Thursday, May 17, 2007

Through the looking glass - Ebren

I've sat and stood, cheered and cried in a hundred stadiums, some of them cathedrals of sport.

No pitch has ever looked greener than a floodlit St James' Park, the aura of the approach to Berlin's Olympiastadion at sunset is unmatched, the intimacy and familiarity of Kingameadow , the homeliness of the Valley, and the passion of a European quarter-final at Stamford Bridge (in the days they were rare).

The friendliness of the Hawthorns, the cheerleaders at Upton Park (and the less said about those at Selhurst Park the better), and the ultra-modern polished concrete of the Emirates - coloured yellow, green, blue and white by 60,000 South Americans.

My first memory is of the old West Stand at Twickenham watching the Varsity match with my classmates at primary school. I've been to Madrid to see Ronaldo's Champions League debut in the Bernabeu and watched Ronaldihno dance past Zaragoza in the Camp Nou.

I've also seen my cousin play in Penlee Park and walked down the road to watch the Pirates face the Osprays at Mennaye Field. I've drunk Pimms on the lawn at Lords and been confused by AFL at the Oval.

I'd say I had a decent education in stadia, but I'd never played in one until this week.

Contacts I have spent years developing finally came good and on Tuesday night I took a train to Leicester and a taxi to the Walkers Stadium. We were playing Alliance and Leicester's team in a modern 32,500-seat ground that has hosted premiership and international games.

The first moment what I was about to do registered was when I walked through a door saying "players and match officials only". Henry walked here, so did Keane, Rooney and Gerrard.

The changing rooms were a revelation, the camera views you sometimes get don't portray these spaces well. You hear rumours about the psychology used in their design, but it doesn't sound real.

But stepping into the away dressing room you are oppressed. After the door is a tunnel, dark, close, and like the beginnings of an overcast night. Step into the home dressing room and it is like opening the curtains on a summer morning. There are pictures over each peg, a bath the size of a swimming pool. The sort you remember from Georgie Best footage from the 70s. The sort that I thought no longer existed. And next to the giant communal bath is a row of smaller ones, the sort you might have at home.

"What are they for? Ice baths?"

"No, no," replied the guide. "They're for players with infections."

The away dressing room only has small baths. Communal nakedness is restricted to the showers. There are no shower curtains. Just think: Thierry, Freddy, Gilberto, Toure, Jens in the shower. How on earth did little 16-year-old Cesc get the nerve to go in there? I reckon he just went home smelly.

We got changed and headed to the pitch. It was a shock.

From the camera angles and the seats stadiums can look spread out. From the grass they aren't.

A shallow bank of seats looks like a wall from the pitch. A wall that - thanks to the perspective - is Right On Top of You.

One of my teammates hits a long ball at me from the half way line - I volley it into the empty net off the outside of my left. Take that Van Nis. Take that Rooney, Cole (J), Di Canio, Anelka, Gerrard, and, er, Crouch. Were your goals here that good? Pipe down Nalis.

We play the game, the linesmen calls offsides wrong, the ref disallows a goal. Plenty for the boys in the studio to talk about, for the literally dozen fans to discuss on their way home from the ground.

It doesn't matter whether we won or lost. It doesn't matter that I didn't get home until about one on a school night. I even liked the fact it rained, it felt more real. What matters is that the mud from the stadium is on my boots, the memories fresh.

And what matters more is that Nationwide have a team as well. And they sponsor the England team. And Wembley.


marcela said...

Fan Tas Tick //

Well done, you!

Never scrub the mud off those boots :)

DoctorShoot said...

Nice one Alice! Great word picture.
I am assuming the clip-link is not your left footer but a similar one.
Nothing can beat being there, smelling the earth as it sprays off a boot in front of you, hearing the thuds and calls, and the rush of adrenelin grunting into your throat as somebody sends the ball your way.
hope the dozens in the stadium were able to get your autograph.

hannibalbrooks said...

Great piece Ebren

I played in a Sunday league cup final at Runcorn's ground, which held about 2,000 when I was 13. There were about a hundred people watching and it felt fantastic, especially as we won 2-0, but I can only imagine what playing at a top class stadium feels like.

Brilliant account and I hope you make it to Wembley.

I know someone who smoked a joint sitting inside one of the goal areas at the Stade de France just an hour or so after France had beaten Brazil there in the 1998 World Cup final, don't we 'someone'?

pipita said...

Lovely Ebren.Sincerly hope you make it to Wembley. Must admit I envy your experience, Ive never played in a stadium. Missed out playing at the Racing Club stadium when I was 12 because I was ill on the day of the game, must have had stage fright...Almost played at Oxford University ground at Iffley, but we were knocked out in the semi-finals. However, I can boast about changing in the same dresing room as former River abnd Boca player "Pipa" HiguaĆ­n, the real pipita'a father yesterday before my wednesday evening five-a-side game

BlueinBetis said...

