How it really feels to change grounds – by those who have

Three fans whose clubs have changed stadiums tell their stories

West Ham play their final ever game at Upton Park before they move to the Olympic Stadium this month. Slaven Bilic’s side host Manchester United in the last fixture at the famous old stadium before they head over to Stratford in the close season.

Given the club have been playing at the Boleyn Ground since 1904 no one really knows what to expect. Here Blowing Bubbles caught up with three fans of clubs who have previously moved homes and we asked them what we can expect…

Chris Rann Southampton

There are many feelings that come with a move to a new stadium; trepidation, reluctance, excitement, and pre-match drink location anxiety. But, in the end, you won’t know how you really feel until you are 3-0 down to Espanyol at half time in the grand opening game. You are going to lose some of your character, it’s inevitable.

We certainly did by leaving such a unique ground as the Dell, and initially our form was dreadful and the ‘standard’ nature of St. Mary’s made it feel like the worst move of all time. But, you will soon realise that it isn’t the bricks and mortar that make a football club. It’s the people who duly pay there hard earned money to be continuously disappointed while sat in it.

You’ll likely find the first season difficult, as the intimidating edge you had at Upton Park will be gone, and the atmosphere will suffer while everyone works out where they are going to sit. Hopefully you will place the away fans better than Saints did. We’ve suffered because of that decision ever since, and lose our ‘noisy’ section in cup games due to allocation rules.

On the whole though, I think you can view it as an exciting period for your club. Just do us all a favour and leave the bubble machine at the Boleyn, this isn’t Ibiza.

Chris Parsons Derby County

When Derby County moved to Pride Park Stadium, it ended an 102- year stay at one of the most endearingly rickety grounds in England. Th e Baseball Ground saw two League titles in the 1970s and played host to European giants like Real Madrid. But by 1997, the creaking stands of the 18,000-seater ‘BBG’ could not match the ambitions of a Derby side who had just joined the Premier League.

Derby’s modern arena suited the club’s needs – it’s almost twice the size now at 33,597, with potential for expansion should Derby ever establish themselves again in the top flight. And much like the ‘new manager bounce’, a new home does wonders for confidence.

In Pride Park’s first season (97/98), The Rams didn’t lose a home league game until February. West Ham could benefit the same way. Some Rams fans feel Pride Park (now ‘The iPro Stadium’) lacks character. This is true in that it will never match the Baseball Ground’s charm. Similarly, the Olympic Stadium’s vast bowl will never feel as cosy as the compact cauldron that is Upton Park.

Derby have, however, added nostalgic nods which now make the place feel like home. A Brian Clough/Peter Taylor statue greets fans outside, while a bust of record-scorer Steve Bloomer sits pitch side. In 20 years, Pride Park’s facilities have allowed Derby to enjoy sustained top-flight football, and more recently play-off triumphs.

And let’s face it – when your ground’s too small and old, there’s only so far it will get you.

David Boyle Sunderland

When my club announced their plans to move from the dilapidated, yet still somehow enchanting, Roker Park in 1995, I had only really just embarked on my love affair with the club, having attended my first game that same year.

That said, my brief encounter with the famous old ground left a lasting impression – the floodlights looming large above the local terraced housing that surrounded the ground on your approach like a beacon, braving the elements on the Roker End Terrace, the smell of Bovril acknowledging the impending halftime whistle and that meticulous, lush green pitch – everything was simply so romantic to my young self.

However, perhaps because I did not have such a long-standing relationship with the old place, the move to the Stadium of Light in 1997 was beyond exciting. There was a real sense of excitement on Wearside that, despite initial and somewhat still lingering misgivings over the new ground’s name, this was a real positive and encouraging move by the club, and a move onto the modern era.

The move also coincided with one of the most thrilling periods in the club’s recent history, as Peter Reid established a real swashbuckling, cavalier side which, spearheaded by Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips, were irresistible on their day.

The atmosphere in those early years at the SoL was staggering too. So embrace your move to the Olympic Stadium, make it your own and with the potential for big nights in Europe on the horizon, create something special.

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