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Architectural Modeller, Alastair Gaff

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


'The old grounds may have been gloomy and draughty but they had real character.'
Being born and bred in the magnificent Scottish capital of Edinburgh, you would expect architectural modeller Alastair Gaff to have an appreciation of historic buildings. Yet it is not castles or churches which get Gaff excited - it is old football grounds.
'All these new stadiums may be perfect for attracting women and kiddies, but they're mostly just plastic identikits. Whereas the old grounds may have been gloomy and drafty but they had real character.'
So much so that 39 year old Gaff has decided to devote his skills to building large scale architectural models of some of Britain's most famous footballing temples. The latest, a model of Villa Park in the year 1962, has just been unveiled to great acclaim in the entrance hall to Aston Villa's new Trinity Road Stand. Another, of Anfield in 1946, is on display in Liverpool's club museum.
Like many of his professional counterparts, Gaff first made models in his childhood bedroom. 'I later became fascinated by football grounds when I started followed Hibernian (Hibs) on their travels. There's something so exciting about turning a corner and seeing the floodlights. I remember night games at Easter Road (where Hibernian play), walking up St Clair Street and seeing the lights blazing.
'And then once you got onto the terracing and saw the green baize of the pitch shining under the floodlights, that stuck in my mind.'
His first ground model depicted Easter Road in the mid-1980s. That took Gaff six months to complete, beavering away every night in his freezing cold workshop on the outskirts of Edinburgh after a full day's work as a joiner. He then teamed up with artist and fellow Hibs fan, Jim Anderson, to add more colour and authenticity on a further model of Easter Road in the 1950s - the Hibees' golden era - when they won two Scottish League championships and reached the semi-finals of the European Cup. A third model, of the now defunct Glasgow ground Cathkin Park, formed the centrepiece of an exhibition about the late-lamented club, Third Lanark.
With larger and more detailed models of Anfield and Villa Park following - the latter with fibre-optic working floodlights - Gaff is now hoping to attract orders from other British clubs. Each model takes about one month to research and plan, plus two to three months to build. Every crush barrier is painstakingly recreated. Adverts of the period are accurately reproduced.
The final effect is extraordinary.
'Friends imagine that I'm making tiny wee models of the grounds, and when they see the scale of them, like the Villa model, which measures around 2.2 x 1.6 metres in size, they're amazed. Above all, we don't want the models to look plastic or false, like many of the pristine white models you often see of new buildings. We want to show that the stand roofs were dented and rusty, that the barriers were a bit twisted and the terraces uneven. It's so important to capture the past. With these models we can show youngsters how it was for their dads and granddads to watch football. When you see them, you feel like a giant. But they also bring out the child in all of us. I've not had a bad reaction yet.'

Tony Grimes, September 2001

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