Football’s building homes: on an under-discussed source of brownfield land

England manager Gareth Southgate is a man, we reckon, who would favour building more bloody houses. Image: Getty.

The whole of England is convinced that Football’s Coming Home. We at CityMetric are more interested in the “home” bit than the football, of course – but don’t worry lads, I’ve found a link.

For much of my teens and twenties I followed Hull City around the country. The football was miserable, but the trains, beer and friendships were great, and more than compensated for the inevitable defeat in Burnley or Brighton.

The event that stopped me going was Hull City’s move to a shiny new stadium. All my mates got season passes grouped together in an all-seater stadium. I couldn’t face that level of commitment, and quickly drifted away.

Hull is far from the only football club to have upped sticks from a dilapidated ground to swanky stadium – so I’ve started to wonder what has happened to the former sites of the national game. Researching this turned out to be simple, mainly because football attracts geeks in much the same way transport does, and so there are plenty of helpful websites.


My first task was to pick a cut-off date, so I didn’t have to go all the way back to 19th century. Fortunately football transformed itself in 1992 when the structure of the game was changed with the creation of the Premiership. Following this, money poured into the game: for many teams this was the catalyst for the recent trend for teams to move to new homes.

Of the 92 teams in the Premiership and Football League in the 1992-93 season, 29 have since left their grounds. Here’s what has happened to the abandoned stadia.

Premiership

Off the 22 teams that were in the inaugural Premiership, five have moved on to pastures new.

First to leave were Middlesborough, abandoning Ayresome Park in 1995 for The Riverside. This move was designed to kick-start the redevelopment of the town’s docks area. It didn’t. The old ground, like many, was in a residential district. Homes now stand where Brain Clough once scored for fun. I’m sorry to say that The Turnstile and The Midfield are the actual street names here.

A new development in Middlesborough within a sea of back to backs. Image: Google.

In 2001 Southampton left The Dell for St Mary’s Stadium, a similar dockside location to The Boro. The Dell is still The Dell. It is a rather impressive apartment block, which follows the footprint of the old stands.

The pitch is a car park, and the stands are homes at the Dell. Image: Google.

Manchester City were attracted to the shiny new stadium which had been built for the Commonwealth Games. The club moved out of Maine Road in 2003. The site has since been redeveloped into rather attractive terrace housing.

More terracing has been replaced by terraced housing at Maine Road. Image: Google.

Coventry City ditched Highfield Road for the out of town Ricoh Arena in 2005. The scene of too many years of topflight football is now the Signet Square Children Park, which is surrounded by modern high density housing.

Coventry’s compact ground has been replaced by tall housing. Image: Google.

Arsenal was the last of the original Premiership teams to relocate, moving a couple of hundred meters from Highbury to The Emirates Stadium adjacent to the East Coast Mainline. Listed building status means that two of the stands at Highbury remain: they’ve been repurposed and now house apartments.

Highbury Square, still recognisably an ex-football stadium. Image: Google.

All housing so far – a trend that will continue as we descend down the leagues.

Division 1

Millwall left The Den for The New Den (now The Den) in 1993. The pitch has been replaced by a distribution warehouse and a London Overground depot. I wonder if South East London wasn’t in much demand for housing in the early 1990s? a housing estate (sorry, we got this bit wrong).

No evidence of the old den in south east London. Image: Google.

Derby County left The Baseball Ground in 1997. It’s now housing, with a large green. Derby was one of few teams with its own railway station, and it’s still there. Opened in 1990 and closed in 1997, only 4 trains ever stopped at the Ramsline Halt.

The modern housing that has replaced the baseball ground. Image: Google.

Sunderland also relocated in 1997. Roker Park has been replaced by a housing development.

In 2001 Oxford United left The Manor Ground. It has been replaced by The Nuffield Manor Hospital, which is different.

With a central atrium, the hospital in Oxford follows the lines of the football ground it replaced. Image: Google.