Cesc went home smelly.

Now that's funny.

On to Wemberley!

Ebren said...

DoctorShoot - dozen watching, not dozens. They included the proud father of one of my team mates. A man who has had a season ticket to Leicester's ground (the old and the new one) for many decades and whose father's ashes were scattered on the old ground.

If I didn't explain properly, the ball was launched from the halfway line, I ran into the box to meet it as it dropped over my left shoulder and guided it into the net off the outside of my left boot. I am right footed. It was only the warm-up. It still felt good.

I posted this with photos I have taken of most of the stadiums mentioned at first (don't know if any of you saw them), and one of us playing at the Walkers.

I took them down because it made the text look stupid.

If you are interested you can see them here:


marcela said...

ebren, beg to differ.

really liked the photos. and the way more and more photos are appearing on the site.

also, the title /photo / first line combo worked really well. i was immediately drawn in, even though i was planning to do something else.

bring them back!!

Ebren said...

Okay, who wants what back? (look at the link)

Reader feedback is all.

file said...


thanks for this, as someone who has only sniffed hallowed turf when taking penelties at half-time it's a great word picture, didn't realize the Walkers was so fancy or that the visitors quarters were so different, see; insight!

and, agree with bib, the whole 'cesc going home smelly' bit is a riot!

file said...

pics back

oh and WARM UP?


file said...

btw ebren,

great photo's, really like the Nou Camp one

in it's yoof this rusty file once spent most of a day, stoned as a bastard, in an empty Olympiastadion, Berlin

talk about ghosts

people tell me I still have a faraway, so close look in my eye!

Zeph said...

This is great, Ebren, loved it!

paulita said...


very very nice. I never say things like 'it's well written' because I know not enough of English. I suspect it must be, tough. the clue? I couldn't help truly feelling revolted about the tubs for the infected players.

Ebren said...

I tried to write this from memory and emotion - keeping as clear of existing imagery as I could (I failed a few times).

So thank you for the compliments.

I might put a few photos back, but I will probably wait until the office clears in the afternoon and my boss goes home/to the pub.

One of the reasons I wanted the photos as an addendum and not in the text is because I wanted people imagining rather than seeing.

But I think a few can go back (I'm thinking the Camp Nou, Berlin, and Lords).

bluedaddy said...

Agree with all the above. Very nice writing (but no stats for andrewm ;0)).

I enjoyed the clip too, with a great Speedie goal, and a reminder of what a fine player Weller was.

Be nice if Youtube would offer a choice of soundtrack though. The music is nearly always dreck.

Did you let memories of THAT volley lull you to sleep? What a shame there was no goalie to loop it over!

pipita said...

Nice photos Ebren. Must admit Walkers stadium looks very impressive, are you actually one of the players on that frame?? As for the selection of 21 Leicester goals all very nice but how come no Frank Worthington??, Miro wouldnt be impressed, and no Gary Lineker ???? Plenty of Claridge however......

Ebren said...

Hey pipita - I'm not one of the players in the picture. I think I was up front on my own at that point (pesky 4-5-1). There are photos with me in, but this was the best photo I have of the game.

This was the only footage I could find with the Nalis goal (which I remember actually got me off my seat and researching Nalis the next day when I first saw it). But looking at it again he's naturally left-footed and mine was off the outside of my foot ;o)

pipita said...

Okay, I see. Like the rest I suppose, Would really like to see those pictures of you playing in attack if thats not too much to ask. Didnt that Nalis score a quite amazing own goal a cupple of years ago???? Think it was him

pipita said...

Sounded a bit cockney there, a couple I meant. Think it was against Chelsea at the Bridge

Ebren said...

No such image exists I'm afraid pipita. There is a shot of me in the warm-up, leaving the pitch at half time, and marshalling the defence (I was moved to centre back in the second half). Nothing of me in full flight, chasing any of the hopelessly over-hit through balls that people thumped in my general direction.

Nalis scored only one Premiership goal - it was against Leeds at home and is in the compilation above. He might have scored in other seasons in the cup - but I can't be arsed to go through more Leicester results to be honest.

pipita said...


Screen em photos all the same, come on!!Im begging you now
That Nalis goal I was referring to, was in fact an own goal

MotM said...

Ebren - great piece and I love the photos!

I've never been to a sports stadium I didn't like, although I didn't much care for the Baseball Ground or Loftus road. I've just crept on to the pitch at Goodison during a stadium tour and it felt both familiar and unfamiliar - the players were absent in my eye, but present in my mind's eye.

