Villa Park, Birmingham

Aston Villa, in common with local rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Bromwich Albion, have been starved of success in recent years. Prior to 2016, however, the club could at least claim to have spent only one season out of the top flight since the mid-1970s. But a play-off defeat by Fulham means that Villa fans including HRH Prince William and Nigel Kennedy must now endure a third season of Championship football following relegation from the Premier League in 2016.

Poor though the team might currently be, the same cannot be said of Villa Park, which has throughout its existence been one of the most imposing stadia in the country. The current iteration of the stadium began in 1976-77 with the construction of the North Stand to replace the old Witton End Stand.

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The stand is one of the first examples of the so-called ‘goalpost’ construction technique and is a fairly typical example of the Brutalist architectural style popular at that time.

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Next to be redeveloped was the Witton Street Stand between 1993 and 1994. This time a more conventional cantilever design was chosen. The stand was later renamed for then-chairman Doug Ellis, a move that was not universally popular with supporters.

Shortly afterwards, the Holte End – originally a terrace holding 20,000 – was redeveloped as a two-tier stand. Its exterior was given a redbrick frontage based heavily on the then still existent 1920s Leitch-designed Trinity Road Stand.

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The car park is entered via these fine iron gates, guarded by a pair of lions.

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The final phase of the masterplan was carried out in 2000 with the rebuilding of the Trinity Road Stand, to give the ground a capacity of 42,500.

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Aerial view of Villa Park.

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(Photo credit: Peter Schaad)

Sports historian and Villa fan Simon Inglis once noted that a building is never finished, only started. This may well be true of Villa Park with plans to rebuild the North Stand and eventually to increase the capacity to 60,000.

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The Hawthorns, West Bromwich

West Bromwich Albion, like their Black Country rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers, have in recent years struggled to maintain a presence in the top flight. An eight year stint in the Premier League ended in May this year with relegation to the Championship. To make matters worse for Baggies fans, Wolves were promoted back to the Premier League.

The Hawthorns, West Brom’s home since the end of the nineteenth century, is 168 m (551 ft) above sea level, making it the highest ground among all 92 Premier League and Football League clubs. It can easily be seen from the Rotunda in the centre of Birmingham 9 km (5.6 miles) away.

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The ground has been entirely reconstructed since the 1970s, but beyond the refurbishment of the 1980s-built West Stand in 2008, there has been no major work since the East Stand was constructed in 2001. There were plans to replace the West Stand, but to date these have not materialised. The ground capacity is a fairly modest 26,500.

The Jeff Astle Gates commemorate striker Jeff Astle, who scored 174 goals in 361 appearances for West Brom between 1964 and 1974. Sadly, he died in 2002 aged 59 from degenerative brain disease brought on by repeatedly heading old-fashioned leather footballs, which were far heavier than the plastic balls now used, especially when wet.

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This statue commemorates another West Brom legend, Tony ‘Bomber’ Brown, who scored 218 goals in 574 appearances between 1963 and 1980.

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Finally, this blue plaque commemorates West Brom’s founder membership of the Football League.

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Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton

Anybody old enough to have attended matches at Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Molineux Stadium in or before the 1970s, or at least have seen Wolves on Match of the Day then, will be familiar with what was one of the most eccentric-looking stadia in the top flight.

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(photo credits: unknown)

Molineux Stadium is named for the former Molineux Grounds pleasure park, on which it was built. The park in turn was named for the 18th century businessman Benjamin Molineux, who built a mansion there. The mansion was later converted to a hotel and is now a Grade II* listed building.

The gabled Molineux Street stand owes its trapezoidal shape to the constraints of the site. Designed by Archibald Leitch, the stand was opened in 1932 and closely resembled Leitch’s East Stand at Highbury built almost two decades earlier. Proceeding clockwise, the other stands are: South Bank, Waterloo Road stand, and North Bank.

The present-day counterparts of these stands are, respectively, the Steve Bull Stand (formerly the John Ireland Stand), the Sir Jack Hayward Stand (formerly the Jack Harris Stand), the Billy Wright Stand, and the Stan Cullis Stand.

The ground might have looked very different if Wolves had been able to proceed with an ambitious masterplan unveiled in 1958, when they were one of the country’s leading sides under the management of former player Stan Cullis.

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(photo credit: unknown)

But the plans were rejected by the local authorities and the football club went into a decline, culminating in Cullis’ dismissal and relegation just six years later. Wolves underwent a renaissance in the 1970s, and a second masterplan was commenced in 1979 beginning with the replacement of the Molineux Road stand. Unfortunately, it all but bankrupted the club. In four disastrous years between 1982 and 1986, Wolves plummeted from the First Division to the Fourth (equivalent to falling from the Premier League to League Two in successive seasons).