Leicester City abandoned Filbert Street in 2002. Most of the site appears undeveloped apart from a large block of Halls of Residence, these days called “Unite Students – Filbert Village”. Things have changed since I was at Leicester Poly.

There’s still plenty of room for more student accommodation at Flibert Street. Image: Google.

West Ham United left Upton Park last year. It’s already been levelled: the developer has plans for 838 new homes, retail outlets and leisure facilities.

Divison 2

Counterintuitively, teams lower down the football ladder in 1993 are more likely to have moved to new stadiums. For many down in Division 2, the new location has been a springboard to a big upturn in their fortunes: 8 of the 9 teams with new stadiums have made it into the top flight, whereas only six of the 15 teams who have kept there traditional homes have achieved that.

  • Huddersfield Town left Leeds Road in 1994: it is now a B&Q.
  • Bolton Wanderers left Burnden Park in 1997: it has become the Burden Park Shopping Centre.
  • Brighton and Hove Albion left The Goldstone in 1997: it quickly became the Goldstone Retail Park.
  • Stoke City left The Victoria Ground in 1997. The site is undeveloped, but earmarked for housing.
  • Reading left Elm Park in 1998, and it has been developed for housing.
  • Wigan Athletic left Springfield Park in 1999: it is now housing.
  • Hull City left Boothferry Park in 2002: that is also housing.
  • Swansea City left Vetch Field in 2005. This one is odd. It is earmarked for a housing development with “safe streets”, but currently hosts allotments. The centre circle of the pitch will not be built upon, because people have had their ashes spread there.
  • Rotherham United left Millmoor in 2008. The ground is still there. It’s still in use with an Under 18’s team playing their home fixtures there.

The Victoria Ground, Stoke, will be 2, 3 & 4 bedroom homes, soon. Image: Google.

Division 3

Lots more housing from the lower league. Darlington (2003), Doncaster Rovers (2006), Shrewsbury Town (2007), Colchester United (2008), Cardiff City (2009) and Chesterfield (2010) have all become residential developments. Barnet (2013) appears to be joining that group as demolition started this year. Scarborough (2007) now hosts a Lidl.

Northampton Town left their traditional home for pastures new in 1994 but the County Ground is still going strong. The Cobblers shared the ground with Northamptonshire County Cricket Club, and First Class cricket continues to be played there, on the odd occasion it’s not raining in Northampton.

Cricket remains in the county ground Northampton, taking up a big chunk of land. Image: Google.

In Summary

Some 29 teams have relocated. Two grounds continue to host sport. One is a hospital; four are retail outlets. The remaining 22 are, or will shortly be, providing homes.

It’s hard to calculate how many people now live in these developments. Some of them have produced a lot of homes: Highbury Square contains 650 flats. So do 10,000 people live on these sites? 20,000? More?

Whatever the figure, they have been a significant supply of brownfield sites in many towns and cities. Yet it is a very limited supply of land.

If only there was another sport that could deliver land for housing? Anyone up for re-classifying all golf courses as brownfield sites?

 
 
 
 

How the rise of anti-crime politics caused lasting harm to Black Americans

"I see an awareness that has developed in the Black community in the last 10 years or so about how deeply racist the criminal justice system has become," James Forman Jr. says. (David McNew/Getty Images)

The police killing of George Floyd, and the protest movement that emerged from it, has reinvigorated a national conversation around reinventing criminal justice policy in the United States.

At the same time, reports that violent crime is rising in many US cities have resurrected talk of the much-disputed “Ferguson effect,” a theory put forward by law enforcement professionals, and some researchers, who argued that police slowdowns in the wake of the first wave of Black Lives Matter protests resulted in elevated rates of violent crime. President Donald Trump is trying to weaponise this narrative, paired with images of federal officers clashing with protesters in the streets of Portland, to wage a 1968-style backlash election campaign.

