From The House That Ruth Built To Edwin’s Crumbling Home And Gregory’s As Yet Unidentified

Those with an eye to American sports will have noted that one of the country’s greatest sporting arenas, Yankee Stadium, is in its final year of usage ahead of its demolition as the Yanks head across the road to a new Yankee Stadium. The famed stadium- nicknamed ‘The House That Ruth Built’ after the great Yankee player, Babe Ruth- has been in use for 85 years, home to baseball’s version of Kerry footballers (the Bronx Bombers’ 26 World Series titles comparing well with the Kingdom’s 35 All-Ireland titles.) The stadium hosted the annual All-Star game during the week, and throughout the season broadcasters, players and fans have been reminiscing about the great sporting events hosted by the famed Bronx arena (Baseball, American Football and Boxing among them.)
As reported in this week’s press, the future of the Maze/ Long Kesh site remains one of the core issues requiring agreement between Sinn Fein and the DUP in the weeks ahead if the Executive deadlock is to be broken.The initial plans for a multi-sport stadium on the site have faced considerable opposition within unionism, though of course the ex-DCAL Minister, Edwin Poots, was a known supporter of the proposal. Indeed, the fate of the Maze/ Long Kesh stadium reminds me of Kris Kristofferson’s timeless classic, Darby’s Castle, in how the fixation of the main character with his vision inevitably led to his downfall (well, to some degree anyway…)
There have been threads about this issue in the past, and doubtlessly will be more in the time ahead. However, I’d like to focus on the changing face of stadia in Ireland today in this thread, without recourse to the bigger political discussion.
As a lifelong avid sports enthusiast, I’ve long been fascinated with sporting arenas regardless of sporting code. There is something unique and special about certain sporting arenas. I remember being on a bus trip to Dublin with members of a GAA club some years ago during the (albeit lengthy) renovation of Croke Park. I can vividly remember the passengers bursting into a spontaneous round of applause when the stadium came into view, reflecting through their admiration the collective pride at what the amateur sporting organisation had succeeded in building. And anyone who has been lucky enough to visit the Catalonian capital of Barcelona will know that a trip to the Nou Camp is a mandatory part of the tourist agenda (and the Olympic Stadium- home to Espanyol- is also impressively designed and set amidst beautiful surroundings.)
Of course, growing up in the USA I had previous experience of such impressive sporting edifices. Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Madison Square Garden, Notre Dame Stadium and the Rose Bowl are all stunning arenas in their own right, with a sense of history to rival those of the sporting arenas of which we are more familiar with across the water, the latter having undergone extensive modernisation in the aftermath of the horrific Hillsborough tragedy. Glasgow Rangers fans will know that, in the mid-1980s, the club’s famous Ibrox Park stood alone as an all-seater stadium in Britain due to the club’s experience of an earlier terrace tragedy.
But here in Ireland, Croke Park’s renovation has signalled a new era for domestic sports stadia, with stadia across the country undergoing large scale renovation or being completely rebuilt as a result of the economic boom brought about by the Celtic Tiger.
Whilst Croke Park currently stands alone as Ireland’s premier first-class stadium to rival international venues of similar stature in the modern era, it will shortly be joined by the impressive new home for international soccer and rugby at Lansdowne Road.
The provincial headquarters for Leinster and Munster rugby (Donnybrook and Thomond Park) are being improved, whilst numerous county GAA grounds and local soccer stadia have made smaller scale improvements to their grounds. In Ulster, almost all of the county grounds have had a face lift in the past decade, albeit with terracing set to remain a feature of GAA grounds long into the future (and many would welcome that, not least the Hill 16 Dubs, though I must confess to not being a fan of terracing.)
In the north, Linfield seem set for an almighty legal battle with the IFA if the latter proceed with stated plans to abandon their contract with the Blues and leave the ground ahead of the necessary stadia improvements. In any case, a Windsor Park without the international team would seem far too big for even the most supported club team in the north, and it would be interesting to hear Blues fans’ ideas about what the club might do if faced with that scenario.
Other Irish league clubs have made small scale improvements to their grounds, with Cliftonville in the process of building a second modern stand and many other clubs making similar small step improvements.
Eircom league clubs have also been making improvements to their grounds, with some notable clubs- like Drogheda and Derry City- having ambitious proposals for new all-seater stadia in the pipeline (subject to finances and, in the case of the former, planning approval.)
The Maze/ Long Kesh stadium proposal is probably the only realistic proposal which will involve the building of a stadium to rival Croke Park and the new Lansdowne Road in Ireland. A division of the available money for stadia improvements between the three codes will undoubtedly involve a considerable reduction in the scale of the projects involved, with partial renovation of Ravenhill, Windsor (or a new East Belfast-based stadium for the Glens and Northern Ireland?) and several GAA county grounds improving the stock of stadia here but not developing anything with the ambition to rival Dublin’s two sporting arenas.

