Saturday, 23 September 2017


The 1986 FIFA World Cup was supposed to be held in Colombia. In late 1982, the prospective host withdrew from its commitment, citing ‘economic difficulties’ (read as asymmetric internal armed conflict) and Mexico was awarded the privilege in their place. From the perspective of the sport, the tournament went on to be a great success – the collected images of Diego Maradona are some of the most iconic of the sport – but it’s been said that the physical infrastructure was found wanting. The fact of the matter is that Mexico wasn’t afforded the time to adequately prepare for the job – just three years. Most of the venues dated back to the 1960s; some were even older. Throw a major earthquake into the mix, a mere eight months before the competition was due to start, and one begins to think that maybe the Mexican Football Federation pulled off quite a coup. Moreover, despite their age, some of the stadia were actually very impressive: the Estadio Olímpico Universitario, completed in 1952, is an extraordinary building, while the mighty Estadio Azteca, opened in 1966, is one of the most imposing structures of its kind.
Such tribulations were unlikely to befall Italy’s preparations for hosting the world cup in 1990 (although it is a place vulnerable to seismic activity). Not only did the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC) have the more usual six years in which to prepare for the tournament, but Serie A was the preeminent league of its day. There was a sense that this might be the greatest world cup ever.
The Italians elected to use the same number of stadia as the Mexicans. Of those twelve, two were new-builds (the Stadio delle Alpi in Turin and Stadio San Nicola in Bari), another two may have well been (the Stadio Comunale Luigi Ferraris in Genoa and Rome’s Stadio Olimpico), while the remaining eight were enlarged, reconfigured and refurbished. This posed various problems, and architects came up with various solutions ranging from the ostentatious through to the very subtle, by way of the ingenious, with varying degrees of success. But it was never about volume: what the FIGC was paying for was architecture.
In the end, the quality of the actual football was disappointing. The tournament saw the lowest goals-per-game average for a world cup and what at the time was a record of 16 red cards. More to the point, it wasn’t always pretty. There was mention of the ball – the Adidas Etrusco Unico – being unfavourably light, harder to control. Such talk is de rigueur these days, but back then you felt there might be something in it. Try and find some match footage from Mexico ‘86 – Brazil v. France will do – and see how graceful the players look in possession of the ball. Then watch Brazil v. Argentina from Italia ’90 and count how many shots fly high and wide.
But I digress.
A number have problems have since arisen. For one, the quality of the original construction work was not always of a very high standard. Within just a few seasons, terracing that had been completely refinished for the world cup was crumbling underfoot, and reinforced concrete supports were starting to spall. Second, Serie A is no longer Europe’s wealthiest league: it’s the fourth behind England’s Premiership, Spain’s La Liga and the German Bundesliga. Less money to spend on players means less success means dwindling attendances means less revenue to spend on the upkeep of the stadium. Finally, the oval stadium format which permeates throughout much of Italy has slowly become redundant as European clubs have embraced the rectangular ‘English style’ of stadium, which deems a running track an encumbrance. (Italian football grounds have historically been built using public funds. For this reason, local authorities have quite reasonably insisted that they cater for athletics.)
In 1990, the Stadio delle Alpi and the Stadio San Nicola were admired for their architectural adventurousness. Today, the former has been demolished and the Juventus Stadium erected in its place, whilst the latter presents a sorry sight, many of its Teflon roof sections blowing in the wind or ripped from their fastenings entirely. To be fair, the grounds they replaced also had athletics tracks; however, the Stadio Comunale and the Stadio Della Vittoria were smaller stadiums. At full capacity, a running track isn’t so much of a problem. The Stadio delle Alpi and the Stadio San Nicola were/are never full to capacity.
It’s not so much that the Italian authorities made a mistake but missed an opportunity. It’s a moot point as far as Verona or Bologna or Napoli or Cagliari are concerned, because Verona and Bologna and Napoli and Cagliari didn’t have new grounds built for them. The only cities that really benefitted, in that they were left with stadiums that anticipated the emerging trend, were Milan and Genoa.

