New names for old arenas that just aren’t great

VIEW FROM THE PRESSBOX: The Mail on Sunday‘s IAN STAFFORD reports on a recent visit to Fizzy Pop Park, with a positive view about the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa

It’s good to see the gallows humour I have come across in virtually every press room and box from virtually every sport over the past few months appears to have ceased, at least for the time being.

It was getting akin to the officers’ mess at an RAF station during the war. “Any casualties?” “Ginger’s bought it, I’m afraid. And Biffo’s not back yet, either.”

This is how it has been at Twickenham and at the European indoor athletics championships in Turin, at the world cycling championships in Warsaw and just about every press conference I have attended of late, as a roll call of those still with jobs is announced, and a mass shaking of heads follows the latest sorry news of a colleague’s demise.

If the loss of jobs has been bad enough – and we are talking about friends and workmates for 20 years here – then the manner in which some have been released beggars belief. I don’t know, maybe it’s me. But I got into this game to write about sport and be a journalist, walking down Fleet Street in wonderment and hoping that, one day, I’d be working there. The game’s changing, we all know that, and today’s economics and new reading habits may necessitate a few hard decisions.

But if anybody in management still has a heart and reads this, then at least please act decently before you next sack someone and then go home and look your children in the eye.

Life goes on for the rest of us fortunate still to be reporting on sport. I have just returned from a short trip to South Africa where I can report that all is looking good for next year’s football World Cup, let alone the forthcoming Lions tour. The FNB Stadium, venue for the 2010 World Cup final, is looking both splendid and imposing as it rises up on the edge of Soweto.

We all deal in scare stories about World Cups and the Olympics but, trust me, the paint will be dry, the grass will be laid and a ball will be kicked there next summer.

I also took a look at Ellis – sorry, Coca-Cola – Park in Johannesburg, which will stage the third and potentially deciding Test in this summer’s Lions series. It’s one thing building a new stadium and calling it The Emirates, but it somehow grates when a famous old stadium is re-named after a fizzy drink. It wasn’t great when the Oval became the Fosters Oval, but at least the word “Oval” remained.

What next? Bollinger Park (formerly Lord’s), the Irn Bru Arena (Hampden), or Boddington’s Bowl (Old Trafford)?

Saturday saw the Guinness Premiership final at Twickenham and this Saturday Murrayfield will stage the Heineken Cup final which, in other years, signified the end of another club rugby season. Not this year, though.

Most of the rugby troops will be leaving for South Africa next week, and I’ll be joining them for the Test matches. When we return, the club players will be long into their pre-season. Rugby really is a 12-month sport these days.

All of which reminds me of the time when I sat next to Steve Bale in the Twickenham press box to cover a low-key county final 10 years’ ago. As we both finished our reports and closed our laptop lids, Steve turned to me and announced: “Well, that’s another season over. Time to put our feet up for a little while.”

That night, at around 11.30, both of us were ordered to bash out a major piece for our respective organs on the breaking news that Lawrence Dallaglio was involved in a drugs sting with the News of the World, a story that led to his resignation as England captain just four months before the start of the World Cup.

From that day onwards around this time of the year we both tell each other that’s it for another season, and laugh. It’s never really over, and we wouldn’t really want it any other way.

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