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Saturday, 29 October 2011

Arsenal, Coventry and Leicester: Can a new ground be blamed for a lack of success?


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It has been a traumatic decade for followers of Coventry City. The Sky Blues were relegated from the Premier League in 2001 and in the proceeding 10 years the Midlands club have rarely threatened a return to the big time. You could argue that the club’s move to the Ricoh Arena has hindered their progress.

The Ricoh’s location hardly helps. The majority of the fans are bussed in from the City’s bus station. The journey, which can last up to 20 minutes, is a strange experience as you travel along a dual carriageway. On a hot day you feel like you’re on the outskirts of a seaside resort, anticipating cries of “Are we there Yet?” from the back seats.

Coventry City have almost become detached from the community it represents. In contrast, Highfield Road was in walking distance of Lady Godiva’s statue.  

Cost is another factor to be taken into consideration. Coventry has bared the brunt of the current financial crisis. More than 10,000 people in the area are unemployed. This must be a factor in the pricing of tickets. I was therefore taken aback when a friend mentioned that he was asked to shell out £20 for the visit of Barnsley.

The Sky Blue faithful appear to be voting with their feet. Last Saturday’s home defeat to Burnley was witnessed by fewer than 13,000 fans. As with any club the bottom line is performances on the pitch. Coventry City’s constant flirtation with relegation is never going to entice fans away from the sofa.

The fact that the club does not own the ground has placed further strain on finances.

Coventry are not the only club to suffer from moving home. Many teams have reported a downturn in fortunes following relocation. Arsenal are the highest profile victims of this curse.  The Gunners have failed to win any silverware since moving to The Emirates. Southampton and Leicester saw their sparkling new homes hosting third tier football. A far cry from the cup winning days at The Dell and Filbert Street. Derby County have failed to recapture that halcyon Baseball Ground era, as that ram shackled stand and quagmire pitch brought the mighty to their knees. The genius of Brian Clough and some gifted footballers also came in handy.

We are talking about different eras, of course. The Baseball’s heyday was in a decade where, to pardon the pun, a more level playing field existed. The location of bricks and mortar has little influence on the quest for modern day glory. Bulging transfer budgets are a more accurate aid to success.

Middlesbrough are perhaps the only club to buck the trend. The Boro have enjoyed the most successful period in their history since leaving Aryesome Park. The Teesiders won the Carling Cup in 2004, the first major trophy in their history. For good measure they then reached the UEFA Cup Final the following year. Even the talents of Manion, Souness and Armstrong could not match the Riverside success.

There are other upsides to new stadiums. As a disabled fan I’m particularly grateful for the upgrading of facilities. I am most thankful when I have a call of nature 10 minutes before half time. In the old days you dreaded been caught short. A trip to the loo was an expedition to say the least. These home comforts compensate for a lack of character. Many of the new grounds have a regimented look about them, the standard bowl design accommodating endless bucket seats. 

There are positives to a change in scenery, but as they say moving is one of the most stressful events in life. I guess a fair few football clubs may echo that view.

Article by Steve Coulter

Do you agree with Steve? Has your team's new ground led to the club's demise or created a disconnection between the club and the fans? Would you prefer to back at your historic home or do you believe new stadia is crucial for clubs and the fans? Whatever your view, we'd love to hear from you.

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