Tuesday 25 January 2011

Grounds For Concern

Lord Coe of Codswallop has appeared before us in his Savile Row suits and delicate personalised premium fragrances rather than the downmarket sackcloth and ashes to admit that Britain is a disgrace to civilisation and the world. The nations and peoples have been astonished and it is the talk of all the bazaars and holy places. An Englishman has broken his word.

The reason is that a modest sports stadium, erected at public expense for a three week sports binge in the summer of 2012, may have its future use altered in order to avoid the more humiliating fate that has befallen other Olympic facilities in the world in the past.

Two soccer clubs have bid to be the future operators. One, West Ham United, whose old ground is becoming creaky hopes to retain facilities for athletics. The other, Tottenham Hotspur, who rather than revamping their existing one at some cost, sees the Olympic Stadium as offering more scope and certainly far better transport links that the present one at White Hart Lane. The Spurs would keep it for soccer and entertainment events only.

Those who follow what is going on in the world beyond football and entertainment probably could think of a number of things in the past couple of decades which they could suggest represent a disgrace to the UK and a shame that is much more serious. As I want this post to be less than ten thousand words, I will skip the potential listing.

A world of brief sound bites and instant responses is also a world of short memories. Is it so long since there was a debate over Wembley? This is now our “national” soccer stadium, built by foreigners with money borrowed on the international markets.

Erected at the beginning of the 1920’s for an Empire Exhibition it became a half decent dog track and speedway stadium used occasionally for football of one sort or another. Once and once only I was wined and dined there with a seat in the Royal Box, it was a surreal experience.

It was used for the 1948 Olympics and some Commonwealth Games but in general was rarely used for athletics events or other sports. It did make a venue for other things. Billy Graham converted thousands to God there following his success with Richard Nixon and there were some rousing pop festivals. There was the soccer World Cup of 1966, was it Argentina or Germany who won?

Anyhow, the soccer bods, by now in control of the new Wembley project dumped the idea of athletics facilities despite the huge government support given to it. Similarly the new Twickenham ground for the Rugby Union avoided the issues that athletics might bring. There have been other major stadia built, also without reference to such sports or the possibility. There was once White City, home to the 1908 Olympics now lost to us all.

This left us with Crystal Palace which was built in 1964 and is now one of five National Sports Centres and becoming run down. Crystal Palace FC soccer once played there but were evicted in 1915 by the military going to Selhurst Park also now suffering wear and tear. They want to return to a new stadium on the site but have considered whether the athletics facilities should be retained.

Are you beginning to have the impression that it is all a long, confused story which does not make a lot of sense? Similarly are you wondering how such a highly centralised state and media operations could make such a sorry mess of the whole business?

There is also the question of whether beyond 2012 there are to be big crowds for athletics. Lord Coe may beg the question by doling out free tickets, again at public expense. But this is not really the answer. The question has arisen before and we know what the answers were.

Up in Sheffield Blunkett and friends put on a World Student Games in a new stadium at a staggering loss. Now it is an arena for all sorts of things, but the basic one is that Rotherham United, a lower division soccer team play their home games there with a great many empty seats in view.

Then there is Eastlands, The City of Manchester Stadium in Manchester, built to host the 2002 Commonwealth Games after a failed Olympic bid and then substantially altered to become a soccer stadium for Manchester City and other events.

Personally, I think the Olympic Stadium should be put into Trust and Leyton Orient and Dagenham & Redbridge soccer teams could share it. Failing that, it might make a superb multi layer covered fungi growing food factory. That way it might even turn in a bit of profit.

Incidentally, in the next few years council taxes in London will be going up by more that the rate of inflation.

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