Ballparks figure

SINCE it’s the MLB All-Star game tonight (on ESPN America from 00:30 GMT), let’s talk a little baseball. And Ken Bates.

Like most things in life worth knowing, I learned of Shea Stadium’s existence via a Beastie Boys lyric. It wasn’t the first time I’d acted on a rhyme of theirs in New York (that was “Excuse me motherfuckers, can I beg your pardon / I’m gonna see the Knicks at Madison Square Garden”) but by the time I got around to taking the 7 train to Queens a couple of months ago, old Shea had been bulldozed car park flat.

citifield01Both the Big Apple’s Major League Baseball sides have miraculously built ballparks in the shadows of their existing homes: in the Mets’ case, the nipping new – if numbingly-named – Citi Field. It’s a similar story in the Bronx, except that one’s shit because it’s where the Yankees play.

Nevertheless, we’re talking $2.5billion worth of brick, limestone and granite here, brimming with improved facilities and concessions for match-goers: merchandise stores, multiple bars, restaurants, food and beer stands. Two goldmines of box office, catering and hospitality.

Once the FA realised it was going to be costly enough without any of Ken Bates’ further input, Wembley was developed along similar lines. If it’s accommodation you’re after at his raison d’être, the stadium hotel, there’s plenty of rooms at hotbeds of mediocrity like Bolton, Reading, Coventry and Oxford.

In recent years, three of the Premier League’s top four clubs have extended, or made plans to extend, ground capacities to cater for the sort of attendances that the fourth – Chelsea – are prevented from matching because someone left two empty hotels and a nightclub in the way.

It’s a complex that his successor as chairman, Bruce Buck, admits they wouldn’t have built as “all a football fan wants, really, is football.” And that’s from an American.

They may openly refer to fans as ‘guests’ in New York, but Citi Field’s no midweek doss-house for hoover reps. There wasn’t a single check-in desk, water feature or Corby trouser press in sight – and they hadn’t even the wit to include a basement nightclub. The schmucks.

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