Thursday, November 08, 2007

Olympic Ideals

Officials for the 2012 Olympics have unveiled the design of the stadium to be used for the games in London in five years time and, well, I quite like it. It's a practical design rather than one designed to make a splash, and it has been criticised for this. Frankly, if it had been reversed, the self same people complaining now that the stadium was too flashy and not practical (as you may have guessed, I'm already heartily sick of people whining about every single aspect of the Olympics - whining is a trait of the English which I consider to be most disagreeable). It reminds me, from a distance, of the Maracana stadium in Brazil - somewhat ironic, really, considering that the Maracana is one of the iconic sporting structures in the world. I'm glad that the committee have chosen to not get involved in a virility competition with the Chinese, who are more than happy to do whatever it takes to prove their place in the world. Leave them to it. We don't need it. What we have here is a design which guarantees that there will not be a white elephant sitting in north-east London for years after the event, as there are in so many other former Olympic cities. After the tournament, the stadium will reduced to a 25,000 capacity athletics stadium, which will provide the country with a much-needed cenral base for British (or English, or whatever) athletics.

What, you may ask, has this got to do with football? Well, the questions continues to be raised over the permanent usage of the stadium. It has constantly been suggested that a football or rugby club might be persuaded to move into the stadium to ensure that it is being used all year round. There are no significant rugby clubs in the area (rugby is more a speciality of the south-west of London than the more working class north-east), so which football clubs could be persuaded to use it? The reduced stadium would have a capacity of 25,000, which would be too small for an ambitious in the top two divisions, and probably too large for the majority of clubs in the bottom two. Millwall and Crystal Palace are both south of the river, the stadium is too small for West Ham United. The most commonly mentioned name has been that of Leyton Orient, but Orient supporters are not too happy about this. For one thing, they are on an upward curve at the moment, but their crowds still only average out at about 5,000. They would be lost in a 25,000 capacity stadium. In addition to this, the widespread belief (and this is one with which I agree) is that watching football on a pitch with an athletics track around it is an unsatisfactory experience.

The idea has somehow taken hold that those "crazy continentals" somehow like watching matches at stadia with athletics tracks around them, but this is, obviously, not true. More often than not, on the continent, football stadia are municipally owned and maintained (it is this which has been the biggest stumbling block towards stadium modernisation in Italy, for example), and councils want their sports facilities to be multi-use and, as such, have athletics facilities built into them. Because the majority of stadia in England were privately built and are still privately owned, this has been less of a problem here. Not too many teams in the entire pyramid play at converted athletics tracks - only Brighton & Hove Albion in the Football League, and several non-league clubs, such as Chelmsford City, Newport County, Bradford Park Avenue, Walton & Hersham & Gateshead. In the case of Chelmsford, Newport and BPA, these are stadia which are council-owned and used as a result of losing a previous home. The one thing that can be said for certain is that there is very little to say in favour of watching football on a pitch with an athletics track around it, and much against it. The distance between the spectators and the pitch makes it almost to create an atmosphere (it has been said that, at their hated Stadio Delle Alpi, Juventus players can't hear the crowd at all from the pitch), and the view is an inferior one.

Ultimately, I wouldn't wish such a stadium on any football club. London's football clubs would be well advised to leave the Olympic Stadium well alone. What i noticeable about football in London is that the vast majority of London's clubs have facilities which suitable for their needs. They don't need to alienate their own supporters for the sake of the belief that they are somehow saving the face of London 2012 (when the truth is that there is no need to save any face over the issue - it's a non-existent "problem" made up by people that will complain every aspect of the Olympics and pick arguments where none exist). Leave the Olympic Stadium to Britain's athletes - Christ alone knows they need somewhere more than any of our football clubs.

Ballhype: hype it up!


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