When the Giuseppe Meazza – or plain ‘San Siro’ as it was called up until 1980, whereupon it was renamed after the former AC and Inter player, who died the previous year – was built in 1925, it was unusual for not encompassing a running track. The reason why is because the San Siro was privately funded by a consortium headed by A.C. Milan’s president Piero Pirelli – of the homonymous tyre company – enabling them to build in any style they pleased. They opted for the ‘Anglo-Saxon model’ comprising of four rectilinear stands, including a covered main stand, and space for 35,000 spectators, 20,000 on seats (the remaining 10,000 stood upon parterres situated in front of the three uncovered tribuna). Possibly because of its configuration, the ground proved very popular and, up until the inauguration of Rome’s Stadio Olimpico in 1937, was the venue of choice for the national football team. Realising its financial potential, in 1935 the local council purchased the ground and set about increasing its size still further. By 1937, the smaller goal-end terraces had been extended and all four stands connected by way of four curved corner sections, allowing for a capacity approaching 65,000. In 1947 local rivals Internazionale became tenants, ushering in a period of Milanese semi-domination with four of next available eight scudettos ending up in the city, honours even. (The 1949 Superga air disaster certainly had something to do with this, wiping out the Grande Torino who’d dominated Serie A since the end of the war, and to an extent before it).
The next phase of development happened in 1955 and would come to define the stadium. The plan initially was to raise the capacity to 150,000 by way of two additional tiers. Perhaps realising the sheer ambition of the scheme – or the cost – the plans were retrenched. Instead, a single, continuous freestanding tier was built around the existing structure, completely enveloping it, making enough room for a mere 82,000 spectators. Nothing particularly innovative going on here – Real Madrid had put together something similar eight years earlier at what was then known as the Nuevo Estadio Chamartín – except architect Armando Ronca had carefully considered the question of access, the economy of space, and aesthetics. Nineteen 200 metre long helical ramps were attached to the stadium’s exterior, each rising gradually to a height of nearly 20 metres. These parallel walkways led directly to individual vomitories providing access to the second tier at equidistant points, thus displacing the crowds that would otherwise have gathered outside. More than that, it gave the stadium a visual identify to set it apart from other football grounds; it became a thing of architectural interest in its own right. Ronca’s most recognised work is probably the Eurotel in Marano (1958-1960) which appears to have taken its inspiration from Le Corbusier’s Unité d'habitation. It should be appreciated that in Italy the difference between architetto (architect) and ingegnere edile (building engineer) is often indistinct. The San Siro is at once modernist and utilitarian, which often amounts to the same thing anyway.
Italy’s winning bid for the 1990 world cup brought with it terms and conditions. If the Guiseppe Meazza, as it was now called, was to host the opening game (restitution for the final being played in Rome) then it would need an all-seated capacity of at least 80,000, two thirds of which would have to be under cover.The Milan Municipal Administration decided against building something bespoke and they awarded the architects Ragazzi, Hoffer and Finzi the task of surmounting these obstacles by way of refurbishment.
The issue of space was dealt with in the same way it was 30-odd years earlier: a single freestanding tier was built around the existing structure, completely enveloping it. Ostensibly, this upper gallery is a continuation of the one already in place, but it rests upon eleven cylindrical, reinforced-concrete pillars aligned to the stadium’s curved rectangular perimeter. These colossal towers have their own ramps, spiralling upwards in accord with the existing architecture. It should be noted that this third tier is incomplete: the stadium is hampered on one side due to the presence of the racecourse – hence the odd number of supporting pillars – and so the east side of the ground remains as it was. An all-seated capacity of 85,700 is achieved nonetheless.
As well as propping up the third tier, the four (larger) corner towers support four perpendicular steel girders, their ends protruding horizontally beyond the polycarbonate fabric of the roof itself, which hangs above the stadium like an open-sided pavilion. The burgundy-matt finish of the steel complements the pale grey patina of the reinforced concrete, the effect accentuated against the backdrop of a cloudless azure sky. It’s a readily attainable perspective: San Siro – the area from whence the stadium first got its name – is suburban, low-rise, remote, and to the west of the ground lies a vast expanse of concrete. You don’t need a wide angle lens to take in the view, although the sheer scale of the building is still apparent.

