By: A Dons Man
It was way back in February 1899 that a piece of land was chosen near the beach front by the original Aberdeen Football Club and readied for football matches. Back then there was no retail developments, no mass housing developments and nor were the surroundings roads heavily used. But don’t be fooled; Aberdeen at the turn of the century was a developing city. The first public parks were opening in the late 19th century with the wide open expanses of Duthie Park laid out during 1883.
[caption id="attachment_1969" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Princess Beatrice Opening the Duthie Park at Aberdeen, 27th September 1883[/caption]
City infrastructure was also developing as were central civic landmarks like monuments and the central theatre. A bridge to Torry was opened in 1881 and in 1891 the two ancient burghs of Old and New Aberdeen were united.
More tellingly though, in the same year Pittodrie was readied for football, so the first electric trams ran in Aberdeen during 1899. This advancement had followed the first electricity generating station built in Aberdeen in 1894.
Ultimately it is oil, and its discovery in the nearby North Sea, that has brought the greatest level of prosperity to Aberdeen and its citizens. But arguably (for north east football fans at least) it is a small piece of land that was cleared near the beach in 1899 which has served to put the city of Aberdeen on the map.
[caption id="attachment_1970" align="aligncenter" width="440"] Pittodrie in the 1920s’[/caption]
It may come as a surprise to some in the No to Kingsford campaign or those uninterested in football or Aberdeen football club that there are a great many of us who follow Aberdeen shocked, angry and even mortified at the thought of Aberdeen Football club moving to play its home matches near Kingswells. Many of us who have for years spent money on club season tickets, merchandise and hard cash are angry at the constant droning rhetoric of ‘stadium advancement’ that comes from inside Pittodrie Stadium particularly so as it comes at the expense of the team.
And while the steam from the ears often subsides, and we move on overtaken by the anger of disappointment at another defeat on the field, it is the ‘hot air’ talk surrounding the new stadium that has led many of us to reconsider what may become of the club’s future should they move.
Against this even more shocking is the huge numbers of life long fans who follow the club (some for over 40 years) who are readily wiling to see its one true piece of historical identity in Pittodrie Stadium torn to the ground in the name of so called ‘advancement’ and move to a place that, let’s face it, is not really even truly in ‘Aberdeen’.
Just how can football fans in the modern era become so dismissive of its own clubs history, and its soul and heart which is Pittodrie Stadium.
[caption id="attachment_1971" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Pittodrie Now[/caption]
But while this history is ignored by some and they jump on Milne’s delusional bandwagon one short look around at the not too distant past will tell you that the plan to move from Pittodrie has always lacked the foresight to succeed and the history of what has never been more than concept has always been and will continue to be riddled with failure whether it succeeds this time or not. More so there is a dire parallel tale from down south in England of a club from a similar sized city who embarked on a similar ‘new stadium’ path.
The History of the New Stadium Concept
It is now almost 17 years since news first broke of Aberdeen FC looking to quit Pittodrie Stadium and move to a new stadium. In January 1999 the club announced that it had earmarked a site on the road between Aberdeen and Kingswells as the base for the new home.
During the summer of that year a succession of roadshows occurred just as they have done this year. The parallels between the public consultations then and now in 2016 are staggering. Back then opposition to the new stadium plan came largely from local residents with shouting matches and finger pointing being witnessed at open events. None the less the proposal eventually failed and was a non starter thanks to Scotland’s failure alongside Ireland to host UEFA Euro 2008.
Despite this huge failure, still the desire for a new stadium was communicated from within Pittodrie Street; a new stadium it would seem was the strategic focal point of club development.
The club continued to indicate that further development of Pittodrie was impossible due to restrictions on the surrounding land. A claim was also made that the land on which the former gasworks (outside the current South Stand) could not be built upon due to contamination. Today a huge number of Merkland Lane flats – occupied by families and young first time buyers – now stand on that same land.
In short someone did not tell the truth or people in Merkland Lane are living in very dangerous surroundings.
Renovations of Pittodrie Stadium were also ruled supposedly due to the impact it would have on the club while the renovations occurred. It was thought that the club could not survive on a limited 12,000 capacity stadium during remediation work despite average crowds only hovering around the 12,500 mark for a few seasons.
By the mid 2000’s (at a time when the club were not doing particularly well on or off the pitch) the idea for a municipal stadium arose with a site at Aberdeen Links, near Pittodrie, earmarked as the preferred alternative. By July 2005 however this proposal was knocked back and the club were back to square one.
In December 2007 proposals to build a 22,000 seat state of the art arena was presented to the council. A combined project team which consisted of members of the city council and people from within Aberdeen FC, identified four possible sites for a development – these being at Kings Links, Bridge of Don, Calder Park and Loirston Loch.
The latter location near the loch was recommended despite a noticeable impact on the wildlife who use the loch. Eventually, this initiative also failed with the city councillors vetoing the plan.
Since then Aberdeen have continued the ‘Pittodrie cannot be redeveloped’ propaganda at every possible opportunity. Indeed, this is quite surprisingly given the amount of land available for redevelopment on four sides of the current stadium
Let’s look at this in detail.
