Simon Inglis - following Archibald Leitch's trail
For author Simon Inglis, Archibald Leitch was one of the most intriguing figures in British football history. He was also the man who inspired Inglis's career as a historian of the game.
'Although I didn't realise it at the time,' recalls Inglis, 'I watched my first ever game from a Leitch-designed building, the Trinity Road Stand at Villa Park, in April 1962, when the magnificent redbrick stand was 40 years old and I was just seven. Villa won that day 8-3, and I was hooked. That year I even wrote a few school compositions about Villa Park, which I re-discovered in the attic years later and was amazed to find included references to double-decker stands, floodlights and Wembley Stadium. I then spent the next 20 years standing on the Holte End, only to find that Leitch had designed that also.'
'It was the early 1980s when I started researching the first edition of my book The Football Grounds of England and Wales that Archie started to loom large in my professional life. Leitch's name was then virtually unknown, and it was only after the Hillsborough disaster of 1989 - when I was appointed to sit on various advisory bodies relating to stadium design - that I began to fully appreciate his extraordinary contribution. As editor of the government's Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds, in 1996, for example, I discovered that most of the standards which had applied to modern grounds from the 1970s onwards had been based on Leitch's work. I also discovered why the original Wembley Stadium had been such a lousy place for spectators. As a chilling excerpt in Engineering Archie shows, the stadium's arrogant architect had wilfully ignored Leitch's expertise and had in fact visited only one ground before sitting down to design Wembley. No wonder it was such a dreadful design.'
'With hindsight it is tempting to think of Archie's early football grounds as basic, primitive affairs. But for their time they were a huge improvement on what had existed before, in the late Victorian era. Archie was the first man, perhaps since the completion of the Colosseum in Rome, to adopt an engineering approach to the building of facilities for mass spectator sport.'
Two facts sum up Archie's career, says Inglis. 'If you look at the First Division table in 1927, of 22 clubs, 16 had been, at one time or another, clients of Archie.
"Or think of the 1966 World Cup. Of eight venues used, six were grounds where Leitch had played a significant role. That is some legacy for an unknown engineer.
''I couldn't find a single obituary for Archie when he died in 1939, so decided to write his biography to make up for that lack of recognition. Even then, I hardly imagined it would turn out to be such an interesting tale.'
In fact so interesting did that tale turn out to be that the book received thunderous plaudits from the press and was runner-up in the 2005 William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, the first time that a design-related sports book had ever been shortlisted.
Since the book's publication, Inglis has embarked on one further push for Leitch's work to be recognised.
Firstly, Inglis has proposed the creation of an English Heritage blue plaque to Leitch, to be placed on the façade of the Stevenage Road Stand (now the Johnny Haynes Stand) at Craven Cottage. Also, Inglis has proposed to Fulham FC that a decorative ironwork finial be erected on the stand's pitch-side roof gable. An announcement on both initiatives is anticipated later in 2008.
Engineering Archie is available now from our website, priced £14.99.