The parallels between A.C. Milan and Genoa C.F.C. are manifold. Both clubs began life as sort of English expatriate associations with a side-line in cricket. In each instance, the English orthography would prevail: Milan rather than Milano, Genoa instead of Genova. Milan Cricket and Football Club proceeded to privately build an exclusively football orientated ground, and so too did Genoa Cricket and Football Club. These same grounds were subsequently sold to their respective local authorities and were also renamed after bygone players. And just as A.C. Milan would end up sharing grounds with their local rivals F.C. Internazionale Milano, in 1946 Genoa C.F.C. invited the newly formed U.C. Sampdoria to play at theirs.
The Stadio Comunale Luigi Ferraris began life in 1911 as the Campo di Via del Piano (also known as the Campo Marassi) and was then little more than a green surrounded by a horseracing track overlooked by a single stand with a gable in the middle. In 1928, the pitch was rotated by 90 degrees and work began on what would become the Stadio Comunale. By the time Brazil and Spain faced off in the first round of the 1934 World Cup, the ground’s capacity had risen from a notional 28,000 to a substantial 51,000 and had been entitled in honour of former player (and engineer) Luigi Ferraris, killed in action during the Great War. At this point, the stadium wasn’t too dissimilar in aspect to the San Siro in Milan – rectilinear terracing with a vaguely neo-classical façade – but whereas the stands at the San Siro were being joined up to form a coherent hole, the work at Comunale Luigi Ferraris displayed no overarching strategy. Cantilevered roof extensions were later added to each end of the main stand and spiral walkways providing access to the goal-end terraces, achieving a symmetry of sorts. In 1951 an open double-decker stand was erected along the stadium’s east side, facing the covered single-tiered stand opposite. The ground as it then was could accommodate 55,773 spectators, 40,000 of them seated, which is quite impressive given the physical impediments that surround the site: housing tenements, the Villa Mussi Piantelli, the Bisagno River, even a prison.
If the Luigi Ferraris had been a stadium in Mexico in 1983, it would have been left very much alone and may even have gone on to host a quarter final. Had it been located anywhere else in Italy but the undulating and beset city of Genoa, they’d have probably knocked it down and replaced it with something on the edge of town. In the event, the Luigi Ferraris was knocked down but then rebuilt where it had formerly stood, and because there was nowhere else for Genoa and Sampdoria to play in the interim, it was literally done one half at a time. At no point did it not exist, but by the time it was finished the ground was completely transformed.
But why was the Luigi Ferraris rebuilt at all? It was already large enough to host international football (just) and granted no less protection from the elements than the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence or the Stadio Renato Dall'Ara in Bologna. Did its piecemeal design finally catch up with it? Was the stadium just a little too ‘English’ for its own good? Whatever the reasons, the FIGC got their money’s worth. The architect Vittorio Gregotti was given the job of sorting it out and went about imposing his trademark rectangular prisms upon the limited space available (see the University of Milano-Bicocca).
If the Giuseppe Meazza reflects a moderately Brutalist, post-war impression of modernism, then the Luigi Ferraris is pure pre-war Bauhaus functionalism; where the Giuseppe Meazza embraces curves and oblique lines, the Luigi Ferraris is bound by right angles. The structure appears as rectangles as the sum of squares, and the motif is repeated throughout: four square gaps in the external wall behind each goal-end terrace; six protruding square shaped stairwells above the stadium’s main entrance; large square apertures in the sidewalls revealing ramped walkways behind; fifteen smaller quadratic openings in the walls diagonally opposite; rectilinear lines etched into the concrete itself. Holding this diffuse geometry together are four rectangular towers, which support the roof by way of white steel trusses and allow the building to prevail upon the skyline. The roofs themselves are formed of an indistinguishable metal framework but are countersunk and not visible from street level.
Unlike the Giuseppe Meazza, which depends on distance to be appreciated, this assemblage of terracotta red boxes would look adrift upon the wastelands of San Siro. In amongst the compact, quadrate edifices of Marassi, the order of the Luigi Ferraris makes perfect sense. It can be viewed in sections; it is to be viewed in sections. It is not the sum of its parts but a collection of perpendicular vignettes comprised of linear planes. Under the same conditions, the Giuseppe Meazza would have an intimating effect, and might itself be confused with something like a multi-storey car park.

