The news that the completion of Spurs’ new stadium is on schedule hit the news last week with the announcement that an NFL fixture between the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks is due to be played at the ground on 14 October. Chelsea also received the news they wanted this week, when the club’s plans to expand Stamford Bridge to a 60,000 capacity venue were approved by Hammersmith and Fulham Council. While news that the Spurs’ stadium build is running to time will doubtless be a relief to Spurs fans – coming as it does just as they seem to be warming to Wembley – a new home is no guarantee of an instant upswing in fortunes, as any West Ham fan will attest. Tom Simmonds looks at the fortunes of some other clubs who have upped sticks in their first season in pastures new.
The Lions who, at that time, were very credible candidates to break into the Premier League having flirted heavily with promotion in two of the final three seasons at the Old Den, moved over the road to the first purpose-built football ground in the country on the 4 August, 1993. A Sporting Lisbon side including Luis Figo provided the opposition in a prestige friendly to open the place and hopes were high that the facility would give them extra pulling power in their bid to get to the land of milk and honey.
Time has told us that what happened to Millwall did not match whatever chairman Reg Burr had in his head.
The Lions actually did well on the pitch in 1993-94, finishing third in what is now the Championship after a sticky start – which included a 4-1 thumping by Southend live on TV in the first league game at the New Den.
The team was heavily reliant on Alex Rae’s goals from midfield as striker Jamie Moralee, prolific the previous season, dried up in the new surroundings. Though a solid back five which contained goalkeeper Kasey Keller, future Premier League right back Kenny Cunningham and a graphite hard central defence of club legend Keith Stevens and late-career Pat van den Hauwe provided enough solidity to make a team more in keeping with manager Mick McCarthy’s later image than the expansive side he presided over the previous season.
While good contributions came from the earnest veteran Dave Mitchell, Jon Goodman, Ettienne Verveer and a young Mark Kennedy (bafflingly played almost exclusively as a left winger by McCarthy despite him smashing the club’s youth goalscoring record the previous season), the heavy loss to Derby County sustained in the play-offs felt like an inevitability given the make-do-and-mend nature of parts of the team.
The reality was that the Lions finished a distant third, nine points behind second-placed Nottingham Forest, to whom they sold star centre-back Colin Cooper in the summer as the cost of relocating began to bite before a game had even been played at the new ground. To add further insult to injury, the division was won easily by a Crystal Palace side for whom Chris Armstrong scored 25 goals that season. Millwall sold Armstrong to Palace for a little over £1m plus Moralee in September 1992.
Cup wins over Arsenal and Chelsea papered over cracks the following season as a mediocre league outing, in which Cunningham, Goodman and Kennedy were all sold, never really got going. They were followed out by Andy Roberts in the summer of 1995 (to Palace, again) which precipitated a disastrous all-in transfer gamble in which the likes of Uwe Fuchs, Ricky Newman, Chris Malkin and Bobby Bowry were recruited.
Despite topping the table at Christmas 1995, Millwall plunged to relegation after a horrendous second half to the season and were in administration by the end of January 1997, when the stadium started to look like a millstone around the club’s neck that would drown it.
Bolton Wanderers 1997-98
Another aspirational side in a relative position of strength at that time, Bolton left historic Burnden Park, a ground indelibly linked to English football legend Nat Lofthouse, in 1997. The club were in the Premier League at the time, having won the First Division the previous season to secure an immediate return to the top flight after relegation in 1996-97.
It took Bolton a while to settle in at what was then called the Reebok Stadium, drawing the first ever game there 0-0 with Everton and not winning at home until the 26 October, when a Dean Holdsworth goal was enough to see off Chelsea. In fairness to the Trotters, they managed to hold Manchester United and Liverpool to draws in some of the new stadium’s early games and seven of their nine wins all season came at home – though they were not enough to save Bolton from the drop again as Everton squeaked to survival at their expense on a famous last weekend when Chelsea fans booed their own team for beating Bolton.
