"We are the Scousers..." A study into football grounds and identity (intro)

Last updated : 20 August 2007 By Les Roberts

Within the past ten years "football has faced a revolutionary change" (Taylor, 1995) and it has been suggested that more "clubs will relocate their ground in the last decade of this century than at any time since the first" (Duke, 1994 p.129).

Although there are a number of long-term causes for this apparent shift, such as the gradual 'land-locking' of grounds and one-hundred or more years of wear and tear, one recent factor which appears to have sped up the process of modernization more than any other is the publication of Lord Justice Taylor's final report into the Hillsborough disaster of 1989.

One of the main implications of this report was that "grounds in the first and second divisions of the league and national stadia should be all-seated by the start of the 1994/1995 season." (HMSO, 1990 p.16).

This has meant that the majority of football clubs concerned have had to demolish and re-build large sections of their grounds to comply with this report.

Some clubs, however, have suggested that it would be more cost effective and practical to relocate, usually to out-of-town green field sites.

One example of such a move is Scunthorpe United's move to Glanford Park in 1988. Although this occurred due to a failure to comply with the new safety guidelines introduced following the Bradford fire disaster of 1985, it serves as a good example of the problems that more and more clubs were about to face in the wake of the Taylor report.

Scunthorpe United sold their old ground to a supermarket chain for £3m and bought another site, roughly one mile away and out of the town centre, for £2.5m.

The remaining £500,000 was used to repay their debts. As the chairman at the centre of this move said at the time: "We were in a major crisis and without a move would have folded." (Beauchampe, 1989 cited in Bale, 1993 p.147).

This is something that will be discussed in Chapter 1 of this study.

The aims of this chapter are to examine the facts behind some relocation scenarios and explore some of the reasons why certain club chairmen choose relocation ahead of redevelopment.

Long term causes such as the gradual 'land locking' of some sites will be examined, as Inglis (1983, p.14) observes, "many grounds are now in hemmed-in locations" meaning that expansion is either impractical or impossible.

In addition, some of the more short-term causes, such as the aforementioned Taylor report, will also be discussed.

Chapter two will then follow on from this and consider how and why relocation may affect some football fans and their feelings of 'place identity'. This will involve examining the possible link between supporting a football club and a sense of identity and will be directly related to football grounds and their surrounding areas.

In other words, the main aim of this study is to examine the possible link between the football ground and a sense of supporter identity.

So what is the link between supporter identity and ground relocation?

Whilst a common sense view may dictate that a new ground with new facilities can only be good for all concerned, some may suggest that a new stadium takes something away from the game.

For example, Duke (1994 p.144) observes how "new relocated English grounds are functional but characterless" and when reporting on his impressions of Ajax's ambitious new Amsterdam Arena, Daily Telegraph journalist Giles Smith echoes these sentiments.

He comments how the ground appears to be in "the centre of its own "concrete nowhere" and describes how some fans yearn for their former home which they say was "personal" and "had atmosphere and history." Smith, 1996 p.F,1).

Although this last example cites the case of a Dutch club it still serves as an interesting parallel to similar situations in Britain.

For example, some fans at Tranmere and Chester "complained for years at how cramped and inadequate the old stands were, but once these were replaced by efficient but soulless concrete and steel structures fans pined for the old wooden stand." (Inglis, 1983 p.27).

This idea that one stadium can be "soulless" and another "personal" suggests that some fans feel a closeness towards their stadium.

Bale (1993, p.64) has suggested that the football stadium gives fans a "sense of place" and cites Tuan's theory of 'Topophilia' to support this claim.

Tuan (1974) suggests that "all the human beings' effective ties with the material environment couples sentiment with place" (Tuan, 1974 cited in Bale, 1993 p.64).

Whilst this statement can be questioned, as it is impossible to surmise that all humans couple sentiment with place, it serves well to illustrate the point that people can feel an affiliation towards a particular location.

