BY DARREN NORTON
Pubs and clubs
But don’t go back
To a place you love
They quickly turn
To distant shores
No longer yours, no longer mine, no longer ours “
The above lyrics are from a song by Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott off their latest album. The song refers to a time of industry and factories, vibrant workplaces that were sadly lost. It also refers to the social aspect of such places, and the impact of the closures when the various places were closed for good. Well that’s my take on it anyway. The beauty of Heaton’s writing is that his take on things can so easily be placed into most aspects of life and, in turn, are open to interpretation. Who knows, he may well have been talking about lost football grounds when he wrote the above. Because when I first heard it, that’s exactly where my mind went.
As an ex-Hull City fan of a certain age, I can remember Boothferry Park. Home to the Tigers for 50 years or so, 20 of which I was present, to me it was simply beautiful. There was no better sight or smell or sound to an excited youngster than walking to the ground on a cold winters’ evening, busy hustling along with several hundred others from the maze of side streets, the glint of the floodlight pylons high in the dark night’s sky. The sound of conversation on what we were about to witness, team news buzzing along like Chinese whispers. All against the backdrop of hurried steps as kick off fast approached. The smell was a combination of burger vans and trepidation.
After all, this was the early 80’s and frankly we were rubbish, a million miles away from today’s polished Premier League product. But it was our rubbish, not some millionaire egotist’s or foreign investor. But I digress. Once you had navigated the assembled throng outside and joined the queue to hand over a fiver to gain admission, the dark concrete concourse greeted you. The clunking of turnstiles could be heard above anything else, as thousands of feet pounded the well-worn steps.
Emerging on a half-deserted terrace brought far more satisfaction than walking into today’s high-tech seated version. The sense of knowing you’d made it on time; that you’d done your bit by simply attending, when at the time many didn’t bother. My early memories are of crowds barely above a couple of thousand, and yet most games you were seemingly surrounded by the same faces, huddled together from different walks of life, even towns in my case, but with a shared cause and love for what brought us here; the love of our team. Knowing nods to people you didn’t know, but for 90 minutes you would share a friendship that didn’t need introductions. Stood together on the crumbling terrace, propped up against the amber painted crush-barrier – if you were lucky enough to bag a space.
For the next hour and a half this place was home. Like a favourite comfy chair at home, here we had our favourite vantage point surrounded by friends and likeminded souls. We laughed, we sang, we cheered, we moaned, we complained. We loved, and invariably, we lost.
Hull City AFC left Boothferry Park in 2002. That year a little bit of several thousand people died. Like the loss of someone or something special, knowing you’d never set foot in the place again. We’d seen padlocks on the gates before, during various financial disputes, but this time it was for good. No more dilapidated terrace, or broken seats. No more the surge of a crowd or delirium of a goal. We would never go back to the place we loved. 3pm on a Saturday afternoon would never be the same again.
Demolition started in 2008, more than five years after the last game was played there. It would be a further three years before the imposing floodlights were obliterated from the west Hull skyline. A brand new housing estate now stands where my memories and childhood once were; a street called The Halfway Line the only giveaway as to what once stood there.
I didn’t follow Heaton’s advice. I went back to the place I loved, over a decade since I last visited. Not being from that side of the city I had no need to go. But I did for one last time. As I stood staring at the lavish new town houses I closed my eyes. The sights, sounds and smells all came back to me. For those few moments Boothferry Park stood there again, the corrugated amber-painted shrine was alive in my mind. The impressive floodlights illuminating the centre of my own universe. The green, perfect grass. I opened my eyes and it was gone, forever confined to my own memories. It was no longer mine, no longer yours, no longer ours.
YOU CAN FOLLOW DARREN ON TWITTER @knockernorton1