Aberdeen pressed ahead with their plans to move from Pittodrie to Kingsford this week, after releasing images of the proposed new stadium, and signalling their intent to apply for planning permission by the end of the year.
The site, around 7 miles west of the city near Westhill, will also host training facilities for the club, as well as community pitches, a gym, and offices.
The proposed move would arguably be the biggest moment in the club’s 113-year history, and unsurprisingly has left Aberdeen fans with serious concerns about leaving their spiritual home.
And they have every right to be concerned.
Switching from an ancient city centre stomping ground to a shiny out-of-town one has profound consequences for a club’s identity, and consequently long term success.
Football clubs are often at the heart of the community, and foster support through representing that community. A huge part of this is having a presence in people’s everyday lives.
Currently, anyone walking down King Street will see the old ground loom out from the granite grey houses. Even non-football folk will share the kerbs with red-clad fans buzzing to get their latest fix of Aberdeen action, ever reminded of the central role the club plays within the city.
Moving away detaches the club, and lessens this vital link with the community. It also threatens to undermine its proud history.
Pittodrie itself oozes history. Generations of Aberdonians have walked up the Merkland Road to be met with the grand granite gateway. They’ve taken their seats in ‘the soother’, separated from away fans by just a good old fashioned mesh fence. They’ve seen famous goals from John Hewitt, Jamie Smith and Jonny Hayes.
Like it or not, moving to a new stadium removes an element of this history. Children being taken to the game from 2019 will no longer be going to the same place that played stage to all the famous moments that their dad eulogised about. This is significant.
Nevertheless, the lack of a proper training facility has been a millstone round the neck of the club for years, and the upkeep costs of Pittodrie will become unsustainable in the foreseeable future. From this perspective, a move is to be welcomed.
But those in charge at the club have a huge responsibility in ensuring that the history and tradition is preserved, and that the match day experience is as good as it possibly can be.
The announcement showed encouraging signs of this, with plans for an ‘AFC Heritage Museum and Memorial Garden’. However, this should be the bare minimum required.
George Yule, Executive Vice-Chairman of AFC said this week: ‘The glories of our past and solid footing of our present cannot sustain the Club in the future and that is why we embarked on a new journey some four years ago…’
Whilst not many would argue with this, the past should not be forgotten. Kingsford should act as a bridge from one chapter in the club’s history to another. One that celebrates everything that has gone before whilst providing a bold statement of what is to come.
There should be a statue of Willie Miller; the training ground should be named after club stalwart Teddy Scott; the famous words of Alfredo Di Stefano etched onto one of the stands; and the picture of the 2014 League Cup final display blown up for all to see. Everywhere you look you should be engulfed in all things Dons.
Opposition teams and fans who arrive should be left in no doubt that they are coming to play ‘the famous Aberdeen’.
As for the stadium itself, it needs to be both accessible and an enjoyable place to come and watch football, with an intimidating atmosphere.
In pursuit of this there must be cheap, easy and regular public transport links from the city. Moving seven miles from Pittodrie is a dangerous game, and any compromise from the club on transport will be hugely damaging.
Belgian club Ghent offer a shuttle bus service to their ground (a similar distance away from the city centre) up to two and a half hours before kick-off for just 1 euro. AFC should try and replicate this as far as possible if they want encourage fans who do not have access to a car, or enjoy a match day beer, to attend.
Indeed, their proposals do mention increased provision from bus companies out to the stadium on match days, as well as some form of regular shuttle bus service. However, there is no mention of price.
The plans to have a ‘fan zone’ are promising, and it will be interesting to hear more specific details on what this would involve.
Meanwhile, in the ground, there needs to be at least one safe standing section. This would ideally be behind one or both of the goals, and could be billed as an attempt to recreate the atmosphere and ‘bounce’ of the famous Beach End. The club say it is being considered for inclusion, but for many fans it is an imperative.
Of course there are budget and planning restraints which will inevitably curtail certain aspects of this. But the club should at least strive to achieve them.
They are making the right noises and fans have every reason to be excited about the potential that the Kingsford development offers.
But moving away from Pittodrie will never be easy regardless of what those in charge say. The profound connection that all Dons feel to their ancient home is, at least in the short term, irreplaceable. All the more reason for Kingsford to form a link to the past.
As the famous Di Stefano quote goes: ‘Aberdeen have what money can’t buy; a soul, a team spirit built in a family tradition.’
For their own sake, the club must not lose sight of this.
More information on the development available on the club website.