Before we start, I would like to add a note to the last offering I made here, http://d3d4football.com/the-shrimps-trip-to-shropshire-by-roger-fitton/ Virgin on the Ridiculous. Anyone who read it will see that I was extremely critical of a certain train company throughout this article.
I am so personally cynical about the way big companies in our country actually operate that, when I applied for a refund for the fare I had paid to get from Lancaster to Shrewsbury, I was certain that Virgin Trains would find a way to wriggle out of it. So I had already prepared an `advert’ to go on Facebook featuring the slogan Why Are Virgin Trains So-Called? – Because Only Their Customers Ever Get Screwed! But – totally confounding my pessimism – I have received an e-mail from this company during the last week which not only apologises for the poor service I received but has also refunded me 50% of the cost of my ticket for the return journey (£17.56 to be precise).
So I will keep the `advert’ to myself – I feel it would be disingenuous of me to spread it any further. Whether or not the link to the article I had written for this site which I sent to Virgin when I applied for the refund had anything to do with their decision to allow it (potentially even more bad publicity if they didn’t cough-up) I obviously can’t say…
The Ghosts of Christie Past.
Right – here’s a Xmas Teaser for you all. What do these Division Three, Division Four (and several ex-EFL teams such as Darlington) all have in common?
Accrington; Barnet; Chesterfield; Doncaster Rovers; Forest Green Rovers; Morecambe; Northampton; Rotherham United; Walsall; Wycombe and Yeovil Town?
No, Notts County fans, it’s not that they’re all crap. And there’s plenty more – Bristol Rovers, Colchester and Newport County right off the top of my head for instance.
Need a few clues?
Anyone any idea what this is?
If you do, you are almost certainly a fellow Shrimps’ Supporter or you are a Cheltenham fan. Why? Because two identical stands like this one were built at Whaddon Road in Cheltenham and Lancaster Road in Morecambe during the 1960s. Only one of these – the Jelf Stand, I believe – still exists and the Robins’ aren’t included in the exclusive list I am asking you about.
Ok; one last clue: Underhill; Fellows Park; Layer Road and Belle Vue are just four of a significantly long list.
Still not got it?
All the teams mentioned above have physically moved from their former homes to brand new ones. In the cases of Accrington and Newport, different circumstances apply: both teams went bust and started again elsewhere from scratch. But the others all willingly abandoned their former home grounds and set up shop somewhere else entirely.
What effect does this have on a club? More importantly, what effect does it have on the people who support it? What effect has it had on you personally? This is my account of how the move from Christie Park to the Globe Arena has had on me as a long-term Morecambe supporter.
Do you share this sense of loss and unapologetic nostalgia about the move your own club has made? If so, why not share these thoughts with us? Better still – why not share the photos you might have of the ground which no longer exists?
There are several Christie Parks in the world. One in Australia, for instance. And Huntly FC of the Highland League in Scotland play at another one. But the one I am primarily interested in for the purpose of this article is the Christie Park which, from 1921 until 2010, was the home ground of Morecambe Football Club. When the Shrimps were first formed, they shared the ground of Morecambe Cricket Club which still exists at Woodhill Lane in the seaside town for one season. In a covenant which we shall re-visit in due course, during 1921 one J.B. Christie, President of the club at the time, bought a site elsewhere and presented it to the club. In his honour, the name of the ground was changed from Rosebury to Christie Park, and the Shrimps would play there for the next eighty-nine years
My dad took me to Christie Park for the first time way back when in the 1960s when Morecambe were in the Lancashire Combination and doing all right, thanks very much. I can remember standing where what was finally known as the Umbro or South Stand was built on the cinder bank which once existed there. I also remember personally finding the nougat – with a World Cup Willie wrapper – available in the tea bar in the middle of the banking far more interesting than the men kicking a ball about on the pitch below.
(The Umbro Stand.)
