Tis the age-old question; one right up there with ‘To be or not to be…’, ‘why are there so many empty blue seats at Portman Road?’ and ‘what is the point of X Factor?’
What the hell do I write about during an international break?
Perhaps I’ll muse on the enigma that is Kyle Lafferty?
A delve into the Canary annals maybe?
How about a piece that looks at why we support the Canaries?
Or a look at the alleged conspiracy theories designed specifically to halt the progress of Norwich City?
Alas, all of the above have been covered by colleagues, and in far more able and eloquent ways than I could hope to achieve.
But there is one thing that’s been gnawing away. A theory that has been discussed and dissected a million times by others but which, until recently, I’ve largely dismissed as plain daft and beyond the realms.
Namely… is now the time to ignore sentiment, bite the bullet, and consider relocating from Carrow Road?
Logistically of course it would be a veritable nightmare and the heartache involved for many would be almost too much to bear but for me my love of Norwich City FC even outweighs my love of Carrow Road.
And I do love the old place. I’ve written about it (and declared “I hope Mr Chase’s dream of relocating never comes to fruition”).
I love that it’s lop-sided and is blighted by an unsightly hotel in one corner. I love that it’s a stone’s throw from the city centre. And, as one who crosses the border for every home game, I love that it’s located in the southern part of the city.
But, in the cold, unemotional light of day, if the long-term future of Norwich City would be better served by attracting 30,000+ supporters through the door every week, should we not consider every option of achieving it? Even if it causes some pain?
Clearly the the club’s (and just about everybody’s) preference is to expand Carrow Road, and Messrs Bowkett and McNally have both spoken of the board’s desire to expand the Geoffrey Watling stand and bring it in line, both in terms of stature and facilities, with the rest of the stadium.
Yet, with said plan would come some significant debt on a balance sheet that is currently free of it and an amalgam of logistical issues over how to manage any rebuild; not least what to do with four thousand-ish season ticket holders who currently inhabit the stand – including those who frequent the directors’ box.
If those good souls were to be relocated in other parts of the stadium while said redevelopment tales place then it would do two things: reduce to zero the number of casual tickets available, and/or render the away allocation below the Premier League’s de-minimis level (a minimum of 5 per cent of the stadium’s capacity).
Both wholly unsatisfactory.
One possible alternative would be to build over the exiting structure, as Liverpool did when building their Centenary Stand back in 1992 – thus enabling it to remain in use – but again it’s one riddled with risk and cost. Logistically the nightmares would come thick and fast.
All of the above make for problems aplenty for those tasked with overseeing any project but the real headaches would begin long before bricks and and steel girders even enter the equation. Most notably, how to finance the rebuild without compromising Alex Neil’s playing budget.
After all, Bowkett has long declared any ground changes only feasible if City are considered Premier League regulars. And we all know what it takes to make that happen.
Sadly, minus a tree that grows money or, in Premier League terms, significant external investment we are always going to be walking a financial tightrope and subsequently teetering on the brink of the league’s nether regions. It is hard to imagine us ever being sufficiently secure as to take on a new, substantial mortgage.
Therefore is a more viable option the one we all dread?
The NR1 location of Carrow Road certainly makes it prime building land and given the negotiating skills of those in our board room it’s conceivable we could walk away with a deal that could finance a sizeable chunk of a new stadium.
I have been advised by those with far more knowledge of such projects than I that any sale of land would not be sufficient to cover the cost of a new build but key will be the level of residual debt.
If, all things considered, to relocate were a goer the obvious location would be somewhere near where the A11 meets the A47, thereby partly mitigating the tiresome ‘middle of nowhere’ accusations. The downside would of course be that those travelling from far afield would not be afforded a first-hand experience of our fine city but few appear to appreciate it in the first place.
The design of any new stadium would be key to its success and none of us would wish to frequent another Ricoh, Riverside, King Power or St Mary’s, which in the words of fellow columnist Steve Cook come under the collective heading ‘soul-less’, but something unique and innovative that sets us apart from the masses would be a great start.
Of course, the whole caboodle would hinge on the numbers and other such hurdles – such as the almost mandatory public enquiry, especially given that any site would likely be either green belt or brownfield – but I do wonder if, in order to progress, the difficult question now needs to be on the agenda.
We expect Alex Neil to take the dispassionate view when it comes to team selection. Perhaps we need to do the same with regard to the future of our football club.
Naturally, armed with UEA findings of 2012, David McNally and Alan Bowkett will be acutely aware of the pros and cons of such a decision and, in terms of the club’s finances and infrastructure, they’ve done little wrong since their arrival.
Maybe I just need to shut up and trust them to make the right call……
Yep, that’s what I’ll do.
Sorry but we have more pressing things to worry about football wise for a few years yet. A football stadium still needs to be in some sort of district with at the very least a little bit of life going on, but not in an empty field!
Wait until the day they eventually knock down the County Hall. Failing that, maybe Broadland Business Park?!
Coupla points. Firstly, it should be, principally, a financial decision.
Secondly – soulless stadiums. I remember the Baseball Ground and itsturgid quagmire; I remember the old Victoria Ground at Stoke. I know the Ricoh well. Highfield Road was nothing special. I would suggest that there are no soulless grounds, just soulless fans.
Every time someone thinks about a new stadium the solution offered is one essentially out of town. Guys, as a reminder, not all of us want or are able to be car dependent. Unless you build some fabulous transport option at the same time, sites on the edge of cities never work. The Emirates, the Etihad etc have built in new public transport options to make their new stadia work. Not a sentimental response, Gary, but one based on environmental and accessibility considerations.
