The Amalgamation of Official Northern Irish Supporters Clubs (AONISC) are keen to hear from fans on this side of the water who have experiences of ground redevelopment and new stadiums. The Irish FA (IFA) officially recognises the AONISC as the voice of Northern Irish supporters and the two groups are to meet soon to discuss the redevelopment of Windsor Park (left).
After decades of neglect the 1990s and 2000s proved a fertile period for stadium moves and redevelopment in England and Wales. More than 20 league clubs play in “new builds” while many more grounds would be unrecognisable to a time-travelling fan from the 1980s. Fans of Premier League and Football League clubs have more experience of new grounds than most, and it’s this knowledge that Northern Irish fans hope to tap in to.
“We’re keen to learn from the experiences of other fans as we ourselves enter into discussions with the IFA ahead of the redevelopment of our national stadium, Windsor Park,” says Gary McAllister (not that one), chairman of the AONISC. “We’d like to make contact with supporters’ groups with experience of having engaged in a stadium development or redevelopment project, regardless of the size of the stadium.”
Many fans prefer stadiums with quirks which new builds often lack in an era of bowls, identikit concourses, and perfect symmetry. However, there are also positive pay-offs with significantly improved facilities, infrastructure, and sightlines. The rebuilt Wembley is a magnificent national stadium, completed to an obviously high standard, but even Wembley isn’t exempt from criticism.
Complaints from one England fan the FSF spoke to encompassed catering prices, rules prohibiting fans taking their own food and drink in, over-officious stewarding, language difficulties with foreign stewards, shortage of space to hang flags, and the lack of an alternative plan when turnstiles break down. There were also reports of problems with the length of queues at toilets but this has apparently improved of late.
One club who do seem to be getting things right are Cardiff City. The Bluebirds spent 99 years at Ninian Park before upping sticks in 2009 and moving a couple of hundred feet to the shiny-new Cardiff City Stadium. The ground also plays host to Wales internationals and Cardiff Blues rugby union matches.
“As our stadium’s a new-build we had lots of space to play with and they built huge concourses in case they ever need to increase the stadium’s capacity – it’s only 27,000 but the concourses could cater for 50,000. It opened things right up,” says Paul Corkrey, Bluebirds fan and FSF Cymru representative.
“This gave us the space to do the type of pre-match entertainment that isn’t possible in other places. We have a stage with local groups playing, they get a new audience and the club gets something which encourages people into the stadium early. We’re also the only ground in Britain to have a children’s area in the away end and we’re very family friendly.”
In March 2011 the club were awarded the Football League’s Family Club of the Year gong for their efforts in attracting younger fans. The club has games consoles in the concourse and other activities based around football skills. Crucially they also offer deals for children with under nines allowed free entry alongside a paying adult. This is great for parents but also makes commercial sense for the club.
89% of these children go on to buy a season ticket at the age of 10 and the next generation of fan is born. The club also does its best to group like-minded people together with a designated home singing area and separate family areas (which aren’t just tucked away as an afterthought in a sterile part of the stadium).
We’re sure there are 100s of more examples of good practice out there. If you know of an example at your club, whether it relates to a new build or redevelopment, then share it with your fellow fans in Northern Ireland.
(Image courtesy of Jack Tanner under CC license.)
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