Over recent years, AC Milan and Inter have entertained the possibility of abandoning their home in favour of a brand new build, more than likely on the periphery of a motorway somewhere. The fashion for constructing stadia in the most insalubrious of surroundings aside, the problem with the Giuseppe Meazza is that it’s too big. Over the course 2016-17, Internazionale and AC Milan averaged an attendance of 46,620 and 40,294 respectively (although when they played each other approximately 78,000 fans turned up). There’s also the sense of neglect. I had the privilege of beholding this sporting icon in 1993, and it was in good shape. I have no idea what sort of condition it’s currently in. Regardless, the intimation that the building could have run its course is an alarming one. Not for a moment would anybody entertain tearing down the Duomo di Milano, no matter what its condition, so why is the thinking different here?
The same goes for the Luigi Ferraris. Genoa’s terrain limits either club’s options, but I’ve read of alarming plans to build strange viewing galleries upon the roofs, amounting to what would be an act of architectural vandalism. Such plans are indicative of a trend that regards modern architecture as something ephemeral, to be disposed of in accordance with the vagaries of fashion. Everybody wants to build a ‘Veltins-Arena’ all of sudden, despite the fact that the Veltins-Arena could be easily mistaken for an electrical wholesalers’ superstore on an industrial estate. Armando Ronca and Vittorio Gregotti’s efforts deserve more.

Friday, 30 June 2017


The Estadio de La Cartuja, on the north-western fringes of Seville, presents a forlorn spectacle. It was built specifically for the 1999 World Championships in Athletics, but with also the Olympics in mind. Twice, in 2004 and 2008, the International Olympic Committee rejected Seville's bid for the games outright. Since then, La Cartuja has had to satisfy itself with hosting: the Copa del Rey (twice); the 2003 UEFA Cup Final (Porto 3-2 Celtic); the 2004 and 2011 Davis Cups; the Spanish national football team, but only in exhibition matches; various musical artistes (AC/DC among them).
Why so forlorn? Despite supporting a fairly attractive pleated polycarbonate roof, the external structure is rudimentary, resembling the sort of faceless hotel you might find to the side of a motorway or nearby an airport. Its peripheral location supplements this impression, lost on the outskirts of town overlooking the arid banks of the Guadalquivir River. Wisely, both Seville’s resident football teams, Sevilla FC and Real Betis Balompié, have resisted any temptation to take up residence, possibly to the chagrin of the Sociedad Estadio Olimpico de Sevilla. Whilst the stadium represents an exemplary athletics venue – albeit an architecturally predictable one – it is not conducive to generating the sort of atmosphere one expects at a football match (ask your nearest West Ham United supporter if you do not comprehend why). In any case, Sevilla FC and Real Betis Balompié have good enough stadia of their own.

