With the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup hotly contested by international teams around the world from 20 July – 20 August, Lauren Teague writes about the importance of football stadia in creating strong interpersonal bonds in London.
I was 11 days old when my dad first took me to London Road - the home of Peterborough United and now my 'home' too, for better or worse, every other Saturday. It's not a modern ground, nor is it particularly glamorous, but walking through town from the station, over the bridge, and approaching the north-west corner of the ground along with 7 or 8,000 other like-minded fans, you can't help but feel part of something special. Anticipation. Excitement. Anxiety.
American geographer Yi-Fu Tuan explores the genius loci of place and its connection with human society - he calls this 'topophilia'; a place that generates feelings of love or attraction. It was cultural geographer John Bale who likened this to the psychological attachment to football stadia. But it is not the architecture of the stadium alone that draws the masses to it, it's the sense of routine - a shared ritual - that connects fans together to create community.
I didn't choose my football club - it was a birthright, passed down through generations of Teagues. But when I moved to London in 2017, I did make a choice to adopt my local football club: Enfield Town FC. The 20-minute walk to the Queen Elizabeth |I ground, with its art deco stand, gives me a new routine and a new community to be a part of: a home away from home that unites me not only with other supporters but with my new local area.
Non-league football in particular is known for drawing people together. Some of the supporters at Enfield Town are, of course, lifelong fans. Others, like me, have moved to the area and turn up to support their local club on the occasions that their 'first team' isn't playing. Kids can run around the outside of the pitch while their parents watch the game. When everyone changes ends at half time, wry smiles are exchanged with the opposing fans. An unlikely group of people brought together for 90 minutes for a common purpose.
It can be difficult to explain to those 'not into football' how a group of players can bring together a few thousand strangers just by wearing a shirt with a team badge on it.
For fans, the sense of place gained from the participation in a shared routine manifests within the physical form of the stadium - an urban landmark implicated by its connection to a particular audience - the sports spectator.
Throughout historical precedence, the stadium has provided a bespoke arena for communal activity, but the role of the modern stadium goes beyond the sport itself to affect the wider urban environment. According to Bale, the stadium is a sports facility "that always generates both positive and negative effects on the broader urban community and the local/neighbourhood community as well as on fans". So how does a sports stadium benefit those who don't follow the team - those residents for whom match days are even deemed as a 'nuisance?’
Increasingly, their role is one of a facilitator or @centrepiece within a wider masterplan that brings local benefits beyond the audience of team's supporters. In London alone, the past few years have seen a number of stadia built that have contributed more than lust 'à functional space for the production of football matches, supporting communities with new facilities that would otherwise struggle to come forward.
The new riverside stand at Fulham FC is designed by Populous. It is a leisure destination on the Thames, with bars and restaurants that opens up the river walkway to the public for the first time. The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, also by Populous, is the catalyst for a wider regeneration plan for the borough. The stadium opened in 2019, with the football club also committing to delivering new homes, a primary school, supermarket, gym and shops as part of the masterplan.
This facilitation of stadia as a catalyst for wider regeneration is becoming increasingly common. AFC Wimbledon's Plough Lane stadium is surrounded by 600 residential apartments by Galliard Homes, sports and fitness facilities and a retail outlet as part of a masterplan designed by Sheppard Robson.
Described as a 'mixed-use sports stadium-led project', the 20,000-seater football stadium itself - designed by Wilson Owens Owens Architects - provides a home for the football club alongside a mix of uses for the local community. Similarly, Brentford Community Stadium (designed by AFL Architects) is the focal point of a masterplan comprising residential, hotel and retail uses.
These so-called 'community stadia' are built with the explicit aim of bringing additional benefits, facilities and services to the local communities that they serve by delivering genuine resources for local, often traditionally ‘hard to reach', communities. They will, in time, create communities with their own routines.
I will continue to take the train to Peterborough once a fortnight. On my way to the ground I will buy a coffee at the local café and on my way home I will pick up fish and chips, a family tradition. These traditions, rituals, routines are what sport is all about.
A collective response to a fortnightly event that share with thousands of others, come rain or shine; win, lose or draw.
Lauren Teague is an architectural communicator and writer. At ING, she works with clients across the built environment, driving the company's development ambitions into regional centres across the UK, with a personal interest in the north.
From the archives of The London Society Journal