If you’ve watched British football at any
point in the last century, you’ve seen the designs and engineering of a Scot named Archibald
Leitch. At the turn of the 20th century, the sport
was only just becoming a social and cultural phenomenon, and as the appetite for the game
grew, and the working and middle classes had the disposable income for ‘leisure’ activities,
football chiefs became obsessed with the task of cramming as many fans into their grounds
as possible. The man appointed to design the vast majority
of these new grounds was Archibald Leitch. Leitch began his career as a factory engineer,
one of many Scots to construct the railways, factories, sheds, and infrastructure within
the British Empire. The Scots had a disproportionate influence on the machinations of Britain in
the 19th century, turning Glasgow into a hub of industry, but they also dominated the landscape
of football and sport in general in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As Simon Inglis writes in his wonderful Leitch
biography Engineering Archie, “All the great teams of the late Victorian Era – Preston
North End’s ‘Invincibles’ of 1888-1889, Sunderland’s ‘Team of All Talents’ in
the 1890s – were built around Scottish talent.” The influence of the Scots on industrial engineering,
sport, and football itself meant that a man like Archibald Leitch was the ideal candidate
to design the seminal football grounds of Britain. But Leitch didn’t have groundbreaking design
ideas, he simply saw the opportunity that engineering football stadiums presented at
a time when no one else did. Leitch saw, and felt, the passion for the game and the growing
number of fans determined to watch matches up close. Inglis told Tifo, “The one thing that makes Archibald Leitch
different, or at least a pioneer, was not that he had any particular special knowledge
that got him into the business. It’s that he saw the opportunities in the world of professional
sport and, because of his love for football, decided to go into it. He had no special knowledge
that would enable him to do that, but then, nobody did at that time.” Born and raised in Glasgow, Leitch was a passionate
Rangers fan, and was commissioned to design Ibrox Park in 1899. Over the next three decades,
Leitch was commissioned south of the border at Bramall Lane, Ayresome Park, Craven Cottage,
Stamford Bridge, Anfield, Ewood Park, Park Avenue, Valley Parade, Goodison Park, White
Hart Lane, Old Trafford, The Den, Leeds Road, Roker Park, Highbury, and about 15 other stadiums. So what did a Leitch designed stadium look
like? He moved the football grounds of the Victorian
era from, as Inglis writes, “cinder and gravel banks, muddied earth, wooden barriers
nailed together and thumped randomly into the ground,” to industrial, codified, and
rigid terraces adorned with ‘crush rails’ to prevent the kind of disasters that befell
those that braved the terraces of British football throughout the 20th century. David Goldblatt, sports journalist and sociologist,
describes the Leitchian stadium in his book The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer
as, “An enclosed stadium that had a covered, seated grandstand on one long side of the
pitch and open terraces on the other three. As the ambition of both clubs and designer
grew, Leitch innovated by producing two-tier grandstands, some with seating above and standing
below… in his later efforts, he created stadiums with cover on all four sides of the
ground and seating and standing on each side as well.” Because of Leitch’s background in factory
engineering, these grounds possessed a certain industrial functionality; the goal was simply
to pack as many paying fans into an area to watch football as was possible. But Leitch
wasn’t reckless. His designs were systematic and precise. These stadiums were perfectly
designed for fans to watch the football. The sightlines were unobstructed, the placement
of crush barriers and aisles meant that fans couldn’t rush more than a few yards from
their designated area. Yet Leitch’s work was not without its flaws.
Tragedy befell supporters at two Leitch-designed stadiums, at Ibrox Park and Hillsborough almost
a century apart. The Ibrox Disaster of 1902, during a match between Scotland and England
occurred as an upper part of the terrace snapped and sent spectators falling “as if through
a trapdoor.” The resulting panic caused more casualties
and deaths and a long protracted legal dispute began to find the culpable party. Ultimately,
25 people died, at least 516 were injured, and 587 would receive compensation. But this
was the Machine Age, disasters like this were quite commonplace. Trains going off the tracks,
factories going up in flames, boilers combusting, ships sinking, this was the cost of industry
and progress. Rangers had to decide who would redesign and
reconstruct Ibrox Park in the wake of this disaster. According to a letter from Leitch
to the club chairman (obtained by Inglis) the Glasgow club was very close to choosing
another engineer, but ultimately decided to retain Leitch. He was determined to right the mistakes made
at Ibrox, and a blueprint of his subsequent designs for Craven Cottage in 1905 reveal
a system of preventing the sort of crush and overcrowding that occurred on the terraces
of Britain throughout the 20th century. Inglis writes that “Following the mistakes at Ibrox,”
Leitch implemented “a system of distributing passages and ‘crush rails’ fixed equidistantly
between sunken aisles, each four feet in width.” This became the standard amongst British terraces
and was used by the Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds (of which Inglis is the editor) in
1973, Leitch’s terrace design stood up over half a century later as the pinnacle of stadium
safety. It’s clear that the Ibrox Disaster informed
Leitch’s future designs to make sure there were no repeats, and it was a departure from
those designs that would lead to one of the darkest days in English football. Sports grounds, unlike stadiums, are subject
to constant change. There is no final blueprint when a ground is opened, and subsequent remodeling
and redesigns are standard. At Anfield’s Kop End, originally a Leitch design, redesigns
during the 1920s, in which a roof was added, ended up disastrously and for the next 50
years or so there were 40 casualties and injuries a week in the Kop. As was the case at Hillsborough, with renovations
during the decades after initial construction in 1913 changing the precision of Leitch’s
designs. While the failures at Hillsborough related
more to crowd control and ineffective policing, Inglis told Tifo, “Had Hillsborough been designed to the kind
of specifications that Leitch drew out at say Chelsea and Fulham in 1904 and 1905…
a good 80 years before the disaster, there may not have been such great a loss of life…
It’s a bit like you design a perfect car, and someone comes along in two years and they
change the wheels, or they change a bit of the engine.”
Ironically it was the disaster at Ibrox that allowed Leitch to design a system that would
have saved lives at Hillsborough some 80 years later, but those designs had been eroded away
by then. As the football grounds of Britain change
from the Leitchian grounds that became synonymous with British football to more modern, continental-style
stadiums, Leitch’s designs slowly fade from view. Fulham, Dundee United, Portsmouth, Everton,
and Rangers are the only remaining original Leitch stands or grandstands of the 40 or
so grounds he engineered. The man who crafted the look and feel of British football in its
infancy died without any real fanfare in 1939, but his legacy remains in the memories, legends,
and the carnage of the terraces of British football.

