In Australian football world this weekend, much has been made of the return of the game to the Adelaide Oval. Since 1974 football in Adelaide has been played at Football Park (lately called AAMI Stadium). Once upon a time, Football Park was considered a model modern stadium – like VFL Park in Waverley. Purpose built for the Australian game, owned and operated by the football League, Footy Park was state of the art. I have interviewed Adelaide footy fans who remember the excitement when the ground opened, the fact it had concrete terraces, rather than the old mud and stone slopes at the old grounds. But now footy has gone back, back to the old Adelaide Oval. Sure, its been refurbished and all, but it is an old ground close into the old city. Footy Park – like Waverley – won’t see another top flight game.
It’s easy to get all romantic about old sports grounds. Geographers have a word for it – topophilia – love of place. And I am told that sports fans seem to experience it a lot, the love for the old sporting spaces. I wonder if people will get all wistful and nostalgic about Footy Park, forgetting all its faults and foibles?
But the thing that struck me about the vision of Saturday’s game at the Adelaide Oval was how many people were there. The place was packed. It was an event, and it seemed people were excited about the return. And that reminded me of an experiment in the Canadian Football League back in the mid 1990s. (before I go on – yes, there is a Canadian Football League, and yes the game is different to gridiron, at least to the trained eye. I will blog about the CFL sometime in the future, but if you are curious check out this which has to be one of my all time favourite sports promo videos. It makes me proud to be a Canadian – which I’m not, but watch it and I dare you not to get misty-eyed http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BS1jCfg7Qxc)
But back in the mid 1990s, the CFL was in strife. Crowds were on the decline, clubs were struggling and were on the brink of folding. It was a pretty small League – and very much a bridesmaid to ice hockey, Canada’s favourite sport. And like most other places, teams in the CFL had moved to modern football parks. But then, for some reason in 1995, the good old CFL scheduled a few games at some of the old football grounds. I’m not sure why they did it – there was some very practical reason – but what a result! People actually went to the games, the crowds were bigger, there was talk of “atmosphere” and “memory”.
So, you tell me – why? What is it about these old footy places that draw us back, that kindle such emotions? And while there, tell me about your favourite sporting places – doesn’t have to be footy – but any place that you remember with fond feeling. I’m intrigued. Let’s share.