Substitutes can sit in comfort
5 December ~ When Bruce Rioch was manager of Bolton Wanderers he would watch games at Burnden Park while sat on the kind of plastic chair you used to get at school – its skinny black legs were plonked unceremoniously on the grass beside the pitch. But that was around twenty years ago. These days, managers sit and watch games in more comfort. Take Chelsea as an example. If they can afford to spend around £80 million on players for the current season then it stands to reason that their dugout will be similarly plush.
And it is – leather upholstery with head-rests like something from the first class cabin of a jet plane. It's not just Chelsea though. Clubs throughout the country have pimped their hides.
I seem to recall it might have been Bayern Munich who started it all. Pretty soon many followed suit with leather seated dugouts. They bring another commercial opportunity in the shape of corporate branded head rests. Some have widened the net to include further commercial partners – Southampton have Sunseeker Yachts, while Chelsea have Audi. But many clubs just stick to the name of their sponsor or ground. In Leicester City and Brighton & Hove Albion's case that is the same thing. Brighton's blue and white striped design pulls off the feat of imitating their home jersey and the traditional deck chairs of the nearby seaside.
There was a time when the continent's dugouts highlighted the differences between countries. I remember watching BBC's Sportsnight and thinking Terry Venables was finished at Barcelona – it looked like they'd buried him up to his armpits at the Nou Camp. My Dad told me they took football very seriously in places like Barcelona but it turned out it was just the way the dugouts looked; cut in beneath the ground. These days the Nou Camp has leather seats like everyone else.
Those with an appetite for variety need only plumb the depths of the non-league circuit where the style and design differs from ground to ground. As a perennial substitute in the Hampshire Premier Combination League I have sampled some of them first-hand.
Liphook, which is on the border of West Sussex, have a set of portable benches. I watched a man make putting them together look much easier than anything that comes flat-packed usually is. The dark wooden benches at Bournemouth Sports could easily pass as a church pew, while Fleetlands' long white porch style dugouts cause substitutes to look out over the Gosport water and reminisce about childhood holidays by the seaside in static caravans.
Of course, modern dugouts are small beans in the scheme of things. What difference does it make if the dugouts at Shakhtar Donetsk look much the same as they do in Milton Keynes? As much as I would like football supporters to get a clear sense that they are in a Ukrainian mining city rather than a town in Buckinghamshire, what I would like even more is one of those posh leather seats. They look far more comfortable than the fold-up chairs that paying fans make do with. Perhaps in years to come they will be introduced into the stands of grounds across Europe. By then managers and substitutes will be making themselves at home in something even grander, like a customised Winnebago. Mark Sanderson