Old Trafford, Anfield, Roker Park: The Man Who Built British Football

76 thoughts on “Old Trafford, Anfield, Roker Park: The Man Who Built British Football

  • November 6, 2019 at 6:31 am
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    First

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  • November 6, 2019 at 6:32 am
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    What happened to the athletic

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  • November 6, 2019 at 6:34 am
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    Wow. Never really thought about it. Thanks for bringing it to light, Tifo.

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  • November 6, 2019 at 6:42 am
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    I finally know who was behind Craven Cottage. Love that stadium.

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  • November 6, 2019 at 6:50 am
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    Can you guys stop commenting the athletic? Waste of space 🙄

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  • November 6, 2019 at 6:54 am
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    another fantastic vid Tifo! keep up the fantastic work! u guys r one of my fav, if not my fav YouTube channel.

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  • November 6, 2019 at 6:57 am
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    Fascinating, great vid!

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  • November 6, 2019 at 6:57 am
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    The stand at Ibrox is listed building so can't be knocked down.

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  • November 6, 2019 at 7:01 am
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    This story did not appear on the athletic

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  • November 6, 2019 at 7:05 am
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    Great to see him getting some well deserved recognition.

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  • November 6, 2019 at 7:05 am
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    I hate names like emirates etihad king power amex…..it diminishes english names …..like filbert street highbury

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  • November 6, 2019 at 7:06 am
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    Any possibility you could make a video discussing Bayern's youth academy that went from playing a large role in winning the 2014 World Cup to going AWOL since then?

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  • November 6, 2019 at 7:15 am
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    Super interesting as always!

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  • November 6, 2019 at 7:27 am
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    Waking up early right as a Tifo video drops, with chill music and Joe's calming voice, while drinking a hot beverage is one of the little pleasures in life.