Taylor (1995) reiterates this suggestion when he observes how football "was essentially about place…all football clubs are named after a place…and that was an umbilical connection into a community which sustained and supported the game for one-hundred years."

In saying this he appears to be suggesting that football and football stadia were born out of the development of towns and cities, implying a strong working class 'upbringing' and supporting.

It would appear then, that following a football team may give the supporter a sense of place, an emotional tie to a specific area, but what about an identity?

Williams (1994, p.) observes that "supporting a professional football club…says something about who you are…where you are from and about how you, and others, see yourself".

This idea is supported if we look at supporting a local football team as a scaled down version of nationalism, a kind of 'localism'.

If we take this viewpoint and look at one form of expressing nationalism as identified by Jarvie (1994), that is, "as emotional identification within a specific social grouping ('we-group identification')", then it would appear that sport, in this case football, may give supporters a sense of identity.

As this is an issue that will be predominantly studied in chapter two, this chapter will, in turn, constitute the main bulk of this study.

However, before examining this issue, it is vital that an accurate picture of the current climate with regards to relocation is built up to put this issue in its proper context, hence the need for an examination of relocation issues in chapter one.

In addition, it is vital to the aims of this study that it contains a prospective chapter which will juxtapose the findings of the previous two chapters and attempt to look towards the future of football and its fans in a time of "revolutionary change" (Taylor, 1995) within the game.

This is the aim of chapter three.

The aim of this prolonged study of football grounds and identity is to highlight a very contentious and contemporary issue in the world of football.

For instance, there appears to be a number of football fans at the moment who feel that the recent changes are taking tradition away from the game.

An example of this fear is one Arsenal fan's comments about the rebuilding of Highbury's North Bank, "People were worried about losing their identity and tradition." (Taylor, 1995).

As ground moving appears to be a recent phenomenon, for example an article from October 1997 exclaims how "ten new grounds in England and Scotland [have] been made possible by [Football] Trust grants, with at least ten more clubs having ambitious plans to relocate" (French, 1997 p.23), it would appear that this is a contemporary issue worthy of study.

In addition, whilst a lot of scholars have poured over the issue of nationalism, there has not been a great deal of prolonged study which covers the issue of localism.

Indeed, this is an issue that is generally just touched upon in the greater contexts of hooliganism or nationalism.

Therefore, this dissertation may provide some valuable research in the absence of an extensive, up to date study of this contemporary issue.

Throughout the course of this study particular emphasis will be placed upon the case of Everton Football Club.

This is due to the fact that, at the conception of this study, the proposed ground move from Goodison Park was both the most recent and most local relocation plan available.

In addition, it presents a very interesting relocation scenario.

Notwithstanding the fact that this is, potentially, the biggest club relocation in Britain with plans for a 60,000 all-seater stadium being mooted, this eighteen month saga has seen a noticeable division amongst fans.

Of particular interest is the formation of a pro-move campaign, the NSSNO (None Stadium Satis Nisi Optimum, a play on the Everton motto Nil Satis Nisi Optimum) being set up to counter the 'anti-movers' who previously established the Goodison For Ever-ton campaign (GFE).

This case is made all the more interesting by the fact that this is the third relocation proposal involving the club in twelve years.

In both 1986 and 1989, the idea of ground sharing with local rivals Liverpool was suggested as Leisure Opportunities 58 (1990 p.1) reported: "Liverpool and Everton, two of Britain's biggest football clubs, could be sharing a £125m 67,000 all seater stadium by 1993."

However, not only were fans views again mixed, in this instance the two clubs involved were also unsure, as local newspapers reported: "The ambitious plan to build Britains (sic) first all seater super stadium…was given an extremely cautious reception by Merseysides (sic) two soccer giants today." (Liverpool Echo 16/2/90 p.38).

But why is this so? Why, after turning down two previous relocation packages in four years are Everton, and many other clubs, again considering a ground move and why now?

These issues will now be discussed in Chapter 1; "It's Your Move".