If you love sport, there’s nothing like walking into a new stadium – reaching the top of the stairs, seeing the field and getting all excited in spite of yourself. I’ve been lucky enough to go on sports adventures home and away – here’s my top 12 stadiums, ranked in totally subjective order, based on factors like how *thrilled* I was to go there, the matches I saw and, erm, how drunk I got.
*Click the images to make them bigger*
12. Croke Park
This is Ireland’s national stadium for Hurling and Gaelic Football in Dublin, and is a gleaming, modern stadium for these quaintly traditional sports. The atmosphere is rabid, but friendly, kind of like NPC Rugby when it meant something. It’s up there with Twickenham and Old Trafford, and has real history.
I got to experience that scarfie atmosphere for an All Blacks v South Africa test in 1994 – it was the Boks’ first time back since the Apartheid ban, and they shamefully refused to face the Haka, instead lining up to sing an old anthem to the grandstand. Bad move.
10. Lansdowne Road
Lansdowne Road is a bag of shit when you’re soaked through watching Ireland make hard work of beating Andorra in a largely meaningless World Cup qualifier on an open terrace. It’s better watching Richie McCaw make his All Black debut on a gloomy afternoon with yer mates over from London. It’s best, though, watching underdogs Ireland beat 6 Nations favorites France in bright Autumn sunshine, the crowd going absolutely crackers. Afterwards a bunch of Irish cricketers took me to a pub that looked like someone’s house, it was so packed that pushing the front door open disturbed drinkers pressed on the other side. My All Blacks jersey got me shouted several pints, and later that evening the 25 minute walk back to Rathmines turned into about about an hour’s stagger. The Irish *really* know how to enjoy a day’s Rugby – we could learn a lot from them, team.
9. Old Trafford
5-1 win over Wimbledon with Beckham wonder goal. Did the tour, and had a good nose through the super store, but passed on the pencil cases and duvet covers. It’s a magnificent stadium.
Parents were visiting wayward son on OE, and Dad wangled a Lords press box ticket through his correspondence with Jonathan Agnew, on what turned out to be the old press box’s final day before the move to the 2001: Space Odyssey-style new one. There was a little speech. Middlesex were playing someone or other, but no-one was too interested – the scribes were busy stuffing their faces at the buffet and wiping the crumbs with their ties. I didn’t get any scornful looks from anyone in a B+E tie, which really disappointed me for some reason.
7. Sydney Cricket Ground
New Zealand beat Australia, and having put up with sheep noises all day, I was a very happy Young Guns fan indeed. It’s a great place to watch cricket, and a real thrill to visit having seen it on telly for all those years. The best bit’s not having to put up with the Channel 9 commentary team, though.
NZ v England 1999 Rugby World Cup. Twickenham is a vast, imposing, deeply impressive stadium worthy of that ‘HQ’ label. Maturely, I chose my one and only visit there to be as drunk as I’ve ever been at a game (with possible exception of Waikato v North Harbour shield defence. Ahem.) After mid morning pints at a Richmond pub, two companions + I got off the bus busting for a slash. After bow-legged sprint across the road we found some keen All Blacks fans in a park smoking something suspicious. We got in the ground with about 10 minutes ’till kick off and elbowed in to get Guinness, two pints each. We reached the top deck, only to be told we couldn’t bring the pints in. We looked at each other. Fuck. Six skulls later we were there. HQ. It’s massive, and still had that funny little stand at the open end of the horseshoe. The locals weren’t impressed with having loud, pissed Kiwis on their turf, especially ones that could barely stand up at about 1.30pm, and were keen on making their presence felt. Two guys from Whakatane in front of us shared a hipflask of something home made, and it’s fair to say we weren’t feeling much pain. I can only imagine what we sounded like in Hamilton in the dead of night in obligatory half time calls home. Lomu scored, we had a win to celebrate, and we streamed out full of the confidence of All Black fans in the in the early stages of a World Cup. I remember slurring to someone on the tube home that “Us Kiwis. We’re not good winners. We’re not good losers, either”. How apt.
