The Predictable Fate of England’s Lost Grounds

Goldstone Ground, 1976

At the weekend Brighton & Hove Albion ended a stressful and nomadic 14-year period without a home to call their own since leaving the Goldstone Ground in 1997. They officially opened their stadium at the Amex Stadium at Falmer by playing Tottenham Hotspur in a friendly in front of a packed house, who were treated to a 5-goal thriller. But what happened to their old ground, and the many others that clubs have left for pastures new over the past couple of decades? Well the answer is often rather predictable, and at the same time rather depressing. Goldstone Ground– Brighton, until 1997.

The ground was sold by the board, who were trying to clear the club’s mounting debts in an attempt to avoid bankruptcy, although no alternative football ground had been lined up, and without consulting the fans, who not surprisingly revolted strongly. It was sold to property developers and it has since been redeveloped as a retail park, where fans can reminisce over a Whopper with cheese.

Maine Road being demolished

Maine Road– Manchester City until 2003.

A slightly less acrimonious departure for City, though still tinged with sadness. The mis-matched stands, ageing facilities and residential housing on all sides meant there was no chance of City moving with the times where they were. So a deal was struck with the council. City took over the Commonwealth Stadium, spending over £20m turning it into a stadium fit for football (building an extra tier for starters), while the council got the Maine Road site as part of the deal. And inevitably, the site is now a housing estate, with 474 homes originally planned for the site. Take a walk down Blue Moon Way, Armani Street and Sunshine Place. Many of the houses bear the names of former players. Not all has gone smoothly though – building was halted by the recession, cash injections have been required to keep the scheme alive, and some houses are delayed until the economic climate improves. So around 2050 probably.

Highbuey being demolished

Highbury– Arsenal until 2006

Again we see a move to plusher surroundings (though Highbury was hardly a dump) as development and an increase in capacity was not really viable in their existing ground, especially considering the East Stand was a listed building. As of 2010, Arsenal Stadium was redeveloped and converted into flats in a project known as “Highbury Square”, a scheme that had 711 properties built on the site. The exteriors of the listed Art Deco East Stand and the matching West Stand were preserved and incorporated into the new developments, while the rest of the stands’ structures were removed, and the pitch became a communal garden. The famous clock found its way to the new stadium, whilst all the flats sold out rather quickly.

Plough Lane

Plough Lane– Wimbledon until 1991

I think you can guess by now what happened to this site, eventually. Following the publication of the post-Hillsborough Taylor Report in 1990, that led to all-seater stadia, Wimbledon’s board decided that Plough Lane could not be redeveloped to meet the new standards, and as a result a ground share at Selhurst Park with Crystal Palace was the result. Their last game was ironically against Palace, where 10,002 spectators saw them lose 3–0, before swarming onto the pitch to bid farewell to the ground. The ground continued to be used for reserve games for both clubs until 1998, when Sam Hammam sold the ground to Safeway. Local opposition prevented a supermarket though, and the site was sold on to a property developer, and flats were eventually built a few years ago. Following lobbying by Wimbledon supporters, the development agreed to adopt a Wimbledon Football Club theme, with the entire site named “Reynolds Gate” after former player Eddie Reynolds. The six individual blocks making up the development were named Bassett House, Batsford House, Cork House, Lawrie House, Reed House and Stannard House.

Burnden Park - 1901 FA Cup Final

Burnden Park– Bolton until 1997

Another move to a modern stadium, but a sad move for the fans as ever, having served the team for 102 years. Like Plough Lane, the club’s board thought it too costly to convert the ground into an all-seater stadium, deciding a move was the better option. Burnden Park itself fell into disrepair, with demolition not taking place until two years after the last match had been played, but eventually redevelopment occurred, and it is now the site of a small retail park.

Ayresome Park

Ayresome Park– Middlesbrough until 1995

Opened in 1903, closed in 1995, demolished in 1997. Familiar themes resulted in a move to a new, shiny stadium (the largest built in England at the time since Maine Road 72 years earlier). In the middle of a residential area, and with the need to make the stadium all-seater, the board’s desire for a bigger capacity forced a move. The ground was used for training for a year, then demolished and eventually it became the site of…….a housing estate of course.

Roker Park – Sunderland until 1997 Home to Sunderland for a century, their last season ended in relegation, and Roker Park was used as….well you know the rest. The streets were named Promotion Close, Clockstand Close, Goalmouth Close, Midfield Drive, Turnstile Mews and Roker Park Close.

Statue outside housing estate.

The Baseball Ground– Derby until 1997

Useless fact: The Baseball Ground was once used for an international match: England beat Ireland 2-1 in a British Home Championship match on February 11, 1911.Named as it was because it was first used for baseball games, insufficient capacity did for this ground, and 18 months before their last game there, plans were announced of a move to a new stadium, Derby playing their last game in 1997. The ground was redeveloped into a theme park and animal sanctuary for pandas and lemmings – no not really, it was turned into a housing estate.

Above are just a few rather random examples. But elsewhere the themes continue around the country.

The Den, which Millwall left in 1993 is now houses and flats.

Reading’s Elm Park, last used in 1998, was another ground considered unsuitable for conversion to all seats, and is now of course a housing estate.

The Dell, home to Southampton until 2001 (it was situated in a dell, hence the name), opened in 1898, and is now a housing estate. Apartment blocks on the site bear the names of former Southampton players. A dell is a small wooded hollow by the way.

Hull’s Boothferry Park, opened in 1946, closed in 2002, was only demolished finally last year – there are no houses yet!

Wigan’s old ground however, Springfield Park now has many houses, and one road named after an old player. Their new stadium now has a stand named after the old ground, following a fan campaign.

Oxford United’s old ground, the Manor Ground has a unique use now – it is the site of a private hospital.

Leicester’s Filbert Street, closed in 2002, is accommodation for students, along Lineker Street.

Feethams

Darlington’s Feethams, closed in 2003, was demolished in 2006, and there are inevitable plans now for housing.

The same goes for Shrewsbury’s Gay Meadow, which closed in 2007, and for Colchester’s Layer Road site, which last saw football in 2008. The only link to its past will be a central grassed area. So after all that, credit to Chesterfield, who left Saltergate last year, but for the foreseeable future will allow use of the ground by the community.

Stoke’s Victoria Ground bucks the trend, remaining undeveloped 14 years after its last match in 1997. Prior to demolition it was thought to be the oldest operational league ground in the world.

Morecambe’s Christie Park is now the site of a supermarket. Rotherham’s ground should be used by the town’s rugby team. Coventry’s Highfield Road site? Housing. And the list goes on and on……

Any plot of land in this country is a valuable commodity of course, so it is no surprise that many grounds have ended up being used for housing, in a country that does not have enough. For many sites, the only link to the past is in the naming of streets and buildings. The occasional statue perhaps, the odd emblem from the past, but mostly the grounds remain only in our memories, photos and stories. It is sad, but a sign of the times. The need for greater capacities whilst eradicating terracing has forced many clubs to move to new sites. It would have been easier to list the clubs that haven’t moved – they are a dying breed, and the numbers will only get smaller. And the trend seems to often be that the old grounds that nestled amongst the terraces of the working class will be replaced by endless out-of-town stadia. This is the price of progress.