Holte End, Kop, Shelf, Shed, Kippax, Stretford and more are ripe for sentimentality
1 October ~ Action shots of past Scotland players decorate Hampden’s South Stand concourse. But at last month’s Euro 2016 qualifier most visiting fans were transfixed by an aerial photograph of Scotland’s national stadium in the early 1960s, its vast uncovered terraces filling to the old 135,000 capacity. So it’s not just me.
Nor is it just those who buy Groundtastic magazine, follow the Terrace Images Twitter account or befriend the Old Football Grounds’ Facebook page: fans remain universally transfixed by the days when three-quarters of any major stadium were gargantuan piss-stained slopes of concrete, wooden sleepers and rusting metal barriers.
Last month, reading WSC 344, I was mesmerised by a 1974 picture of Peter Shilton and Gordon Banks training at an empty Victoria Ground, Stoke City’s former home. Rather than two legendary goalkeepers, the star is the vast open Stoke End. Photographers don’t pick their backgrounds by accident. The hulking expanse of steps and steel is further dramatised by a drizzly Potteries sky. But a tiny picture of former Tottenham winger Terry Dyson in WSC 342’s book review section dragged me in just as helplessly.
Dyson is at Villa Park, warming up for the 1961 FA Cup semi-final. To me he’s the foreground of a formally composed shot of the roofless Holte End. Four tiers of humanity stretch into the sky, only a church spire visible behind. Rather than some analogy about terracing reaching to heaven, I immediately drew comparisons with the old silhouette of Hillsborough’s Kop.
Before it was built up at its north side in the 1980s and covered, Sheffield Wednesday’s home end narrowed into a point on its southern corner. A famous picture of Wednesday’s 1972 friendly against Santos show’s Pelé in all-white attacking the away end. But the real magic is behind him – tens of thousands arranged into a lop-sided pyramid, seemingly floating in the air.
Empty hillock or packed mountain – having staggered, jumped and cheered on plenty of them even before the Hillsborough tragedy, I have no excuse for fetishising famous old terraces. But in middle age my biggest football regrets aren’t lost cup finals or great players missed – it’s never standing on the Shed, the Shelf, the Kippax or the Stretford End.
Old east terraces are captivatingly haunting. The Popular Side at Huddersfield’s Leeds Road, Hibernian’s Easter Road in the 1970s, The Valley – where the east side resembled something LS Lowry would have painted if he’d read JG Ballard – and Hampden’s “Celtic End” when it alone held 40,000. The distinctive, awe-inspiring feature is always a lip, ledge or extension which takes an impressive terrace into the realms of the improbable. Turf Moor’s covered Longside curving into the unsheltered Bee Hole End at Burnley. Charlton’s Valley hosted a crowd of 75,000 but was never filled.
Like me, each Germany fan spent September’s game sheltered from the Glasgow elements. Everybody had one of Hampden’s 52,000 bucket seats to themselves. Yet we stood for 90 minutes, in front of our tipped-up plastic, in a relatively harmless thus wholly inaccurate reproduction of the way things used to be.
Barnet, Morecambe and Stirling Albion offer post-Taylor Report terraces. But they’re tiny. Queen of the South and Forfar Athletic may provide the biggest remaining traditional terraces in Scotland, Exeter likewise in England. But they’re also mere palliatives for the fixation which saw a recent archaeological dig at Bradford Park Avenue focus on the standing areas rather than one of Britain’s rare double-sided grandstands.
I watch televised games with an archaeological eye. At Goodison, White Hart Lane and other old grounds where seats were installed straight onto re-profiled terracing, I look for the nooks, crannies and familiar contours of old boundary walls. I crave hints of the way people once populated these venues.
Old vast terraces remain ripe for sentimentality and folklore. Enduring all that danger, discomfort and piss – always the piss – justifies the time and disposable income we currently spend enjoying football on our backsides. But we’re also claiming our part in a sociological phenomenon, one never more phenomenal than when pictured on the Paddocks, Jungles and Kops of 20th century Britain. Alex Anderson