Saturday, 9 June 2012

English Football Grounds VHS - Part 1

I have a confession to make... I have an obsession with stadiums. I blame it all on the San Siro and Italia 90. It’s my issue and I’ve come to peace with it. It does, however, mean I have several rather nerdy items in my football collection. The truly awesome Football Grounds of Europe by Simon Inglis, several volumes of Football Grounds from the Air... and this video...

The film opens with a shot of an empty Molineux stand and through the magic of cross fading, the ground slowly fills up, noise level rising as it does. Finally, the players run out on to the pitch to a cacophony of cheers. This then fades to black and some truly awful late 70s synth soundtrack kicks in... welcome to the world of low budget videos people!

The titles then inform us that the video is introduced by the legend that is Alan Mullery.

Never mind the quality, feel

And then he appears. Eloquent, fluid, erudite, mellifluous... these are all words that describe the polar opposite of Mr. Mullery’s presenting style...and I use the word ‘presenting’ in its loosest possible sense. The best way I can describe Alan’s segues is you get the creeping sense that he’s been taken hostage by a terrorist group and with gun to head, is being forced to read out his plea to the Prime Minister, only for someone to have replaced the carefully prepared script at the last minute with some stuff about football league grounds... His eyes darting left to right as he struggles to muster any real enthusiasm for the words he’s supposedly written, there are clear signs of torture... though it’s us who is suffering, toes curling to extremes.

“In the next 70 minutes (oh lord!) or so, we aim to show you the huge changes that have taken place in the last few years...”

Just read that quote again then remember this was filmed in 1994. Now think of the state of most grounds in 2012 and you get the feeling Alan’s brain would have melted...though based on this video, I think it was almost there.

Thankfully, we soon get to the meat of the video and, with the hint dropped that we’re off to the ‘far north’, what feast of the senses are we treated to? Which huge ground do we get sight of to cease our pavlovian salivating?



“So where are we off to first Dave?” enquires a disembodied female voice.
“Izzup to the norfeast to sint jamezzzzez park”, comes the answer.
Despite the shaky production values and obviously limited budget, it’s at this point that the video really does come into its own.  This is the first glimpse you get of St James’ Park...

I can see it!!!

This is less than 20 years ago, but the place is hardly recognisable.

The quirkiness then continues where the team decide to include the scene where they announce that “the first thing they should do is go to reception and get permission to go into the ground”. There’s detail and there’s DETAIL!

Once ensconced within, the changes that have taken place “in the last few years” are detailed. This was at a time when St James’ Park was halfway through its first major rebuilding phase, with the 2 ends being transformed from terracing to steep banked seating with their deep covered roofs. At this stage, only one of those ends had been completed; the other was still a low, open terrace and there’s still terracing in the main stand. The commentary makes the point that ‘fans familiar with the ground just a few years ago, wouldn’t recognise it today’ and, following a camera sweep around it, it’s hard to see anyone from the present recognising that particular incarnation of the ground.  Also of note, there’s not a single Sports Direct logo anywhere, though there is a Northern rock hoarding.

It’s also interesting to note that Keegan was so popular at the time, he even drew a crowd waiting for a bus...

Gimme Shelter...
We then move onto Middlesbrough, accompanied by some cod Wurlitzer style tunes...lovely! So...what did the Riverside look like in 1994? This...

Not actual size
Of course,  it wasn’t yet built for the ‘Boro still played at Ayresome Park in 1994. With no hint of irony given how soon they were to abandon the place, the narrator tells us that this is a place steeped in history. Hmmm...
History smells funny...
Without warning, Alan pops up again to deliver a stunning anecdote about playing Brian Clough for the first time...and by stunning, I mean deathly. I have a suspicion that Steve Coogan has this video in his collection somewhere. Needles to say, he had the last laugh.

So where are we off to next on this odyssey from Newcastle to Wembley?  Why, York City of course!

After the now obligatory ground pan, we’re treated to some footage of York against Colchester from the 1992/3 season for no apparent reason, other than maybe to show what a game looks like if you film it from behind a support column.

Mmmm... Posty...

One exciting anecdote from Alan later and we’re off to yet another ground that no longer exists... a beautifully snow covered Leeds Road in Huddersfield. While progress is a natural thing in life and most of these grounds were archaic even in the 90s, it is rather saddening to see so much that is now housing developments and supermarkets. Yes the grounds that replaced these decrepit old homes have better seating, views and facilities, but they also look so damn similar! The true joy of this video is the sheer variety of stands and terraces you get, often all within one ground. These places told a story. You could often see the history of a club just by looking from left to right.

At least what was to be known initially as the McAlpine Stadium was a rather unique looking thing in itself and can be seen here mid-construction.

At this point it was known as the McAlp
Here’s Alan again... Shankly, Dennis Law, 6 goals, Frank Worthington, Trevor Cherry all get a mention and I’ll cut him some slack here... he’s clearly speaking from memory rather than a cue card and a genuine sparkle is detectable as he tells us how none of them ever got a result there.

It’s Ewood Park now and here we have yet another ground in the middle of being built. This was of course the time when Jack Walker’s millions were transforming the club and the ground itself. Fast forward 18 years and how things have sadly changed...

Then to Anfield - or not as they clearly weren't allowed in, so instead some footage of them destroying Crystal Palace and some exterior shots of the famous Kop... where it can be seen that in 1994, you could get into a Liverpool game for £8... to repeat, that’s EIGHT POUNDS!

8 Quid???
A shot of the Hillsborough memorial then serves as what feels like a somewhat tasteless link to move on to Sheffield Wednesday’s ground. For a second...then it’s on to the red half of Manchester.

“A vast complete”. Complete in the sense of the old terracing having just been converted into seating and the roof line joined up, taking the capacity to a then mammoth 40,000. Only 2 years later, the huge, 3 tier stand took shape and kicked off the next phase of Old Trafford’s redevelopment.

Next up, Sheffield United and Dave “Harry” Bassett, the then manager, gives us quite an accurate description of the state of football ground development at the time, pointing out that since the Taylor report, a lot of grounds higher up the league have improved immensely, while those further down are stuck in less than desirable surroundings. The most interesting thing about his piece to camera, though, is that he doesn’t appear to take a breath all the way through. Honestly, he never once stops talking. A quick pan round the ground, which I have to say, looks like a shed, and up pops Dave again, detailing all the forthcoming changes to Brammal Lane... and again, no pausing. Either he’s nervous or he’s just imbibed a handful of speed.

Breathe Dammit!!!!

It's then off to Chester City's brand new Deva Stadium... and at this point (not even half an hour into the video), I'll pull into the motorway services for a 'comfort break' and see you all again in part 2...

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