Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Football and the Environment

In the macho world of football, talking about the environment will have you bracketed in the same "must be a queer" pigeon-hole as Guardian-reading Graeme Le Saux. Mention global warming, and Robbie Fowler will be there wiggling his ass at you before your manager takes you aside and asks you to try and fit in with the lads a bit more.

But it's a serious issue. It's the most serious threat facing the planet over the next century or two, and as much as football will protest otherwise, football is part of that World. As a major employer, wealth-generator and socio-cultural focal point for communities across the World, it has a crucial role to play in the race to educate and reform. But for now, football is ignoring its responsibilities while the going is good, and as a result, one day there will be no football.

Stadium building is very popular at the moment. The thinking goes that there is no future without a new stadium. Shiny seats attract shiny people and money and success.
Yippee !! Everyone's a winner.

The stadiums are being built for the present. Motorway access and massive car parks are essential. Bike racks and train access not so. Cardiff City's proposed Stadium will sit next to the A4232, an already-busy feeder for the M4. The nearest train station is reasonably close, at Ninian Park, but that's a matter of luck. Cycle access is treacherous, and even if you could get there, there will be no facilities. No bike racks, no lock ups.

Worst of all, the new Stadium, like many others, is dependent on the building of a shopping mall within its boundaries. Another out-of-town shopping mall, another attack on car free shopping. Another nail in the coffin of the independent butchers and grocers that once lined Cowbridge Road, within walking distance of the terraced streets of Canton.

But it would be wrong to identify Cardiff City as being of touch with the rest of football. The whole sport is dependent on four wheeled transport. Cars are status symbols for the players, and the more petrol they guzzle, the higher their status. As a football person, mention your environmental concerns and be treated as a pariah.

Bangor City recently made a proposal to build a new stadium on the banks of the Menai Straits, an area of outstanding beauty and an important habitat for various wildlife. An objecting committee was formed by the residents of Beaumaris across the water and the argument was polarised between those on the wealthy side of the Straits, many of whom would be English settlers looking to enjoy their retirement in bucolic surroundings, and those from the City; local people who needed to work and live here and who saw the building of a new stadium as a progressive step. Why should they be denied facilities to pander to the picture postcard view of Wales held by the privileged? They had a valid point.

As a football fan with environmental concerns, I was in a minority. As far as I am aware, the only one. If you liked football, you wanted the new stadium. How could it be otherwise? As an incomer myself, I didn't feel that it was my argument. I learned to keep my concerns to myself and hoped that the NIMBYs won the day. Which they did, thankfully.

Football eats up resources with a voracious appetite. Floodlights burn into the night, Giant screens and electric scoreboards adorn the grounds where thousands and thousands of people have driven to watch a match. How many coffee beakers come from recycled material? How many cans are collected and recycled at the end of a match ? Cardiff City are currently on tour in North America. Next year, they will go to China for pre-season. How many trees will they plant as environmental compensation for the pollution that they create on these journeys ?

When the FA Cup Final was moved to Cardiff, all that you read about for weeks afterwards were the tiresome complaints from London journalists that it took them a long time to get home. But this was more of a comment on our national transport habits than a problem peculiar to South Wales. Wembley was never an easy trip for any team outside London.

Whereas we used to take thousands away on a football special, it is not uncommon for 50 or more coaches to leave in convoy for a big match.Where are the football specials? The ticket and train packages that would ensure some relief for the roads ? Instead, there will be possibly be railway engineering works on a football weekend, and restrictive timetables often mean that taking the train home is an impossibility.

By now, you are either nodding, or more likely, you are considering clicking on the small x in the top right corner. But think about it. How long can football carry on like this as the World's resources are depleted, and the hole in the Ozone layer is damaged beyond recovery ?

Within the next hundred years, people will start to pay for our blind profligacy. Radical cutbacks will be made in a final effort to prevent disaster. Unessential travel will be one of the first things to go.

Every Saturday, the M6 is clogged with fans travelling across the country to watch their teams. One of the reasons in the explosion of support which follows our National team across Europe is the availability of cheap air travel. This is unsustainable. At some point, away support will be banned as a necessary environmental cutback.

I believe that Leagues will initially regionalise to reduce travel before the eventual cull. Oil shortages will raise the cost of petrol until it is available only to the rich. Maybe governments will go back to the trains and build transport infastructures which work. But I doubt it.

For now, we will carry on. While £30 air fares to Prague are available, we will snap them up. While petrol is still only £1 a litre, we will drive 700 miles in a day to watch our team in the Leyland Daf Auto Windscreens Shield. We can't stop. It's up to the Government to force change, but while popular support is still behind the car, and the clamour for new out-of-town stadiums continues, football will continue to close its eyes to the responsibilities that should be met sooner rather than later.


Rhys said...

I lived in Liverpool for about 4 years, and they have a scheme in place called "Soccerbus". Basically, you get the train to either Birkenhead Central (for Tranmere) or Anfield (For Liverpool and Everton), and then you catch a specially laid on bus from that station to the ground, all included within the ticket price.

But that was the exception, rather than the norm.

Rhys Wynne said...

I've been thinking the same about the link after going on my first away trip to watch Wales recently (v Basque Country). I worry about human impact on the environment (what I eat, where it's from, how I travel etc). My leisure activities like following football has an impact as well.

The Cardiff City example is a good one - I think the only reason Hamman got involved with the club was for the change to build a huge shopping development. Even though I'm a Wrecsam fan I've been to a few Cardiff City matches and am on their database. Before the last council elections Sam Hamman sent a letter out reminding people to support those who'd supported the schme (bent Labour councillors). Maybe he was responsible for letting the Lib Dems in!

I went to the new stadium in Swansea for a Wales match and unless you go by car it's a bit of a faff getting to and from the stadium.

The Soccerbus the other Rhys mentions is a good idea - I wonder how well it's advertised/used?

There are certain things one can do to limit one's impact - if the train fares are too high (always) or there's no coach organised, then try and liftsharing (there's Football Carshare but only for top clubs)
Take your own food and drink with you (I'm too tight to pay £1 for a Mars Bar)

Anonymous said...

Hi Eric,

Thought you might be interested to read David James' column on the Guardian's football web-site:

Forget Joey's Arse - it's wind-turbines that matter

Eric the Red said...

Yes, I read it. Good stuff. I've always liked David James. He used to spend a lot of time in Cardiff as his girlfriend was from Penarth.
His eco views are bound to earn him a bared arse from Robbia Fowler aren't they?