[caption id="attachment_1974" align="aligncenter" width="300"]
Pittodrie and Surrounding Land[/caption]
To the east towards the beach behind the RDS stands a large amount of space unused. Then, just behind the South Stand towards the graveyard there also exists a huge amount of space (almost enough to turn the current Pittodrie pitch sideways) readily for redevelopment. More so, behind the historical Main Stand on Pittodrie Street there is an artificial pitch that has never been used for anything other than a players’ car park.
Its staggering that grass has never been laid on this space to create a training pitch for the club. Football clubs the length and breadth of Europe utilise such nearby pace for training yet at Aberdeen FC it has never become anything more than an underused gravel car park.
Recently those failed initiatives at the Kings Links, Kingswells and Loriston have been followed by another failed initiative by the club.
Hopes for a training complex at Balgownie in Bridge of Don collapsed due to funding issues leaving current manager Derek McInnes and his squad to train at temporary facilities in far from ideal surroundings.
Despite numerous these failures, a succession of planning mishaps and funding shortfalls Mr Milne, as chairman of the club and head of the board, has continually maintained that a new stadium and proper training facilities are vital to the future prospects of the club. The yearly AGM has seen the chairman fend off criticism of the clubs attempts to move home by always stating that ‘announcements were just around the corner’.
Then at the AGM in December 2015 Milne told shareholders that ‘positive steps’ would be taken in the first half of 2016. Although more importantly he also tempered that statement by stating that ‘funding the project would be a huge challenge’ and that the AFC board ‘were not underestimating the scale of the financial challenge’.
Then, into 2016 came the announcement of Kingsford. A hugely surprising move given what the north east is currently experiencing with Aberdeen in particular suffering a jobs crisis and cost cutting being the norm across the oil and gas sector.
Indeed, despite ‘for sale’ signs being the norm across many city homes, Mr Milne has reiterated that as part of the package of funding for the new Kingsford area, Aberdeen fans (via a new shareholding deal) will be asked to contribute to its creation.
Haven’t Aberdeen fans got better things to do with money without being forced to ‘crowd fund’ a new stadium the club doesn’t need?
Match Day Logistics
What is certain is that match going will never be the same for many Dons fans if Kingsford goes ahead.
Not everyone adventures to Pittodrie by car and not everyone wants to face a potential 45 minute trip by bus (at additional expense) out to Kingswells. Let’s face it – its unlikely that the buses being laid on are going to be free and the journey price will be an additional match-day ‘cost’ for fans above the already overpriced match ticket.
A typical walk from Union Street to Kingswells would involve a 5.6mile hike through the west of the city. Further back, from the popular Pittodrie Bar on Kings Street it is a 6mile walk to Kingswells.
In contrast the walk from Aberdeen Rail station, up King Street to Pittodrie Stadium takes no more than half an hour and even less from most other city centre locations. Transport from outside Pittodrie heading north and south is readily available outside Pittodrie on King Street even when a capacity crowd has attended.
Despite what the club have told you through the consultations, mass transportation to Aberdeen home football matches is not a popular route of transport for most football fans let alone thousands of people being herded like cattle onto buses. Such transportation can be cumbersome, tiring, stressful and expensive. The likelihood is that while before the match these may be popular after the game many fans will head to local shops, supermarkets or bars in Kingswells and Westhill before heading home.
Tales of gardens being trashed and drunkenness are way off the mark and wrong but its likely football supporters will still be about out in Kingswells way after 5pm on a Saturday.
Coventry is a similarly sized city to Aberdeen and until the 1990’s the club were a top level English side playing regularly against the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool. Like Pittodrie Stadium the former home of Coventry City Highfield Road was built in 1899 in the Hillfields district an area which is like Pittodrie, quite close to the city centre.
The parallels do not end with that. Alongside Pittodrie it was one of the first all seated stadiums in the United Kingdom with a similar capacity.
In 1998 Coventry City decided that it was time they relocated as a club to a new stadium in the Foleshill area of the city; an area that is three miles north of the city centre. This area was pinpointed due to its close proximity to the M6 motorway.
Like Aberdeen the original plans for a new stadium in Coventry went through a number of redesigns. There were also open consultation meetings, flashy designs and protest groups. At first the redevelopment was packaged up alongside the English bid for the FIFA World Cup in 2006 but when that failed a lesser design was agreed and the ground was funded and opened in 2005.
Since moving to the Ricoh Arena Coventry City have experienced the worst and darkest period in the clubs’ history. Administration and near liquidation was encountered in 2013 and the club’s financial situation meant that they no longer owned the stadium and had to pay rent even to use it. For a while home matches had to be played in Northampton due to rent arguments and it has been labelled an ‘expensive mistake’.
The land upon which Highfield Road stood is now (like Pittodrie will be if Kingsford goes ahead) residential flats. Even though access to the Ricoh Arena can be attained via pedestrian subways, a nearby train station and the motorway the new Ricoh Arena is barely half full each week and shared with a rugby team. Crucially many fans of the club have complained about limited parking near the stadium. There is no car parking available in side streets near the venue due to a strict residents’ parking scheme enforced within two kilometres of the Ricoh Arena.
