Field of dreams

Since the Taylor Report, football clubs have had to improve their stadiums. And they have set their lucrative sites on more than just the game itself, reveals Jane Lewis

Huddersfield Town Football Club’s recorded telephone message reels off the activities hosted at its new stadium: rugby, pop concerts, golf, car boot sales, banqueting suites. In fact, there’s little mention of football. The all-purpose complex is testament to a new generation of sports grounds offering fans more than just a football match.

There’s little doubt that the Taylor Report, published in the wake of the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989, had a huge impact on the design of football and other sports grounds. But the signs were already there – most grounds were in poor condition, and coupled with absurd amounts being paid in transfer fees, football clubs had to start seeking more ways of raising revenue.

Here was the perfect chance for designers with leisure experience to enter the pitch, but instead many of the plum jobs went to the architects of the new or refurbished grounds. Ian Sherman, head of environmental design at Michael Peters Ltd, believes there are still huge opportunities for designers.

“The Taylor Report has been the catalyst for clubs to take action, in many cases they didn’t have an option. But they’re still failing to grasp opportunities from secondary revenue. They’ve tended to concentrate on getting bums on seats, yet there are all these people with money to spend,” he points out.

He claims many stadiums have been designed by engineers who have not exploited the commercial potential of space underneath tiered seating: “There’s a whole raft of things, function suites, public restaurants open every day, retail outlets, health clubs. Most Premier Division stadiums are used something like 18 afternoons a year. Grounds are increasingly going to become leisure developments.”

Huddersfield is a prime example. The football club sold its old ground and teamed up with the local rugby club and council to realise the dream of a new highly acclaimed stadium. Designed by architect the Lobb Partnership, the Alfred McAlpine stadium is a lesson in how a football stadium can become truly all-purpose. In addition, there are plans to add more seats, a leisure complex and multi-screen cinema.

Old Trafford, Manchester United’s ground, has also diversified into the corporate entertainment and leisure side. Die-hard fans can even get married on the pitch and hold their reception in one of the function suites. Interior design consultancy Nicholson is currently working on a themed restaurant to be open seven days a week, and a museum and megastore selling Manchester United merchandise to be incorporated in the new North Stand. “Clubs have recognised that there’s a huge revenue to be made through developing conference and entertainment facilities,” says senior partner Ian Nicholson. He adds that clubs have been forced to seek extra income because not only have they had to fund the switch to all-seater grounds, but they’ve also lost turnstile revenue due to reduced capacities.

Nicholson admits his consultancy has been kept so busy working on hospitality projects at football and other sports grounds that “we haven’t even had time to market ourselves”. But surprisingly, few consultancies seem to have latched on to the potential within football and sports grounds.

Sherman is hesitant to point out the opportunities, as MPL is currently in talks with a number of Premier League and First Division clubs following the 2m-plus fit-out of the West Stand for rugby union at Twickenham which included a 400-seat restaurant and VIP suite for royalty. He stresses that designers need to get involved at the beginning of projects “to make the most of the space”. He adds: “People are spending money outside the ground, not inside. The cost of stadiums is so great that they have to get more use out of them.”

Rugby clubs are another key market to watch for corporate entertainment and leisure work. Although the clubs have been slow to smarten up their act, this looks set to change following a report by stadium specialist Atherden Fuller. The architectural group carried out a review of rugby league grounds earlier this year which revealed that many were “dilapidated” and in need of repair, and has produced design standards for grounds with the Rugby League.

The review found many grounds have invested in safety measures to comply with the Taylor Report to the detriment of other facilities. But Atherden Fuller senior partner Bob Fuller believes that will change: “Rugby has been slower as the funding hasn’t been there. But it’s becoming more popular so it will generate more income from bars and hospitality facilities.”

He sees rugby clubs following the football clubs. “Everything is becoming more commercial. There are more executive memberships, hospitality suites and multi-use stadiums. All of them are tuning in to corporate entertainment.” The practice is also working with Foster & Partners on the new Wembley Stadium scheme.

Not all fans have welcomed the changes taking place at most football grounds as a result of that tragic game at Hillsborough in 1989, when more than 90 lives were lost. The Taylor Report prescription for all-seater stadiums sparked heated debate, and some fans would still argue that the removal of terraces has “ripped out the guts” from football grounds. But one thing all fans can be thankful for is the improvement of general facilities. The review of grounds in the report showed many were in a pitiful state, offering little in the way of facilities or, in some cases, even working toilets. Sherman comments: “The myth of standing at football grounds was a joke. All-seaters are a huge step in the right direction, but they’re often very basic.”

At Middlesbrough’s new ground, architectural and interior design group Pattison worked on interiors for 19 boxes with individual bars, four corporate suites, a restaurant and board facilities. Chairman Walter Pattison says the idea is to “feel as if you are coming into a five-star hotel”. He adds that all the bars and restaurants are different in order to “give them their own identity”.

Although many of the bigger clubs have already adapted existing grounds or moved to new ones, there are a number looking at new stadiums, and smaller clubs are starting to follow suit. Funding can be raised by selling land and applying for grants or even National Lottery cash. “We will see football clubs sharing grounds. A lot of the older clubs have grounds in cities, which they can sell then move out of town and build other facilities,” says Sherman.

The prime requirement is that schemes are “revenue generating”. He concludes: “Most clubs haven’t gone far enough. Football has got to attract a wider-based audience.”

After the Taylor Report

Published in 1989 as a result of the Hillsborough disaster, the report called for radical improvements to football grounds. Key recommendations for the design of grounds were:

The establishment of an Advisory Design Council;

First and Second Division clubs (now Premier and First Division) to become all-seater by 1994, and the remainder by 1999;

The removal of “prison-type fences”; l No perimeter fencing to be higher than 2.2m and gates to be left unlocked.

The Football Spectators Act 1989 was amended to include provision for conversion of grounds to all-seater, but the Government has since backed down on forcing lower division clubs to remove terracing as long as they comply to “sufficient standards”.

The Football Stadia Advisory Design Council, (FSADC), which provided vital technical information, set up a database and researched and published a series of booklets, was disbanded in 1993, despite much protest. Following its demise, the Government set up the Football Stadia Development Committee, made up of organisations including the football associations, the Sports Council and the Football Licencing Authority.

FSADC publications, such as the Football Stadia Bibliography and On the Sidelines (addressing needs of disabled fans), are still available from the Sports Council, but critics feel the role of the FSADC has not been replaced.

“Seating was the single most important recommendation, but shouldn’t be taken out of context,” points out John de Quidt, chief executive of the FLA, which is responsible for ensuring safety at grounds. He says the report was all about setting down standards of safe design and safe management. Progress, he adds, has been made on “several fronts”, including all-seater stadiums with proper layouts, barriers and exits, a substantial improvement in facilities and the development of proper stewarding and decent environments.

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