Saturday, June 20, 2009
Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
26-04-09 Stadium Tour
It’s a shame in some ways that the FA Cup, League Cup and play-off finals have all returned to London as it’s unlikely now that I will get a chance to see a game of club football played at the Millennium Stadium. Ipswich having missed out on playing there on three occasions, defeated by Birmingham City in the semis of the Worthington Cup in 2001, and the Championship Play-Offs in 2004 and 2005 - losing twice to West Ham.
But the stadium offers regular tours on most days at £5/£6 admission which, while not being the next best thing, was certainly well worth the effort. Our very enthusiastic and highly informative guide was full of all sorts of interesting facts and anecdotes about games, concerts and other events that have been hosted since it was first opened in 1999 and of course the story of 74,500 capacity stadiums construction.
Arriving by train in the Welsh capital it’s impossible to miss the stadium, which sits slap bang in the city centre just a few minutes walk from Cardiff Central Station.
With the exception of the East Stand approach (this side of the stadium looks a bit tired in my opinion) all other views are quite something, particularly from the other side of the River Taff. From this viewpoint the stadium looks as though it is hanging out over the water, indeed entry into the west stand is from a pedestrian walkway that does just that.
Although the stadium is not quite on the scale of the new Wembley most of the seats on its three tiers are a lot closer to the action than it’s English counterpart. I can imagine that the atmosphere on match day is pretty special (especially with the roof closed).
The tour took us to all three levels and there seemed to be excellent views and plenty of legroom on each although, oddly, those in the royal box have slightly less than elsewhere due to the extra padding provided for the Queen et al.
Behind the goal at the north stand end there are just two tiers where it backs on to one of the stands of neighbouring Cardiff Rugby Club. Efforts to persuade the Club to move failed and the stadium had to be redesigned accordingly, indeed the steel work of the old ground can be seen poking through the wall of the stadium where the two meet.
Notable features of the place include: the aforementioned retractable roof (which can be closed in 20 minutes); two giant TV screens behind each goal; a modular turf system that means the entire pitch can be wheeled in and out by forklift; and the four distinctive 296 ft masts that provide support for the stadium roof.
Being right in the centre there is no shortage of bars and restaurants to keep everyone happy before a game. I read a stat somewhere that said there was sufficient capacity to feed and water over 60,000 fans before they headed into the stadium.
There is of course plenty of other good stuff to look at in Cardiff too. The National Museum is well worth a visit, as is Cardiff Castle and Bute Park all of which are just minutes away.
The pictures continue here.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Panorama Mania 3!
28-03-2009 England 4 Slovakia 0 (Friendly)
Another trip to the New Wembley for me but a debut appearance for ExtremeGroundhopping Jnr at our remodelled national stadium.
Having been to the new Wembley four times now, and having sat in the upper tier on three of those occasions, it’s time for a bit of rethink on my take of the place...
Sitting behind the goal in the upper tier towards the back puts you a long long way from the action – particularly anything going on at the other end. What was also quite noticeable was that the terrific atmosphere created in the lower tier (In the highlights that I watched later ITV’s commentators remarked on how much racket there was) failed to carry into the upper tier were, certainly around our seats, all was pretty sedate for the 90 minutes.
Maybe having a central tier of VIP seats (aka Club Wembley) is at fault here on both counts. If the upper tier overlapped the central tier in its entirety then the upper tier seats would be closer to the action and would remove the dampening effect that the centre tier has on the sound moving up from the tier below it. Just a thought.
Ninian Park’s Last Hoorah
25-04-2009 Cardiff City 0 Ipswich Town 3 (Championship)
New Town manager Roy Keane (who’d arrived amidst a maelstrom of media activity in Ipswich just a few days before this game) could not have asked for a more positive start to his reign from the Blue’s. The 3-0 win – which pretty much ended Cardiff’s hopes of play-off football – came courtesy of some unusually clinical finishing from the Ipswich frontline.
