The question of Newcastle United stadium capacity is a troubling one.
We need to massively increase capacity, of that there is no doubt, but the current location of the ground gives rise to a number of issues which everyone knows about.
Moving St James’ Park elsewhere permanently is, however, an absolute non-starter. Part of the Newcastle United stadioum appeal is its location. Its one of the few top class grounds in the UK still in the city centre.
Some of my earliest memories of the match are of my dad and his mates having a pint in the various bars around the ground and me feeling that I was the big lad, as I was allowed to sit with them in the bars and then go and stand on the Gallowgate. Later on I can recall having drinks myself with my mates in Zoots and “making a day of it” like a lot of other people. I don’t do that so much now but I fully appreciate that others do. Its part of the rite of passage of us Mags.
I fear a lot will be lost if Newcastle moves out to an industrial estate miles from anywhere – as lots of others have done. The ground is the soul of the city – but that works both ways.
The cathedral on the hill needs to stay where it is. The fact it’s visible from numerous vantage points miles away just reinforces this. Its not exactly hard to find is it? I can recall the Spurs programme giving travelling instructions to fans years ago. When advising their lot how to get to Newcastle’s ground they simply said “go to Newcastle”. That was all they needed to say.
So you have two choices.
You extend the current Newcastle United stadium as best you can, or you flatten it and start again.
Extending the Gallowgate fully and taking the roof off the East Stand and adding many stacks of vertical “executive boxes” would increase capacity well over 60,000, but that’s unlikely to be enough. And is that making the massive statement the PIF may want?
Please understand that I am very reluctant to flatten SJP. I am sure some would prefer to leave it as it is for numerous reasons – and I get that. I am trying to think of the lads and lasses who currently can’t get in. I’ve been going for years and I have had a season ticket every year since Ossie Ardiles was manager – i.e. pre- “Keegan the Manager Part 1”. I can’t imagine how it must feel for people who love the club as much as I do to be unable to get in. They may have given tickets up for financial or anti-Ashley reasons, or they may just be too young and just starting out on their journey as a football fan. I appreciate that we need extra capacity and it’s as simple as that.
If you flatten St James’ Park you need somewhere to play for two years. In our case we would not have the option of ground sharing with Sunderland as that would never, ever happen. Can you imagine what would happen on the weekends when it was “our turn”. Its just not going to happen. Just don’t even start.
So that leaves Gateshead stadium as the third largest stadium in Tyne and Wear. That is nowhere near big enough with a capacity of 11,800. Or is it? Look at Birmingham’s Commonwealth Games stadium. That will normally have a capacity of 18,000 but this was increased with temporary stands for the games up to 32,000. Looking at the stands on the telly there did seem to be additional space and potentially increased capacity which was probably not thought necessary for their needs. As an athletics stadium it is effectively the same shape as Gateshead.
So could Gateshead’s stadium be increased, on a temporary basis, to a large enough size? And what is a large enough size for these purposes? Answering that second question first, it would have to be (at least) big enough to house the current season ticket holders and the away fans, with enough extra capacity for fans on a game by game basis as possible. I would love it to be enough to satisfy capacity now – but that may not be possible – and it is short term pain for long term gain.
Perhaps it would mean that season ticket holders could only get to see every other match? Tough choices are needed.
An alternative could be to build an entirely temporary stadium, like Qatar are doing at the World Cup. This could be a number of places – such as the racecourse or up by the airport and again at a stop gap level and size if it’s not possible to build something big enough. Planning should be easier because of its temporary nature of course.
A third alternative/option could see Newcastle playing at a smaller ground such as Gateshead with “beambacks” at the Arena (if it’s still there) or other large locations. Or even just some form of restricted TV “season tickets”.
This would need to be for two years (as long as it took Spurs to build their stadium) to flatten SJP and rebuild it.
Now if you are going to do that, you have to do it properly, and I mean properly. Using as much of the old steel as possible, and the crushed concrete as hardcore, and reusing the seats (or selling them) etc in an effort to keep some link with the past, the PIF would need to literally build the best stadium in the world.
I understand that football grounds can be “no larger than Wembley”- so that would mean we would only have a ground that held 89,999 fans – with a retractable roof? A dramatic design (I’m talking the mother ship from Independence Day). An iconic design, lights, flames, signs etc – something that would look very impressive from the distant vantage points around Tyneside I referred to earlier. Why not have huge representations of the Tyne Bridge and the pillars at either end across all four sides for example? You’ve just visualised that in your head haven’t you? Or just recreate the whole Milburn / Leazes corner wrapped around the whole ground. Or something completely different but equally iconic? I’m sure there are experienced architects licking their lips at the prospect of designing this.
Every time a new stadium has been built, season ticket numbers go up. Maybe it’s because you can apply to sit next to your mates again (imagine that) and new ticket holders can join in with lads and lasses who have been going for years – maybe their own children? West Ham currently have 55,000 season ticket holders at their new ground. Would they have had that at the Boleyn Ground however well they are doing? New grounds provide a perfect storm of space and availability which means I am sure that however large Newcastle new ground is, it will be filled.
It would have to move slightly – and encroach onto Leazes Park a little. Think “The corner flag next to the Strawberry would be where the centre circle is now” and you’ll not be far wrong. Parking and access would need sorting. It could have a hotel built into it, and bars, restaurants shops etc. The trade-off for Leazes park would be an extensive makeover – which it needs from personal experience – and the bit that would go would be so small and underused as to make it much less relevant. We are not talking building the whole ground on it here.
Newcastle’s ground would also become a money making machine – just as some of the other recently built stadiums are. I would hope the PIF would put their money where their mouth is, as well as potentially renaming it as a way of increasing revenue to help finance it. “Aramco at St James’ Park” anyone? Like anyone would call it anything other than St James’ Park anyway?
So for a few years of pain we could have a lifetime of gain. We could have the best ground in the world in the best location possible for Newcastle United. We could have an ideal platform to hang the new sponsorship deals and hugely increase revenue. We really could be the richest club in the world, but in a more sustainable way that FFP couldn’t touch. Is that worth flattening St James’ Park? That’s for Amanda and co to decide.