Why are so many of our sports grounds such awful places?
Published 11/05/2016 | 02:30
Have you ever spent a freezing evening standing on the edge of a football pitch, proudly watching your son or daughter competing with the under 10s, or maybe just loyally following your local club playing an away game?
One wonders if the players ever think of their brave supporters, who are frequently numb with the cold and doing their best to keep the blood circulating by jumping up and down while wrapping coats and scarves ever tighter. It is all right of course for the youngsters on the pitch. They can run around and keep comfortably warm while the rest of us have to endure whatever the weather throws at us.
Outside of the clubhouse, sports grounds in general are awful places with their only merit being that they contain a level field and posts to aim a ball at.
I am referring here to the majority of country club grounds where the outward appearance of the place and the comfort of the supporters on the sidelines are rarely considered.
It is a shame really as it would cost so little to plant a few shelter belts and cover those bleak concrete walls with some attractive climbing plants.
One Mayo hurling fan remarked to me years ago that artificial fertiliser hastened the decline of hurling in the west of Ireland.
He claimed that where formerly land was bare and tightly grazed and ideal for use as a playing field, a few bags of fertiliser turned it in to a lush meadow.
In time, though money was still scarce, clubs all over the country gradually acquired their own premises.
Initially, players were expected to change at the back of a hedge and the luxury of a hot shower was unknown. It was considered unmanly and almost sinful to indulge in such comfort.
Fortunately our economy then began to emerge from the depression that had lasted from the foundation of our State up to the late 1960s.
Thanks to some amazing fundraising efforts by dedicated individuals, club houses sprung up in almost every parish and nowadays, some sports clubs have first class facilities that provide pretty much everything any player could desire.
The GAA have been perhaps the major beneficiaries of this new affluence and the emerging generation of players now has buildings and facilities their grandparents could only have dreamt of. There is still much work to be done, however, and the comfort of the poor old supporters could be better catered for.
On my travels around Ireland I pass many sports grounds and in general, they are not a pretty sight.
Most have bare concrete block walls at the roadside, sometimes with barbed wire strung along the top and their only gesture to decoration being maybe a rusting iron arch over the entrance containing the name of some medieval saint in Gaelic preceded by the word 'Pairc'.
Some remind me of a concentration camp or war time prison and one wonders if their purpose is to keep people out or in.
It doesn't have to be so.
Most of us take pride in the appearance of our homes and plant hedges, trees and shrubs to improve the general landscape.
Why not do the same with our sports grounds? It would cost so little and would make a brilliant activity for the kids to be involved in.
Most large firms such as our major supermarket chains along with manufacturers of goods like sports clothing love to sponsor tree planting. It is great for their image and brings them tax efficient and beneficial publicity.
There are also groups like the Heritage Council, The Tree Council of Ireland, Crann, who, if given a suitable project would help carry it out.
Sapling trees are cheap to purchase and grow rapidly so it doesn't take a fortune to establish a good looking and practical shelter belt that would break the wind and protect spectators from the worst of the elements.
Cover those awful bare concrete walls with ivy and suddenly they look attractive while providing food and shelter for wildlife.
In addition, there are a host of other lovely climbing plants which could transform club premises.
Surely it wouldn't be that difficult to organise a team of young volunteers, head out some evening with spades and get them planting.
When older, they could proudly point out to their own children the now large trees they had planted in their youth.
Get planting and reduce match day stress
To provide an effective and attractive windbreak all that is needed is a relatively narrow strip the length of a pitch, approximately 5 or 6m wide and planted with a mix of species such as birch, rowan, hornbeam, beech or cherry.
Blend in conifers such as Norway spruce, Western hemlock, Larch and Scots Pine and add some holly and hazel and other understory species at the edge.
The choice is wide and the mix of hardy broadleaves and conifers will provide year round shelter. According to the Agriculture section of the United Nations, spending time near trees improves physical and mental health while increasing energy levels and reducing both blood pressure and stress.
Now isn't that exactly what we need at our sports grounds given the stress levels reached by some parents while watching a match.
Finally, during my years with Crann we found that involving children in any planting scheme was an essential element for success. The kids took ownership of the trees which in turn greatly reduced vandalism. There was a sense of shared community pride when establishing small copses.