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After shabby service, we deserve citadel of dreams
Dylan Cleaver
Sunday October 1, 2006

New Zealand needs more than a stadium in time for 2011 - it needs a symbol.

A stadium can be so much more than a venue, whether it be for World Cup finals, Commonwealth Games or U2 concerts. It can be so much more than a money-making venture (although having a stadium pay its way is a rare and beautiful thing).

A stadium can be a source of pride; or it can be a focal point; an enduring symbol of a city that moves it beyond a prosaic lumping of girders and cement.

As just one example, this is a passage from a Boston tourism consultancy report in 1999: "Fenway Park is one of the most historic, beloved, and revered ballparks in the nation. [Statistics] indicate that Fenway Park attracts more visitors to Boston than any other single attraction." The ballpark and the city had become inextricably linked.

It happens everywhere, seemingly, except New Zealand.

When more than 90 Liverpool FC fans were crushed to death at Hillsborough in 1989, Merseysiders, as if on default setting, left their homes to gather outside the gates of Anfield, Liverpool's home ground.

When Babe Ruth died it was only natural for his body to lie in repose at Yankee Stadium - or The House That Ruth Built - while 200,000 mourners filed past.

In the case of New Orleans, the stadium even became a citadel as Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city a year ago.

Thousands sheltered under its roof in fetid conditions while the waters receded. The final symbol that New Orleans was on the road to recovery came last week when the city's NFL team, The Saints, returned to the Super Dome.

It is not just tragedy or death that draws people.

When Arsenal won the closest-ever league championship in 1989 at Liverpool, thousands of north Londoners gathered outside Highbury Stadium. Again, it was a completely natural reaction in a country where football is religion and its stadiums are its churches.

Visit Madrid's Bernabeu or Barcelona's Nou Camp on any day of the week and you'll find hundreds of fans milling around, or entering the respective museums.

In New Zealand, rugby might not be religion but it can be a powerful binding force. The All Blacks are a source of pride and, occasionally, a source of despair.

However, we have never had a place of congregation that we can be as proud of. Eden Park in its current and previous guises is an ugly misshapen hotchpotch of a ground. Lancaster Park (Jade Stadium) and Carisbrook are only slightly less bleak than they ever were.

The Cake Tin is a monument to setting your targets low. Waikato Stadium is perhaps the most impressive, but a symbol of the city of Hamilton... hardly.

We don't have a Lord's, which is as much a symbol for cricket as it is a venue, or a Twickenham, or a Fenway Park or even an MCG.

That's why we need one, badly.

Be it a rejuvenated Eden Park, a waterfront stadium, North Harbour, Victoria Park, Drury or Piopio, build us somewhere where we will want to come to celebrate, commiserate or even to remonstrate.

After more than 100 years of spending good money to watch sport in third-world stadiums, it's the least we deserve.