Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Things That Dreams Are Made Of - Arena 2000

At some point in history, Coventry City used to be in the promised land that is The Premiership. Towards the end of the 1990s, the last decade they occupied their perennial 17th place, several clubs faced with the changes brought about by the Taylor Report decided that, rather than redevelop their existing, often land-locked grounds, they would instead move to a purpose built stadium, usually out of town.

Derby County, Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Bolton, to name but a few, had all made the move, abandoning their outdated yet characterful grounds and, riding on the crest of the still fresh Premiership, had seen attendances rise and the money roll in.

Despite having already upgraded Highfield Road in the early- to mid-90s, the ground was plagued with the same problems as many other "traditional" stadia, being both hemmed in by housing, lacking any decent conference facilities and boasting few food outlets. And so it was that the plan to jump on the 'new stadium' bandwagon was announced.

This plan coincided with England's bid to host the 2006 World Cup and with Coventry selected as a potential host city (pending new stadium of course), it looked like the dream ticket!

It could have been so...slidey...
Arena 2000 was to be a 40,000 capacity super-stadium with innovations by the hatful. Information soon proliferated the press and talk of a sliding roof was mentioned and later a sliding pitch, putting us up with the latest in ground technology as seen at Ajax and Arnhem.

Around this time, I found myself wandering round the Sky Blues shop in town and spied a new publication. Being obsessed with football grounds, my eyes were immediately alerted by the image of a glowing architect's model of the proposed new Coventry stadium.

That publication was "a2", subtitled, "the official magazine of arena 2000 - the national arena in the heart of England".

Interestingly, it's marked as "Issue 1 Autumn/Winter 1999", though I'm pretty sure an Issue 2 was never forthcoming.

It's all about the tiles...
The 'magazine' is basically a glossy, 54 page brochure, showcasing all that never came to pass and covering in great detail all the great ideas that ultimately had disappeared by the time the Ricoh Arena finally opened for business six years later. The only things that did make it were the sky blue seats and some rather lovely tiles... although the tiles only ended up as part of hero walls where fans could pay to have their name and a message inscribed forever. That said, in the six years since construction, some of them are looking a little ropey and the messages not always very visible.

The magazine starts with an introduction from then chairman, Bryan Richardson, himself pictured with a large model of Arena 2000 and his final words sadly not in any way accurate... "The dream is now a reality".

It's curtains for a2...sorry
It's then straight into what everyone wants to know when looking at a new ground... the curtains! OK, that's slightly misleading... the curtains in questions being, rather than part of the soft furnishing choices of the Arena, 'giant roller blinds' that would be used to screen off sections of the seating areas during concerts. Rather than being merely a decorative item, these 'bespoke items' would also reflect sound back into the arena, ensuring no sound would be lost during concerts... when obviously the roof would have been closed...

A 'model' stadium
With the curtains dealt with, it's time to cover the architect's model and looking at the arena in physical form really does bring home what a fantastic place it would have been.

Moving on, Bryan Richardson is here again to espouse the hopes and dreams in 'The Vision', which, aside from covering the why's, also deals with the hows and moreover the wheres as one of the few things that didn't change, the location being the old foleshill gasworks, is shown. The gasworks is later shown in various stages of demolition.

An article on stadium naming rights, detailing the commercial necessity of such things, sits in close proximity to a 2-page advert for Jaguar again proving to be a rather sad foreshadowing of what was to come as for a long time, the Ricoh was due to be called the Jaguar Arena, before the car manufacturer decided to put their money elsewhere - probably wisely.

A final shout is given to the 2006 World Cup bid, showing a letter from the bid director Alec McGivan, where he states he'll be following the progress of Arena 2000 with interest.

So what happened to Arena 2000? Well, firstly, Coventry got relegated in 2001 and suddenly, spending a fortune on a 40,000 capacity stadium didn't seem like such a good idea. Then, Germany were given the 2006 World Cup (but at least that was really badly organised eh?  Oh...) and the last chance of a serious wodge of cash to spend on the stadium disappeared. The plans were scaled back, Ricoh arrived as last minute stadium sponsors and attendances ultimately plummeted as Coventry struggled to acclimatise to their new surroundings in Division 1, despite a 3-0 opening day victory. To this day, the only time the place has been full for a CCFC match was in the quarter final of the FA Cup against Chelsea - a match where the London side took the spoils.

A good start at the Ricoh

Given the current furore over the ownership and rental agreements of the Ricoh Arena, it's somewhat sad to see the potential that never was realised, the compromise, identikit ground we finally ended up with and the cold reality that replaced the fantastical hopes and aspirations.

Truly, the things that nightmares are made of.


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