LOOKING at the grandstand now, it can be difficult to remember how vibrant the old gal appeared only a few short months ago. Lifelong regulars sat in their seats; there was a Directors’ Box in which our various chairmen have sat over the years (and from which the occasional bottle of bubbly was sprayed); and we regularly hung out the ‘full’ sign on a couple of bars & ‘restaurant’ areas on match-days. All rather jolly.
Behind the scenes it was – as these things tend to be – a different story. The patching up of walls and doors, electrics, water supplies and every other facility possible always leant a rather nervous air to proceedings from James Greenacre and his team as we approached match-days, with no-one really certain about what was going to work – or not – on any given day.
The hallowed dressing-rooms had become – well, let us be frank – rather squalid, and the gloss that a new lick of paint gave every year only ever made things slightly less bad.
Fast forward to today and so much has happened over the past couple of months that it makes you double-take if you have been away from the stadium for more than a day or two.
So, as we near the end of November, where are we?
‘Largely On Programme, On Budget’ is the headline. I talked about the non-critical (but still frustrating) delayed opening of the shop and ticket office a couple of weeks back. In addition to this, the discovery of a wide range of contaminates underneath the Mayflower terrace has slowed demolition a touch.
However, as things stand, our contractors are quietly confident that this week or two will be caught up to allow us to meet our planned September/October 2019 opening.
The removal of half of the old Mayflower terrace has certainly unearthed some secrets (most of them unwelcome), and it is interesting to see that it looks like the middle part of the terrace – directly in front of the grandstand – was effectively something of a bowl, with both the Devonport End and the Barn Park End at a much higher level.
It is also clear that, in order to level the ground, this bowl was used to dump hundreds of tons of post-war spoil – heavy metals, bits of long-rusted cars, bottles and glass have all been dug up and taken away to specialist disposal sites. No bombs yet…but we keep our eyes peeled.
Counting it up, all in all, thousands of tons of spoil have now left Home Park, never to return.
The full demolition works will be completed before Christmas, with construction starting on the grandstand immediately afterwards.
After the replacement of a few of the columns, and the reinforcement of the foundations, we will then see the beginnings of the all-new lower seating infrastructure and the new roof steels start to go in. As things stand, these will start at the Barn Park End and work towards the control room.
As an aside, some people have said to me: “There’s not much left – why don’t you just pull it all down?”
Well, there is a two-part answer to that. Firstly, we are proud to have retained an important part of football heritage. Although Archibald Leitch Senior died in 1939, this is very much a design of his and I do feel a sense of duty being in possession of the original plans hand-signed by Leitch Junior.
Secondly, it is not until you stand in the skeleton of the structure that you realise quite how much steel and concrete remains. By today’s standards, there must be well in excess of £2-3m worth of materials still standing.
In other news, the construction of the new players’ facility is now well under way, and the huge retaining wall that will separate the supporters’ bar from the changing-rooms is now firmly in place, as are the dressing-room foundations.
The construction of the supporters’ bar will also start in December, with foundations, etc being allowed to cure over the festive break.
Meanwhile, the temporary players’ facilities are working well. Do not say it too loudly, but a number of the lads see them as an improvement on what they had before!
The new location of the main television gantry is also a huge success – the broadcasters were delighted with the view that it afforded them on first use, and the angles shown on the small screen during our Emirates FA Cup success against Stevenage looked great.
When the renovated grandstand is finished, it is going to be a fantastic thing, having it as the backdrop to our TV coverage – people will be able to recognise Home Park on their screens the moment that we are on.
So, that brings this week’s blog to an end – I will try and squeeze another in before Christmas, but with three home Saturday games in three weeks ahead of us, every component of the Theatre of Greens will be under pressure.
Keep it Green!