Overall though, the stadium move did see the best years in Wanderers’ recent history, as it become a stage for Sam Allardyce’s early adoption of new (to football, anyway) sports science and analytical techniques. The clear identity he gave his Bolton teams saw them become a fixture in the Premier League (when they eventually got back there in 2001 after two play-off defeats) rather than the yo-yo club they were at the time of relocation.
While harder times have descended on Horwich since relegation from the top level in 2012, though the preceding 15 years contained, for the most part, the sort of success that people who run football clubs like to think new stadiums will bring.
Huddersfield Town 1994-95
The John Smith’s Stadium, which has had various names since it came into being as the Alfred McAlpine Stadium in 1994, has seen action from all of the top four tiers of the Football League, though it has taken far longer to become a Premier League stadium than those who sanctioned its building envisioned.
A short walk from where Town’s old Leeds Road home stood, the Kirklees Stadium (to give it its pre-sponsorship name) has always been one of the more interesting of the new stadia, with its curved roof ensuring that it does not replicate the generic bowls that the likes of Leicester, Derby, Reading and Middlesbrough now inhabit.
Town’s first season in their new home was a genuine success story as promotion specialist Neil Warnock dragged them up into the second tier via the play-offs, though their first league game there ended in a 1-0 defeat to a Wycombe side managed by Martin O’Neill.
This was not a harbinger of things to come, however, as Town won 15 of their home league games in their first season after moving in. A no-nonsense side in their manager’s image managed to establish themselves at the higher level initially before overreaching to set off a chain of events that led to a brush with financial ruin and a season in the fourth tier in 2006-07 (from which they escaped at the first attempt).
It was when Card Factory founder Dean Hoyle took over ownership of the club in 2009 that a real vision for the club’s future, and the centrality of the stadium to that vision, that the Terriers have started to accomplish the things that Hoyle’s predecessors spoke of back in the early 1990s.
Rotherham United 2012-13
Another team who were somewhat beneficiaries of a stadium move are Rotherham United, who opened their tenure at their New York Stadium with a 3-0 win over Burton Albion on 18 August, 2012. This was to be a successful season for the Millers in general, as they were promoted from League Two in second place behind champions Gillingham.
The circumstances of Rotherham’s arrival at the New York, having sought refuge at the Don Valley athletics stadium in previous seasons after a dispute with Ken Booth, the owner of the land their historic Millmoor home was on, makes their move different from most others. Rotherham needed a new home because they literally were homeless through no fault of their own.
Since the move, they have enjoyed a decent few seasons, promotion in 2013 was followed by immediate promotion to the Championship in 2014, winning a play-off final with Orient on penalties after being 2-0 down. The 2014-15 season saw them survive in the Championship, before relegation by a distance last season saw them go back down, where they are currently handily positioned in eighth, just outside the play-off spots.
Tottenham Hotspurs 2018-19
The fact remains, however, that there is no way of telling how a team will react to a new home until they actually play some games in it. The warning signs are there when a club makes a move for the purpose of trying to make themselves bigger and more powerful through the increased gate and non-football-related revenue a new stadium will bring in.
The seemingly endless saga at Coventry City since they needlessly vacated Highfield Road for an unsecured tenancy at the Ricoh Arena is the most extreme example of this. West Ham have already been mentioned, but Arsenal also deserve a word here. Leaving a ground as beautiful as Highbury for a concrete bowl with 20,000 extra seats might have made good commercial sense but, given how many times Arsenal have won the league since moving, one wonders how many of their fans think the move was really worth it.
Spurs had outgrown the old White Hart Lane, it’s true, and that stadium’s utilitarian frontage meant that it is not a structure that has aesthetics that will be mourned, as fans do Highbury. Spurs fans crowing about their neighbours’ current travails and looking forward to their new stadium as the centrepiece of the sunny uplands they feel they are about to inhabit would do well to look at the prosperity forecasts Arsenal fans were espousing in 2005 and 2006 and be cautious about what they say in the lead up to their own big move.
If more thought has been put into the cheese rooms and wine cellars the new ground is going to have, rather than what sort of team will be on the pitch, Spurs Fan TV in 2030 has the potential to be as vituperatively critical of their hierarchy as Arsenal’s version is now.
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