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  • November 6, 2019 at 7:32 am
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    Definitely has his fans now. Man this one was good! I hope to one of the remaining stadiums soon

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  • November 6, 2019 at 7:33 am
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    Thank you for The Shelf Mr Leitch

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  • November 6, 2019 at 7:45 am
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    Would seriously find the time to watch Tifo vids if they lasted for hours rather than minutes. Great content guys 👍

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  • November 6, 2019 at 7:49 am
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    This is very inspiring, considering I want to become an architect and I really want to design such stadia in Kenya, where sports infrastructure has really been ignored and rejected

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  • November 6, 2019 at 7:55 am
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    Was only a matter of time before Mr Leitch got his time in the spotlight on here. Great piece, guys 👌

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  • November 6, 2019 at 7:57 am
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    I like old school British stadiums. Very intimate. So well done to him.

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  • November 6, 2019 at 8:02 am
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    Great video but bramall Lane has been misspelt

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  • November 6, 2019 at 8:23 am
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    Ibrox Stadium 🇬🇧🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

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  • November 6, 2019 at 8:31 am
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    Excellent highlight of an important but neglected aspect of football. Content like this is why I always come back to Tifo!

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  • November 6, 2019 at 8:34 am
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    JFT96

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  • November 6, 2019 at 8:35 am
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    This wasn't first on the athletic? I'm shocked

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  • November 6, 2019 at 9:04 am
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    This was an interesting story. I can see why no one builds stadiums with wood, especially given what happened in 1985.

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  • November 6, 2019 at 9:05 am
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    This video was brought to you by the Athletic

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  • November 6, 2019 at 9:10 am
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    How do guys make these kind of videos
    In detail plz thanks

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  • November 6, 2019 at 9:31 am
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    Wait a minute ?
    This video IS NOT brought out by The Athletic ?

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  • November 6, 2019 at 9:43 am
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    3:07 *football

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  • November 6, 2019 at 9:54 am
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    Talk about 1989 tragedy and origin of Manchester United and liverpool hatred

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  • November 6, 2019 at 9:59 am
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    Maybe he's not celebrated enough because he was a Scot that shaped English football? We all know the cute rivalry between the two neighbours

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  • November 6, 2019 at 10:23 am
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    We, as football lovers, owe Leitch our lives and admiration

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  • November 6, 2019 at 10:24 am
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    Villa park

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  • November 6, 2019 at 10:28 am
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    Fantastic stuff again lads, please please please do a Preston video! ❤

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  • November 6, 2019 at 10:49 am
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    Leitch originally appeared on The Athletic

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  • November 6, 2019 at 10:51 am
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    Why was the Valley Parade Fire forgotten?

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  • November 6, 2019 at 10:53 am
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    What a video…damn….

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  • November 6, 2019 at 12:09 pm
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    How is Goodison Park not in the title like the only stadium still standing that is original to Leitch's desgin Tifo i thought better than clickbait from you

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  • November 6, 2019 at 12:25 pm
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    Villa Park 💜💙

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  • November 6, 2019 at 12:38 pm
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    Football fans around the world enjoy the game, not just because of the 90 mins. But because of the culture, people, history, and drama that goes along with it. Where does all this happen mostly, if not at the grounds itself. Videos like these are priceless Tifo Football!

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  • November 6, 2019 at 1:12 pm
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    Will you do a video on the Portland Thorns. The supporter culture there is incredible.

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  • November 6, 2019 at 1:34 pm
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    You know and have shown David Goldblatt's book on 3:07 as reading '….a global history of football' so why would you read it as '…..the global history of soccer???'

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  • November 6, 2019 at 1:39 pm
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    A lot of lower league grounds must’ve been designed by him as well or someone using his influence as many are still around and very much the same as some of the ones mentioned in this video, just obviously a lot smaller

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  • November 6, 2019 at 1:57 pm
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    3:06 A global history of FOOTBALL

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  • November 6, 2019 at 2:00 pm
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    Thanks for mentioning Fratton Park at the end there. It's one of the few which still looks mostly like Leitch designed it. I often hear Pompey fans talk of their desire for a new stadium, but I think a big part of the club's soul would be lost if we moved.

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  • November 6, 2019 at 2:30 pm
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    Interesting so many unsung heroes and characters over the last hundred years that have shaped football to today what it is. Thank you Archibald Leitch.