Sevilla FC is the city’s dominant club yet it has the smaller ground. Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán can house 42,500 spectators, which is 10,000 less than its southern neighbour but ample enough for an attendance that averages out at just over 30,000. When the stadium opened in 1958 it actually had room enough for 53,000, despite the fact that the second tier lay incomplete: the budget overran and Seville had to content itself with a single circumambient tier and two anfiteatros overlooking each touchline. When in 1974 the second tier was finally made continuous, the capacity peaked at an impressive 70,000. This was in the days when most spectators watched the game on their feet.
Further improvements were made in preparation for the 1982 World Cup. Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán was to host two games: a first round match between Brazil and the Soviet Union, and a semi-final, which would see West Germany pitched against France. Seating was installed, not throughout but in enough places to temporarily reduce the capacity to 66,000 (the original capacity was reinstated soon after). Floodlights were fixed upon gantries at various points along the top tier’s brim, and one of the anfiteatros became a tribuna by way of a roof being put over it. (As far as I can tell, the only difference between an ‘anfiteatro’ and a ‘tribuna’ is the presence of seats and protection from the elements). Supported by 18 pairs of steel struts, the roof appears to balance precariously above the tribuna, its curved edge mirroring the mild arc of the terracing beneath. In profile these supporting trusses resemble Vorticist giraffes thrusting their necks forward towards the pitch, tails extended backwards over the retaining wall. The roofing itself is almost incidental, an ethereal presence that one could imagine being blown away in the wind. The protruding supporting wall, bearing the back legs of those Vorticist giraffes, mimics the general exterior, save for a huge mosaic occupying the central three bays of the facade. This impressive mural depicts Sevilla FC’s crest flanked by those of 60 other clubs that have at one time or another played here. The stadium’s appellation is writ large across the top.
Designed by the same architect responsible for Real Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, the construction itself is typical of many Spanish stadia built from the 1950s through to the 1980s: Athletic Madrid’s Vicente Calderón, the Estadio Martínez Valero in Elche, Malaga’s Estadio La Rosaleda, Barcelona’s Camp Nou. The common denominator is a reinforced concrete framework upon which the terraces are supported. (The apogee of this way of building may find its representation in Mexico City’s imposing Estadio Azteca.)
As at Estadio de Mestalla in Valencia – another football ground not too dissimilar – Seville has recently embarked on a programme of refurbishment; in lieu of building a new ground elsewhere they have settled on tarting the old one up. The approach is roughly the same in either case: painting the concrete black and covering much of it with aluminium meshing. Valencia has filled in the gaps between pillar and beam with rectangular sheets of perforated metal. At Seville they have enshrouded three quarters of the ground in a metal exoskeleton from which they’ve hung overlapping metal panels parallel to the camber of the supporting stanchions, rather like the armour of an armadillo. The ground floor remains as it was but has been re-rendered to effect a smoother, cleaner finish, and painted red. Both clubs have also suspended huge PVC banners at various junctures: graphics depicting their star players, crowd scenes, and the holding aloft of trophies. This is more prevalent at the Estadio de Mestalla, possibly because Valencia has won more trophies.
Sevilla’s renovations are the more successful. Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán’s fabric remains much the same since it was redeveloped prior to the World Cup in 1982. The metal cladding, the new stucco, the all-red seats – even those PVC banners, mercifully restricted to the exterior of the tribuna – are subtle enough not to detract from the uniformity of the two tiers, the grace of the cantilevered roof and the splendour of the mosaic. It is an edifice in thrall to its cohesion, in sympathy with the environment, appropriate for the climate. One hopes Sevilla FC continues to see it this way.

Estadio Benito Villamarin used to be known as Estadio Heliópolis but actually began life as the Estadio de la Exposición, built as it was for the Ibero-American trade fair of 1929. Initially, Real Betis played there only occasionally but decided to take up semi-permanent residence after winning their first – and only – championship in 1936. The Spanish Civil War then followed.
           Such peculiar beginnings explain why Heliópolis looked apart from most other Spanish stadia. It took the form of four separate, whitewashed concrete open-air stands designed in a vaguely neoclassical vernacular with a nod towards Moorish Revival – this was Spain after all. In 1958 the north and sounds ends, behind the goals, were replaced with more substantial structures, and floodlights were installed in 1959. Soon after, the stadium was purchased outright and renamed Estadio Benito Villamarin in honour of the chairman who facilitated its acquisition.
            The seventies saw various adaptations including the filling in of the corners, further augmentation of those north and south ends, and the addition of a massive slab of a second tier above the western tribuna, replete with cantilevered roof and alternating blocks of white and green seats (the colours and pattern of Real Betis’s shirts). The eastern tribuna was expanded backward in 1981 and another cantilevered roof built over it – albeit a more rudimentary iteration than the one gracing the stand opposite.
            Whether the Estadio Benito Villamarin would have been selected as a venue for the 1982 FIFA World Cup had it not undergone such substantial restoration is hard to say. That the Spanish football authority elected to utilise no less than 17 different grounds throughout the course of tournament – a number unsurpassed to this day – suggests maybe so; far smaller stadia hosted matches. In any case, a new amphitheatre was slipped in between the lower and upper tiers of the west stand, increasing capacity and allowing space for the sort of media facilities required for reporting on World Cup football.
            One would think that for a club of Real Betis’s inconsistent stature the ground as it then was would have sufficed. New owner Ruiz de Lopera begged to differ and in 1998 the north and eastern portions of the ground were torn down and a continuous three-tiered structure erected in their place. The idea was to rebuild the southern terrace in the same fashion, but contractual disputes resulted in the work being postponed indefinitely. Not until the summer of 2016 would the funds finally be in place to begin to finish the job.

