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  • "The Archive of the Feet":Field Walking in Sports History
  • Martin Polley†

Sports heritage is a growing concern. Clubs and governing bodies are taking an increasing interest in presenting their past, often evidenced in corporate stadium tours from Manchester to Melbourne that include trophy cabinets and key sites where famous events took place. Halls of fame and sports museums present us with the artifacts of their past, otherwise ordinary objects like outfits and playing equipment that have become hallowed by association with the greats of their games, such as Lasse Virén's running shoes in Finland's Sports Museum. Local museums include sporting collections to help tell the story of their place, while national museums mount special exhibitions, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum's 2008 display on Olympic posters, to stress the social and cultural importance of sport. Central and local authorities throughout the world commemorate sportsmen and women in statues, street names, public buildings, postage stamps, and coins, from the Brian Clough Way between Nottingham and Derby to the Joe Louis statue in downtown Detroit, from Donald Bradman appearing on an Australian twentycent piece coin through to the Mary Peters Track in Belfast. Statutory bodies such as English Heritage are also taking an interest in sport, exploring ways in which sport's surviving material culture can be protected and presented, with a particular emphasis on community amenities for participation sports, such as bowling greens and swimming pools.1 [End Page 139]

Underlying this disparate growth in sports heritage, which is informed by a sometimes uneasy mix of commercial, academic, and community agendas, is a basic assumption: that the places where sport happened in the past matter in the present. Sports geographer and historian John Bale linked this to the notion of "topophilia," where sports sites can "create fond memories, or provide a sense of place" for the people who play and/or spectate at them.2 The emotions involved are deeply historical in an emotive rather than academic way, linked as they are to people's biographies and family histories, and to communities' sense of development and identity. Sports historians are recognizing these issues, and have, since Bale's groundbreaking Landscapes of Modern Sport of 1994, increasingly taken 'place' into account. This trend has also been influenced by the redevelopment of many sports grounds to make them fit for purpose for post-industrial consumers, both in the stadium and in the armchair, a trend typified by the demolition of many old football grounds in England in the wake of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, and their rebuilding as modern amenities on post-industrial land.

This recent wave of stadium demolition and redevelopment has given rise to an important issue in sports history: what happens when old sporting sites are abandoned? How do redevelopments of old sites accommodate the memory of what happened there? Do traces of the sport usage remain evident long after the field and the stands have been reduced to archaeology and replaced by housing, shops, or offices? In many cases, some element of memorial culture has been built into the new layout. A few examples from Southampton, a port city on the south coast of England, illustrate this trend. At The Dell, the ground of Southampton FC from 1898 until its demolition in 2001 when the club moved to a new purpose built stadium, the layout of the new housing development follows the shape of the pitch and the stands, while all of the housing units have been named after Southampton players and managers, such as Matthew Le Tissier and Ted Bates. Quarter of a mile away in Northlands Road, the County Ground had been Hampshire County Cricket Club's main home since 1885. The club moved to an out-of-town site in 2001 and sold the ground for redevelopment, and the housing estate now built on the site includes a piece of sculpture that echoes a wicket, while Marshall Square commemorates a leading player. This trend is playing out in towns and cities across the country, seen most famously at Highbury, which Arsenal FC left in 2006: there one of the stands has been converted into luxury flats, while the site of...


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pp. 139-153
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