Monday, 2 April 2012

Mi Casa es tu Casa

West Ham want it, Leyton Orient want them nowhere near it. (We are all going to pay for it).

The Olympic stadium - another bloated, over-budget stadium for our glorious capital city. With the debate still raging, Orient's chairman and pub-game promoter, Barry Hearn, has been taking to soap-boxing on the airwaves -giving his views on how a move to the ground for West Ham will kill his club and informing anyone that will listen that the stadium is "not fit for football".

It is hard not to feel sorry for him as he passionately and ever more desperately pleads on behalf of his club and fans.

The belief that the ground is not fit for football stems from the usual complaints over stadia built with Athletics in mind. Think Juventus and Bayern Munich, to name two.

Those pesky running tracks and the gentle slope of the seating.

Manchester city overcame the problems with the re-structuring of the commonwealth games stadium before they moved in - but that was a much smaller affair. The Commonwealth Games is the Anglo-Italian cup to the Olympic's Champions League.


Some years back I travelled to Barcelona for a few days with my Dad - it was "the wrong weekend" and Barca were away from home. After the obligatory tour around Camp Nou - we stood in awe at the number and variety of trophies in the cabinet. Who knew there were so many hockey tournaments that Barcelona had won? - we decided to head across town to see if we could score tickets for the Espanyol-v-Las Palmas match.

Not exactly a fixture to set pulses racing, but a foreign match experience in any event. It was held at Espanyol's then home - the olympic stadium at Montjuic. The beautiful, but very impractical legacy of the 1992 Olympic Games held in Barcelona.





The trail had to be one of the most surreal, but pleasant journeys to a football stadium. Unfortunately the cable-car crossing was closed at the time,  which really would have elevated the transport to new heights, so to speak. Instead, it was the metro, followed by a funicular (cutting out a few kms criss-crossing the hillside) which left you with a very pleasant stroll through tree-lined avenues. Eventually, the spectacular sight of the Olympic torch towered in to view.

As someone used to the packed tram from Manchester City Centre and a walk past the Lou Macari chippy and terraced houses on Warwick Road, it was a very exotic experience.

Espanyol had left the comfy, but atmospheric surroundings of their la Sarria ground in the late 90s. The local government had pressured the club for some time, desperately wanting a permanent use for their very own white elephant stadium. Mounting debts left the club with little choice but to sell to developers and lodge at Montjuic.



Once outside the Stadium, we relaxed in a shady park (and that isn't shady like edgy, like Stanley Park, but leafy) and pondered how to secure a ticket over a cool cerveza. We needn't have worried - the match was far from a sellout and the oldest ticket tout in town had spotted us a mile off and made his way over towards his prey.

I knew enough Castilian Spanish to partake in a conversation with said gent, who eagerly took our cash, flashed 3 season ticket cards at us, beamed a toothless smile, and escorted us through the ticket barriers - once safely through the two checks, he waved an arm in a cursory gesture to the swathe of light blue seats that backed on to us (I think, to indicate we could sit where we wanted) and walked off, straight out through the barriers - presumably to go and spend his newly earned money at the local bar!


Montjuic was truly huge. There was no gasp as you walked up the steps to see the lush carpet of green spreading out below. No thrill as the crowd at the opposite side of the ground flashed in to view. Just awe at an absolutely huge bowl of a ground and open space, with an enormous orange running track circling a faded green patch of grass some distance away.

Two gigantic banners, emblazoned with the club crest, covered each end of the ground behind the goals - the places where the ultras would usually whip up the fervour inside the ground - seemingly because those seats would actually be furthest from the pitch and no-one in their right mind would want to sit there. It also served to "herd" the spectators together along the sides of the ground, rather than have small pockets of fans here or there. The capacity without the banners would have been around 30 thousand to large for Espanyol to fill.

Without any sort of roof, other than on the main stand, probably just enough to cover the two or three rows of club directors and vips, the Sun beat down relentlessly.

We were lucky in a couple of ways - the game was an enjoyable 3-2 win for the home team, and, despite the very, very shallow incline of the seats, the crowd was so sparse that we had no-one in front of us for 10 rows or so. Why did we not move further forward, you ask? Well, the shallow incline and the and running track, combined with the obligatory perimeter advertising boards conspired together so that should the winger be sprinting along the touchline, we had no view of the ball whatsoever - and could certainly not judge whether a tackle was well-timed or not!

A quick beer at half-time (word of warning "sin alcohol" is not point of sale advertising of the evils of beer by the catholic church, like on cigarettes by the government, but "without alcohol") and not a pie in sight - nice bag of sunflower seeds, anyone? The damn things littered the stadium by the end of the match!

The Espanyol fans didn't want to reside at Montjuic in the first place, and finally got their way after twelve years on top of the hill, they moved again, much further from their traditional heartland, to the working-class suburb of Cornella-El Prat.

The new stadium opened in 2009 and is an outstanding FOOTBALL stadium. Absolutely a modern masterpiece which should be the envy of many. The supporters are right next to the pitch and the focus is all on the green carpet in front of them. Aping the much-loved and missed Sarria stadium in which they used to reside, with very modern twists.




Atmosphere is building as the fans begin to feel at home and attempt to remind the world that "Catalunya es mes que un club" - that there is more to Catalunya than the other club down the road, as a banner at the ground defiantly states. So far, results have not exactly gone the way they might have expected with the re-emergence of the twelfth man, compared to their relative successes at the desert-like Montjuic. This may come. As I write, the club are hovering just below the Europa League places.





Many clubs have found that moving home across town needn't be the displacement of their soul that purists may think. Franchising and moving wholesale out of the town or city they traditionally represent (a la MK Dons) is abhorrent even to the non-purists. But, with careful planning, fan bases can be renewed and reinvigorated within the local community - much like Espanyol, who are attempting to forge new relationships in their new surroundings - no easy task when a footballing goliath shares your city.

 
But the clubs must be thoughtful in their application of these plans. Larger clubs muscling their way in to other’s backyards can never be a good thing either. There are many sensitive choices to make.


Whilst an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon, those few years back in Montjuic, the whole thing was a little soulless. It was serene and pleasant - much like the journey to the ground - probably, in fact, much like an Athletics experience, rather than a footballing one.




As Barry Hearn would attest: The 1992 Olympic Stadium was not fit for football.

twig




pics are from the excellent blog  estadiosdeespana.blogspot.com - check the site out for much more on Espanyol and all Spanish clubs stadia, throughout la liga and beyond - extensive photos and write-ups




2 comments:

  1. Hello twig!

    Looking at you written in the blog, which I liked. Say you're right that the Montjuic Olympic Stadium wasn't a stadium suitable for football spectator.
    The move to Cornella-El Prat has borrowed the club but the change of display for the football fan is unbeatable. Very interesting article twig. Congratulations!

    Regards and hope to see you in Foro RCD Espanyol regularly.
    URL: www.fororcdespanyol.es

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Koala! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I really enjoyed the visit, and montjuic was spectacular in it's own way, but it didn't seem right for football - I am sure that the British Olympic stadium won't be, unless they can restructure some of it.

      I was very pleased for RCD Espanyol that the club managed to find another home with better facilities for the fans and it is good to see that you seem happy with it - now it is time to get the results to match the stadium!

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