A penalty save by Richard Wright (after a quite daft foul by one-time Champions League winner Ivan Campo) ended a period of purposeful play by the home side but after that there was only ever going to be one winner. On the half-hour sub Jon Stead (who played under Keane at Sunderland) set up Pablo Counago, repeated the feat after the break for David Norris, before helping himself to the third.
As it transpired the Bluebirds play-off ambitions did end at Sheffield Wednesday a week later and so the game against Town had proved to be Ninian Park’s swansong. For Cardiff City fan’s this must have been a hugely disappointing way to celebrate the end of the line for their 99 year old home. Where was the side that had occupied a top six berth up until a few ago, or the side that had reached Wembley for last May’s FA Cup Final. They were woeful.
Most of the crowd (visiting fans excepted) stayed behind for a firework display and other festivities to mark the grounds passing which, after what had passed in the preceding 90 minutes must have had quite a surreal feel to it.
So goodbye to a ground (first visited by yours truly in 1978) that must hold some great memories for it’s regulars: Wins against Real Madrid and Sporting Lisbon in European competition; promotions and relegations; and the Welsh national sides victory against Israel that clinched a place at the 1958 World Cup finals.
More recently the FA victory against then Premiership Leeds in 2002, and away from football, and assortment of boxing and rugby matches, the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1982 and by Bob Marley (and the Rastaman Vibration Tour) in 1976.
Next season Cardiff will play at the new Cardiff International Sports Stadium which is just a few hundred yards away from Ninian Park. The original site for the old stadium is actually where the new stadium has been built. So, a century on, its back to Plan A for the Bluebirds.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
The principal activities in Rome’s Colossuem - gladiatorial combat that pitched human against human, and human against animal - may not qualify as sports in the eyes of sum but the iconic landmark in the centre of the Italian capital more than qualifies, stadiumwise, for an appearance on the humble pages of Extreme Groundhopping.
Some estimates put the number of humans to have lost their lives within it’s confines at a staggering 500,000 while 1Million animals were also thought to have slaughtered in the name of entertainment. Barbarity aside the structure has many parallels with modern football stadia. Indeed present day stadia have basically the same form as this monument constructed by the Emperors Vespasian and Titus.
The amphitheatre was the largest ever built by the Roman Empire - it could seat 50,000 - and first opened for business in 80AD. The fact that the majority of the structure still stands today speaks volumes of the architects and engineers that were responsible for its construction.
Stands 165’ high it is elliptical in form measuring 600’ by 510’. The arena itself measured 260’ by 150’ with four levels or tiers towering above it. The best view was to be had from the lowest tier and this would have been occupied by members of the Imperial court and high officials. The second tier housed the aristocratic families of Rome, with the general populace – the plebeians - occupying the upper two levels. Special boxes were provided at the north end for the Emperor and at the south end for the Vestal Virgins.
In the upper levels specific areas would have been reserved for different social groups, for example: boys and their tutors, soldiers on furlough, visiting dignitaries, scribes, priests and so on and so forth. Gravediggers and, interestingly, actors were banned from the Colossuem altogether.
On the top storey there is thought to have been two hundred or more wooden masts that would have supported an awning that provided shade for the gathered throng.
Below the arena floor - which was constructed from wood and covered in sand - were changing rooms for the combatants, cages for the wild animals and storerooms, the walls of which are now clearly visible since the floors collapse. Hard to imagine what would have been going through the minds of those below ground with all that thumping and bumping going on above them.
Back on the terraces, and except for the front rows on the podium, spectators would have been packed in like sardines. Evidence from other Roman amphitheatres suggests an average of just 27” legroom, making the seating on a Ryan Air flight seem rather generous.
