A Whole Different Ball Game
In the last couple of weeks, St Helens Rugby League club unveiled their plans for a new 18,000 partially seated, partially terraced stadium - which has been four years in the making. Some of you may have seen news reports about this on Granada Reports or North West Tonight and may have seen club Chairman, Eamonn McMannus describing how the new stadium will "form the centrepiece of a massive regeneration of the town itself". Sound familiar?
The whole point of this article - from my perspective - is to sound out concerns that I'm fairly sure the majority - if not all - Blackpool fans have with regards to Bloomfield Road's (and indeed Blackpool's) redevelopment and compare the way St Helens have gone about redeveloping the ground to ensure the arena in which they entertain their fans is of an equal standard to the football that they play in the Engage Super League.
In that sense, on the pitch, "The Saints" are light years ahead of 'Pool - THE team to beat, quadruple cup winners (and Champions of the World by winning the Carnegie World Club challenge against their counterparts from the NRL in Australia, Brisbane Broncos). Whereas off the pitch, they are a good decade behind 'Pool with their Knowsley Road stadium which is reminiscent of the "old" Bloomfield Road with the "popular side" at St Helens resembling the East Paddock at Bloomers. So much so in fact I've often thought back to my time spent in the East Paddock with my late Grandad when stood on the terraces with the Saints.
Yet despite the fact that Saints are behind Blackpool in terms of development, they are already beginning to catch up - not just with the Stadium, but within the town also. The train station is being re-developed, the new stadium is going to be situated on a derelict industrial site in prime position for the train and road links from the town centre on the main road(s) around the town and the town centre itself is improving every time I visit the place.
A big, multi-million pound Tesco Extra is part of the development of the stadium, bringing people to the new site day after day and creating numerous jobs when the staff move from the current Tesco site in the centre of the town - with that area being converted into numerous new retail outlets.
With the stadium becoming another part of the redevelopment of St Helens as a whole, doesn't it all sound similar?
Bloomfield Road is located slap bang in the middle of the "Central Corridor" which is now at least 1/3 complete - with work still to commence on the area immediately north of Bloomfield Road with the stadium itself still standing in a half-completed, rusting state. At the rate building work is [not] commencing at this moment in time, St Helens' new stadium will be completed, as will the central corridor here in Blackpool, yet Bloomfield Road will still be stood in the centre of this well-constructed area in it's current state...rusting with a golf stand and a car park where the South Stand should be.
Eventually, the stadium will become an embarrassment for not only Blackpool fans everywhere, but also the local council who will have the half-completed (or half-started, whatever picks your lock) stadium sitting in the middle of the multi-million pound master-plan providing a major eyesore for tourists and Blackpool residents. Another point would be the Hotel (Oyston Towers as it has been aptly named by some fans) is nearing completion and I doubt very much that anyone would want a room with a "stadium view" with it in its current condition - apart from a few fans on match days maybe!
t's a point that has been raised before, but why can't Blackpool Council fund part of the development of the stadium, surely it is within their interest to have a completed Central Corridor - afterall, the finished Bloomfield Road was part of the planning that they published!
There may very well be different ownership issues between St Helens' Knowsley Road stadium and Bloomfield Road that means the council can step in and fund part of the project - again, Knowsley Road is in a similar state to what Bloomfield Road used to be and is on a prime site for development near the centre of town - but in my opinion, the Council should take pride in their team and at least offer to help with construction - if indeed they haven't already and have been knocked back, we will probably never know.
If Blackpool are going to progress as a club, the stadium must be high up on the agenda of what to do. Plans should have been put in place well before the Playoff final by the powers that be because, lets face it, even if we hadn't gone up, people would be more expectant than ever for this season so the demand would be just as high as it is now for tickets!
With 5 weeks left before the start of the season, the powers that be have been to Latvia, Canada and wherever else to bang their heads together to get a plan in place for the development of Bloomfield Road. Any building work planned now is most definitely too late and more than 5 years behind schedule. Of course any building work on the South is long over-due, but lets not forget there is the embarrassment of a golf stand for away fans which - while we shouldn't be that concerned for their enjoyment of the game in all honesty - drives people away from the town in the icy cold winters and has a negative effect on the atmosphere at games! Hardly an effective way of "increasing the turnover of the club" which is also high on the agenda for Mr. Oyston and Mr. Belokon.
Will the East stand - the stand without office space (so clearly the best option to build as soon as possible?) - take another 6 or 7 years to complete after the South stand is completed (whenever that is!)? At the rate building work is commencing at this moment in time, I'm afraid the answer is no.
The main gripe I have personally is that an announcement was made last September regarding work on the South-West corner of the stadium. A whole press release was sent out on the Blackpool website and in the Blackpool Gazette saying how capacity will be increased by approximately 1500 seats with this next step in the development of Bloomfield Road. I believe - and I could be wrong here, but I'll be close enough I'm sure - that work was set to commence on the 29th of September 2006. That means circa 9 months and a week have passed without work actually beginning in any capacity whatsoever. Yet at the end of the aforementioned article, a sentence was written about the Hotel commencing at the same time as this stand...how's that going I wonder? Oh that's right, the hotel is nearing completion while tumble weed blows around the vacant South Stand yet again.
Can we trust a word that comes out of the mouth of our Chairman when it comes to a completed stadium? Only time will tell I'm afraid, time which unfortunately we are running out of quickly if we are going to capitalise on our promotion to The Championship. At this moment in time the answer is a resounding "NO".