“People who want to mobilise a lock-them-up style of either policing or prosecution have tried to weaponise those short-term increases,” says James Forman Jr., professor of law at Yale Law School. “Criminologists will say you have to be very, very cautious about short-term movement [in crime statistics]. We don't know whether or not what we're seeing right now [with violent crime increasing] is going to sustain itself. But the fact is, it's here and people are talking about it.”

In 2018, Forman won the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction for his book Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America. Drawing on his experience as a public defender in Washington, DC, he traced the emergence of anti-crime politics in late 20th century Black communities. Forman showed how newly empowered Black politicians fought for policies they believed would protect and uplift Black Americans, but inadvertently contributed to mass incarceration. 


CityMetric recently caught up with Forman to discuss crime trends, where he sees reason for hope in this moment and how the Black political class’s attitude toward crime and punishment has shifted since the latter part of the 20th century. 

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

There is talk right now about a resurgence of crime and violence in American cities. We saw similar, more localised concerns after the initial 2015 Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson and Baltimore. Do you fear this could reinvigorate the kind of politics you describe in your book among segments of the Black community and political class?

I fear that it could be reinvigorated nationally and also in the Black political class. Look at the political conversations that are happening in Atlanta right now, for example, a city that also has seen a short-term uptick in crime as it is a site of a lot of protests about George Floyd and Breonna Taylor on the national level, as well as Rayshard Brooks and Ahmaud Arbery more locally in Georgia.

I think that you can already see in some of the language of the local elected officials this idea that we have to be very careful about pulling back. [They are saying] “while the protesters may make some valid points, we can't risk returning to the ‘80s and ‘90s.” Those decades really traumatised the United States, and particularly traumatised Black communities. There's a deep fear about returning to the levels of the violence that we saw in the crack years.

You write a lot about class divides among Black Americans, where middle income and elite Black people don't suffer as much from extremely punitive policies. They also have closer ties to the politicians who are creating these policies. There are very specific groups of people, even in marginalised communities, whose voices are heard.  As a result of these dynamics, you write about Black politicians fighting for things like mandatory minimum prison sentences or against decriminalising marijuana. Is there still that disconnect between those who suffer the most from criminal justice policies and those who are actually heard in political discourse?  

Let me just say a caveat, that when we talk about class divisions in the Black community it's important to hold two truths in our head at the same time. Bruce Western and others have shown the way in which class, educational status, income can dramatically reduce the likelihood of being hardest hit by the criminal system – namely incarcerated. Middle class and upper middle class Black people get some measure of protection. It's also true at the same time that Black people of all classes are worse off relative to their class counterparts in the white community. 

One area where class is least protective is policing and police stops. The police do not know how many degrees you have. They don't know how much money you have in your bank account. I want to be very clear that in making this point about class, I'm not making the argument that race or racism don't matter in this context. 

In terms of how it plays out now, I see an awareness that has developed in the Black community in the last 10 years or so about how deeply racist the criminal justice system has become. Twenty or 30 years ago they had a consciousness, but there's levels of understanding. Many of the people I write about in the book wanted to promote the interests of the Black community. They weren't motivated by indifference or callousness. When presented with mounting evidence of how awful this system has been in Black lives, they're reconsidering and recalibrating. 

Lots of former elected officials have said to me some version of “I didn't know at the time and I appreciate that you showed us in our full complexity. I appreciate that you showed the pressures we were under. If I had known then what I know now, maybe I would have been less quick to go along with some of these harsh measures.” 

The second thing that has affected the Black political class has been the emerging movements, led by Black people in particular and led by young people. They not only educated leaders, but pressured them and made them understand that there is a political cost. If you're not moved by the moral argument, then you'll be moved by the political argument. You'll be moved by the people protesting outside the office of District Attorney Jackie Lacey in Los Angeles, for example, where Black Lives Matter LA has held, I believe, a year of consecutive protests against a Black district attorney who has had really some of the worst practices.