Anyone who ever got up with a Milo for the FA Cup final, or laughed at Prince Charles’ Live Aid dancing had to see the twin towers on their OE. I saw Sean Fitzpatrick’s last test v Wales there, and Michael Owen’s England debut in a Chile friendly. My fav Wembley memory, though, is going to see Arsenal play Barcelona in a Champions League match, and missing a Rivaldo goal by refusing to stand up for the Gooner fans’ incredibly witty ‘Stand up if you hate Tottenham’ chant. Fuck ’em. New Wembley looks amazing too.
4. Seddon Park
When I was a boy, I’d race around Seddon Park armed with Hadlee Hits Out or similar, demanding autographs off visitors Ian Botham, the Chappells and Greg Matthews, as well as Richard Hadlee, Geoff Howarth, Lance Carins and any number of other heroes. When I was a student layabout, I spent one summer in particular at tests against the Aussies and West Indies, sat out for five days each on the grass banks, with mates, perfect weather, Sports Roundup on the radio, and a replay screen a languid twist of the neck away. We’d bowl back to one guys’ flat around the corner at the breaks to listen to music and play back yard cricket, even though we could probably have still got away with a tennis ball match on the field itself. Doesn’t get much better. It’s a perfect test match ground, and has had bloody crackers one dayers lately – I hope this dedicated Cricket ground keeps getting the fixtures it deserves. I can’t wait to take sportreview jr before too long.
3. Waikato Stadium
Going with me Dad as a boy, 1992’s ‘eye gouge’ NPC final, seeing Andrew Merthens, 12, taking the shield off us… I loved the old Rugby Park and miss the wooden terraces and big-cowshed-main-stand, but the new Waikato Stadium is easily the best Rugby watching venue in New Zealand now. The family was there for the opening match v Canterbury, and already I’ve seen NZ Maori beat the Lions, Waikato beat the All Black laden Canterbury side 59-41, and the Chiefs make the semis by beating the Brumbies. The routine now is the comfortable main stand if I’m with the family, and the bogan / student packed ‘Green Zone’ if I’m with the chaps. Either way you get great atmosphere, a fantastic view and beers easily.
2. Eden Park
A top three:
3. All Blacks v Wallabies 2008 – that crushing performance. Everyone loves seeing Aussies crushed, don’t they?
2. New Zealand v South Africa 1992 Cricket World Cup. A typical performance from that mad, crazy summer when we swaggered through the round robin in a very un-New Zealand-like manner, taking the best sides in the world to bits all over the place. We got them for not much, and our openers laughed at the 3.8 required, with Rod Latham punching drives at will, while Greatbach seemed intent on putting every ball on the roof of the main stand. The most exciting Cricket match I’ve ever seen live.
1. Waikato v Auckland 1994 Shield challenge. This was the 61 shield defense Auckland of Fitzpatrick, Fox, the Brookes and Kirwin v the Waikato side of Gatland, Mitchell and Foster. And we bloody did them. There were 45,000 there, and I think we saw most of them on the motorway on the way up. With five minutes to go the PA crackled “Would the crowd please stay off the field at the conclusion of play.” Not bloody likely, we all ran on to see Mitch lift the Log O Wood, and danced around on the green, green turf like a pack of school kids let out fifteen minutes early. Magic.
1. White Hart Lane
I was at my most Tottenham-rabid when I set off on the OE, so getting to the Lane after seeing it on TV upteen times was pretty special. Between 1997 and 1999 I got along seven times, unfortunately co-inciding with Alan Sugar’s Tottenham at its’ most dark and dire, smack bang in the Christian Gross, Ruel Fox, Alan Neilson, Steffen Iversen, scoreless draws with Wimbledon, George Graham era. There was an awful lot of shit football. The upside? Seeing David Ginola play, the French sticking plaster on Sugar’s mess. His goal v Chelsea was the best moment I saw live (I was sitting with Chelsea fan Nick in the Spurs end, he had to suppress his celebration when Goldbaek did this in the same match. You can probably see us in the crowd behind the goal). The best match atmosphere was seeing George Graham bring his Leeds side to White Hart lane amongst swirling rumors Tottenham wanted him – he copped terrible (or excellent, depending on your point of view) abuse from the Spurs lot AND the Leeds fans, and we equalised in the last minute to draw 3-3. There was also the UEFA cup tie v Kaiserslautern, with the home fans chasing the supporters’ bus up the high road, and the German fans taking their shirts off en masse on a cold London night. It’s compact and intimate stadium, and easily the loudest I’ve ever been to.