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There Used To Be... Moss

Ian Grant remembers a time when the stadium was more... organic


In the olden days, before the unpleasantness, we gathered at dinner parties in each other’s houses, sometimes as many as eight or ten of us, and sipped educatedly on a crisp white wine our host had selected to go with the fish and might even have paid more than a tenner for, before remarking on their perfectly al dente cooking of the Puy lentils and how we don’t usually like kale but, my goodness, this is delicious. I mean, I didn’t. I got the invite and made up an excuse involving some very mild fibbing about the car having broken down and a wildcat taxi driver strike, and so I was at home, watching Strictly and trying not to nod off.

Anyway, after everyone had cooed over the soufflé, talk would inevitably turn to discussion of trends in stadium architecture. Entrances, exits, stairs, concourses, all of the latest hot developments. And, if you too hadn’t found an excuse to be somewhere else, you’d find your mind drifting to a simpler time when football grounds were altogether more natural, more organic. Not just metaphorically natural and organic, not just the glorious rabbit warren of the East Stand. Literally organic.

There was a time when not a single one of us had ever stood on a concourse at a match, shuffling about while wondering whether to join the queue to pay two pounds for some hot-ish water with a tea-ish bag and some milk-ish whiteness in it. We had not the imagination to even dream of such things. We had, however, pissed into an overflowing gutter while staring absentmindedly at moss growing on a crumbling brick wall. Almost every part of a stadium was in active decay, gradually being reclaimed by the elements, slowly returning to nature. Weeds growing through the cracks on the terraces, rust taking hold in exposed ironwork. Brambles, moss, an occasional sapling. You used to be able to go mushroom picking in the Shrodells toilets, or so they say. Compared to today’s hi-tech surfaces, even the pitch was a more organic, living thing, or the bits of it that were actually green, at least.

These days, you could eat your dinner off most parts of a football stadium, were that not in contravention of ground regulation 34(d). But is that really progress, you wonder, as the conversation continues around you? Have we not lost something of ourselves along the way? For we had become part of the ground and the ground had become part of us, and it was a beautiful thing to behold, if you could manage to squint through the drizzle and the fag smoke. And then you remember that Heysel happened, and decay became disaster, and you snap out of your romantic daydreaming, and ask someone to please pass the cheeseboard.