From what I can tell, she's been pressured by the movement to change some of her positions on important issues like prosecution of low-level drug offenders, for example, and the aggressiveness with which she prosecutes police officers for acts of violence.

What do you make of the calls to defend or even abolish the police?

What I find so compelling about abolition, initially in the prison context and extended to the police as well, is that it shifts the conversation and forces us to go through experiments in which we imagine what it would take to build that world. I think that exercise is very important, because it pushes us further than we are naturally inclined to go. Cultivating a broader imagination is an incredibly important part of this work, because as you know from my book, often it was lack of imagination that caused people to fall back on [punitive policies]. 

That's what caused D.C. Councilmember David Clarke to call the police rather than public health experts when he was overwhelmed with letters about heroin addicts in public space. He was anti-drug war, but he couldn't imagine responding to a call for help with heroin addicts with anything other than police. That's a very common move from even really good and progressive people. 

People who are for defunding, for abolition, are absolutely right about reinvesting that money into alternative structures that support communities. But the reinvestment part doesn't follow naturally from the terms. We might want to come up with a term that captures the new stuff we want to do. I think that's particularly important because one of the reasons Black communities have ended up supporting more police is that Black communities have always wanted their fair share of the resources.

Then, the evidence suggests the United States has too many police officers doing prophylactic, preventative, or stop-and-frisk style policing. The style of policing that leads to district level harassment, pulling people over for no reason. But we have too little investment in the parts of police departments that investigate unsolved crimes. I'm talking about the investigator or the detective who comes to your house after there's been a robbery, an assault, a rape, or homicide. 

As compared to European countries, in the United States we actually underinvest in those parts of our police departments. Jill Leovy’s book Ghettoside shows this in dramatic detail. She describes an LAPD that's stopping and frisking Black drivers wantonly and yet the homicide detectives are still relying on a fax machine and the fax machine is broken. They have to go with their own money to Staples to buy a printer. Meanwhile, other aspects of the department are kitted out in this ridiculous riot gear that makes them look like they're in Fallujah. 

That under investment is particularly damaging to Black communities because we're disproportionately victimised by crime. Because of racism and this allocation of resources, the police are less likely to respond in Black communities. The kids I used to work with in the charter schools in DC, we talk about no snitching, but one of the reasons they would never call the police after they'd been victimised by crime is they would say, “They're not even going to come. You're wasting time.” 

I did a Q&A with Jill Leovy too and her argument is one I've struggled to articulate in our present moment. She argues the state doesn't have a monopoly on violence in low-income Black neighbourhoods, because investigations of violence are deemphasised and crime victims or their loved ones often take retribution into their own hands.  But right now, establishing or preserving the state's monopoly on violence isn't an appealing talking point. 

Yes, this is another thing nobody's talking about. Whatever we're going to do instead of the police has to be accountable to the public. The best, most direct way to have accountability is to have the individuals be public employees. As long as we have 300 million guns in this country at least some of those state employees are going to themselves be armed. It's unreasonable to ask them to do the job without it. Not as many need to be armed as are armed now, but some of them need to be. But they can't be hiding behind union contracts or civil service protections which make it impossible to remove even the worst performing, most abusive officers. 

We can not call them police if we want to. That's semantic, but maybe symbolism matters. But those people have to be state employees. They can work with community-based nonprofits, but there are also communities that don't have as robust of a nonprofit network, and they deserve protection too. These [community] groups have to be accountable to the state and, when they don't exist, the state has to be there. 

Progressives get all the points I just made when it's applied to education. The notion that things be public and accountable to the state is understood when it comes to schools. It's exactly why so many people on the left are opposed to charter schools, because they say they don't have public accountability. They want these things to be a state function. But this point about the difficulty in removing this entirely from the hands of the state is, I think, one that liberals and progressives understand from other contexts.

Jake Blumgart is a staff writer at CityMetric.