  • wild turkey

    Chris

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    I remember as a kid often going to Yankee Stadium and seeing Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and the truly class act that was Yogi Berra. Bleacher seats were 50 or 75 cents, as was a glass of beer. That said, no baseball stadium beats Fenway Park or Wrigley field.

    On a technical note, I betray my ignorance by asking, why can’t terraces be readily converted to bleacher type seating? Or is there an inate demand amongst some fans for terraces?

  • Cap’n Bob

    Pittodrie was the first all seater stadium in the UK so Ibrox did not stand alone.

  • ulsterfan

    Chris

    You say the GAA built Croke Park. Do you not mean the Irish tax payer encouraged by Aherne built the Stadium.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Bob

    Thanks- I stand corrected, though Ibrox was on a considerably larger scale.

    Ulsterfan
    Taxpayers’ money and the GAA built the stadium then as I think you’d find the organisation contributed considerably towards the costs as well (don’t ask me for exact figures btw…_

  • ulsterfan

    The Irish tax payer contributed at least £100 million towards the cost of Croke Park.
    I am not complaining as I hope the Government will live up to its promise and pay in full the cost of Lansdowne Road.
    Irfu and FAI can laugh all the way to the bank.
    There is something to be said of politics mixing with sport.

  • Gab

    More Juventus than Kerry.

    What can that mean?

  • Arconada Armstrong

    Excellent article Chris although I’m surprised you mentioned the end of Yankee Stadium but not Shea Stadium, which may not be quite as iconic but is also in its final year and of course was where the Beatles played one of their most famous concerts.

    Lansdowne Road may indeed be ‘impressive’ when its finished but with a capacity of only 50,000 it will leave a lot to be desired (considering how many are filling Croke Park for association football and rugby, and the waiting lists for tickets for both sports). There may indeed be logistical reasons why it couldn’t be made bigger in the space they had but I still think its a chance missed.

  • Let it be noted that not only the Yankees Stadium falls to the wrecking-ball. Shea goes the same way.

    Equal time for the real NY team?

    After all, there is a distinct parallel (as Hillary Clinton discovered in her Senatorial campaign) between the Yankees and Man U … as in the famous:

    How many Man U supporters does it take to change a light-bulb?
    Two: one to change the bulb, and the other to drive him up from London.

    and:

    Why did Man U want to buy the Millennium Dome?
    To be closer to their fans.

    etc., etc.

    And, no, I couldn’t get tickets for Billy Joel at Shea: they sold out in 18 minutes. When the second night was put up, it, too, sold out — in 16 minutes.

  • Chris from Brooklyn

    It has often been said that rooting for the Yankees is like cheering for Wall Street. Lets Go Mets!

  • Chris Donnelly

    Let me apologise to the Mets brigade on Slugger- I completely forgot about Shea, though to be fair there hasn’t been anywhere near as much coverage on NASN (my beloved sports channel on this side of the Atlantic) nor MSNBC or other sites about Shea’s demise as there has been about Yankee Stadium.

    But, as a long-suffering Cubs fan, I’m sure you’ll all forgive me.

  • Hey! Let’s be honest here. Without exception, whatever our party (or other) allegiances, we all reckon we are done down, exploited, or the underdogs.

    In which case, a sudden burst of nostalgia for the late, great Brooklyn Dodgers (murdered by filthy capitalism, 1957).

    Then, of course, every sports fan will recognise the Curse of the Bambino. There’s an average book (by Dan Shaughnessy) with that title on amazon.com. There’s a better HBO movie (with Ben Affleck), which has never — to my knowledge — been issued east of the Atlantic.

    For the ignoramuses, the story is that the owner of the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth to the Damn Yankees (which is a fair movie, and revived as a Broadway musical) to finance his girl-friend’s starring rôle in No, No, Nanette.

    There is a curse in Mudville town,
    But that is just a simile.
    For Boston is like Mudville town,
    Just go ask Johnny Pesky.
    There are strange things that happen here
    When people think we’ve won.
    But when you think the game is over, the curse has just begun.

    Johnny Pesky, Billy Buckner, many victims know
    That Babe the best has cursed the rest
    For letting himself go.
    We could have been the best they said
    If it weren’t for no good Frazee,
    The owner whose name we dread for trading good old snazzy.

    The victimized players they don’t blame
    The curse of the bambino.
    But in our minds we think the same,
    The Red Sox know and we know.
    It’s just a superstition, Buckner spouted in his youth
    But then the curse took on new forms, like a baseball guided by Ruth.

    Incidentally, the bastards are still out there, prowling. One of the best-run clubs in the whole of the professional leagues is Norwich City. The Blessed Delia (and her long-suffering husband) have pumped £20M of private money into the club in recent years. There’s now a predator trying to muscle in (or was, when I was back home). And those benighted Norfolk fans are salivating for the take-over.

