Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ground Zero

I meandered across from my Swansea Bay office to view the demolition of the Vetch Field, which for the less-informed is the abandoned former home of my cherished Swansea City FC.  This cathedral for the crushed optimist; this gathering place for the aspirant-cynic; a quiescent sentinel to penury yielding its soft concrete underbelly to giant excavators ripping away remorselessly at its bleeding soul like fireants in a termite mound.
I was not alone in my curiosity and desire for a last nostalgic glimpse.  Several middle-aged men appeared singly and sporadically at the open North Bank gates accessed by the demolition crew, craning and elevating on tip-toes for a final look at the razing like paparazzi at a celeb autopsy.  One could detect the sort of moistening of eyes and grating-throatiness associated exclusively with Welsh men at a funeral. 

It then dawned on me: while events pass us by like vapour, it is structure that frames our existence and retrieval.  To crudely paraphrase:  if you build it, they will come …if you dismantle it, they will cry.  Melancholy oozing from the sepia-stained back pages of memory and time.  It took approximately three minutes for this wistful fog to clear from my eyes with the sight of several scampering rats, followed by a famine-riddled feline.

And let us approach this vision and sip a tonic of realism.  Surveying the fingers of buckled corrosion reaching out through smashed concrete terracing, it’s quite clear that Vetch Field was a shit hole.  All that bleary-cheeked yearning for a return to the stadium cannot mask memories of broken glass cemented onto perimeters, asbestos sheeting hanging from the Centre Stand flanks like the rotten dermis of a homeless leper; rusting barbed wire strangling the walls like knotweed; weeds growing out of turnstiles and crumbling plateaux yawning with deep canyons that could disappear children.
Observing the North Bank’s diminishing piss-reeking silhouette against the winter gloom, it could almost be a Balkan concentration camp or an abandoned site for wartime chemical experimentation;  a testament to how much the owners of the club throughout the years actually cared for the fans, allowing them to fill their guts with mechanical slurry, wade shin-deep in overflowing urine and be herded like livestock into an enclosure that could have become their tombs.

It was refuge for the bigot; a haven for the profane; a recourse for those who wished to bathe in the fumes of danger.  Not at any stretch a safehouse for families, women and minorities wishing to support their team untethered by fears of the violent stereotypes haunting its confines.

I had staggering memories at the Vetch Field that wrought my childhood, adulthood and as a parent taking my son every week and watching his wonderment at the developing soap opera that was Swansea City FC.  Those days will travel through my soul as the happiest times with my boy; and with every day that he is not here with me adds flavour and light to those priceless memories in times of gloom.  The Vetch Field gave this to me, and my love for it will be locked in a frozen capsule of joyous reminiscence.

But let us not be blinded by nostalgia.  How many of us have fond recollections of a kindly grandpa who regaled us with his benignity and colourful stories that filled our young imaginations? …only for the maggots of the ages to dine on his brain, leaving an embittered impossible man.  Would we aspire to rekindle those halcyon days that had long since died?  Would we wish to stand in dog shit because of the pet we loved as a child? 
Let it die in peace and dignity.  Long live Liberty.

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