Almost a year ago now Lewis Walker wrote about supporter loyalty in the Scottish game. Moving in to 2017, he considers the club’s potential move to Kingsford and why he believes it’s a necessity.
Plans for our new stadium and training facility were formally submitted to Aberdeen City Council last Monday (16th January) which has understandably enhanced the debate on whether our potential move to Kingsford will be a success for the club. At the time of writing over 700 people have already submitted a comment to either object or support the move on the official ACC site with both Yes and No camps encouraging the public to speak out.
In addition to this are opinions voiced and debated on social media, online forums and in articles in the mainstream media. It’s a topic that divides many and without hyperbolising the issue, the result of it will be monumental in shaping the club’s future.
I don’t want to spend much time on whether the plans should be approved by Mr Prentice and co. at the council. In my opinion, it is imperative that they are for both the club and the city and it would be calamitous if they weren’t.
Some of the arguments against the move are nothing short of ludicrous. Those in and around Westhill who are against it due to the “hooligan element” and the “inebriated fans”, as quoted in the local Evening Express, need to wake up and realise what year they live in. Anyone who frequents Pittodrie will tell that you any violence is very rare and all aggression is usually reserved for calling the referee an arsehole. Football fans being victimised is nothing new but this level of ignorance is both ridiculous and offensive.
One of the more amusing arguments against it is that it’ll be a “blot on the landscape”. It’s a pleasant area with many nice houses but its best known for being the home of Costco and some business parks, it’s certainly not akin to plunking a stadium in the middle of the Lake District. This is a brand new, community-driven project that will undoubtedly improve the area on the whole.
There will be traffic, I concede. Just like there’s traffic at Union Square and the AECC during busy times. It’s a nuisance but it’s natural and we’ll all get used to it, just like when we see Willie Collum’s name on the team-lines.
Anyone concerned about potential traffic problems should read the excellent Transport Assessment by Fairhurst which is one of the many documents on the ACC site.
The Shire is only going to continue to grow and it’s an incredibly naive perspective to only expect new-build houses and not much else to be built for decades to come. That is of course presuming those against the stadium on these grounds would also be against a shopping centre in the same area? It’s a typical NIMBY attitude and one that this city needs to eradicate to prosper and grow, especially now that the offshore industry isn’t what it once was.
There’s no doubt I empathise with those who’d rather stay at a redeveloped Pittodrie but it just doesn’t appear to be a viable option. There is very little land available and any redevelopment would include monumental work, if it’s even at all possible.
The current stadium doesn’t meet European requirements and the Main Stand is simply too small to house UEFA delegates without relocating other club staff.
The South and the Merkland are crumbling and would need re-built while the RDS would need to be shifted to make as much as room as possible, thus leaving a total revamp that would either drastically reduce capacity for years or force a ground-share elsewhere.
This all being said and assuming, fingers crossed, that the planned stadium will be given the green light, what concerns me most about our potential move is the stadium design itself. Let’s not kid ourselves, relocating outside the city centre is a huge risk in itself. The risk is multiplied tenfold if the resulting stadium is an uninspiring, Ikea budget arena.
It could be ruinous for the club.
The new stadium must be designed and built in a way that; 1) ensures our current core fan base continue to attend, 2) occasional supporters become full-time attendees and 3) new fans are tempted through the gate.
The current plans that are out there for all to see are encouraging, if only a little inconclusive. At this stage there is an outline with little specific detail, such as the gradient or capacity of each stand. At first showings it looks to be a fairly shallow stadium, something which will not impress those in favour of a Tynecastle-esque design. The roof also appears to be sloped upwards which would be disadvantageous in keeping noise in.
However, it is all-enclosed and it seems certain that it will include safe-standing, aspects that can and will improve the atmosphere.
For all that some love about Pittodrie, the atmosphere is more often than not, non-existent. Noise needs to reverberate around the ground and inspire fans and players alike. We need this to be a fortress, somewhere where we know no away side will want to visit. For this to happen the stadium needs to be steep, it needs to feel compact and close to the pitch and there needs to be sufficient safe-standing to meet demand.
Thankfully, we have a blank canvas and we should have the capabilities to make this a reality. If we don’t, we’ve only ourselves to blame.
Unfortunately, I’m of the generation that has seen next to hee-haw at Pittodrie and while I’ll miss the walk down Merkland Road and the view from Section Y, I’ll not miss much more. However, it does have character and memories for countless others that’ll be nigh on impossible to replicate elsewhere.
We need to attempt to bottle its charm and take it with us to Kingsford.
It’s positive to see a museum in the plans and I expect parts of Pittodrie will be taken with us to the new site. It needs to feel welcoming and homely, not soulless and vacant. The granite Merkland wall, Teddy Scott’s room and statues of former greats can and should help this.
As an out-of-town stadium, it needs to entertain before and after the 90 minutes. I understand this is very much in the club’s thinking and so we can expect a supporters’ bar and a fan-zone of sufficient size.
There should be no reason for us not to explore the possibility of a large outdoor zone for fans to eat, drink and blether away for a couple hours before kick-off, comparable to what can be found in Germany. The club can show match highlights, interviews or classic games on the large screen, Angus the Bull can wander round entertaining the kids and everyone else can enjoy a drink with their lunch.
Legislations regarding alcohol may well be a stumbling block but I see no reason why this can’t be packed out fortnightly if it’s licensed and executed well. Most supporters have their locals that they’ve enjoyed a pre-match pint in for years and it’s up to the club to convince these same supporters that the ground itself is an equal substitute.
Crucially, the new stadium must benefit supporters who want to create noise, colour and an atmosphere that inspires and connects with those around them. This can’t be emphasised enough. It must be as inclusive as can be, less cliquey than Pittodrie currently is. It’s an opportunity for the club and the supporters to create a bond.
Questions over planning approval and funding especially will remain, and quite rightly, but I’m confident that the club wouldn’t come so far with these plans for them to fall through once again. When approval comes we must be brave, bold and innovative. If the club follow this mantra the supporters will flock and our club can be revolutionised.
We’re a loyal bunch and we’ll live on past Pittodrie, we have to.
Up the Dons.”