Football grounds in crowded centres


September 29, 1903
Except the ground is the property of the club, or is unsuitable for building purposes, football clubs are finding it increasingly difficult to retain possession of their enclosures when they are situated in or near populous centres.

This fact is probably best appreciated in Manchester just now, where the all-conquering City club is trembling on the brink of a removal which will be little short of an upheaval. It is an open secret that the directors are in search of a new ground. No one will gainsay the assertion that this search has not been entered upon any too soon. It might with advantage have been begun years ago, but now that there is a serious intent, the followers of the club may well content themselves with saying “Better late than never.” Contrasted with the great majority of football grounds, the Hyde Road enclosure is nothing short of an eye-sore.

The approach to it is the worst in England. Much has been done to improve both the ground and the approach during the past few years, but the former is still quite inadequate, and the latter is beyond all hope when the weather is wet. In the early days of the season the playing enclosure is surprisingly verdant. Visitors to the ground after passing the dismal croft, with its background of grimy railway arches, have ever been staggered by the scent of mown hay; but when the damp days of winter soften the ground the pastoral veneer soon wears off, and long before the end of the season the blades of grass may almost be counted. The absence of turf is, of course, not a fatal objection. Lack of accommodation is the chief complaint against the present enclosure. Thousands were turned away when the opening match was played, and not only did the receipts suffer as a consequence, but when next the club played at home thousands stayed away in the fear that the ground would either be uncomfortably crowded or the gates closed long before the game was advertised to begin.

As a matter of fact more than seven thousand more spectators could have been comfortably accommodated on the day of the Wolverhampton Wanderers match. The ground will hold thirty thousand spectators, and now that the arrangements have been vastly improved this number of people may present themselves next Saturday in the certain hope of seeing the game with Sheffield United.

An Encouraging Example.
What is wanted, however, is an enclosure with accommodation for at least fifty thousand spectators, but where can such an enclosure be obtained? That is the rub? It is not permissible to point the direction in which the directors are looking. Suffice it to say that their task is not an easy one, and the fact that they are being helped by an army of irresponsible supporters of the club does not lighten their burden. It is not necessary to state that wherever the home is made it must, within reasonable limits, be an abiding place. To plant a new club and then have to uproot it again within would be folly. As it is the transplanting of the club from Hyde Road is not unattended with fears, but those concerned may take heart in the example set by the executive of Sheffield Wednesday.

This body did not hesitate, when driven from Olive Grove, to transfer the club to the other side of the city where, in spite of the fact that the site is some three miles away from the centre of Sheffield, the attendances have been larger, the players more successful, and the club more prosperous. One thing greatly in favour of Manchester City, and the new ground that is to be, is the greatly improved means of access. No matter where the new site is, it will be within half an hour’s run of the centre of the city.

Of necessity the club’s centre of interest will be removed, but that is unavoidable, for there is no suitable site in the neighborhood of the Hyde Road ground nor is there one within a radius of two miles of the Exchange. Even supposing the new ground was made at a distance of three miles from the Exchange, it would by no means follow that the great majority of the spectators would have much more than a third of that distance to travel which would, of course, mean a penny fare and a quick ride. The two Liverpool grounds are quite three miles from the centres of the city; Aston Park, the home of the Villa, is even further; Owlerton Park is full three miles; while the Derby County, Nottingham, Sunderland, Blackburn, Bury, and Small Heath grounds cannot be reached under twenty minutes from the centre of those places. The bigger the population, the greater the distance. Manchester cannot hope to have its football grounds within such easy reach as towns like Derby, Nottingham, and Bury. In the case of Manchester City the difficulty will have to be faced as it has been elsewhere. One thing is certain and that is that there is no danger of the club becoming a suburban institution. As a matter of fact the contemplated removal ought to remove the slightest suspicion of this. A club bearing the name Manchester City ought to command the interest as well as the support of the whole of Greater Manchester, and not merely of one or two particular districts.
(Source: Manchester Evening News: September 29, 1903)

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