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Why Can't Soccer Stadiums Be More Like Retro Baseball Parks?

No, the headline to this blog posting isn’t intentionally meant to be blasphemous. It’s meant to stir debate.

The debate is whether soccer clubs, especially in England, would be better off borrowing some of the concepts of stadium designs from baseball organizations in the United States? For example, instead of English clubs such as Everton, Portsmouth and Liverpool building brand-new stadiums (as they’re planning on doing) that look nothing like their former grounds, why not build retro stadiums that harken back to the past such as baseball parks like Baltimore Orioles’s Camden Yards and Texas Rangers’s Rangers Ballpark have done?

What those baseball parks have done, as well as many other baseball organizations have copied, is build parks that adopt designs that remind baseball fans of the past. Just being in these parks is a pleasant experience combining the best of modern conveniences and easy-access in and out of parks with the look and feel of glorious designs from previous decades.

In the case of Everton, and to a lesser extent Portsmouth and Liverpool, the clubs have designed plans for modern stadiums that look predictable, boring and unimaginative. Everton’s proposed stadium in Kirkby looks like any other modern plastic ground in the Premier League such as Middlesbrough’s Riverside, Bolton’s Reebok Stadium, Reading’s Madjeski Stadium and so on and so forth.

Clubs such as Everton, Portsmouth and Liverpool would be better suited selecting different architects who could design modern grounds that allow for larger capacities but feature designs that look similar to Goodison Park, Anfield and Fratton Park. For Portsmouth, why not incorporate the mock Tudor style design of their one entranceway into the design of the new ground? For Everton’s new stadium, why not borrow some of the design techniques from Goodison Park architect Archibald Leitch such as the two-tier design of the Gwladys Street End or his famous gables?

The architects for the new Anfield stadium, at the behest of owners Gillett and Hicks, will incorporate a design that makes the new Kop a large part of the stadium design. But what are the plans for the Shankly Gates and the Hillsborough memorial, and is there a way for Liverpool to design the outside of the ground in such a way that is a fitting tribute to Shankly, Paisley and the people who died at Hillsborough?

What older stadiums in England have right now is identity. “The Grand Old Lady,” as Goodison Park is nicknamed, looks like no other ground in the Premier League and, although antiquated, is one of the finest stadiums in the country. Craven Cottage, despite tiny, is one of the most unique stadiums in the world with its cottage nestled into the corner of the ground and the Johnny Haynes stand from the early part of the 20th century still being the focal point of the ground.

The tragedy is that in a few years time, the only retro stadium that will be in existence in the Premier League is Fulham’s Craven Cottage. All of the other clubs will feature copycat plastic stadiums (with Blackburn and West Ham being the only two clubs that feature one part of their grounds with a very old and antiquated stand).

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  1. Todd

    October 28, 2007 at 8:57 pm

    Interesting you should point out Rangers Ballpark here in Texas. It was built with a retro feel because the team’s history was miserable and only dated to the ’70s. The team was begging for some appeal, and thought the vintage look for their park would do it.

  2. Anonymous

    October 25, 2007 at 10:24 pm

    Sounds like England’s gonna have a bunch of Wal-Mart-style stadiums that look the same and have no personality whatsoever. Art and architecture point to a reality that’s beyond, and one thing Wal-Mart-style architecture does is dull the senses. Cookie-cutter buildings are just bad art, anyways. I was wodering what is to come of Fenway Park when I was watching the game tonight. (Go Rockies!) That stadium is old. The field is oddly shaped, the seats are old and small, and the dug outs are wierd. But I don’t think any one of those fans would want a cookie-cutter stadium that resembles a Wal-Mart or a grocery store building.

  3. Anonymous

    October 25, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    Right, but Craven Cottage and Fenway are not “retro” stadiums. They’re old. They’ve earned their character. I’d much rather attend a match at Emirates, that is a product of its times, than a kitsch abomination like Minute Maid Park in Houston. The problem with the Riverside or an identikit 70s baseball stadium isn’t that they were “modern,” it’s that they were poorly designed and constructed. Emirates is a fantastic place to see a match, it has plenty of character, and it doesn’t need infantilizing retro gestures to do it.
    Anybody saying Wembley, for example, is a “generation behind” the U.S. doesn’t know what they’re talking about. It may succeed or fail as a matchgoing experience, but it won’t be because it’s beholden to outdated ideas (even in the U.S. Soldier Field is a good example) about how you have to make stadia look “old” or have “character.” That’s fakery, not tradition.

  4. Anonymous

    October 25, 2007 at 10:52 am

    great article gaffer.

    but as tyduffy wrote, England are behind the US in stadium building.

    Its only in the past 10-15 years that new stadiums are incorporating the retro feel to them, because all the multipurpose domes of the 60s and 70s were sterile, lifeless, and did not lend to any fan atmosphere. That is why practically none of the them still exist.

    Its a pity that millions are spent, only to be removed. But it goes to show that stadiums must be done right the first time around.

    That is why (amongst other reasons) I am a Fulham and Red Sox supporter – when I go to their stadiums I am taking part in history. I’m not paying a ticket for an amusement park.

  5. Anonymous

    October 25, 2007 at 9:40 am

    I am sorry to hear that English clubs are going this route. Though I was thrilled to see a game at the Emirates last year, the place really had the feel of a modern American stadium and was a bit of a letdown. I wish I had visited Craven Cottage instead. You make a good point about following the example set in baseball. I am surprised that a sport such as English football hasn’t made more of an effort to appeal to its fans’ love of tradition.

    Since the owners are driven to cram as many luxury boxes as possible into every stadium, perhaps they could follow’s Chicago’s example? Soldier Field’s distinctive Greek columns now look as if an alien spaceship landed on them.

  6. tyduffy

    October 25, 2007 at 8:57 am

    It is because England is a generation behind the U.S. in stadium building. All of the parks built in the 60s and 70s had that same modern state-of-the-art feel and it took going through that to realize that people didn’t like it.

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