This puts the date at pre-1966, when World Cup Willie was the mascot of Alf `Most Certainly’ Ramsay’s England team which finally actually won the competition. I also remember the Main Stand being built and walking across the site where the Auxiliary Supporters Club was being constructed. My – I am getting old – particularly considering that the Auxiliary Supporters Club was demolished years and years ago…
(The Main Stand )
(The Main Stand)
I continued going – usually on my own because nobody sad or mad enough to waste their money watching the drivel which was being served-up in the lower reaches of the Northern Premier League in the 1970s would come with me. Forgotten were the nights when literally thousands packed Christie Park to the rafters and the Lancashire Combination team beat First Division Burnley in the Lancashire Senior Cup Final to be splashed all over the back page of the Daily Mirror. Now, a handful of lunatics like myself stood in the rain on another Cinder Bank (later the Car Wash Terrace). Behind us, scoreboard man Jack shouted `WINDY!!!` in a way I have only personally ever heard one other person do since every time an opposition player kicked the ball into the air. Together, we watched Morecambe lose. Yes – lose. Losing became a way of life. 6-0 at Macclesfield. Knocked out of the cup by nobodies Mossley (a match my dad and I went to endure: I think Morecambe went down 4-1 – it was dire…)
200 and just over became the regular gate. The fare was dreadful. But the atmosphere was always good: even in the rain and expecting to get beaten again, I still went. And enjoyed it. In a strange sort of way. I can remember the night when a bit of argy-bargy between Morecambe fans and what I think was the only policeman in the ground began to the south edge of the paddock in front of the main stand. En Masse, virtually the whole Morecambe crowd made Nazi-salutes at this policeman and started chanting Seig Heil! (the first time I had ever heard this particular expression). PC Plod must have nearly had an accident in his trousers because he called for massive back-up and there was a threat of real trouble as a result… A little later, I remember Jeff Street (the centre half at the time) lining his fellow defenders up in the classic Arsenal Off-Side Trap straight line and raising his arm to call for the Referee’s whistle. This was very early in the season and I assume Jeff played cricket over the summer because instead of shouting “Off Side, Ref!” he yelled “Howzat?” And as one, all the Usual Suspects at Christie Park yelled “Not Out!” It was precious… Later, when current goalkeeper Barry Roche was still playing for Chesterfield, there was an incident involving the club’s mascot – Christie the Cat – and The Law. The mascot – a man dressed in red with a ridiculous cat’s head and huge white gloves – saw our tame policemen and a visiting officer from Derbyshire approaching. This as he stood behind the home goal in front of the focal point of the ground: the massed ranks on the terraces of the North Stand. Christie started beckoning to this unfortunate Constable – who, very sadly, actually looked not unlike a real Porker – and then offered his gloved clown hand to him. But before the policemen had a chance to shake it, the cat pulled it away at the very last instant. To add insult to injury, Christie the Cat then blew a raspberry into the embarrassed Constable’s red face as his victim fell for it hook line and sinker. My, how the North Stand jeered… Ah: memories, memories… But I’ll stop now otherwise we will be here all day.
There were attempts to divest the club of its home ground years before it actually happened during 2010. A very dodgy deal was agreed by the Board of the time to sell the club to a major D.I.Y. chain about two decades earlier, for instance. The fear of most supporters was that the Board intended to pocket the money and effectively shut the club down. So they used the small print in Christie’s original grant of the land on which the ground named after him was built: that the site should be used in perpetuity exclusively for sporting purposes.
Now, I would think that shopping at B&Q or whatever is no more a `sporting purpose’ than shoving a shopping trolley round Sainsbury’s. This supermarket giant have a long history of attempting to buy-up football grounds and shutting them down so they can build huge stores on them. They tried to do it at Gay Meadow, Shrewsbury Town’s old ground – and failed. But they succeeded at Penrith, where the ground and the nightclub owned by it next door were bought-out and flattened before the entire site was completely re-developed with the London-based megastore the focal point. But apparently when you offer twenty million pounds for a site you want to build a supermarket on, all thoughts of sporting purposes; perpetuity or what anyone else might think about it go out of the window. In the immortal words of Morecambe’s Chairman Peter McGuigan at the time Christie Park was sold to Sainsbury’s:
“Had we stayed at Christie Park I wouldn’t have been at the club anymore. I would have gone because there was no future in my opinion. If someone comes and offers you twenty million pounds for this, would you take it? Of course you would!”
So he did. Mr McGuigan had a plan to develop the new site so that it would become a focal point for the community, with a hotel for instance and shops for the locals and brand-new training facilities for the players. Seven years later, the shops and the hotel have not materialised, the Manager faces a daily headache even to arrange places for his squad to train and large lumps of land earmarked for development to help the club have been sold-off to pay the bills. The man who the new main stand is named after is now trying to sell the club and has been trying to do so for the last few years. This speaks more eloquently about the success of the move and the plans he had for a bright new future for the Shrimps than anything else probably could. It also contrasts quite starkly with his earlier comment “Had we stayed at Christie Park I wouldn’t have been at the club anymore.” We didn’t and he won’t be if he has his way again. (This is neither the time nor the place to examine the minutiae of the problems which are besetting Morecambe Football Club currently. These include ongoing disputes over who actually owns not just it but whole swathes of the new site.) But that’s now.
