These days, nearly all modern sports stadia offer spectators a column-free view of the action. One of the most common ways of achieving this is by roofing a grandstand with a cantilever roof. The first cantilever stand at an English football ground was the one at Scunthorpe United’s Old Showground, opened in 1958. Much larger cantilever stands soon followed at Hillsborough and Old Trafford, although stands with column-supported roofing continued to be built for many years afterwards.
In fact, even in the 1950s, cantilever stands were nothing new. They first appeared at continental racecourses as early as 1906, but it was not until the late 1920s that they found their way to Britain.
One of the earliest still existing was built for University College School Old Boys’ Rugby Football Club at Macfarlane Lane, Isleworth in 1935. Constructed from reinforced concrete and featuring Crittall windows, it was designed by club members Brian Sutcliffe and HC Farmer.
In 1968, the ‘Old Gowers’ entered into a groundshare with Centaurs RFC, who had been forced to leave their home at the Lyons Sports Ground, Sudbury after it was sold by its owners, J. Lyons and Co. The ‘Old Gowers’ subsequently left in 1979, preferring to use the more centrally-located playing fields of their parent institution in Hampstead. Centaurs continued to use the ground alone until 2000, when rising costs forced the club to move to Richmond and rent a council-owned pitch.
Thereafter the stand fell into disrepair. In 2001, it was designated a Grade II listed building, and two years later it was placed on the Heritage At Risk Register. However, in 2005, the ground was taken over by a five-a-side football company, and in 2010 a £1.5 million refurbishment of the stand, its bar, and rear pavilion was completed. Restored to its former glory, it is a fine example of Modernist architecture, although there is now very little action to be seen from its bench seats. In order to preserve its setting, the enclosed five-a-side pitches were sited some way away from the stand. The turf fronting the stand is used only occasionally for football.