August 14, 2013

Direct Kick: England knows how to name its stadiums

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — As someone who has watched a lot of English soccer over the years, I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to write about this particular subject: Stadium names.

Here in America, with a few exceptions, our professional stadiums are usually named after whichever corporation pays the highest price.

Take the NFL for example. FedEx Field. MetLife Stadium. A T & T Stadium. Lucas Old Field. Not exactly very creative. Oh, there are a few exceptions, most notably Lambeau Field and Candlestick Park. At least Candlestick sounds like someplace you might actually want to play in. Riverfront and Three Rivers Stadium were good names before newer parks replaced them. You gotta admit that Great American Ballpark beats PNC Park.

Baseball doesn’t fare much better. You have Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Those are pretty good. Dodger Stadium is also known as Chavez Ravine, which has a romantic ring to it. Actually, Major League stadiums of yore had better names. The Polo Grounds. Ebbets Field. Lloyd Street Grounds. Huntington Avenue Grounds. Shibo Park. Lake Front Park. Jail Flats, which was a stadium in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, where the Cleveland Broncos played a couple of games in 1902. My favorite of the old time parks has to be the Palace of the Fans, also known as League Park III, where Cincinnati played from 1902-1911.

As interesting as those names were, they still can’t hold a candle to English soccer stadiums. Let me give you some examples.

Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, which is nicknamed the Stadium of Dreams. The Stadium of Light, where Sunderland plays. Villa Park, home of Aston Villa. Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge. The Hawthornes, where West Bromwich Albion plays. Queen Park Rangers’ home, Loftus Road. Crystal Palace plays at Selhurst Park. White Hart Lane is where Tottenham Hotspur plays. And maybe the best of them all is Fulham’s home, Craven Cottage. Craven Cottage sounds like someplace that could be in a mystery novel set in jolly old England.

See those are places I would love to play in. They have history. Sure they have been upgraded over the years, but for the most part they remain the same as they did in days gone by. Old Trafford has been Man U’s permanent home since 1910, except for a span from 1941 to 1949 when it was bombed during World War II. Stamford Bridge was built in 1877. White Hart Lane, 1898. Unfortunately there are plans to tear it down and build a new stadium in its place. The Hawthorns was built in 1900 and it stayed the same until 2008 when it was renovated. Craven Cottage was built in 1896.

Sure all of these stadiums have been renovated over the years, but they have remained in their original location. History has been preserved, something America fails to do on several occasions. Instead of renovating, we love to tear it down and build a brand spanking new temple that even the gods would be envious of (I’m looking at you, A T & T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys).

Here in Laurel County there are plans to tear down an old wooden bridge that spans the railroad tracks in Fairston. It’s one of the few wooden bridges remaining. Instead of tearing it down, I wish the county would build a new bridge beside it and close the wooden one to traffic except for walking. But hey, what do I know?

But it’s not just the names of English soccer stadiums, no matter how lyrical. It’s also the history those grounds hold. The ghosts of Duncan Edwards, Alf Ramsey, Sir Stanley Matthews, Bobby Moore and countless others still make thrilling runs down the touchline and pin-point passes that results in scores. Those stars still among us, like Gordon Banks, Sir Bobby Charlton, Jimmy Greaves, David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Geoff Hurst, Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker, have all had some of their greatest moments on those hollow fields.

And you can bet that most of those stadiums will be there in another 100 years.

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