Of course, you used to be able to walk on to the grass at the end of a day's play at any cricket ground including Lord's! I would walk out as close to the pitch as possible, then look all around and try to think like a player. The pavilions looked so huge. Can't do that any more, nor play on the outfield at lunch. Shame really.

bluedaddy said...

MOTM. Then you surely the haven't been to Brighton's Withdean stadium, a depressing reminder of a club that has done everything to overcome its bad luck (and some bad people) in the past, and the incompetence of local and national politicians in the present.

It sucks.

pipita said...

That doesen't count mate...I also stepped on the old Wembley and River Plate pithces for rock concerts. At the latter though, in the early 1980's I once jumped to the pitch when River won the league and got quite close to some of the players in the lap of honour. In 1986 I was also on that pitch with other fans immediately after River won the intercontinental cup final in Tokyo, so this was around two in the morning!!!!!!

MotM said...

BD - Is there not a plaintive, deserted Wild West town quality to it? Come to think of it, watching Everton at Selhurst scrapping with Wimbledon amongst a few thousand wasn't much fun.

Pipita - I'd forgotten that I'd been on the pitch at Wembley a few times, but it was so different in those circs. Five minutes after Holding, Garner, Marshall etc have walked off Old Trafford and you're standing right there where they were, does tingle the spine!

pipita said...

Forgive me for asking, but who the heck are Marshall, Holding and Garner???? Ive not a clue

pipita said...

Before you answer me, I think Ive got it...Your referring to the cricket old trafford

Ebren said...

Mout and others - I think the difference for me was that I was going on as a player. I know that sounds odd, but it did make a difference to how I saw the gtround, and how I felt.

It wasn't a tour, I wasn't visiting, I was there for business.

Oh, and they let you on at the Oval after the AFL there every year (I was there a couple of weeks after KP's heroics in 05, and treasured the moment to walk on the ground his feet had trod).

MotM said...

Ebren - Point taken. To play at these stadiums must be a huge thrill, as your piece conveys.

zeph said...

You've got it, pipita - three of the great West Indies bowlers.

pipita said...

Thanks Zeph, and pardon my ignorance...Think ebren and mouthy felt too embarrassed to enlighten me about this obvious fact ha ha

MotM said...

Pipita - You had identified the "other" Old Trafford correctly. And the West Indies really need those legends reborn now!

mimi said...

Thoroughly enjoyed reading this ebren. The words are enough, I could visualize the stadia without need of the pics (nice to have them, but not in the text is my view). Whilst it's obviously no comparison to actually playing on these pieces of hallowed turf, there's still a thrill to be had at walking onto the pitches, not just sitting in the stands. I have fond memories of a night at Stamford Bridge - but best not sully these pages with my sordid past!

Ebren said...

Mouth and others, I'm not having a go at the insight of staidum tours or other pitch-based excursions. Not saying my insight is beter or more valid, differnt playing, that's all.

MotM said...

Ebren - Being on the pitch as part of a stadium tour is like holding your Mum's hand walking up the stairs. Being on the pitch and playing is like holding well, that girl's / boy's hand while walking up the stairs.

Will you be playing at other stadiums?

MotM said...

My last comment doesn't really work - the "that boy's / girl's hand" was an allusion to the object of one's adolescent lust - and I can still remember the adrenaline now!

mimi said...

ebren: I don't think anyone is thinking you've had a go at anyone - that's not a nice sentence is it, I need byebye to edit me!
There's a world of difference between walking on hallowed turf as a guest, and being the chap with the boots on. But your piece has caused some of us to have memories of stepping (or whatever) on the park/pitch whatever.
I once went to Lord's for a Blues hockey match, and was thrilled to little pieces to be a sort of team mascot (I was only 14 at the time) and got to walk out with the boys. Wasn't cricket, but still makes Lord's special for me.

byebyebadman said...

I once played at Ninian Park (when I was much, much younger), which is well renowned for being one of the worst grounds in the UK. The fact that it was the stadium of a professional football team did give a magical feel however, despite the fact the pitch was a disgrace.

I hit the post that day...some things just aren't meant to be!

munni said...

This is really lovely and evocative. And of course being there as a player made all the world of difference. That's partly what makes ritual spaces effective, only a few are allowed in, and the rest must sit outside wondering what really goes on in there.

I didn't see the piece with the pictures up, but personally I like having them linked. But then, I like stories with links generally...actually I just like tangents.

bluedaddy said...

Me too munni - tangent, meander, digress, stray, divagate, wander, ramble.

I like the fact that letting your mind skittle free has great words to describe said skittling.

Tweet it, digg it