Open Ground

From the Rage Online newsdesk Wednesday, December 1st, 1993  

Open Ground

There’s something that annoys me about people’s obsession with their house price. Never mind the health of your community, never mind facilities, never mind if anybody else has anything to do. Just don’t build anything near my house, in case it makes a difference when I want to move away. Forget our football ground, if that was all we thought of we’d have no shops, no airports, no pubs, no cinemas, no skating rinks, no cinemas, no roads to get to them and no nasty council house for anybody else to live in. Or if we did, they’d all be miles out of town (where you’re not allowed to build them anyway) and all we’d have is huge, soulless, grim estates of thousands and thousands of houses and life would not be liveable whatever the value of your house might be.

All right, as long as that point’s made then yes, people are going to be concerned about their house price. And more urgently, the traffic, parking, litter and much else that concerns them about a football ground. If it is to be the recreation ground at Blackbird Leys, then the residents of Sandy Lane and its environs, who already have the Stadium and a Tesco site to deal with, have every right to be concerned about the implications for their lives. I recall a meeting about the Watlington Road scheme in which some residents observed that this sort of thing got done in Blackbird Leys and not in Marston, where the residents have more money and nicer houses than they do. They had a point, no kidding. Priority One is that everything should be done to reassure the residents of minimum disruption. And I don’t mean reassure like a politician means it. I mean do the things required. Transport, parking, facilities, whatever.

Is the branch line going to reopen and have special trains provided? I should hope so (it would be good for Blackbird Leys people anyway). If Tesco has parking, will the club be able to share it on a matchday? This is what happens at Molineux and it seems to work all right.

Where are people going to eat and drink? Just in general, this is something that football clubs ought to work on far harder than they do. Why don’t clubs write to others so that maps and details of what’s available can be printed in their programme? To be honest, you can put away fans in the City Centre if they know there’ll be a train in good time for the kick off. There is, let’s face it, little in the way of food and pubs in Blackbird Leys (perhaps there ought to be, that would benefit the under-resourced estate). I don’t think that people there want a couple of thousand people wandering round with nothing to do and I don’t blame them. I reckon I can drink in Littlemore and walk up to the ground but should away fans know that? I don’t think so. Help them out.

It would be a great deal more helpful if the Club was more open about this. There’s been bugger all by way of consultation, and yet, who knows more about design, facilities, access and all matters involving attendance at a football ground than we do? Who knows better what will bring us in and what will drive us away? Mistakes made now will be expensive.

More than expensive, possibly. Because however convincing Mr. Cox is on the radio, there will be complaints and protests, make no mistake of that. What’s the counterweight? Honeyed words? I think not. There are thousands of United fans who want a move to succeed and know the consequences if it doesn’t. Do the Board believe those people will be mobilised without involvement in the plan? They won’t. Passive support is one thing, activity another. Consult us and involve us, at the forefront, then you’ll have your public support for your stadium. Do otherwise, and all you’ll have is letters to the paper.

This isn’t imagination, it’s what happened not too long ago. Everyone says they’re learning the lessons from Watlington Road. Don’t have a hotel, that’s one lesson, sure. Here’s another – give the fans a voice. At the moment, tell them nothing and imagine you can turn off and on enthusiasm like a tap. To me, it’s too much like the style of Pat McGeough and Maxwell. Is the new regime no better than that? It’s too important to foul up – get it right.

EJH

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