The 20 indignities at English football grounds (featuring Arsenal, Aston Villa, Celtic, Charlton, Fulham, Newcastle, QPR, Spurs and Wolves)
FOOTBALL fans and all decent people everywhere will have been cheered to hear that Fulham Football Club has finally got round to taking down the statue of Michael Jackson that has besmirched Craven Cottage for the past few years. Former owner Mohamed Al Fayed, who erected the statue in 2011, is apparently considering selling it to raise money for charity.
Good news for all those who believe that sporting establishments should be treated with respect and dignity.
Not such good news from Tottenham Hotspur, however. A man has appeared in court charged with having sex with a sheep next to Spurs’ state-of-the-art training complex in leafy Hertfordshire. The club has wisely maintained a dignified silence on the matter, but it surely can’t be a coincidence that the team lost 3-0 at home to West Ham.
Here’s a consoling thought for the north London underdogs: worse – far worse – fates have befallen other football grounds over the years…
St James’ Park
The stadium has had its share of lows, including its hosting of auditions for X Factor and Big Brother. But the Toon Army were up in arms when St James’ Park was renamed the Sports Direct Arena, prompting a graffiti campaign to put things right.
When Wonga.com took over sponsorship of Newcastle United, there was outrage of a different kind. Wisely, having purchased the naming rights, the company decided to revert to the traditional stadium name.
The Birmingham ground was no stranger to bushy sideburns and long lank side-parted hair in 1972. But it had surely never seen anything like the scenes following Danny McAlinden’s defeat of Jack Bodell for the British and Commonwealth heavyweight title, as the ring almost collapsed under the weight of excited Irishmen.
The late Scarborough FC’s roof suffered a premature partial demolition by one rogue Wolves fan in 1987…
QPR’s stadium – which is like a football ground, only smaller – became infamous for its appalling Omiturf plastic pitch in the 1980s. Manager Terry Venables allegedly offered visiting teams the opportunity to train on the dry surface the day before each match, only to have it heavily watered before the game. Even the Rangers players hated it, and it was abandoned later in the decade.
Yet worse, far worse, was to follow, when the place was soiled by the Wasps rugby union team taking residence.
In 1992 the legendary North Bank was demolished, to be replaced by a luxurious new stand. During the building works, a giant mural of fans was placed behind the goal at that end. A bizarre idea in itself, this then provoked controversy for not including enough black fans. This was then rectified.
When Arsenal moved to the Emirates, the ground has been decorated with tributes to the club’s history. Here, it was the presence of a black face that created anger, as ‘Cashley’ Cole’s face was defaced in this vintage line-up.
White Hart Lane
No contest here.
Arsenal win the league at the Land. Not just once…
Charlton Athletic’s massive concrete bowl of a ground lay derelict for years in the 1980s, despite the club remaining in business. They returned after supporters formed a political party and campaigned for a return to their home and a rebuilt stadium.
In the meantime, the ungrateful Addicks squatted at Selhurst Park, thus ushering in the darkest hour for that stadium too. Worse even than 1993, when tenants Wimbledon set the record for the lowest ever Premier League attendance (3,039).
So many to choose from, not least Tango Man’s humiliation of the police and stewards at the 1996 Play-off Final between Crystal Palace and Leicester City, as he led them a merry dance by hiding and repeatedly reappearing in different parts of the ground. And to put the tin lid on it he arrived in a tank, which he parked outside the ground.
Shortly afterwards came the Euro 96 opening ceremony, with a St George and the Dragon pageant which could just about have graced a medium-sized village fête.
And here, parodied reasonably accurately by Baddiel and Skinner…
Yet these embarrassments pale into insignificance beside the Tartan Army’s invasion in 1977, leaving Motson chuntering like Alan Partridge as they smashed the crossbar…
And finally, the darkest of dark days in the darkest of dark decades, at the home of Scottish football
The 1980 Scottish FA Cup Final was the scene of a full-scale on-pitch punch-up as the Old Firm decamped to Hampden.
But for sheer mortification, it has to be the1988 final, when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was invited as guest of honour. Her dislike of football, and football fans in particular, was no secret, and she was known to have been shocked on occasion to hear the nation anthem booed.
Media focus ratcheted the pressure to 11. A ‘red card’ protest by trade unions was picked up with enthusiasm by the crowd, which unfortunately for her included a large number of Celtic fans. The chant ‘Maggie, Maggie get tae fuck, Maggie get tae fuck’ thus rang out loud and clear. With the exception of Charles I’s execution and Winston Churchill’s post-war booing at Walthamstow dog track, it’s hard top think of a more public British display of disrespect to a national institution.