Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What’s In A Name?

Newcastle United have recently angered fans by deciding to replace the historic name of St James’ Park with something that resembles an e-mail address: sportsdirect.com @ St James' Park. Apparently, Chelsea are considering making up for the fact that they have a football stadium rather than a massive soulless cavern by doing something similar.

I have some sympathy with the naysayers. While growing up in the 1980s religiously watching Grandstand and listening to The Sports Report on BBC Radio 5 on Saturdays, I was fascinated by the evocative names of football grounds: Anfield, Highbury, Belle Vue, The Goldstone Ground, Bootham Crescent…to name but a few. I always thought that although corporate conglomerates such as Crown Paints had managed to plaster their horrid logos all over the Division One leader’s shirts, at least we had retained some honour by not allowing them to touch our stadiums, our cathederals…

Before I come over all teary-eyed, my logical head tells me that this should have happened ages ago. It did in America, where only old farts can actually remember the real names of the stadiums. Perhaps good ideas come slowly to Mike Ashley, as he owns both Newcastle United and Sports Direct and could have done this some time ago. English football is perhaps our country’s most successful export since The Beatles and now includes betting operators, savings account operators and even organisers of funerals as partners…so why does such a proposal generate such outrage?

It is a question of history. Arsenal’s move from Highbury to The Emirates Stadium was not greeted with the same derision because Arsenal has no history at its new home. The difference with Newcastle United’s move and Chelsea’s plan is that they are ignoring history. Newcastle have played at St James’ Park since 1892 and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge since 1905. We would not consider allowing a new owner to rename Tower Bridge – built between 1892 and 1894 – so why do we allow a temporary owner to take that liberty with one of the world’s most historic football stadiums?

Before The Shed becomes part of Samsung Bridge, the Football Association or the government should consider rules or legislation preventing historic stadiums from being renamed. Otherwise these tough economic climes might mean that we are left with no historic stadium names at all.


Andy Brown


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