Saturday, 17 April 2010

What would entirely new football grounds built circa 1960 or circa 1970 have looked like?

Despite the odd burst of invention - Chelsea's West Stand, built specifically to target the smart metropolitan bourgeoisie but fatally opened in 1974, precisely the time that class was decisively scared off football until the 1990s, and almost bringing the club down for good during the decade in between, springs irresistibly to mind - we all know that many British football grounds were largely frozen in time between an era of municipal/parochial (delete according to opinion) civic pride, in which football crowds were supposed to fit in an organic identity which was ultimately little more than an evolved feudalism transplanted to industrial Britain, and the era of mass psychological and cultural privatisation.

The fact that, during the long years in between, the old identities curdled away almost to nothing and simply could not cope with the new world coming - so could only reduce themselves to the racism and thuggery that put so many off football in the 1980s - has been repeated far too often to need going over again here. But what has been intriguing me recently is what would have happened had the development of football grounds not been largely held back, except in isolated, piecemeal fashion here and there, for so long. It's easy to imagine a generation of stadia built circa 1960 with a certain sort of "Macmillan Pride" design - that particular 1961 stand at (heartbreakingly) Hillsborough that Simon Inglis specifically compared to Yuri Gagarin's journey beyond springs to mind - but what particularly intrigues me is what might have happened later in the 1960s and into the early 1970s. Might a generation who are consensually and rather lazily mocked today as "autocratic socialists" have considered football an ideal platform for the mass education (cynics would loadedly - and, yes, that is a pun - say "re-education") of the working class, and designed uncompromisingly brutalist football grounds? How would fans have taken to them, and how would both the grounds themselves and their reputation have survived the decades to come? Would they have gone the way of the Tricorn or would at least some of them have come to be regarded as modernist classics, perhaps with one being listed and symbolically surviving a la Craven Cottage?

Their full implications would not have sat comfortably with the game's new masters. Sky are equally desperate and equally determined to hide all hints of both late Victorian and early 20th Century paternalistic provincialism and 60s/70s socialism, albeit for slightly different reasons. A large part of me wishes that Sky had had a brutalist legacy to live with, which might have been even harder to reconcile with neoliberalism than the Saltergates and Field Mills. I'd be interested in anyone else's views on this particular piece of alternative history, especially from those who really do know this territory.


  1. Very thought-provoking post.

    It is easy to imagine brutalist football grounds rather like the design of Thamesmead, as utilised in Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange". They might have given more excuse to the Thatcherite and petit-bourgeois critics, once public opinion decisively began to turn against modernist architecture. When would you say that was? The collapse of Ronan Point as early as 1968? Or later? The Byker Wall was constructed in the late 1970s, but with an extensive amount of public consultation compared with most earlier modernist housing projects. There is clearly unease by the time of "King of the Castle" (1977) and this:

    Residents of Park Hill and the Hulme Crescents have spoken up for them, in many documentaries on the subjects. Well worth reading on this subject is Owen Hatherley's 'So Much to Answer For: Post Punk Urbanism in Manchester' in the current "Loops" issue.

    I visited Sheffield and Hillsborough (for a Roy Keane era Sunderland away game) in 2006/7. Both Park Hill and Hillsborough itself seemed contrasting visions of the future abandoned. Hillsborough was a fine ground; very redolent of the Macmillan era, I agree.

  2. Not football, but rugby grounds, the National Stadium and Cardiff RFC ground in Cardiff Arms Park fall smack in that period: 1969-70. They should be of help, and one of them's still there (though the main club moved out last year). I've only got the vaguest memory of the National Stadium (as no-one ever called it) before it became the Millennium Stadium, but uncompromising brutalism is about right.

    Thanks for the brilliant blog, which I found out about from the footnote in Militant Modernism.