Modern football stadiums have heralded a new era regarding design and materials and contrast significantly with those that have little changed. Indeed, the difference is often quite striking and is only rivaled by their progressive appellations and noms-de-plume.
Most unique football stadiums back in the day were named after a local feature in the past, but a very modern problem has infected football. The founders of football envisioned a game where the sport came first and money second and could not have imagined soccer fields being named after sponsors.
A degree of romance has been lost as Feethams, Gay Meadow, the Vetch Field, and many other historic “Parks” have been replaced by the Emirates, Liberty, Reebok, Ricoh, McAlpine Stadiums, etc.
There is no denying that these new unique football stadiums have impressive credentials, but they represent a break from the past, which has more to do with modernity than just specific to soccer.
Some criticize their off-the-shelf uniformity, although the same censure might be leveled at Archibald Leitch. Meanwhile, in the early days, clubs used various venues, some in Victorian pleasure parks, for example, the Lower Soccer fields, Crystal Palace, and Tower Soccer fields.
These eclectic sideshows, grand events, dance halls, exotic gardens, and sporting venues were homes of some the most famous league clubs.
Moving Stands To New Football Grounds
Back in the day, moving existing stands to different venues was common. One example was a stand taken from Trent Bridge Cricket Ground across the river to Meadow Lane. (Notts County) From the image above, they moved it from the top right, across Trent Bridge, to the bottom left.
In contrast, Mansfield purchased a stand from the recently closed Hurst Park Racecourse in 1959 and raised it in stages behind the old west stand (a similar method was used for Swindon’s main stand in 1971).
Indeed, the practice of re-using stands continued into recent times, and when Chester left Sealand Road for the Deva Stadium, the main stand’s roof was re-erected at the Hamil Road end of Vale Park.
There were many oddities, and Brentford had to clear out an orchard to establish Griffin Park in 1904, while Southampton played at Avenue Road with a footpath across the pitch. Indeed, The Dell was not much better, and a swampy stream inundated the soccer field when they arrived in 1898.
Brighton And Hove Albion
Their neighbors Brighton had a different problem, and a director John Clark lived at Goldstone House near the Hove Football Club’s home.
The latter established a unique football stadium nearby in 1901, and Albion came there the following year, but there was a large druid stone on the site, and this was removed (to a nearby park) when the Goldstone Soccer field was prepared.
Gay Meadow, Shrewsbury, was a historical pleasure site long before the arrival of football in 1910 but was situated next to the River Severn and became flooded on several occasions.
Indeed, one supporter Fred Davies retrieved balls from the river in his coracle, charging only a small fee! There were several stands of strangely rural nature, and these included the “Rabbit Hutch” at Fulham, the “Chicken Run” at West Ham, and the “Cowshed” (with the Big Bank attached) in Exeter.
Meanwhile, Singers Football Club was transformed into Coventry City in 1898 and went to Highfield Road. The Kop had the “Crows Nest” at the rear, whereas a roof taken from Twickenham was erected over the west terrace in 1927-67, and the “Sky Blue” period occurred in the 1960s.
Bristol City High Aspirations
Another unique football stadium was Bristol City, who had high aspirations and beat Manchester United to the Division Two title in 1905-06 and were runners up in the League the following year.
They also played Manchester United in the Cup Final at the Crystal Palace in front of 71,401 spectators in 1909.
With such success in mind, they erected a cover at the Winterstoke End in 1928, notable for its length. It extended way beyond the corner flags, and they planned to turn the soccer field on its axis, but the side was relegated in 1932, which never took place.
However, the most spectacular venue was in Norwich, and some local teachers started the team in 1902. Initially, they played at Newmarket Road and joined the Southern League in 1905, but the site became inadequate, and they moved to a location with even more significant deficiencies.
“The Nest” at Rosary Road was laid out in an old chalk pit. There were no other soccer fields quite like it. The pitch was up against a 30-foot cliff at the east end, and the houses of Rosary Road were close to the goalposts at the other end.
The Newmarket Road stand was placed on the north side, and a cover called the Chicken Run was located just opposite. In addition, the venue was overshadowed by a timber yard, tin works, gas works, and St. Matthew’s Church, while the ball often bounced off the cliff face back onto the pitch.
Indeed, it was a precarious situation, and people watched from the top. Thus there was a near disaster in 1922. Despite this, a fantastic record crowd of 25,037 for a FA Cup tie against Sheffield Wednesday in 1935, but a corner of the pitch collapsed into the old workings soon after, and they went to Carrow Road later that year.
King George VI then watched a Division Two game against Millwall at the new, unique football stadium in 1938.
Southend Football Club
Clubs would go to any length to prepare new unique football stadiums, and in the case of Southend Football Club, the terrace was “One that I made earlier.”
As stated, the club had two stints at Roots Hall (once an 18th-century house), and they joined Division Three in 1920, then returned to the soccer field in 1955.
Indeed, Sid Broom built the south terrace “stone by stone,” as money allowed, over the next five years.
There was a record attendance of 31,090 for a Cup game against Liverpool in 1979.
Unfortunately, the much-labored-over terrace was sold to a property developer in 1988. Indeed, it was demolished in just a matter of days!
Closest Football Stadiums In England
Regarding the closest League football stadiums, the honor goes to Nottingham since the City Ground, and Meadow Lane faces one another across the River Trent.
However, some other venues are even closer, such as the soccer fields in Dundee, while the undoubted winner is The Firs of St. Leonard’s looks down on the extensive Pilot Field of Hastings Football Club.
The Club With The Most Unique Football Stadiums
Queens Park Rangers have played at most football grounds with 13 venues and 17 changes. Four of these venues were in the Kensal Green area, including the Kilburn Cricket Football Stadium.
