Groundtastic, now in its 50th edition, has documented the huge change to British stadiums at all levels over the past 12 years. The fanzine’s co-editor Vince Taylor explains the motivation
For those of us whose pulses quickened at the sight of floodlight pylons towering over neighbouring housetops, and whose idea of bliss was to be stood in the middle of a crowded concrete terrace, the publication of The Football Grounds of England & Wales by Simon Inglis in 1983 was a moment of epiphany. Though it wasn’t quite “the love that dare not speak its name”, nobody before Inglis had articulated this fascination some of us have for football grounds as entities in their own right. He introduced us to Archibald Leitch, the Scottish civil engineer who more or less invented the British football stadium as it existed before the Taylor Report, and also demonstrated that every football ground, no matter how great or humble, generally has an interesting tell to tale.
Inspired by Inglis’s work and also that of pioneering grounds historian Dave Twydell, Groundtastic grew out of a loose network of enthusiasts who exchanged news, pictures and stories whenever they met. In 1995, with fanzine culture at its height, three Essex-based members of this network decided to launch a magazine entirely devoted to football grounds. Home-produced on a borrowed photocopier in its early days, initial mail-order sales were encouraging, as was business at Sportspages, and the magazine soon became a viable proposition
One of the things that makes Groundtastic unique is its even-handed approach to football grounds regardless of their status; since day one it has tried to strike a balance between its coverage of League and non-League grounds. Though the Emirates Stadium and the new Wembley have both featured prominently, Dartford’s striking new eco-friendly ground has also enjoyed star billing. Despite the main body of the magazine being UK-based, overseas grounds are featured in depth and that does not necessarily mean over-familiar pictures of the Nou Camp. Recent editions have included grounds in Goa, the Easter Islands and Greenland, among many others.
In the wake of Heysel, Bradford and Hillsborough, the 12 years since Groundtastic’s launch have seen British football grounds undergo an unprecedented period of change. The venues that many of us grew up to love – the shallow terraces of peanut shells and crash barriers, the low claustrophobic roofs with their view-defying stanchions, the creaky wooden seats that had been around since grandfather’s day – have all but disappeared. Grounds are brighter, safer and more user-friendly than ever, but, as each near-identical new stadium rolls off the production line, the nostalgia for old-style venues grows stronger and it is a yearning for the past shared by many Groundtastic readers.
Some of the most popular articles in Groundtastic have been features on ex-Football League venues, with Peel Park, Accrington Stanley’s former ground, being among the favourites. Similar articles on League rejects Bradford Park Avenue, Workington, Nelson and New Brighton have also attracted interest, and there is an undeniable fascination for clubs and grounds cast out of the four divisions in the days when there was often no way back.
But however tempting it is to wallow in fond memories of rusty barrel-roofed stands and claggy cinder terracing, the magazine keeps a keen eye on current developments, hoping that the next new ground will be the architectural masterpiece we’ve all been waiting for and not just another clone, whose only individual touch is the colour of the seats.
Groundtastic has moved with the times in terms of presentation and nowadays a normal A5-sized edition comprises 80 full-colour pages printed on glossy paper. As no advertising is carried, each issue is packed with articles and pictures, with features on grounds from all eras, both at home and abroad. In addition to the co-editors, Paul Claydon and myself, a network of contributors has developed, one of the most important of whom is Bob Lilliman, whose archive of colour ground photographs dating back to the 1970s has proved extremely popular with Groundtastic readers. Since the demise of Sports-pages, the magazine has been available via mail order only. Nevertheless, a healthy and ever-growing subscription base has built up and in September the magazine celebrated its 50th edition by publishing a special 100-page issue with a host of extra features.
For subscription details, go to Groundtastic.co.uk. The magazine is also available from: 21 Tiptree Grove, Wickford SS12 9AL, price £5.85 (including postage), cheques made payable to Groundtastic
From WSC 249 November 2007