What parking there is at the stadium comes as an additional cost to the supporter. And supporters of Aberdeen who want to move should recognize that. While you can park at the beach promenade for free the likelihood is that you will have to pay to use a car-park at Kingsford.
The Future for the Dons
When the 2016-2017 season got underway the board at Aberdeen FC were in good voice.
The ‘plans’ for the new stadium have been integrated into the new club website and social media is actively being used almost weekly to communicate and distribute the idea globally via flashy graphical imagery.
But despite the optimism, by the start of August the club are already out of UEFA competition before the domestic season has even began. With the defeat to Slovenian side NK Maribor a potential jackpot of £2m – that was just two more games away – has disappeared in a flash.
The likelihood is that aside from about 4 or 5 games Aberdeen FC will be watched by average crowds of 13,500 during the current 2016-2107 season. There will be no 20,000 capacity crowds and no sell outs. For a club to be planning to embark on moving to a shiny 20,000 stadium to the west of its current home seems staggering given the stagnant match-day revenues and the average attendance at Pittodrie over the years.
Thousands of ‘new fans’ simply do not appear out of nowhere to fill seats.
Even more staggering are the calculations surrounding the upkeep of any new Kingsford Stadium.
The club have continually complained that the upkeep of the current Pittodrie Stadium is proving to be a financial thorn in the side of the club. However, the truth is that the ancient floodlight pylons are used minimally on match-days and only for a few hours while any adjustments to seating inside the stadium is done by the club at minimal costs.
Against that, the upkeep of a huge modern facility in Kingsford means that instead of the assortment of handymen they currently have about 10 or 12 new staff would be needed, such is the investment required on artificial training pitches, grass pitches and stadium facilities. Any new stadium will not look after itself – the upkeep costs will be huge.
In short claims of ‘Pittodrie costs too much to upkeep’ are at best flimsy given what Kingsford might cost annually to look after with tender loving care.
One other flimsy argument put forward by the club was the possibly of UEFA football being taken away from Pittodrie such are its ‘state of disrepair’ i.e. its license to host UEFA football might be withdrawn on safety reasons.
But let’s look at the facts surrounding this statement.
By and large Aberdeen FC are involved in UEFA European competition at a time when the weather is warm and sunny during the summer months. Moreover, football at this level tends not to conflict with the domestic league since the club are more often that not knocked out of the competition ( Europa League) before the domestic season has began. This year the club played in European competition between 28th
June and 4th
Moreover, club involvement in European football is also not guaranteed and even when it is involved, for Aberdeen this tends to be a short term thing. Only once since 1999 have the club been in Europe past December.
On a final note the ‘safety’ concerns Aberdeen FC speak about concern a number of smaller issues within the stadiums infrastructure.
While granted UEFA could theoretically withdraw a playing license for home Aberdeen matches in the UEFA Europa League in the future – due for example to a ‘lack of fire doors’ – the main problems for the club currently are making room inside the stadium for UEFA staff on match nights. This might be by way of clearing a room out for a drug testing team; for the use of a referee supervisor room and for foreign media facilities.
Pitch dimension problems meanwhile can easily be addressed by not using or cordoning off certain pitch-side seats.
Given Stewart Milne has been intent on moving to a new stadium since 1999, accusing him and the club of avaricious short termism with these attempts for a new stadium is probably wide of the mark. And, on the side of the club, Aberdeen FC are in desperate need of new training facilities for the 21st
century, simply to allow player development and sporting performance to be optimized.
But many Dons fans recognize a new stadium isn’t required by the club and the risks of moving (given what happened to the likes of Coventry City) are huge. Where the finances are coming from for the new stadium are anyone’s guess. Meticulous calculations do not in any way seem to have occurred and the selling of assets (not to mention Pittodrie pies) will not come anywhere near to paying for the new stadium.
In truth the stadium financing is a form of heavy lifting that the club refuse to bring any clear clarity to. A combination of ‘members’ (fans) and commercial partners (business) and loans (mortgage) seems to be the key financial cash cows but whether these can be milked enough to pay for such a creation is doubtful.
In truth many that follow Aberdeen FC (its fans) share an equal share of the blame for allowing the new Kingsford development to even be mentioned as a possibility as a ‘goer’. Worse still are the prominent life long supporters of the club who have speculating loudly about Kingsford and have given it the thumbs up.
In my view that is shameful.
You could say they are ‘jumping on Stewart Milne’s delusional stadium bandwagon’ or you could call it a ‘lack of critical reasoning’. Myself, like many others, I dread the day the club moves from Pittodrie and would accuse those who follow Aberdeen and want the move to go ahead of bloody minded blind loyalty.
A large amount of Aberdeen fans seem to think moving from Pittodrie is a like a Saturday fixture. One where no matter win, draw, loss or defeat it’s a good thing that will come good next week. But if they move and it all fails flat as it did at Coventry City there will be no way back.
Not only will Kingsford be a stain on the landscape of Westhill and a pain to the lives of local nearby residents, make no mistake it will hurt far more to those of us that follow Aberdeen who want nothing to do with it. The possibly it could happen will be ‘the ultimate smear on the club’s long and illustrious history’.]]>