At the same time, they played at the substantial Kensal Rise Athletic pitch on two occasions in 1896-1904, then went to Park Royal, Stamford Bridge, Loftus Road, and White City.
The athletic football pitch was closed in the 1920s, and Liddell Gardens were built on the site but were named after a landowner, not the famous runner.
Unique Football Stadiums And Stadium Designers
Meanwhile, Archibald Leitch was not the only innovative soccer field designer, and when Arsenal achieved unparalleled success in the 1930s, they looked to develop Highbury.
Initially, they employed Claude Waterlow Ferrier, an architect who studied in Paris and an exponent of the Art Deco style; however, his first contribution was to extend the end terraces in 1931.
He then turned his attention to the west side, opposite Archibald Leitch’s multispan main stand, and produced a soccer field breaking design with a bold white facade, straight linear lines, club motifs, and an upper tier of seating for 4,100 over a large terrace – at the cost of just £ 50,000.
The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) opened the stand on 10 December 1932, and Arsenal won the title soon afterward, while Ferrier also designed a cover over the North Bank. The record attendance then followed in 1935 (later re-roofed by Binnie).
There were further Cup and League successes; however, Archibald Leitch’s stand was expensive to maintain and was removed in 1936. William Binnie then designed a replacement that mirrored Ferrier’s stand, with 4,000 seats on its two tiers and a small paddock terrace to the front.
However, the most significant feature was a bold facade on Avenell Road with vertical and horizontal lines, the club name, and a gun carriage motif at the center.
There was also a marble entrance hall with the bust of Herbert Chapman, although the cost was a substantial £130,000. No other stands could compare at the time, and they were the apex of soccer field design in the early years of the Football League.
Meanwhile, there is one other significant development to consider: the introduction of the cantilevered stand. Such stands had been constructed at racecourses and on the Continent in the 1930s, but they were yet seen on British football soccer fields.
Unsurprisingly, the first innovation came in Scunthorpe, which had long been associated with the iron and steel industry. The local team, Scunthorpe United, was formed in 1899 and played at the Old Showgrounds in the Midland League from 1912-50, being champions on two occasions.
There were small stands on each side of the pitch, and a cover at the Fox Street end, while Grimsby played there in the war as their Blundell Park soccer field was by the docks. The club then joined Division Three (North) with Shrewsbury Town, increasing by two in 1950.
The football ground was improved, and a terrace at the Doncaster Road end was covered in 1954, then they were champions in 1957-58. However, the east stand burnt down soon after and was replaced with the first cantilevered stand at a British football soccer field.
It was 100 yards long with bench seats for 2,200 and faced the main stand. It was opened on 23 August 1958. Unfortunately, the unique football stadium was closed thirty years later, and attempts to move it to the new venue proved impractical. Glanford Park had columns to support the roof on three sides.
The second cantilevered stand was erected at Hillsborough on the west side but was completely different. Again, there were seats for 10,000 spectators, and Sir Stanley Rous opened it on 23 August 1961. Indeed, with the demise of the Old Showgrounds, it is now the oldest of its type of soccer field in the country.
Early International Football Stadiums
Almost every aspect of soccer was inaugurated in England. The first international (unofficial) was played at The Oval in 1870. Such games soon attracted large crowds, especially in Scotland, and the Corinthians Football Club was formed in 1882 to compete in these contests. The home internationals were started two years later.
Several famous venues were used for these initial games, including the Oval (1873-89), the Crystal Palace (1897-1909), the West of Scotland Cricket Ground (1872-76), the first and second Hampden Parks (1878-90), Celtic and Rangers Football Clubs (1892-1904), the Racecourse Ground, Wrexham (from 1877), and Solitude, Belfast (from 1890).
Meanwhile, the newly emerging clubs had new soccer fields, which provided some other venues: Alexandra Meadows (1881), Bramall Lane (1883/87), Leamington Street (1885/87), Nantwich Road (1888), Anfield (1889), and the Victoria Soccer field (1889/93).
There were also some less familiar choices, such as the Aigburth Cricket Soccer field in south Liverpool in 1883 and Whalley Range in Manchester in 1885.
Games were then played at League (or Southern League) venues, but Charles Alcock arranged the Richmond Athletic Ground in 1893, and the Queen’s Club, West Kensington, was used in 1895.
The Corinthians played at the latter and fielded the entire England side in 1894 / 95 (hence the choice), whereas the Oxford v Cambridge varsity match was at the Oval in 1873-87 and the Queen’s Club until at least 1903.
Before Unique Football Stadiums
People played their football games on spare fields, mostly in public parks, when football was in its infancy. As football popularity and professionalism grew, better grounds were needed where players would like to play. Clubs started doing more than just sweeping some debris off the grass before matches.
Sandygate Road opened in 1804 as the very first ground. It was here that Hallam and Sheffield FC played their first football match almost 60 years later. Local pitches initially had no markings. To keep the spectators and players close, football pitches had bollards or fences along the edge of the field.
Additionally, each pitch end was marked with two sticks representing the goals. Having football pitches as suitable grassy areas might seem strange at first. It was usually the straightest part of a public park. Teams started using private land as this game became more popular.
Between 1889 and 1910, fifty league clubs moved to new unique football stadiums in England, marking the start of an era of numerous stadium constructions. Stadiums were usually constructed in the center of cities, causing difficulties when expansions were needed much later.
From an architectural perspective, the football stadiums looked similar. The oval shape around the field was filled with open terraces and one or two covered grandstands.
Rhett is an Australian-born, globe trotter who is a UEFA ‘A’ Licence Soccer Coach. With his family, he has traveled and coached soccer in more than 30 countries, while attending World Cups, European Championships, and some of the biggest local derbies in the world!