A peculiarity of British football, well known to “groundhoppers” and visitors to stadiums, big or small as they are, is that many of them are adorned by statues depicting characters who’ve left indelible marks on the history of the corresponding clubs. Vicenzo Felici profiles some of the sculptures of the major English stadiums.
The Emirates Stadium greets visitors with five statues. The first depicts Ken Friar chasing a ball in a suit, tie and shorts. Friar was a former director and secretary of the club with over 60 years’ service at Arsenal. There’s also Dennis Bergkamp spectacularly engaging mid-air with a ball. The Dutch star made 423 appearances scoring 120 goals for the Gunners. The legendary Herbert Chapman poses with his hands behind his back. The manager from 1925 to 1934 distinguished himself with his tactical methodologies and revolutionary training workouts. Tony Adams stands with open arms. The indomitable captain started in the team at age 19 and collected 504 appearances with 32 goals. Finally there is Thierry Henry in his typical celebration pose sliding on the ground. The French striker proved a phenomenon in North London. He spent eight years at the club netting 226 goals, an all time record.
Outside Villa Park you’ll find a bronze statue erected in 2009 in honour of Scotsman William McGregor, with a stick in hand. He was a founder of the Football League and leader of the Villains for 20 years.
In front of the Millennium Entrance to Stamford Bridge, there is the sculpture erected in honour of Peter Osgood with the ball under his arm. He made 279 appearances scoring 103 goals for Chelsea. Osgood sadly died prematurely of a heart attack at just 59 years of age. The ashes of the “King of the Bridge” were scattered beneath the penalty spot in front of the Shed End, in the presence of 2,500 fans.
Outside Goodison Park you can see the statue of the great Dixie Dean erected in 2001. The Toffee star made 399 appearances scoring 349 goals.
Outside Anfield stands the bronze statue of the legendary Bill Shankly, erected in 1997, collecting the adoration from the passing crowds often with a scarf placed around his neck. The Scottish manager of Liverpool from 1954 to 1974 was the protagonist of the most successful era in the Reds’ history. The Shankly Gates, inscribed with the words “You’ll Never Walk Alone” had been erected in 1982 following the Liverpool idol’s untimely passing.
Outside the Etihad Stadium, you’ll find the bronze statue built by Colin Spofforth in 2002: “The Runner,” running on a globe, celebrates the sporting spirit of the XVII Commonwealth Games.
At Old Trafford you can see three statues. The first is the “United Trinity” composed of legendary players George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton, hugging to celebrate Manchester United as the first English team to win the European Cup in 1968. The second is dedicated to Sir Matt Busby, suited, with the ball under his left hand, the leader of the Red Devils from 1945 to 1969, bringing them to the top of European football. The third, most recent, in 2012, depicts Sir Alex Ferguson, who stood at the helm of Manchester United for 27 years, leading them to the greatest successes in the club’s history.
In front of St James’ Park stands the magnificent work depicting Sir Bobby Robson with the ball placed under the right foot – the grizzled coach who died at age 76 after a long struggle against cancer. It was erected in 2012 by sculptor Tom Maley. There is also a statue of Sir Bobby outside Ipswich Town’s Portman Road. Also worth mentioning is the statue of Jackie Milburn who was the highest goalscorer in the Magpies’ history, until he was surpassed by Alan Shearer, who himself had his own statue unveiled at the stadium in 2016.
In 2007 a statue was erected in front of the St Mary’s Stadium to remember Ted Bates, former player and manager of the Saints. The work was crticised by local supporters for the limited length of the arms and the similarity to the former chairman of rivals Portsmouth, Milan Mandaric, and was since replaced by another in 2008. Built by the sculptor Sean Hedges-Quinn, the new version catered to the specific requests of the fans.
Two works greet match goers in front of the Britannia Stadium. The first, dating back to 2008, portrays the greatest goalkeeper of the team, Gordon Banks, the England legend who raises the Jules Rimet trophy with his right hand, and with his left, clutches his gloves to his chest. The second, built by Carl Payne in 2001, shows Sir Stanley Matthews in three elegant playing poses. “The Magician” spent 19 years with the Potters over two stints making over 300 appearances.
Outside the Stadium of Light, you will find the picturesque portrayal of coach Bob Stokoe with arms opened exultantly as he runs with his hat on, sculpted in bronze in 2006 by Sean Hedges-Quinn. He led Sunderland to the historic victory in the FA Cup final against Leeds United. Also of note is the presence of a group of statues representing the family of supporters. It consists of three subjects: mother, father and daughter. The parents support a hemisphere and the child, holding her mother’s hand, is dribbling with a ball.
Next to the Liberty Stadium you will find the statue of Ivor Allchurch, who made 445 appearances and scored 164 goals for the Welsh side. He stands in his playing kit with arms folded and was created in 2005 by Michael Field.
West Bromwich Albion
Adjacent to The Hawthorns you will see the sculpture dedicated to Tony Brown, who made 720 appearances scoring 279 goals. The shooting pose was modelled by Jonathan Wylder.
West Ham United
“The World Cup Sculpture” close to the Boleyn Pub commemorates what is considered one of the finest sports performances in British history. Bobby Moore, triumphantly raising the Jules Rimet Cup won in 1966, is raised on the shoulders of Geoff Hurst and Ray Wilson, and surrounded also by Martin Peters. The creator is Philip Jackson, who also produced the imposing statue dedicated to the same Moore placed in front of the new Wembley. The sculptor was awarded a prestigious honour by Prince Andrew, Duke of York, in 2003.