Soulless concrete bowl. It’s a description that those of a certain age proffer when talking about modern football stadia. We, for I am of that age, remember the atmosphere which used to be generated. In the old days, it was like Joy Division’s song of the same name. Quiet and brooding, giving way to a terrace orchestra.
Football now wants the atmosphere to be like Russ Abbott’s song; jolly, laughing, light-hearted. Entertainment. It remains a surprise that no-one yet plays at the Crinkly Bottom stadium but it is coming, you sense.
That’s not to say I don’t like modern stadia, simply that new is not always better. The comfort provided comes with a trade-off which may yet evolve into a safe standing area. Eyes are on Celtic this year to see how that works but the Premier League clubs will come under immense pressure to introduce those areas if it works.
It’s a thought for another day. The reason I wandered briefly down that route was the billing and cooing in the back pages over the new stand at Anfield. What a cock-up. On its own, it looks architecturally fine and I’m sure is jolly nice inside. Comfortable too.
But my godfathers, have they made a complete pig’s ear of redesigning Anfield. Four stands, none which are the same height. There will be some scientific reason for it, I’m sure. The ‘optimum air circulation for the pitch’ argument is wheeled out when it’s needed to disguise the ‘lack of a cohesive plan’ truth.
Still, it’s Liverpool and another myth to add to the many which pervade English football.
And English football is back this weekend. The world’s gaze is to the north west and the Mancunian derby – which I initially typed as the ‘Manchurian derby’ and that somehow seems an appropriate label for it – whilst we look at north London. Which I’m relieved to do.
It’s the beginning of the season proper. The three games so far, a short burst of footballing activity seem almost pointless – and very nearly were after the opening two matches – but the real business begins. Four Premier League matches, two Champions League and a League Cup tie. Of them, two are difficult; the rest we have to be winning for a chance of a top four finish, cup success or progress in the Champions League to the usual Round of Sixteen exit.
Southampton, Hull City and Burnley are games we have to be winning if a top four finish is to be achieved. It’s not much of an aspiration for this season but I think it’s the best we can hope for. And I can’t see why we won’t win the games either. The latter two will be difficult to break down as they have shown in their games so far this season and both being at home will fancy their chances of a point or more.
But eyes are inevitably drawn to Paris next week and Chelsea in a fortnight’s time. They are the big games this month, they are the matches which will give us an indication of where we stand by comparison to peers and they might argue, betters.
Southampton tomorrow is the testing ground. Mustafi and Perez, the newbies, are expected to début, the former from kick-off, the latter as a substitute although I wonder if Arsène is tempted to rest Alexis following his travelling this week, using our latest Spanish addition as a wide forward on the left?
The squad is what it is now. Alex Iwobi is fit again, Aaron Ramsey apparently not so good at present; Arsène will update shortly on those but for once, we’re at a point where the XI looks strong, without square pegs filling in the round holes brought about by injury.
It’s now about hitting the ground running, individually and collectively, and gathering points quickly. We’re looking to Mustafi and Koscielny for defensive solutions. To build their partnership quickly. That’s not to discount Rob Holding’s contribution but £35m or whatever demands inclusion into the team, certainly in most minds and I’m no different in that sense.
But most of all, I’m happy that the interminable dullness of the international break is over. I like competitive international football but I’m fatigued by it. Euro 2016 ended just two months ago and already we’ve had another fortnight of World Cup qualifiers. It’s something the football calendar needs to reconsider; a break this early in the season isn’t ideal and when the competitions are shifted for Qatar in 2022, it’s the chance to re-organise everything to find a solution which keeps most the people happy, most of the time.