Then, the demolition of the old ground wasn’t just a matter of being so mesmerised by a large amount of money that it apparently caused all concerned to conveniently overlook covenants as well as convention. It also meant, for example, that the personalised bricks bought by individual supporters to defray the cost of the North Stand were reduced to rubble – and their contribution (£10 minimum per brick apparently), disregarded with it.
Simply posing the question how people think about this in retrospect on the Shrimps’ supporters’ site obviously touched a very sore spot even seven years after the North Stand was demolished. The consensus seems to be that people who contributed at the time saw it as a gesture intended to help the club and which they did willingly without any expectation of future reward. Other people are annoyed about the way the club simply ploughed their contributions into the ground without any consultation with the people who had made these contributions in the first place. But still others became furiously angry that anyone would even think to revisit this historical event. It was a long time ago. We all need to move on. Agreed – but the sheer rage of some of the rants I got in reply to a simple question shows all too clearly that there are those among us who very definitely have not moved on for whatever reason or reasons.
Whatever, the North Stand – opened by Bobby Charlton only fourteen years before it was knocked-down – was the heart and soul of the club.
(The North Stand.)
(The North Stand)
(The North Stand – interior)
(The North Stand – no more)
(The North Stand – Gone)
The move elsewhere meant not only its demolition and the end for the rest of Christie Park as a football ground.
(No ball games here)
It meant other intangible things to many individuals which other supporters were not necessarily aware of. Such the ashes of several of the Dear Departed which had been ceremonially scattered in the goalmouth in front of the North Stand could now be located not in a place which held a particular place in the hearts of the deceased and their friends or relations – they can now be found under the freezer cabinets within the new store.
So what of the new ground? This is what I wrote before visiting it for the first time to watch the inaugural game against Coventy City in the League Cup on Tuesday 10th August 2010:
“Today has been surreal. Simple as that. When I’ve managed to remember recently that Christie Park doesn’t actually exist anymore, I’ve tried to imagine – as you do – what going to the Globe Arena would really be like. And the only thing that didn’t surprise me tonight was that it wasn’t even vaguely like any one of the scenarios I had imagined beforehand…
For a start, I hoped to cycle to the new ground as usual. This is despite the fact that I wasn’t looking forward to doing so. The Globe Arena is further away than ever after all (over eight miles as opposed to seven, much of it against what is often a very strong wind on the Promenade on the way there) but I was given a perfect excuse: it rained heavily for most of the day. So I went in the van instead. I was able to leave it near Regent Park (about a five minute walk but I couldn’t get any nearer) and went on foot over the railway bridge towards the new ground. We must remember that – at about ten past seven of an early August evening in Northern England – it was still light. (It was barely dark even when I left the ground a couple of hours or so later…)
I saw the pylon floodlights: I had a fetish about such things when I was younger and had various half-baked plans to try and buy some old ones from the National Grid to make Christie Park into a proper football ground. And the new ones were on an hour or so before the sun went down and even before I parked the van.
Having walked to the stadium, though, my first impression was that this is a project very far from completion. Temporary boarding and metal screens still surround the approaches to the ground. What is obviously intended to be the main car park was still full of contractors’ vehicles of one sort or another – and I don’t mean just one or two: there must have been at least thirty. There was also plenty of evidence that work was still going on within the ground as the match was about to start.
I joined a queue to get into what I had mentally ascribed as the new North Stand. Fifteen quid cash to get in – no ticket as a receipt as was always the case at you-know-where – but still relatively cheap even for Fourth Division Football. Once inside, you are faced with a brick concourse with toilets and a hot-dog stall which I think also sells beer. I walked along this, expecting to find walk-ways up into the stand. But there aren’t any: you get in by a very narrow gangway on either side of the edifice: god help us all if there was a fire…
So come back The North Stand – all is forgiven: the North Stand was bigger, for a start: much wider and it went back much further. I ended-up – even over half an hour before the game started – on the top level of this stand. Or – to be more accurate – right at the back on the angle nearest to the new main stand. I couldn’t see as well as I could always do at Christie Park – and this was even before the ground filled-up. It crossed my mind even at the time to sit in the Main Stand instead for the next game: at least I would be able to see properly. This despite the fact that I’d personally really prefer to be on my hind legs behind the goal – the atmosphere in places like this is why I go to football matches after all. But I simply couldn’t see what was happening on the left side of the nearest part of the field from my point of view. And from my point of view, the only recognisable landmark even on the horizon was the Wind Farm at Claughton over the roof of what is currently called the Bay Radio Stand.
And this was the weirdest thing of all: it was like being Away From Home.
Here I was, corralled onto a brand-new terrace with a pristine stadium all around me; spanking-new Main Stand to my right complete with Executive Boxes and proper seats (as opposed to those things without backs at Christie Park) – and I could have been anywhere.
