As I briefly mentioned last night, in the summer, the “silly season” kicks in. As parliament breaks up for the summer, news desks run out of stories to print, and the assorted hacks start looking elsewhere for items to fill up the column inches, and stories that would never otherwise be allowed near our hallowed newspapers get an airing. This isn’t often a problem in football. The transfer system keeps the press feverishly speculating, even in years when there isn’t a World Cup or a European Championship. This year, however, has been different. Today’s “Independent” back page featured England Under-21s’ penalty defeat against the Dutch as its main story. There is, for the casual viewer, no football at the moment. Those of us prepared to dig around a bit for their fix can be satiated by the likes of the Copa Libertadores or the CONCACAF Gold Cup, exotic tournaments taking place far, far away, but for the majority, there’s nothing. Nada. Zip. Even the home transfer market, in an environment about to be bloated by yet another massive injection of TV cash, seems strangely lethargic.
Against this background, it’s perhaps unsurprising that strange stories are starting to leak into the public consciousness. First up, you’ve got the strange little spat developing between Alexi Lalas and the British press (as noted on here last night), and now you’ve got Nottingham Forest, who have announced tentative plans to leave The City Ground and build a brand new 50,000 seater stadium in Clifton, on the outskirts of the city. This sort of pronouncement has become de rigeur these days, to the extent that it all becomes just so much blah blah blah, so let me just take a moment to point out the key phrases in the preceding sentence. “Nottingham Forest”, “leave The City Ground”, “build a brand new 50,000 seater stadium”.
It’s worth remembering at this point that Forest are somewhat flush at the moment. They’re certainly the wealthiest team in the bottom two divisions of the Football League. However, it’s not so long ago that they were bumping from financial crisis to financial crisis, and were bordering on bankruptcy several times. You’d think that they might have learnt a lesson in financial prudence. Apparently not. It would appear that they think that spending tens (if not hundreds) of millions of pounds on a shiny, new stadium is the only way for them to progress on the pitch. Never mind the attachment that thousands of supporters to a ground that they’ve played at since the century before last. The future, it would seem, is a shiny bowl made of steel in the middle of nowhere.
I have one final objection. With the greatest will in the world, do Nottingham Forest, of the third division of English football, need a 50,000 seater stadium? Last season, only Manchester United, Newcastle United and Arsenal managed average crowds (or, indeed, had stadiums that held over 50,000) in the whole of England. Nottingham Forest have never been watched at home by more than 50,000 people. Not even in the days when Charlton could average 70,000. Their highest ever crowd was 49,946, which they managed against 40 years ago against Manchester United. I can’t imagine a situation in which Forest could get anything like that sort of crowd, even if they were successful in the Premiership. They would, effectively be spending millions and millions of pounds on rows and rows of empty tip-up seats.
There is talk that this is more about the 2018 World Cup than anything else. FIFA rules state that two stadia can’t be used in the same city in the World Cup finals, so gaps may open up for cities that can be bothered to build new stadia. Even if England get lucky, though (and it’s obviously too early to say that they’ll get anywhere near being successful), an England bid should be based on a mixture of modernity and heritage, and where better than at a redeveloped, 40,000 capacity City Ground, in the centre of one of the best cities in Britain to visit for sport? Forest have a unique site, right on the banks of the River Trent, close to the city centre and dozens of pubs and bars. There’s no need to shunt them out of the city centre. They should not sacrifice the interests of all football supporters at the altar of unnecessary modernity.