Although still incomplete, Estadio Benito Villamarin is looking good. The three tiers that now wrap around the northern, eastern and southern sectors are not conjoined with those on the western side. Why would they be: the top two tiers of the western tribuna were built upon the old Heliópolis and follow its shallower rake, whereas the three tiers now surrounding it have been built more steeply. Nor has any attempt been made to ape the exterior of the western tribuna: despite the generally good condition of the supporting concrete stanchions, the structure shows its age. Moreover, three floors of offices and amenities have over time been untidily shoehorned in between said stanchions.
For the new build, the need for indoor space has been anticipated. The second tier is enveloped in a skirt of concrete parallelogram-shaped panels, each one punctuated with four triangular shaped apertures – hypotenuse facing upward, right angle pointing down. An imbricative belt of concrete signifies the rim of the second tier’s reverse, whilst also acting as a concourse at the rear of the third tier, whose exposed form tilts overheard. The patina is a raw shade of grey. It is left to the surrounding palm trees to provide colour. The interior has been subjected, via the medium of chairs, to alternating horizontal stripes of green and white, in contrast to the vertical streaks covering the old tribuna.
The result is a Modernist take on the Neo-Mudéjar style that flourished in Spain in the late 19th Century: geometric shapes repeating, Moorish gestures; gentle curves, functionalism. Given Sevilla’s Berber heritage this seems entirely appropriate, and is almost certainly intended. It should be appreciated that an effort has been made, having been obliged to work with concrete, to try and make something half interesting out of it; moreover, that in an era of decorative façades, the original concept for stadium has endured, rather than being lost beneath swathes of revisionist ornamentation.
One pauses for thought. Could it be that the 1990s saw Modernism’s last hurrah, before Postmodernism finally overwhelmed it and gave way to more indulgent, Deconstructivist architectural forms? Consider the tube stations built for the extension of London’s Jubilee Line – Canary Wharf tube station in particular, opened in 1999. Gare de Lyon-Saint Exupéry connecting Lyon to Paris and Marsille: opened 1994. Bari’s Stadio San Nicola, built just in time for the 1990 Wolrd Cup. The Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói, designed by Oscar Niemeyer: completed 1996.
It’s hard to say. Cologne’s excellent RheinEnergie Stadion – effectively rebuilt for the 2006 World Cup – leaves its concrete endoskeleton on display in much the same way of those old Spanish stadia built from the 1950s through to the 1980s. Meanwhile, Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium is structurally the same thing as Estadio Benito Villamarin, just with glass panelled sections, daft murals draped over the exposed concrete sections, and a snazzy roof – all the consequence of a much bigger budget. There’s the crux – bigger budgets. And yet both Seville’s resident football teams have stadiums that retain a sense of history, of purpose, and identity, whilst offering architectural subtleties that need not be bought.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017


A chair was hurled against the window, which quivered on impact. The line of policeman stood outside The Green did not see fit to enter the pub and merely held formation, censureless.
Certain fans of Plymouth Argyle Football Club had chosen to drink there on account of the name The Green reflecting the colour of the shirts that Plymouth Argyle play in. The Green had been invaded by The Green Army. We drank our pints swiftly, for although we too were supporters of Plymouth Argyle, the launching of furniture towards plate glass was not something that particularly interested us. Moreover, the group of people from whence the chair had emanated were surely capable of lobbing chairs in other directions too. In spite of our shared desire to see Plymouth Argyle defeat Queens Park Rangers, the sort of mind that sees fit to toss around furnishings in confined spaces does not tend to discriminate.

