Saracens set to move but are they leaving 'the edge' at Vicarage Road?
New stadiums are all very well but are they denying hosts the advantage they used to enjoy at their crumbling old homes?
Saracens, who have been playing at downtrodden Vicarage Road since 1997-98, will move to north London on 27 January, when they face Cardiff Blues in the LV=Cup at Allianz Park. Photograph: Tom Shaw/Getty Images
Hull's Threepenny stand may be gone, but the memory lingers as rugby league's version of the Shed at Gloucester. It wasn't somewhere you'd take your mother.
Playing at The Boulevard was bad enough. There were cages to shield the players as they ran up the tunnel, but they didn't protect you from language which could be pretty ripe.
Watching was the real experience. There was one game when I decided to sample the Threepenny stand - named that way because that's what it once cost to watch Hull from the noisiest and most colourful of their three stands. It seemed a good idea at the time. I was injured and would have travelled with Wigan anyway, so hidden under a neutral scarf and a less-than-attention -grabbing hat I paid up and took my place. But not for long. I was rumbled, took a barrage of abuse and was gone by half-time - back to safety among the Wigan squad.
Why remember it now? Well, a friend mentioned that Saracens are already selling tickets for games at their new ground in north London. They have only two more league matches at Vicarage Road - that ground seemingly so unloved by so many who write about rugby and not a few players - before they take up residence at Allianz Park, their £24m all-singing, all-dancing stadium in Copthall.
And the Allianz is state of the art. We know it has an artificial pitch that is said to save more than £100,000 in maintenance costs each year and smartphone-type apps at each seat to order food and drinks as well as to summon TV replays, but what my friend wanted to know is that imponderable; whether the architects have managed to factor in "the edge" that Vicarage Road has? That feeling of being a place you don't want to go to.
I say this because making visiting sides uncomfortable is obviously no bad thing and it is very easy to be too welcoming. The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, for example, clearly holds no obvious threats to those sides from the southern hemisphere who play there. How do we know? Because they tell us.
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