Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Gone But Not Forgotten - Filbert Street

This week Leicester fan and editor of the TheSeventyTwo David Bevan joins us for a trip to one of the finest old grounds - Filbert Street (oh yes).  You can also follow him on Twitter @The72football

Former football grounds often take on a sepia-tinged quality, particularly when your club has since moved to the kind of non-descript flat-pack stadium with countless similarities to the new homes of other teams. Strangely, however, my memories of Filbert Street are not of the inside, but of the outside.

That first tantalising glimpse of the floodlights from the brow of a hill miles to the south, Radio Leicester crackling into life, the queue outside the chip shop, the zigzag approach through terraced side streets. All of that remains if you drive that way, park that way, walk that way. But it isn't quite the same.

 The Walkers Stadium lies one monstrous goal kick to the south of Filbert Street. The road remains but the rest is just memories now. I loved it and it all began with a wall.

Filbert Street
At the front of the old Main Stand, a white wall ran along the perimeter of the pitch. I used to sit on that wall and watch a dismal football team hack their way to mediocrity - and I wouldn't have swapped it for the best seat in the house at Old Trafford. Where else could I sit just inches from an event with the grace and poise of a Tony Spearing throw-in?

Filbert Street's character was unquestionable. I remember feeling a tinge of sadness as a child when I realised I would never attend enough games to sit in every seat. What a bizarre thought, but it sums up the variety of the place. In time, I would graduate from the front of the Main Stand to the back of its looming successor, the Carling Stand - via both tiers of the Double Decker to its right and, for one game only, the distant supporters club corner betwixt the North Stand and the East Stand.

Even that one, solitary game brought a moment which I can look back upon now with incredible clarity - during a 3-3 draw with Southampton, Matt Le Tissier walked away from that corner with his middle finger raised to the crowd behind him. It is almost as if he is disappearing into the distance in front of me now.

Not many things in life can accurately reflect the nature of death, but the passing of a football ground ticks a lot of the boxes. We'll never get it back. When they turned off the lights for the last time at Filbert Street after a match involving various legends from the past, it had the air of a funeral. The floodlights were dismissed and we all sang Auld Lang Syne, before fleeing into the night with whatever we could get our hands on. My last memory of a Filbert Street game is the sight of four blokes haring down Brazil Street, gleefully clutching a prized Ladbrokes stand.

The last league game, shortly before in May 2002, brought a 2-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur and the last goal was scored by Matthew Piper, a promising Leicester-born winger who would be sold to Sunderland for £3.5million that summer before injury cut his career short at an early stage. City had already been relegated from the Premier League but Piper's goal was a fitting finale for such a glorious old ground.
My favourite memories? The atmosphere of the 1997 UEFA Cup game with Atletico Madrid. The celebrations that greeted Steve Walsh's barely feasible equaliser deep into injury-time after Dennis Bergkamp had completed one of the best hat-tricks ever seen in English football. Tony James securing City's Division Two status with a winner against Oxford United and the ensuing pitch invasion. Five against Cambridge, five against Sunderland, us against the world under Brian Little and Martin O'Neill.

Way back before experienced taught me better, I used to dream of a 32,000-seater stadium decked all in blue. To be surrounded by other City fans in an impressive new arena. Nowadays, I just dream of Filbert Street.
Last Gone But Not Forgotten: Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough

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