Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

Niall Crozier: Ulster Rugby's Kingspan Stadium will always be Ravenhill to me

Name game: Shane Logan, Ulster Rugby Chief Exec, Pat Freeman Kingspan Environmental and Tommy Bowe launch the new deal

On the eve of Ireland's Twickenham meeting with England in the 2014 RBS 6 Nations Championship it was my good fortunate to interview Ollie Campbell.

Eloquent, erudite, honest and passionate in equal measures, he said something of particular interest.

Pointing out that it was Ireland coach Joe Schmidt's first time on the road with his team, Campbell said: "So far he's had the home comfort zone; Carton House and Lansdowne Road, which I still call it – I'm standing my ground on that one given that it is the oldest international rugby ground in the world, as my dad always reminded me."

'Traditionalist' is a noun sometimes used as an attempted put-down of someone portrayed as being unwilling to move with the times. Old school, old fashioned, unrealistic as per today's way of doing things.

But Ollie Campbell is no stick-in-the-mud, so that cap doesn't fit him. Instead he is a man determined to stand against the erosion of core values, ways and principles which he regards as being sacrosanct and non-negotiable.

As a result of yesterday's development, Ravenhill is a name now consigned to history. Yes, we'll all continue to use it for a time. How could it be otherwise; it's woven deep in the fabric of Ulster sport, but just as almost all of us have adapted to Lansdowne Road being the Aviva Stadium, so we will get used to Ravenhill being the Kingspan Stadium. And the fact that it is an all-new arena will ease, as well as hasten, that process.

The German football Bundesliga's most modern stadium is the 30,000-seater Coface Arena in Mainz, completed in 2011. That brought an end to an 83-year relationship between Mainz and the Stadium am Bruchweg.

Their CEO Christopher Blumlein explained the change to a purpose-built arena was a milestone in Mainz's remarkable rise to the top-flight of German football. However, he admitted that it was because it was a completely different stadium that there had been no backlash from the club's supporters.

"Whenever you build a new stadium, it is very easy to give the stadium a new name. Ours was not a reconstruction - it was a totally new venue," he said.

"From the first day of the public discussion, we are not talking about a stadium but the Coface Arena."

Those words were in response to the news that Rangers were considering auctioning off their iconic 'Ibrox' name to the highest bidder. Many of their supporters were aghast at what they saw as something approaching sacrilege.

Blumlein warned: "When you have a traditional name, you always need to have a big discussion."

Ulster have acted without any such 'big discussion,' but the world has not ended.

Life goes on and if Ulster win the Heineken Cup – sorry, European Champions Cup (another name-change to absorb) – or the PRO12 (new sponsors' prefix still pending), one suspects nobody will be too bothered to see them parade their silverware at the Kingspan Stadium rather than Ravenhill.

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