Wrexham came to mind. We sat there – and their International Stadium is much bigger (and even grander) than the Globe Arena. But Wrexham and the Racecourse Ground are an institution, come rain, shine or even relegation. They will play on there whatever happens.
But we have chosen to re-invent ourselves.
The Globe Arena is amazing – State Of The Art and all that – but I actually didn’t like it that much. Moving here is doubtlessly `progress’ in at least Corporate terms… But what about the soul of the club?
As I’ve said, this felt to me like an Away Game tonight. I suspect this was a general feeling because there was no atmosphere to start off with. But even when this generated itself a bit when the lads started to win, my inner soul said that it was muted.
It’s early days. Things will change. To say that it’s not the same is stating the bleedin’ obvious. But even now, I feel that the really big mistake that has been made at the Globe Arena is not to rebuild the North Stand there: it was the heart of Christie Park. Now, sadly, it has been replaced by what is effectively just a much smaller shed.
Getting away – probably complicated by the presence of Mark Clemmet with a microphone, a cameraman and the rest of his cohorts from the BBC – took forever. And god help us all – as I said before – if the ground caught fire…”
Despite these negative feelings, I gave the new ground a proper go: I attended 22 times during the first season; 23 times during the next one and 21 times yada yada yada…
(The Globe Arena.)
(neat and tidy new stand)
(The West Stand)
(The East Stand)
(under the lights)
(And away into the night)
Not everyone else has done the same. If anyone has any doubts about this, a quick look at the average home gates since the move will quickly dissuade them. At Christie Park, the usual gate was nearer three than two thousand. Now, it’s closer to one thousand than it is to two and this has created a financial crisis at a club which is now even less able to cover all its costs with the revenue flowing through the turnstiles than it was in the past. The package we were sold when the club moved to the new ground has turned out to be not worth the paper it was written on. The club is a laughing-stock off the field. Without old stalwart and current manager Jim Bentley, the project would almost certainly have already failed on it.
So what’s happened to the 50% of fans who went to Christie Park but no longer attend Morecambe matches anymore? There are probably as many other reasons as there are absences from the terraces at the new ground to explain why other individuals don’t attend anymore either, one of which is the expense. I paid £21 to sit in the cheapest part of the main stand for the Boxing Day game against Notts County. This is more than you would pay at most League One clubs – and in some cases, a lot more. Morecambe has gained recent notoriety for being one of the most deprived towns in Britain. Many people who would no doubt like to support their local football club can’t actually afford to do so. I heard someone remarking to his Missus in the queue to buy a ticket that if the cost for adults was a tenner, the club would attract enough extra supporters to actually increase not only the attendance but the financial take on a regular basis. “But they don’t get that, do they?” Personally, I suspect that – whether they get it or not – the members of the Board don’t generally care. I may not be right but I’m certainly not alone in thinking this. A neighbour of mine has supported the Shrimps even longer than I have. He even broke a family holiday in Spain to fly back to England to attend the play-off final at Wembley which saw the club enter the Football League for the first time. But now he doesn’t watch them at all.
“I don’t like it. The club isn’t meant for people like you and me anymore. It’s for the Prawn Cocktail Brigade who park their poncy cars with their personalised numberplates in front of the new main stand.”
I tend to agree. A mental image of the place I have in my head bears this out better than anything else I could say here the change which has become all too apparent in the move to the Globe Arena. On matchdays, the parking bays beyond the cycle rack are full of expensive cars with registrations such as MFC. Who knows, there may even be Chauffeurs by the name of Parker waiting to take the owners of these things home to be waited on hand and foot by Butlers, some of whom might be called Claud.
Not many of us can afford this sort of obsequiousness – and if I could, this is the sort of Claud the Butler I would personally invest in:
Instead, I have this:
( Other bicycle brands are available.)
Don’t knock it – it got me to and from the game in one piece on Boxing Day.
I would be the first person to accept that other supporters of the club take a totally different view of the move. Some are young enough not to know any different. Others would accept Chairman McGuigan’s claim that the move away from Christie Park was actually necessary. I assume that yet more fans actually prefer the new place to the old one. As I mentioned earlier, I realise that my own personal reaction to the change is undeniably related to my age – 63 – and my memories of a place which still means a lot to me. Maybe I have actually turned into one of those Old Farts who simply don’t like change. But I don’t think that the move to the Globe Arena has been a change for the better for all the reasons stated above. And I suspect the souls of the Dear Departed who now linger under the frozen sprouts in a supermarket over a mile away would probably agree.
Ghosts of Christie Past indeed…