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  • November 6, 2019 at 3:01 pm
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    Leitch designed Bradford Park Avenue and Bradford City's stadiums. good to know

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  • November 6, 2019 at 4:24 pm
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    doesn't hear 'The Athletic'

    (visible confusion)

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  • November 6, 2019 at 4:27 pm
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    His grounds have the best atmosphere eg Portsmouth

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  • November 6, 2019 at 4:34 pm
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    3:07 "soccer"??
    My ears are bleeding xD

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  • November 6, 2019 at 4:40 pm
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    So we can call mr. Leitch the granddaddy of British stadiums. Thank you mr. Leitch.

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  • November 6, 2019 at 5:22 pm
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    The main stand at Starks Park, Kirkcaldy was designed by Leitch, and it’s still in use today

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  • November 6, 2019 at 6:17 pm
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    I always remember new to EPL players in the 90-ies and later on years, always mentioning those stadiums and the atmosphere in the interviews they gave. Managers also commented on this atmosphere in their first interviews for their clubs, as one of the reasons they came to coach in England. Sadly, the corporate editions, as flashy and beautiful they might be, lack souls and atmosphere, and I say this as an Arsenal fan …

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  • November 6, 2019 at 6:47 pm
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    Brilliant content as always.
    There is something so British and authentic about the 4 seperate stand type stadiums for me.
    The corner gaps at Ibrox Park were legendary.

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  • November 6, 2019 at 11:00 pm
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    The Scottish influence on the game is something else.

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  • November 7, 2019 at 1:13 am
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    Another beautiful video. Tifo I love your videos. I listen to your podcasts every week on Spotify & I love the insight. Keep up the great work.

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  • November 7, 2019 at 1:44 am
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    Can you make a video on Pep Guardiola,his philosophy & tactics at Barcelona vs City/Barca vs Bayern vs City! I miss his tiki taka&triangle passes👏🏻👍🏻

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  • November 7, 2019 at 1:45 am
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    Probably same for Klopp,Liverpool vs Dortmund,Gegenpressing's fading away slightly

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  • November 7, 2019 at 2:32 am
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    @Tifo Football do tactic analysis of Marcelo Gallardo the coach of river plate

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  • November 7, 2019 at 5:30 am
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    *Bramall Lane, not Brammal Lane

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  • November 7, 2019 at 7:33 am
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    Archibald Leach was Cary Grant's real name, I spent half the video wondering why the name sounded familiar before I realised

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  • November 7, 2019 at 9:06 am
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    Gotta love that the Scots played a great part in developing English football

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  • November 7, 2019 at 9:27 am
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    My Dad was lucky enough to survive that horror of Hillsborough. Uncomfortable but vital to know the many ways in which the disaster could have been prevented. Great video as always, informative and handled grave subjects with decorum.

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  • November 7, 2019 at 10:10 am
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    Right. As a Boro fan and a proud Middlesbrough man I have to correct you on the pronunciation of Aryresome Park. It’s just air-some park. But LOVE to see our old ground mentioned on a Tifo vid. Did he have a say on the names? If so he did like a park or two didn’t he lol But could you imagine today a stadium collapsing people dying and then the man you bring in to redesign it is the SAME guy who designed the thing that collapsed in the first place? NO WAY would that happen today lol There would be OUTRAGE.
    Also just randomly; I would LOVE to see a stadium sort of built into a cliff/mountain side. How awesome would that be watching a game from the top of a small mountain. So cool.

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  • November 7, 2019 at 10:54 am
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    Its *Bramall Lane

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  • November 7, 2019 at 2:56 pm
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    Do a video on Marcelo Gallardo tactics pls

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  • November 7, 2019 at 8:29 pm
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    Music??

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  • November 7, 2019 at 11:18 pm
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    It's interesting to note that Dan Meiss has mentioned about taking some of the design elements by Leitch into Everton's new stadium when that comes along.

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  • November 8, 2019 at 2:02 am
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    Very interesting video. Was it a Leitch designed stand that burnt down in Bradford in the mid/late 80's?

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  • November 8, 2019 at 5:37 am
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    Great video, almost a documentary!

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  • November 8, 2019 at 8:36 am
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    The good old days

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  • November 8, 2019 at 3:05 pm
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    So this was the guy that thought 4 separate stands qualify as a stadium. Ugly!

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  • November 8, 2019 at 5:58 pm
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    bring back standing areas

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  • November 8, 2019 at 7:09 pm
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    Great content

    Reply

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