The
WALTER
PILKINGTON
COLUMN

THE NATIONAL
STADIUM
AND
PICKING THE LOCK

MEHSTG Vol. 2  Issue 19  -  February 2001

So, Wembley limbers up and limbos down more times than an athlete on a Caribbean holiday. With Ken Bates being “moved upstairs” to allow things to move forward with the development of the National stadium, it appears that it will be going ahead at the North West London site. It is a move that is fraught with problems as fans of England and all clubs who attend the ground already know that it is not the best of places to go.

It is not just the lingering smell of foul urine that wafted up the staircases and the hard wooden benches that you once paid a small fortune to sit on. It is not just the distance and poor sightlines to the pitch from the back of the stadium. It is not just the poor catering and the crowded common access areas that existed in the old stadium. Of everything, it is the poor access to the ground – even for those of us who live in or around London.

When thinking about the new stadium, I think they should have considered moving it to somewhere more accessible for fans from the North as well as the rest of us. A location somewhere around Milton Keynes would have been better for all, with a main motorway nearby, plenty of room for parking and a good railway link. It would not have taken much longer for Spurs fans to reach it than they would be sitting in their cars on the North Circular Road. The fact that the stadium is set in the middle of an industrial estate means that there is no nearby parking allowed and the amount of people attending would mean that you would not have an easy drive away from the ground with fans swarming all over the area. Even though Wembley Park tube station is close to the ground and the fact that it has been improved in recent years, the station is not of a sufficient size nor is access to it suitable to make it a comfortable experience to get away from Wembley.

The main sticking point about the stadium is the debate over the athletics track. Now that it has been announced (well at the time of writing anyway, so it could well have changed again by the time you read this) that Wembley will not be the venue for the World Athletics Championships should they come to England in 2004. Therefore, it looks as though the National Athletics Stadium is back on at Picketts Lock once again. Which brings the argument round to “Will Spurs move into Picketts Lock ?” Well, if Arsenal are rumoured to be moving into Wembley, why not ? The funny thing about the move from Highbury is that Sainsbury’s own a piece of land near the new Arsenal stadium and they are not selling it off to the Gooners, but will be waiting to see who makes the highest bid before letting it go. How about Spurs fans getting together to buy it and hold the South London Wanderers to ransom over the land ? I’m sure that they would pay a more than reasonable price !!

With the Government desperate to try and restore some confidence in their sporting credibility, they could make sure the new athletics ground is built and then would probably need a sports side to come in to help pay the running costs. There would be only one obvious choice and improved transport links to that new stadium would be put in place with a new station opposite and improved public transport routes to the ground. It would be an option for Spurs, as the money spent on the current stadium would not allow the club to realise a capacity large enough to challenge those of other clubs in the Premier League. The days where clubs could move out of their traditional area to out of town grounds have proliferated over the last few years, but relocating in an urban environment is not possible for most clubs. Arsenal may manage it with Ashburton Grove and Tottenham’s only option to do likewise would be to go to Picketts Lock. It has all the advantages that Wembley lacks. And in looking for a place for a stadium to be built, the athletics authorities are avoiding the pitfalls of those involved in the footballing national stadium committee. Even to the extent that it would be possible to extend the Victoria Line to Picketts Lock from Tottenham Hale, especially after comments from Ministers about the need for excellent transport links should any major sporting event be held in or around the city.

For the National stadium, which appears to be becoming the new Millennium Dome in terms of building costs and possible political disaster, the rebuilding at Wembley could require scaling down to meet available funds, unless private investment can be raised. It is a mystery because the Stade de France and the Stadium Australia built for the Sydney Olympics cost less and are very impressive with bigger capacities. What the ground will look like in the end is anybody’s guess and the only certain thing is that it will still be at Wembley. Whether or not Spurs will end up playing in an athletics stadium is another question that only time will answer. With sliding seats or a retractable pitch to allow the crowd to be traditionally near the pitch, it could happen (like the stadium at Vitesse Arnhem). And then again, if the FA think that White Hart Lane is good enough to hold an England international there now, the new stadium could be a regular top class stadium that would be suitable to host a variety of top ranking matches (semi-finals, Under-21 games, European finals, etc.). You never know, we could be sitting in a ground that would rival some of the best in the world. Stadium guru Simon Inglis’ seal of approval awaits.


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