One of the significant events of my recent holidays was a trip to the Venue of Bellends . . . sorry, Legends that is Wembley Stadium. I’ve been to a few sporting arenas in my time now – the Nou Camp, Stamford Bridge, Goodison Park, the Millennium Stadium (photos sadly lost to the mists of time and a dodgy hard drive), the Reebok Stadium (?), Pride Park (!), and obviously Anfield and Croke Park.
Going to Wembley has reinforced a long held opinion of mine about sports stadiums. There is nothing inherently special about any of them. It was a splendid occasion, going to Wembley, but this was almost entirely because of the delight felt by my wife at finally seeing England play where they had won the World Cup all those centuries ago. Ultimately it was a big box with seats in it, albeit a state-of-the-art one in the case of Wembley.
Yes, they’ve all got a special charge to the people who frequent them regularly, and I always get a thrill of anticipation when arriving on Walton Breck or Jones’ Road. But that comes from the heart, not from anything that is bound up in the bricks and mortar. When I pointed out to a tour guide at Anfield that with all the times the turf at the ground has been replaced the ashes of those who had been scattered there were long gone, he sagely observed that people who had been buried at sea hardly expected to go to the exact location to locate the remains (wonder whether he is so candid with the loved ones who ask the same question).
Some people seem to collect sports grounds like stamps or fine wines, which is fine in so far as any hobby has an element of obsessive compulsiveness to it (bit like writing a blog that no one reads). But they seem to miss the point of these venues. They are special to the fans because of the history. To the occasional / once-off visitor, it’s just some place to watch the match.