SPORT

When Football Literally Finds Common Ground

Sharing: Everyone’s at it.

26/04/2017 09:54 BST
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Football clubs are often described as families. There’s loyalty, care and support. But families are closed units. Visitors can come, but must leave before the welcome runs out. And visitors to our home football grounds are only welcome for 90 minutes, plus some tightly-regulated added time.

In England, football clubs only tend to share their homes in times of strife. This is not the case in Italy, where few clubs own their own stadia. Genoa share with Sampdoria, Roma with Lazio and Chievo with Verona.

But the greatest example of the successful ground share in Italy is Milan’s arrangement with Inter at the San Siro, also known as the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. While it is true Milan and Inter are rivals, they have been housemates since 1947 and, as two of the most successful teams in Europe, they are rich enough to make other arrangements, if they so desired.

In the San Siro, they share an icon. Between them they have been European champions 10 times, won 36 league titles and lifted the Coppa Italia 12 times. If either of them ever do move, it is likely to be for a larger trophy room.

While the stadium is named after Italy’s 1934 and 1938 World Cup-winning captain, who played over 300 games for Inter, Meazza also spent a season with AC Milan.

And while the union is not unanimously popular, the ultras of both sides have a long-standing pact of non-hostility that means any teasing is restricted to songs and chants. Consequently they are able to share one the Europe’s great football monuments.

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It might be unlikely today, but one of the warmest ground sharing stories saw Manchester United move in with neighbours Manchester City at Maine Road, after Old Trafford was badly damaged in World War II.

Gary James, author of ‘Manchester: A Football History’ told the Manchester Evening News: “The attitude from City was, ‘Let’s help United any way we can’. City fans and players would always want United to win if they were in a cup final, for example, and vice versa.”

Many fans ended up going to Maine Road every week, to watch City and United. It was during this period that United saw a substantial growth in attendance. In 1938/39 their average gate at Old Trafford was 30,369. In 1947/48 at Maine Road it was 53,623. Indeed, it was at Maine Road that United achieved their record league attendance, 83,260 against Arsenal in 1948.

Further down England’s football pyramid, ground-sharing is much more common. The economy of football outside the Premier League is a precarious one, leading many clubs to share facilities to get them through difficult periods.

Non-league Fisher Athletic became tenants at Dulwich Hamlet’s Champion Hill ground in South London in 2004, and their mutually beneficial arrangement was reflected on the terraces as well.

During their time in Dulwich, many fans of ‘The Fish’ became and remain active supporters of Dulwich, while retaining their loyalty to Fisher. While Fisher Athletic eventually succumbed to administration after five years at Champion Hill, a new entity, Fisher FC continued to play at Dulwich until they secured their own Bermondsey home in 2016.

Dulwich’s Assistant Bar Manager, Andrew Finnerty, remembers them fondly: “From my perspective, they were an absolute pleasure to work with.”

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While not everyone at Bury FC welcomed the arrival of the protest club FC United of Manchester at Gigg Lane, most recognised the advantages. The reported £50,000 a year rent they received was significant in the choppy waters of League One and League Two finances. Some fans went to the home games of both teams, while a supporter who calls himself Warbie had this to say: “In the time they have been here over thousands of people have travelled to Bury and spent monies in the local community.”

FC United displayed a banner declaring: “Making friends, not millionaires”. And while some Shakers’ fans aren’t sure about that, they were delighted that the fan-owned club’s first victory against league opposition came against local rivals, Rochdale.

When another fan-owned club, AFC Wimbledon, moved in with Kingstonian at Kingsmeadow, there were initially a number of positives. The Ks were in administration, so a tenant helped. The Dons then bought the leasehold, making Kingstonian their tenants, but on good terms. However, that’s about to end, as Wimbledon have sold the ground to Chelsea, who are not willing to allow the Ks to remain.

From next season, Kingstonian will ground-share with Leatherhead, 12 miles away, while Chelsea are in talks with West Ham to share the London Stadium while Stamford Bridge is being developed.

So sharing is the new way forward, after all.