The Saturday Movie Club: From Newcastle to Wembley, With Alan Mullery
Football in England has changed considerably over the last quarter of a century or so, and nowhere is that change more noticeable than in the grounds that we visit. Dozens have been bulldozed and replaced with shiny structures made of steel and plate glass which are more closely aligned with the modern perception of the game as a branch of the light entertainment industry. The catalyst for that change was, of course, The Taylor Report that followed the Hillsborough disaster of 1989 and the rush to move on to pastures new was at its most accentuated during the first half of the 1990s.
As such, From Newcastle to Wembley with Alan Mullery now feels like a historical document as much as it feels like an itch-scratching exercise for the groundhoppers amongst us. Produced in 1994, it’s a tour of England’s football grounds that was made at the time when English football’s renovation exercise was approaching its peak. It kicks off at Molineux – then one of the most potent symbols of this rush towards modernity – before moving on to St James Park in Newcastle, where the Gallowgate End terrace remained as a new stadium was buile around it, the soon to be condemned Ayresome Park, and York City’s Bootham Crescent, before heading across Yorkshire to the North West and down towards London.
Mullery’s involvement in all of this is… limited. A short interview at the start in which he looks into the camera in such a way that you start looking for hidden messages in his blinking is followed by other brief appearances, but he’s not the only blast from the past to make an appearance here. Upon arriving at Bramall Lane, for example, we’re treated to a brief interview with the then-Sheffield United manager Dave Bassett. On the whole, though, it’s the grounds themselves that are the stars, here. Chester’s Deva Stadium, Gresty Road, The City Ground, before finishing off in London, taking a look at The New Den before heading off to Wembley for a finale that features Wycombe Wanderers in the FA Trophy final.
There are occasional moments of low comedy – when they turn up at Anfield, for example, they’re not allowed in and present their review of the ground from outside instead, whilst an interview with the man who used to fish the balls out of the river behind Shrewsbury’s Gay Meadow is hardly likely to be challenging Frost vs Nixon at any point in the future – but if we set aside our twenty-first century cynicismfor a moment, there’s also something else going on here, an opportunity to bask in an architecture that largely doesn’t exist any more. Dozens of football grounds, buildings of considerable cultural importance during the twentieth century, were demolished in a very short period of time with very few attempts at genuine preservation or renovation being made. In some respects, videos such as this are as much as we have left of this part of many of our pasts.