Treasured Places In Focus
Football in Focus
By Susan Casey, Treasured Places Research Officer
When I first came to work at RCAHMS, I often walked past a photograph on a staircase wall. It showed a lavish interior - marble columns, wooden panelling and painted ceiling - and I assumed it was the entrance hall to a country house or some grand civic establishment. It came as a surprise when I learnt that the image was of Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow, the home of Rangers Football Club - a place I had been on a number of occasions, but never seen from quite that perspective.
If Ibrox is at one end of the spectrum, then Firs Park in Falkirk is probably at the other. Until recently the home of Third Division East Stirlingshire Football Club, this stadium's kit room was featured in the Treasured Places online vote to find Scotland's favourite archive image. The photograph shows bundles of socks in plastic carrier bags and footballs strewn across a muddy floor; it is a real ‘behind the scenes' glimpse and is one of many such images to be found within the RCAHMS collections.
Firs Park and Ibrox Stadium may seem a world away from the stone circles and cathedrals more readily associated with Scotland's heritage. However, they are important places to many thousands of people; the terms of the Royal Warrant under which RCAHMS operates allows the survey of ‘...all ancient and historical monuments and constructions connected with, or illustrative of, the contemporary culture, civilisations and conditions of the life of the people of Scotland.' It would be hard to argue that football does not play a part in the lives of a great many people across Scotland. Survey of an individual stadium can take place when it is to be demolished or part-demolished. The large-scale changes required of stadia following the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989 meant that many football grounds were surveyed during subsequent years. Buildings that are listed, such as the Main Stand at Ibrox, are also photographed.
The images resulting from such surveys are interesting as a way of observing changes in stadium architecture and design - an elaborate wrought-iron turnstile or hand-stencilled advertisements on each wooden seat would perhaps not be noticed by many on the average match day. To this football fan at least, there are also many evocative images within the collection. Unlike most ‘football' photographs, the RCAHMS images focus on the place, not individual players or goals scored; this seems to focus the mind on memories that are more personal. When flicking through the RCAHMS library box file marked ‘Edinburgh, Albion Road, Easter Road Stadium', I felt my excitement at my first game, when I sat in the dilapidated (and now demolished) main stand. I also remembered how grown up it felt in later seasons, when I was allowed to watch matches from the terracing of the East Enclosure.
Perhaps another reason for the evocative nature of the photographs is that they show the quiet, off-duty side to places normally associated with crowds, activity and noise. There are neat rows of polished boots in some boot rooms and muddy stacks of training shoes in others, changing areas complete with strips laid out ready for the team and trophy cabinets displaying varying measures of success.
Aerial photographs are a good way to look at stadia in the context of their surrounding towns. They also often illustrate the dramatic and unusual situations of many of Scotland's football grounds. Dumbarton Football Club occupies a historic location, nestled beneath the ancient stronghold of Dumbarton Rock. Caledonian Stadium in Inverness is located on the shore of the Moray Firth and proves a bracing experience for fans watching Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Aerial photography is also the best way to appreciate the unique locations of Dens Park (Dundee) and Tannadice Park (Dundee United) - their positions, virtually across the street from one another, are undoubtedly amongst the most unusual in world football.
Images of many stadiums throughout Scotland are available to view through the online Canmore database, or in the RCAHMS search room. While a national collection may not seem the most obvious place to look, hopefully some other football fans may enjoy the memories that the RCAHMS collections can provide.