Loftus Road in Shepherd’s Bush is a favourite stadium of mine. Unfortunately, the locality has something of a crummy reputation. The gloomy West 12 shopping precinct might have something to do with it, and the West Cross Route is grimmer still. Embedded betwixt Hammersmith, Acton, White City, Notting Hill and Kensington, Shepherd’s Bush can feel squeezed. Shepherd’s Bush Green itself, at its centre, is airy and arboreal, and much of the surrounding housing dates back to the late 19th century – Victorian terraces mainly, which is no bad thing. Still, the environment at Loftus Road is a physical hindrance, prohibiting expansion and limiting development.
Practically speaking, Loftus Road reached its extremity when QPR concurrently rebuilt the School End and Loftus Road stands in 1980 and ’81 respectively. Loftus Road backs onto terraced housing, whilst the School End overlooks a school – Jack Tizard School precisely. Built in 1972, the Ellerslie Road Stand, on Ellerslie Road, is encumbered with similarly residential concerns. Finally, The South Africa Road Stand (1968/69) is hampered by both its namesake and the four storey structure that has been tacked on its rear, as functional in its appearance as its purpose dictates – office space.
The overall impression is of rectangular cuboids and of the colour blue. The ground is almost as straightforward as this crude reduction suggests. The South Africa Road Stand is its centre piece: a tidy two-tiered structure with a single row of executive boxes in between and an outward appearance that belies its age. It is of ‘post and beam’ construction, but the posts – one at each end and two equidistantly between – are relatively unobtrusive. The Ellerslie Road Stand opposite is similarly supported but offers just one tier. It is the least remarkable stand of the four but by no means unattractive. The School End and Loftus Road are virtually identical and also the most interesting. They comprise of two tightly packed overhung tiers almost running the width of the entire ground. Their roofs converge with those of the South Africa and Ellerslie Road stands, not seamlessly but coherently enough to present the stadium as a single entity. That the fasciae are all painted the same shade of blue augments this impression. The stadium is completely enclosed, and the boundary between the stands and the pitch is contiguous. Incidental features include a video screen mounted above the School End, a television gantry suspended below the roof of the Ellerslie Road Stand, and four elegantly slim floodlight pylons emanating from behind the School and Loftus Road ends.
Problem: a limited capacity of 18,439. For the last forty odd years Queens Park Rangers have oscillated consistently between the top two strata of the English football league. Currently competing in the second, they’re averaging an attendance of between 14 and 15,000. If they were to be promoted, this capacity would be found wanting. It is reasonable, then, that QPR are examining the possibility of relocating to Old Oak Common with the intention of building a new ground with room enough for 40,000 fans. This sort of thing takes time. Should QPR face relegation, rather than promotion, these plans will more than likely be shelved. In such an event, their fans can console themselves with their continued residency at Loftus Road.

[Pilgrim Pete at Loftus Road]

The football hooligan is afflicted with what could be described as ‘combat envy’ – a sort of collective guilt for having not fought in the Second World War. Aware of the horrors that became his ancestors, the hooligan wishes to atone in some way, but not to the extent that he’ll join the actual army and put himself in any substantive danger. The sacrificial element of partaking in combat does not interest him. He considers only his reputation: that people might think he somehow isn’t up to the job of his forebears, that he’s not ‘hard’ enough.
However, the thug does not aspire towards meting out random acts of violence upon disinterested parties. Instead, the mob – or ‘firm’ in football parlance – will simultaneously seek out pitched battles with complicit rival factions whilst also engaging the local constabulary with impertinent acts of antagonism. Indeed, if the police presence is significant enough, or sufficiently equipped, the respective firms may enter into coalition and direct their aggression solely towards the state apparatus. In this sense, the thug supporter sees himself more as some sort of fifth columnist. The role being played is not one of an occupying force – even when brawling at home – but of insurgent, guerrilla, or terrorist.
One should appreciate that the British police officer is not a gendarme: his or her role is primarily that of keeper of the peace. This plays perfectly into the deranged fantasy of the yob. As tensions rise, it can be imagined that the uniformed police are in fact infantry – a modern day Wehrmacht – whereas the firm is some sort of people’s army fighting against the odds, in civvies (but completely free from the threat of long term incarceration – or ‘disappearing’). If in Britain there existed something approximating Italy’s Carabinieri, these naive re-enactments would take on a much darker and improbable dimension. When the Metropolitan Police (Waffen-SS) are involved, they sometimes do. Yet this is no incitement to riot, merely an opportunity for the deconstructed idiot to exhibit in front of his mates, cosy up to a horse and protest innocence when the mounted police officer tells him in no uncertain terms to back off. Then, as the fans are marshalled to the ground as a collective, the mob will sing about how they’ll never capitulate to the IRA – official, provisional, continuity, or otherwise.