Mike C says
As one whose travels mean that I have frequented many of these ‘soulless’ stadiums I have one question, “Why out of the city?”. The reality is that if you travel to the Amex, the Ricoh, the Riverside, St Mary’s, the Macron, Emirates, Cuckoo Farm, the Greenhous there is nowhere to park, I know, I’ve puzzled over it often enough. So locating somewhere near the Thickthorn roundabout would help……who? Not me.
Tell you what, there was a plan to build a rail station by the Ricoh stadium in Coventry. It was built, but can they use it on match days? No, it’s not safe! They only put 75 seat trains on that line. If they had a crowd of 30,000 for a Saturday game (unlikely I know) it would take until Wednesday to transport them all away from the ground.
Gary Field says
Let’s, for a moment, park all the emotive issues associated with a relocation and focus on the numbers.
Question No 1. How much would a new stadium cost to build?
Got to be at least £100m, surely?
Question No 2. Would the sale of Carrow Road raise sufficent funds to make a relocation and new build self funding?
To my mind, no.
What have we got to sell? Ten acres?
Even with residential consent for the whole site – which we don’t currently have – we’d have to realise at least £10 million per acre to get close.
I’m no expert, but I can’t simply see that happening.
Therefore, any relocation would be dependant on further borrowing – look what a mess we got into when we borrowed £15m last time out – or external investment. Again, the latter seems highly unlikely at the moment.
Surely, therefore, this comes down to which option would be less costly to fund – a complete relocation, or the rebuild of a single stand?
I can’t see anything but the latter option as being the most feasible, but still difficult to achieve. And that’s before you take on board the likely consequences for the football side of the business.
Graeme Davies says
My dad used to work in the same building as the club’s architects. They once showed him how the city stand had been deliberately designed to make it quite straightforward to be add a second tier to. We can achieve a 30k capacity without building a whole new ground.
Gary Gowers says
Thanks for the comments folks. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even manage to convince myself that a move would be a desirable or viable option – just thought it a subject worthy of discussion.
Gazza (5) – Knew you wouldn’t let me down 😉
Hi Gary this old chestnut keeps cropping up and I’ve already made my thoughts known on a previous blog by Steve Cook
However I admit I may be wrong with regard to the value of the land at Carrow Road.
Cosmo P. says
In contrast to Gary F.’s cold and clinical dissection, can I offer a heartfelt and non-scientific ‘Ode to The Road’ as to why a move away would be a dagger to the heart;
Since 1935 the Canaries heart and soul,
To the faithful, it’s in the blood & the ‘marra’,
Four stands, two halves, one uniting goal,
Through thick and thin, we flock to the ‘Carra’.
Faces come and go, formations chop and change,
Sponsors, kit, hairstyles go out of fashion,
Promotion and relegation battles at close range,
Highs and lows but always with a passion.
From packed terraces to safety-first all-seater,
Face-lifts; some gradual, others more swift,
Defeat just makes the next win even sweeter,
The ‘Saturday thrill’ is the Carrow Road gift.
Why build a bigger stadium and have it half empty? The money in the PL is so large now that you don’t really need more bums on seats. Look at Palace, Stoke, West Brom – all surviving very well on crowds of less or equivalent to Norwich. Ipswich in the season they came 5th had the loudest ground in the PL (that now belongs to Stoke) then they knocked down the North stand (where the noisy boys sit) to expand the ground. They got relegated – attendances dropped off. Only natural. If Norwich moved to a bigger ground it would take them a long long LONG time to make the money back from any additional seats sold and if they got relegated at any point – which is a realistic possibility – then they’d really feel the cost.
Stick with what you’ve got and enjoy it and enjoy the atmosphere – the PL TV money will always be there
Frank Clifford says
I agree with Greame Davies. The City stand was designed in such a way that an additional tier (as we have on the Barclay and Norwich & Peterborough stand) could be added without disruption to the existing stand. There would be no need to relocate the season ticket holders there whist this is built.
The problem is that the board seem to have decided that they would prefer to demolish the City stand and rebuild a replica of the Jarrold stand, this would need the relocation of existing season ticket holders.
However I think we would need three to four more seasons of continuous premier league football before the board even start to consider expansion.
Mike C says
Good effort Graeme (6) 3:12am!!
Not being in the architectural field myself I would have thought that construction standards will have moved on significantly in the thirty years since the City Stand was built, rendering any future proofing incorporated originally redundant.
I would still favour rebuilding that stand on the same site. This year’s visit to Liverpool shows how they are progressing by building the addition to their ‘main’ stand behind it and continuing the existing line of seating. There may well be a step between old and new for executive boxes, but they are building an extension to the current stand without disrupting any existing seating at all. It won’t be quite as high as at Newcastle (and hopefully won’t be home for away fans.
Bridging Carrow Road would be a problem if we tried to follow suit, but not impossible.
Jim Davies says
Nice to see that Graeme Davies is still keeping up with City affairs while enjoying his honeymoon in Hawaii!!!
He’s correct, the architect who designed the Barclay, River End and I believe the Jarrold, as well as the City Stand, did tell me that he’d originally planned for an extension that could be cantilevered back over Carrow Road, while still allowing traffic to use the road, but the council wouldn’t allow it. While building techniques may have moved on as Mike C says, I’m sure that the foundations etc are still adequate, and Carrow Road itself has now been bypassed.