the Stadio delle Alpi and Bayern Munich to the Munich Olympic Stadium), moved again to new stadiums in far less time than was previously imagined. They simply didn’t get on with their new home.
We also know what has happened to the other clubs that moved stadia in recent years without special treatment from the state, the local council or the Football League. But what about clubs which, like West Ham, gained their new ground through what we might call unusual means. I thought it might be fun to have a quick run down.
New Brighton Tower – 1898
New Brighton Tower were formed to play at an already-built stadium. The owners of the New Brighton Tower, wanted to provide more winter entertainment, and built a large stadium in which to hold events. They then formed a club in 1896 to play in the stadium. In 1898 they were admitted to the League, but support never turned up (average gates around 1000) and in 1901 they were disbanded to be replaced by Doncaster Rovers (see Bradford City below).
Liverpool – 1892
When the President of Everton FC (who owned the Anfield ground) put the rent up, the rest of the directors upped goal posts and moved to Goodison. With no tenant in his ground and no club to be President of any more the ex-Pres set up his own team at Anfield and they were duly admitted to the league in 1893. After a bit of bouncing up and down between the 1st and 2nd divisions, they won the first division in 1901.
Bradford City – 1903
Manningham Football Club was a rugby league club that played at Valley Parade, Bradford at a time when there were no West Riding of Yorkshire clubs in the Football League. The League and the FA wanted to get into the county and in 1903 Manningham agreed to change codes and play football at the ground previously used for rugby. The Football League then voted out Doncaster Rovers (see above) and voted in Bradford City who obviously had never played a game of football.
After four seasons they won the league and got into division one where they stayed until 1922 after which they sank to the lower reaches of the league, making a brief return to the top league at the end of the 20th century. They are now in the third tier.
Chelsea – 1905
In 1904 Gus and Joseph Mears bought the freehold on the Stamford Bridge Athletics Ground and tried to move Fulham FC into the ground. Fulham refused and decided to upgrade their ground.
So Chelsea were formed in 1905 with the aim of using Stamford Bridge, and thus in an amusing twist, Craven Cottage was upgraded exactly at the same time as Stamford Bridge was being set up as a football ground, with both using Archie Leitch as the architect, and he seemingly flitted from one ground to the other on a daily basis).
Chelsea applied to join the Southern League, but Tottenham Hotspur objected to having another London club in the Southern League, so the application was thrown out. Chelsea then applied to join the Football League, even though they had never played a game, and merely had the offer of a ground.
Since Tottenham were in the Southern League they now couldn’t object, and Woolwich Arsenal FC openly welcomed another London club to play against, so Chelsea were given a place.
After two seasons the got promoted to the first division, and yo-yo’d up and down for a while, finally winning the League under the management of ex-Arsenal superstar Ted Drake in 1955.
Thames Association -1928
The guys who built the West Ham Stadium in East London (a dog racing and speedway track with a capacity of 120,000) wanted a football team to play there at weekends. So they formed one and in 1930 got admission to the League. They played for two seasons, managed to get the lowest ever league crowd (469) and then gave up.
Manchester City – 2003
Sport England built the City of Manchester Stadium for the Commonwealth Games hoping Man City would then convert it to a football stadium. However, Manchester City didn’t like the idea, citing the failure of other grounds with running tracks (Stadio delle Alpi and the Munich Olympic Stadium as noted above).
Eventually with the stadium doomed to stand empty, the cost to Man City was greatly reduced and related to crowd levels, with the local council funding most of the conversion expenses.
Having won the league in 2002 just before their move, Man City sank down the table, and had seasons with them ending up 14th, 15th and 16th, before gaining new finance and winning the league in 2012.
Tottenham and Chelsea
Tottenham have had a disappointing run in the Champions League at Wembley – showing just how powerful stadium problems are, and face next season playing all their games there (or maybe Milton Keynes). Chelsea are pushing ahead with plans to redevelop Stamford Bridge and at last reports faced three seasons out of their ground.
If the history both of the clubs created for the ground (above) and the clubs that have moved in a more natural way is anything to go by, both Chelsea and Tottenham will have difficult times, not just during the time out of their stadia, but also in the years thereafter.
From the anniversary files 5 December. (You can see all today’s anniversaries on the home page of Untold Arsenal)
5 December 1885 Millwall beat Eastern Wanderers 3-1 at Glengall Road. This game in itself takes on a significance because it confirms the existence of Eastern Wanderers, Arsenal’s first opponents, and has them playing in this era – and it confirms that there were matches on the Isle of Dogs where the first Arsenal game (as Dial Square) took place
Tales from Untold