Pirates on the road
How do the other stadiums measure up?
STEVE'S BLOG 29
The Musings Of A Happy Old Prop
January 29th 2010
Pirates on the road – How do the other stadiums measure up?
Well the Pirates have secured their rightful place in the play offs and the end of the first phase of the new Championship is looming large. It only seems five minutes ago that we were all congregating at the Stoop to take on the Harlequins in glorious summer weather.
What do you think about the new Championship format?
For what it is worth I think the standard has improved noticeably and I enjoy the fact that there are no easy games and ‘surprise results’ have become so commonplace that they are no longer surprises any more.
Bristol and Exeter have predictably set the pace but, unlike the Quins or the Saints of recent memory, they are by no means unassailable and the eagerly-awaited Playoffs may yet produce some exciting twists of fate.
Clearly there is a lot of fine tuning still required to the format. The current system of loaned players and - worse still - dual registered ones HAS to be properly thought through and drastically amended before it descends into total anarchy – I was going to say ‘chaos’ but its potentially even worse than that.
The undue pressure on clubs to all go to full time professionalism seemed inappropriate at a time of economic recession and has undoubtedly contributed to a situation where at least a third of the clubs in the Championship have got themselves into severe financial difficulties.
Surely prudent management should be actively encouraged by the RFU rather than the reverse. You would have thought with all the hand-wringing and misery around the world over Toxic Debt that the penny might have dropped by now! Furthermore the Championship must be found a decent sponsor for next season.
For us the stadium in Cornwall question still plays a major role in determining our ability to drive onwards and upwards. Having travelled around all the Championship grounds many times in recent seasons it might be interesting to consider how we stack up currently at Camborne and indeed where other clubs find themselves.
Bristol clearly possesses the facilities and the underlying support to play Premier League rugby as they have already done so. The Memorial Ground has housed top rugby for over a century, shares with Bristol Rovers thereby ensuring regular use and has scope to be developed further. It has also managed to maintain a good deal of the rugby club atmosphere. I have always enjoyed the experience of watching rugby there and as such it is as good a yardstick as any.
Exeter might have taken the opportunity to do likewise but chose a slightly different model and have started Sandy Park with an impressive main stand incorporating a snazzy business entertaining suite and seeking a solid income stream as a result. The pitch is excellent and the position by the M5 is generally good although quite why they built it so close to the motorway and thereby boxing themselves in with regard to ever significantly enlarging the terraced side remains a mystery.
To their great credit the Chiefs have ambitious plans in place and are well on the road to a good facility but they need to sort out more parking and make the place a wee bit more ‘supporter friendly’. Northampton has shown how you can be big and modern but still show a human rugby-minded face.
Castle Park at Doncaster is another one where they have moved with the times. Having relocated to a new ground in the 1990’s, they are now developing it with a superb clubhouse and a fine modern cantilever stand. They have tried to make it a place of entertainment featuring bands as an extra source of income. The ground can easily be expanded, has good floodlights, a nice convivial atmosphere and excellent food. All they need is more bums on seats!
Coventry moved to Butts Arena from their old Coundon Road about five years ago. It has a superb main stand and club bars underneath, a good pitch and floodlights with plenty of room for expansion. Sadly they have lurched from one financial crisis to another and as a result progress has come to a – hopefully temporary – halt. Unlike Doncaster, Coventry has a rugby tradition second to none and huge potential support. As a result they are a sleeping giant who could yet make a massive comeback if they can only get their numbers to add up.
I make no apology for loving Bedford. With its quirky sloping pitch, ageing clubhouse and pre-war stand it is probably the most authentic ‘rugby club’ in the entire Championship. Having played in the Premiership with a large temporary stand (which rattled and swayed rather alarmingly when full) and having had their fingers burned financially with too many expensive players - they have pursued a commendably sensible path ever since. It must be debatable as to whether Goldington Road could be expanded significantly but no doubt they have plans in their minds.
Plymouth Albion’s move to Brickfields is another brave move towards modernity and has plenty of scope for further expansion. Like Exeter and - potentially - Coventry there is plenty of latent support in the City but it probably needs to identify additional income sources as the Chiefs and Doncaster have been doing. With more money available Brickfields could yet be developed into another fully fledged GPL venue.
Nottingham also gave up their homely ground in Beeston and has decamped to Notts County’s very soulless football stadium where ‘crowds’ of 1,500 are lost in among 20,000 plastic seats. Their ‘hosts’ have shown themselves to have been very inhospitable of late and a further move seems inevitable. Having said that, they have performed heroically on the pitch against all the odds and if somehow they did manage to get themselves promoted Meadow Lane might become a very much brighter proposition as all GPL criteria would be immediately fulfilled.
Beyond these clubs the picture is less promising although Rotherham has at least got a local football ground less than two miles away. Clifton Lane is almost exactly the same as when I played there thirty-five years ago but retains an excellent atmosphere.
Moseley, having left their beloved Reddings a few years ago, has a site with a lot of potential at Billesley Common which boasts a good pitch and lights but everything else is decidedly temporary. Given that Birmingham is arguably the second city in England it seems a shame that a major investor has yet to come forwards. If so who knows what they might achieve.
Old Deer Park, the home of London Welsh, is without doubt the most aesthetically pleasing ground in senior rugby but as with Bath this is also its curse as any development runs into massive opposition. As a result they face a stark choice between staying as they are or ‘doing a Nottingham’ and going in with a football club like Brentford. As an old fuddy duddy I would miss Old Deer Park very much and they must also recognise that they have Harlequins just a couple of miles up the road as severe competition.
Birmingham-Solihull Bees are of course desperate to move to a new site and Sharmans’ Cross remains the most underdeveloped ground in the Championship. If they can move their situation must then become a bit like Moseley’s from the other side of the City. I wonder where that may all lead?
So where does this leave the Pirates present set up at Camborne? Well pretty good actually as far as current Championship venues go.
Much grumbling has been heard from time to time about the playing surface and the lack of floodlights but with a stand on each side of the field, a capacity of around 8,000, reasonable parking and a superb family/rugby atmosphere hundreds of supporters from other clubs tell me how it is their favourite place to visit.
Of course this is partly down to the other things a weekend in Cornwall can offer. However, if these delights can be complemented by a modern stadium which somehow holds onto that oh-so-precious rugby atmosphere then the old Duchy will have something to be very proud about.