Kenilworth Road is as confined as Loftus Road, but with added eccentricities. Comprised of five separate stands, the shape delineated is actually of an irregular hexagon. The A505 (Hatters Way) and the Luton to Dunstable Busway interrupts the Man Stand at an acute angle and the crooked David Preece Stand fills in the gap awkwardly. It has the appearance of a diminutive two-tiered structure that’s been bent in the middle and had the lower tier removed (to provide access). It holds 711 spectators.
The Bobbers Stand is odder still, comprised of what passes for executive boxes. Whose idea was this? It was never a very big stand on account of the housing behind, although it used to accommodate 1,539 seated supporters. I have not been able to find out how many it seats now, but it can’t be much more than a few hundred.
The Oak Road Stand (capacity: 1,800), and the strangeness doesn’t let up. Its roof, pitched, is comprised of three staggered sections that rise in height to meet the Main Stand to its right. The entrance occupies what at one point must have been the ground floors of two consecutive terraced houses, yet the top floors, and the front doors leading to them, remain intact. Once the fan has passed under these tenements they must climb a set of stairs that offer an intimate view of the terraced gardens either side. (Loftus Road’s surroundings appear boundless by comparison.)
Then there’s the Main Stand, which isn’t without eccentricity either. It appears at first glance fairly cohesive, but not only does it have to put up with the David Preece Stand’s clumsy incursion on its territory, three floodlight pylons blight the lower terrace. These aren’t the spindly stanchions incorporated so successfully at Loftus Road, but more substantial latticed steel affairs. The club’s offices and utilities and the Nick Owen and Eric Morecambe suites are built on the back.
Finally, there’s the Kenilworth Stand, which has a flat roof, 3,229 seats, no significant visual encumbrances and room enough for a carpark out the front.

The stadiums of early antiquity were nothing more than acclivities with the ground levelled before them. These grassy verges were later fashioned into actual terraces, but they were still built upon naturally sloping land – there was no exterior to speak of. Practically speaking, it was the Romans who built the first freestanding amphitheatres, radically changing how these structures presented themselves. From possessing just one functional aspect, the stadium now possessed three: the façade, the interior, and the cavea.
This multi-dimensional perspective does not normally apply. Where form follows function, a building’s relationship with itself is more usually binary, symbiotic. Its innards cater to its functionality – a place to sleep, eat, work, etc. – and the external walls are present by default, to bear the roof and to demarcate the territory. The same cannot be said of the stadium where the inside is outside too, because what goes on inside is taking place outside. Its exterior then is continuous: it can be interpreted as both its inward and outward appearance. In its rawest form, what might be referred to as the stadium’s walls are in fact the underside of the cavea: they are not designed to protect this exposed internality but to physically uphold it. (Where an actual interior is present it is subservient to the building as a whole, providing toilets, ticket offices, changing rooms, and other extraneous utilities. In this respect, the stadium is comparable to the railway station.)
Unlike those early auditoriums of antiquity (or even some of the Soviet ‘superbowls’ that were dug into the earth after the Second World War: Warsaw’s 10th-Anniversary Stadium; the Kirov Stadium in St Petersburg) Loftus and Kenilworth Road are freestanding structures. Except, so hemmed in are they, if you tore their floodlights down you might struggle to find them. There are no boulevards, no concourses, no squares, no parks or any other types of open space from which to view these buildings as independent structures. But where one can ascertain an external presence at QPR – if you look for it – it’s a real struggle at Luton. From Ivy, Beech and Clifton roads, one encounters fragments of breeze blocked walls and corrugated steel, random brickwork and wooden doors, peeling paint and corroded air-conditioning units. For all the onlooker knows, they’ve come up against something like an industrial estate, or the back-end of a bingo hall.
I do not mean to disparage Kenilworth Road. A football ground can live with a shabby exterior, the atmosphere within unaffected; who is to say that a stadium’s aesthetic appeal rests upon the ability to perceive it from a variety of angles. I suppose the problem for many of these smaller grounds is the uncertain choices that their clubs face: to move on, redevelop, or settle for what they’ve got. And if move on, then where to?