On multipurpose stadiums and second teams: An essay

Laurence Griffiths

Huddersfield Town and Wigan Athletic played a round of 16 FA Cup match on a rugby ground this morning. Surprisingly, soccer football in England is expected to survive.

I woke up this morning, turned on the tele(vision) and was treated to a (football) soccer match played in a stadium too large for the small crowd, with grid lines still visible on a churned up field (pitch). If the brackets haven't clued you in, the game (match) was Huddersfield Town versus Wigan Athletic. It took place in a stadium built for one of England's most successful Rugby (football) teams, a stadium that Huddersfield Town shares.

The notion of sharing a stadium has suddenly become controversial in MLS. The Seattle Sounders and New England Revolution are made fun of in some circles for not getting with the trend and building a small soccer specific stadium. The quips likely come from a shaky MLS history.

There's nothing wrong with multipurpose stadiums. It's not ideal as each team loses a bit of control over the facility, but so long as the playing surfaces are a similar size it's not a big deal. Cities aren't expected to build both basketball and hockey arenas, the two sports have shared home arenas for decades. The various forms of football around the world all play on similarly shaped rectangle fields, there's no reason why two football sides can't share grounds.

The big fight against multipurpose stadiums has been shared baseball and football facilities. Rightfully so, as the circle shape needed to fit a triangle over a rectangle made the sight lines for both sports awful and took away the uniqueness in baseball fields.

While American football and soccer are a better fit, the issue tends to be the garishness of American football. The giant word marks in the end zone look awful as part of the end line in a soccer match. A faded out logo at midfield seems to scream to the American soccer fan's biggest fear; your favorite sport is second rate.

The fans in Huddersfield live in a soccer football country, but happen to live in a rugby town. That doesn't detract from their identity as soccer football fans, it just means they live in a town with a successful rugby franchise.

Soccer matches in the US where the football lines are still visible inevitably bring about a barrage of tweets about how it's embarrassing, that it's a sign of disrespect. Were fans in the stadium watching Huddersfield take on Wigan in the FA Cup thinking the same thing? How dare Huddersfield Giants leave the pitch in such a condition with a Premier League team coming to town.

At some point, the "American soccer fan" has to get past the little man syndrome. Stadium sharing is part of life, as giant concrete structures in the middle of town are just a bit expensive to build. The recent trend of building sport specific stadiums has been great for baseball, but that doesn't make it the best option for every team out there.

The Home Depot Center may have been built to house the Galaxy, but it also houses Chivas USA, several football all-star games, high school playoffs, concerts. Sports grounds are not static objects that belong to any one team.

Furthermore, soccer football clubs aren't static objects. Teams introduce new jerseys (kits) every year, players come and go.

To use a little Star Trek philosophy, humans are mortal. This mortality causes us to cling to objects from the past, as assurance that there's more to life then this moment. To make us feel like there's meaning to what we wake up and do everyday. Similarly there's a desire to influence the future. It's how we touch immortality.

As MLS is so young, and with two failed major soccer leagues already in American history, there's a legitimate fear in the community that this can all be taken away. We can't touch the grounds Bethlehem Steel played in, NASL footage isn't archived like other sports.

MLS is starting to make those connections. There are the heritage teams that hold fast to a city's NASL nickname. The New York Cosmos project continues to be an interesting experiment. It's rumored that the Philadelphia Union will have a Bethlehem Steel inspired third kit this year.

It's not just MLS that seeks to build continuity to a past it doesn't own. The Los Angeles Clippers wore Los Angeles Stars ABA throwbacks last year, the Tampa Bay Rays wear St. Petersburg Pelicans throwbacks. MLB teams wear Negro League throwbacks, the Vancouver Canucks are paying tribute to the only Vancouver team to have its name on the Stanley Cup this year - the Vancouver Millionaires from back when the Stanley Cup was an open competition.

Connecting to our past makes it feel like there might be a future. Reminders of how rocky things have been in MLS, like giant word marks in front of goal, make us fear there might not be.

Still, it's not shared facilities that are the problem. It's amazing how a little success can make shared spaces that much more livable. The Sounders certainly are at home in their surroundings, Clipper nation has begun to stand tall. As important as aesthetics are, a little winning can be just as good as a fresh coat of paint.

So don't fret "American soccer fan". We don't know if our little league will be here in twenty years. However, it'll be a lot more fun if we just enjoy the ride.

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