Aside from four large and arched entrances for the VIPS there were 76 entrances for the general public who would have had numbered tickets fashioned from pieces of pottery. Access to seats was via vomitorium or passageways that opened into a tier of seats from below or behind. This arrangement would have allowed spectators to quickly find there seat while also allowing for the speedy dispersal of the crowd at the end of the days entertainment, or in the event of an emergency.
There is some doubt that the wholesale martyring of Christians ever took place and the image of Christians being eaten by Lions is in all likelihood a myth. Another is that the “thumbs down” was the signal for a Gladiator to kill their foe whereas in fact it meant exactly the opposite. Thumbs up was used to signal "kill him" while thumbs down meant "spare him." What is not in doubt is the level of carnage that took place here.
But the Colosseum wasn't just used for executions and gladiator fights. Mock sea battles were held on it’s flooded arena floor, live sex shows were staged as were recreations of natural scenes. For the latter architects and craftsmen would construct a simulated forest with real trees and bushes, and animals would be introduced to populate the scene for the delight of the crowd.
The interior would have been lavishly decorated, particularly on the lower tiers, but there is little or no evidence of this today. The CGI in Ridley Scott's 2000 film Gladiator is considered, for the most part, to be an historically accurate reconstruction of the Colosseum as it would have looked almost 2,000 years ago.
Pictures: Ms ExtremeGroundhopping
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Playing Catch Up
Sorry for being such a slackard blogwise over the past few months. My time – when not attending footie games – has been diverted to some fairly major DIY projects so internet time has been kept at a minimum. I will however be catching up over the new week or so with details of my recent travels – and older travels too – so watch this space.
In the meantime here is a picture of the new Sir Bobby Robson Bridge in Ipswich, which straddles the River Gipping just a few hundred yards to the south of Portman Road. Not as majestic as the bridges that cross the Tyne in Sir Bobby’s home city of Newcastle admittedly.
a (mainly) pictorial account of one man's obsession with football stadia, floodlight pylon's and ipswich town football club
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Olympic Stadium HDTV Ready
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:: Grounds for concern…
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Ground Visit RecordENGLAND
(Fitness First Stadium)
(Wicor Recreation Ground)
(King's Marsh Stadium)
(Alton (Bass) Sports Ground)
(Brantham Athletic Sports & Social Club)
Brighton & Hove Albion
Brighton & Hove Albion
(New Writtle Street)
(Chelmsford Sport & Athletics Centre)
(Saunders Honda Stadium)
Dagenham & Redbridge
Debenham Leisure Centre
(Brewers Green Lane)
(Rush Green Bowl)
Felixstowe & Walton United
Great Yarmouth Town
(Wellesley Recreation Ground)
Harwich & Parkeston
Havant & Waterlooville
(West Leigh Park)
(Glass World Stadium)
(Five Heads Park)
(SEH Sports Ground )
(The New Den)
(National Hockey Stadium)
Netley Central Sports
(Station Road Recreation Ground)
(St James' Park)
(Cricket Field Road)
Preston North End
Queens Park Rangers
Saffron Walden Town
(Raymond McEnhill Stadium)
Soham Town Rangers
(Julius Martin Lane)
St Albans City
(New Farm Road)
(Green Meadows Stadium)
(Stadium of Light)
(White Hart Lane)
United Services Portsmouth
(Vosper Thornycroft Sports Ground)
Walsham Le Willows
(Walsham Sports Club Ground)
West Bromwich Albion
West Ham United
(King George V Playing Field )
(Denplan City Ground)
(St. Georges Lane)
Heart of Midlothian
(North Sydney Oval)
SW Wacker Innsbruck
(Constant Vanden Stock Stadium)
1. FC Koeln
1. FC Union Berlin
(Stadion An der Alten Försterei)
(Olympic Stadium, Amsterdam)
(GN Bouw Stadion)
(Abe Lenstra Stadium)
(Willem II Stadion)
(Gamla Ullevi (Old))
(Comiskey Park I)
Tampa Bay Rowdies
(Tampa Bay Stadium)