“The game floats on an ocean of nostalgia, sentimentality, tradition and myth in which its historicity is constantly invoked and celebrated.” – David Winner, Those Feet
There are very few soccer stadiums in this country that have serious history. The vast majority of MLS teams play in stadiums built since the league emerged in the late 1990s. Both venues hosted teams in the original NASL. Providence Park was the site of Pele’s last official game, and RFK has hosted the USMNT more often than any other stadium.
England, as described by Winner above, has more history than it knows what to do with. Several clubs still play in the same stadiums as they did in the 19th century. Anfield, White Hart Lane, St. James’ Park: these are historic venues where generations of fans have come to support their teams. Fathers take their sons to the same ground their fathers took them to. And of course they look vastly different now, filled with seats instead of terraces, luxury boxes inserted where possible, but the ghosts of years past, and the stories are still there. But just as DC United want out of RFK, so too do English clubs pine for new stadiums.
Within the past few months, there has been news that both Manchester City and Liverpool plan to expand their existing grounds. Last week, Everton announced plans to build a new stadium entirely. Tottenham’s new stadium is much further along, but plagued by delays. When construction completes, all four stadiums would hold more than 50,000 people. Only Old Trafford, the Emirates, and St. James’ Park can currently claim that.
The unwieldy axe of financial fair play dangles over the heads of these clubs. The basic idea of FFP is that teams cannot spend more than they take in. But this isn’t entirely true. Spending on player wages and transfer fees is restricted, but clubs can spend as much as they want on infrastructure. That is, stadiums and training facilities are fair game. Owners who have money they’re willing to spend will now look to grow revenues by building larger stadiums, and selling more tickets. And so, the gap between big clubs and small clubs only grows larger.
But while clubs are looking to improve their futures, I can’t help but consider the past. What is being lost when we replace the history of these stadiums with shiny new money-making machines? From afar, I think of White Hart Lane a historic venue for the game, the sort that would be venerated if it existed in the US. Consider the way we treat Fenway Park and Wrigley Field: White Hart Lane is more than a decade older. But that’s from afar; I am thousands of miles away, and see only what photographs and broadcasts show. For all I know, it’s a dump, a relic that has seen better days. But I’d still love to see it before its time is up.