Graphene and a twenty first century Archibald Leitch to rebuild and expand St James’ Park? | OneFootball

Icon: The Mag

The Mag

·24 September 2022

Graphene and a twenty first century Archibald Leitch to rebuild and expand St James’ Park?

Article image:Graphene and a twenty first century Archibald Leitch to rebuild and expand St James’ Park?

I recently visited the Design Museum off Kensington High Street to see an exhibition entitled Designing the Beautiful Game. The whole family plus my son’s best mate. It was a superb exhibition everyone agreed.

There was one section devoted to stadium architecture. A fascinating look at stadia around the world through history.

Living in London for some time now means I have visited a good, few grounds supporting Newcastle or visited lower league games just to get my football fix.

Archibald Leitch was the architect behind many of the classic structures that we associate with football stadiums of the twentieth century with that very recognisable style of columns and steel A frame beam structures supporting pitched rooves. The Taylor report meant that many of Leitch’s stadium designs had to be rebuilt, so many have disappeared to redevelopment.

There has been lots of talk about expanding St James’ Park or moving to a purpose built, new arena. Several of the big London clubs have brand new grounds as the old stadiums were not up to the requirements of the twenty first century.

West Ham’s Boleyn Ground I have visited on many occasions over the years, always enjoying the intensity of atmosphere generated by the fans in the old stadium and the proximity of supporters to the pitch. Though not the queuing up for the tube afterwards.

My last London away game was at the Olympic stadium to see Newcastle play and my son getting a bottle of water thrown at him from a mindless home supporter (Character building for the lad!). I work with a couple of West Ham supporters and they hate their new home. Couldn’t agree more with them, it is an awful place. Definitely not a football stadium.

‘St James’ Park as visualised by Archibald Leitch’

I also work with someone who is from Blackburn (my boss) and he is a season ticket holder at West Ham. Justifies it by saying he gets to see all the stars of the top six teams. Makes you wonder how many more of their supporters are like him.

Highbury stadium I had the pleasure of visiting many times over the years and always liked the fact it was sat snugly amongst Victorian terraces, with its own dedicated tube station that was once called Gillespie Road but Herbert Chapman convinced the powers that be, to change it to Arsenal. I even saw Shearer etc. win there (we don’t often see many wins in the capital), I liked Highbury with the old clock incorporated into the Clock Stand. It was in there I was once arrested for being drunk and disorderly five minutes before kick off. Much to my Gosforth mates’ amusement even though I was not drunk or disorderly but just happened to be sat on the end of the row, so was an easy picking for the police.

Highbury is now housing but the Art Deco façade from the 1930s was retained. Arsenal’s new home, the Emirates stadium, I have been to many times as well and is adjacent to where Highbury was, so keeping some of the local feel to it. The replacement for Highbury is a quality piece of architectural design. The atmosphere does not compare to the old Art Deco Highbury in my opinion though. The stadium is lifeless and could be anywhere. Definitely not the inspiring structure the architects envisioned.

Just before Covid I managed to get tickets for Spurs at the new Tottenham Stadium. Extremely surprised to witness a Joelinton goal and dodgy VAR in our favour. The stadium is another feat of quality architectural engineering. Same usual journey to seven sisters and the long walk up the High Road to the ground. I have done that journey several times to get to the old White Hart Lane.

Spurs had rebuilt their stadium while playing at Wembley (me and my son visited Wembley to see Spurs defeat us through a lone Son goal), White Hart Lane with their shelf was much more intimidating than the Tottenham Stadium. The Architects had hoped to create “a white wall” at one end, but you cannot design passion into a building.

Which brings me back to St James’ Park.

What lessons can be learnt from the two big north London clubs?

With 2028 on the horizon, do we need a new stadium?

Can we expand St James’ Park to raise the capacity?

I read an article in the Economist the other day, which explained how scientists and engineers had been experimenting with new materials, mainly using Graphene, a relatively newly discovered material, and incorporating it into concrete, thus creating opportunities for advancing architectural development.

An Archibald Leitch for the twenty first century needs to step forward so we can rebuild and expand St James’ Park.

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