Football Is My Home
Home ground is as integral to club identity as the kit and players. It is the place where you have an advantage over your opponents as you are on familiar ground and are the majority voice. These icons of the game take on a life of their own as away fans often fear a trip to Anfield or Old Trafford as if the venue scores goals. Going to a home game means visiting a stadium you can call your own.
If you have to move, it does take time to settle into your new ground. The move from Maine Road to the Etihad was a challenge for fans and it has taken time to get used to the “all mods cons”, “state of the art stadium”. I do miss the meander through the ginnels and backstreets of Moss Side, but I am more than happy to call this new ground ours.
It took time to fill the ground with atmosphere, but we are writing history at Eastlands. To be honest, it did feel a bit of a bind at first. But nothing compared to Southampton’s move to St Mary’s from The Dell. They could not win in their new home and believed that the actual ground was cursed so they eventually acquired the services of a white witch to lift the fabled curse. Such is the need for a strong home ground.
Where Shall I Play?
What do you do if you don’t have a place to call home? I first came across the notion of ground-sharing when I went to Selhurst Park to watch Wimbledon FC beat Manchester City. It was probably the lowest attendance of a professional game I have ever attended and it did impede my enjoyment. I wondered why Crystal Palace opened up their ground to other teams.
With low attendance, certain clubs need money. It is as simple as that. The first tenants at Selhurst Park were the supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s, as they sold part of the Whitehorse lane terrace to the retail giants. This did not solve the club’s full woes and Charlton Athletic became tenants in 1985. They moved in both to alleviate their financial irregularities and because the Valley was deemed unsafe after the fire at Bradford. This was the first example of ground-sharing in England. On September 7 1985, Charlton beat Crystal Palace at the Valley but were emotionally defeated when it was revealed that they were moving to Selhurst Park.
The 11th of January 1986 saw the first derby when both teams were playing at home. There was much good-humoured confusion that only an English club could muster. It was Crystal Palace who were the home team that day, and I hope that the players went to the correct dressing room. Will the groundsman put the correct flag at each corner? Will the fans go to the right part of the stadium?
The over-riding question is what does this do for the team? Well, for Charlton, they were promoted at the end of the season, so they must have been happy. But initially, the ideas were not well received, with most Charlton fans unable to muster the thought of a regular trip to Selhurst Park. It is a break from the familiar and fans felt like they had lost something special.
The arrangement suited Crystal Palace’s masterplan and as Charlton moved out, Wimbledon moved in. The world of global finances took over and when Wimbledon moved out in 2003, Selhurst Park became the sole home for Crystal Palace once more. A thoroughly English way of doing things. Groundsharing has worked for some of the biggest clubs in Europe, most notably in Italy and Germany, for many years so why is it not common in England?
Sitting Tenants Or A Shared Home?
The San Siro is one of those stadia that is revered throughout the footballing community, and it’s home to two giants of the game: AC and Inter Milan. From a practical and financial point of view, it is the best way forward. But on a grassroots level, which fans really think of the San Siro as home? Well, being the older of the two clubs, AC can claim it as theirs. The San Siro was built for them by ‘Mr Tyre’ Pirelli himself in 1926 and they owned it for 10 years until they sold it to the local council. Inter didn’t share the ground until 1947. If I was an AC Milan fan, I would claim the San Siro as mine.
Some fans use history as staking a claim. AC had won three championships before Inter existed. However, once Inter were formed, AC failed to win anything for some 40 years. Well, they have dominated Serie A since then with AC winning five league championships and the European Cup in 1989, 1990 and 1994. Since the turn of the century, Inter have won the Champions League and five league titles and four cups. So, as it is recent history that counts Inter’s achievements that their fans can lay claim to the stadium.
If we look at the name of the stadium, it has been called “Stadio Giuseppe Meazza” since 1980. It is named after the Inter legend who scored 200 goals for them compared to the nine he scored for AC. Like many greats, he will be remembered for the club he had the most influence on. With that thought, the San Siro belongs to Inter. For those of you who are geographically minded, San Siro is the neighbourhood in which the ground is located.
There are roughly the same number of fans who consider the San Siro their home and it is a truly remarkable relationship that works, but we all know that Inter are merely tenants and are considering leaving. In my mind, AC are the home team. But it does not matter as Inter enjoy the ground as if it were their own.
My Home. My Domain
Would it work in England? I don’t know if anyone was duped by the Daily Express’ April Fool joke that Spurs and Arsenal would ground-share. This was back in 2014 and there was much opposition to the idea. The Emirates belong to the Gunners as did Highbury before. There needs to be a reason that people would actually share that is not financially motivated. This is something to explore.
In England, there is a limit on space and most successful clubs that are in need of a ground are based in major cities. So when Liverpool and Everton both announced their plans for new stadia in a bid to increase capacity, ideas of a ground-share were mooted. Both clubs are based in the city, so it makes sense. The fact that Everton initially played in Stanley Park, where Liverpool looked at moving too. Furthermore, Everton actually played in Anfield while they turned into a professional club and became one of the founding teams of the league. They were forced to find alternative home arrangements when the increase in rent made it financially prohibitive to remain. The first match at Goodison Park took place in 1892. Whatever the history, it will be hard to leave a ground you have occupied for that long.
The following year Liverpool played their first match at Anfield, and the rest is history. Both clubs need to increase capacity and are looking at either redevelopment or moving. It seems a shame that they can’t both use a ground-share. Liverpool certainly needs to increase capacity to keep up with the high-powered game. With a shared history, it would seem fitting that they should lead the Italian way. But this is England and our home is our castle.