    Silly buggers.

    Norfolk born, Norfolk bred,
    Strong in the arm, weak in the head.

  • Paul

    Ulsterfan,

    The total cost for the reconstruction of the 80k+ capacity Croke Park was €260M.

    This excludes the value of the site, even now conservatively estimated at many tens of millions.
    Of the €260M build cost, €110M was contributed by the government.

    However, only €19M of the €110M was taxpayers money – the remaining €91M was lottery funding.
    The lottery was set up to fund such capital projects in the voluntary sector, so a grant to develop Croker was entirely in line with lotto aims and objectives.

    Additionally, you may wish to know that the €19M grant the Govt actually provided was to ensure the stadium was ready for the Special Olympics opening ceremony.

    On the other hand, the redevelopment of the 50k capacity Lansdowne Road is currently estimated to cost €345 million.
    This project will receive €191 million in government aid of which €127 million will be from taxpayers money.

    It is also noteworthy that Lansdowne Road will benefit from a refund on VAT paid – a sweetner not given to the to the GAA when it developed Croker.
    I’ve no idea of the exact amount this hidden subsidy amounts to, but it is certain to be substantial.

    In contrast, Croke Park did not benefit from similar generosity.
    The Irish Govt received more in tax, VAT and PAYE receipts from the redevelopment of Croke Park than it gave in grants.
    From a Government point of view, Croke Park was self-financing.

    If you’re following the Lansdowne Development, you may be interested in the FAI’s reported difficulties in coming up with their share – a bit of a cheek when you consider the Govt’s huge generosity.

    See
    http://www.independent.ie/national-news/fai-lacks-cash-to-pay-for-stadium-1436182.html

  • One last thought (it’s been lining my computer bag for the last week or so) from Village Voice: “The houses that ruthlessness built” by Allen Barra.

    On line at: http://www.villagevoice.com/2008-07-09/news/the-houses-that-ruthlessness-built/

    Well, it kept me awake, after eight hours in a Continental 777, while I downed a Brooklyn Lager or two in 90 degree heat. As I have heard say, you’ve got to take the rough with the bloody rough.

    Meanwhile Yanks fans, having stuffed the Twins yesterday, are consoling themselves they are catching Tampa Bay. Mets are dischuffed (is this the new grudge game?) with the Phillies, with Jimmy Rollins as hate-figure numero uno, who now look as though they have the makings in the National League East.

    As Barra’s article suggests, for so many reasons this could be the a(n)nus horribilis for NY ball fans, even worse than ’07.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Malcolm

    I’ m delighted to find another fanatical baseball fan amongst the regular Slugger fraternity.

    Personally, I’m getting a bit worried about the Cards and CC Sabatthia- inspired Brewers creeping up on the Cubbies and attempting to thwart our quest to end the Hundred year drought.

    I note your reference to the Brooklyn Dodgers. That aspect of American sport- ie. the ruthless, heartless manner in which teams have taken the decision (or rather, owners) to up and move to a new city, has always perplexed and indeed angered me. It’s also why I could never warm to the Cardinals once they had moved to Phoenix, though admittedly they probably were/ are a damn sight better than the Arizona Wranglers who I watched in the mid-80s at Sun Devil Stadium!

  • Chris Donnelly @ 10:40 PM:

    Sorry, Chris. Fanatical I am not. Norwich City, Yorks CCC and Notts (CC and County) at least modestly enthusiastic. If pushed, an affection for the dear, dead Dodgers; and, when forced to the Yankee Stadium I do what Judy argued against: I root for the away team.

    My interest is via a Brooklyn-born son-in-law, who insists I take an interest, sweat it out on the bleachers, while disapproving strongly of my alcoholism (i.e. two drinks to the hour).

    Having said all that, the talk of the town is A-Rod (not, for once, about his bed-antics) hitting a two-run-double, and Mike Mussina pitching a straight eight innings. That gives (I am told) the Yanks a tenth home win on the run.

    And good-night from a lovely, cooling New Jersey thunder storm.

  • Gab

    The ruthlessness in the case of the two New York teams moving to the mainland was that the game could truly go countrywide and these teams fulfilled the need for two west coast teams.
    Initially Los Angeles was thought to be the lesser attraction and then they became the team with the first 3 million spectator attendance.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Gab

    I forgot to pick up on your ‘More Juventus than Kerry’ poser. If you’re still picking up on this thread could you explain (and if you are the Gab Marcotti I know of, then you’ll know quite a bit about Italian football…)

  • Gab

    Let us just say that Inter are the only Italian team who have never been relegated.
    Though things have changed and Kerry are appealing Galvin’s suspension.