Wolves were eventually rescued by the late Sir Jack Hayward, who took over in 1990 and oversaw the completion of the 1979 master plan. By 1993, the stadium had been completely revamped, but a return to the top flight eluded the club until 2003. Since then, Wolves have been something of a yo-yo side, and they even dropped into the third tier for a season in 2013-14. However, ambitious new owners took over in 2016 and Wolves returned to the Premier League for the 2018-19 season.

The attention to detail is obvious, and Molineux is very different to the characterless ‘Legoland’ design of so many modern football stadia.

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An aerial view of the transformed stadium.
(photo credit: Express & Star)

The development of Molineux looks set to continue. The Hayward masterplan left the stadium with a capacity of 28,000, which was adequate at the start of the all-seater era when few stadia exceeded 35,000. But even the present capacity of 32,000 is small by today’s standards for a Premier League club, and there are plans to increase the capacity to 50,000.

Match of the Day 1902 style

In 1987, Lancastrian businessmen Sagar Mitchell and and James Kenyon founded one of the world’s first film production companies in Blackburn, Lancs. Mitchell and his father had been in the photographic business for a decade; Kenyon ran a furniture and cabinet making business. They traded under the name Norden, and their advertising slogans were “Local Films For Local People” and “We take them and make them”. These documentary films were either produced for local businesses or on Mitchell and Kenyon’s own initiative. In both cases, the films would be viewed locally. The first reported showing of a Mitchell & Kenyon production was a film of Blackburn Market, which was shown at 40 Northgate, Blackburn, on 27 November 1897.

More than sixty years before Match of the Day first aired, Mitchell and Kenyon began taking their cameras to football matches.

Newcastle United 1 Liverpool 0, 23 November 1901, at St James’ Park.

18,000 fans were at St James’ Park to see the Magpies defeat reigning League Champions Liverpool with a 65th minute goal from Scottish international Bob McCobb. The film features the only known pictures of the ground’s original West Stand, which was demolished in 1905 to make way for a far more modern structure.

Sheffield United 1 Bury 0, 6 September 1902 at Bramall Lane.

This was a high-profile match between what were at the time two of the country’s leading sides. The Blades won one League Championship and four FA Cups between 1897 and 1925, and the Shakers won the FA Cup in 1900 and 1903. But the glory days didn’t last and neither side has won a trophy since this halcyon period.

The quality of the picture is astonishingly good. We get a brief view of the home side’s impressive, newly-opened John Street Stand, the first in England to be designed by the renowned football stadium architect Archibald Leitch. The movie also features Sheffield United’s legendary goalkeeper William Foulke, who also played cricket for Derbyshire County Cricket Club. Foulke was a large man, unkindly known as Fatty Foulke. He measured 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m) and his weight is said to have reached 152 kg (336 lb) at the end of his career. Also featuring for the Blades that day was Herbert Chapman, the future Huddersfield Town and Arsenal manager.

Everton 3 Liverpool 1, 27 September 1902 at Goodison Park.

This is the earliest moving footage of a Merseyside derby, which then as now was a major event. Forty thousand fans packed into Goodison Park to see the Toffees record a 3-1 win over their great rivals. Unfortunately, the picture quality is poor, but details of what was one of the world’s first super-stadia can just about be made out.

Burnley 0 Manchester United 2, 6 December 1902 at Turf Moor.

This match was due to shown that evening at the Burnley Mechanics’ Institute, but the showing was cancelled after the home side’s defeat. Manchester United had just adopted the name by which they would go on to become world famous, having previously been known as Newton Heath. But this match – the first moving picture to feature Man. Utd – was far from a high-profile affair. Both sides were playing in the Second Division (now the Championship), and Man. Utd not only failed to finish higher than fifth; they also had to endure Man. City topping the division and gaining promotion. They nevertheless did considerably better than Burnley, who finished rock bottom.

The quality of the pictures from the Sheffield United vs Bury match compare very favourably with those appearing on TV screens almost seven decades later.

Swindon Town 3 Arsenal 1, Football League Cup Final, 15 March 1969, at Wembley.

Arsenal’s predilection for losing to unfancied opposition was nothing new even in the 1960s. Trailing 1-nil to Third Division Swindon Town, Arsenal were seemingly rescued by a goal from striker Bobby Gould which took the match to extra time. Gould bizarrely marked the goal by bursting into tears. He should perhaps have waited until after the match as the Gunners were undone in extra time by two goals from Swindon winger Don Rogers.

The quality of the picture is almost as poor as that of the pitch, which had been badly cut up by staging the Horse of the Year show at Wembley a week before the match. Videotape technology had apparently yet to catch up with the cine film technology from the turn of the century.

Arsenal 2 Liverpool 1, FA Cup Final, 8 May 1971, at Wembley.

Arsenal, videotape technology, and the Wembley pitch had all markedly improved just two years later, as the Gunners came from behind to beat Liverpool in extra time and complete the League and FA Cup Double. Matches were now being shown in colour, although regular live football on TV was still some years off.

Mitchell and Kenyon continued to make documentary films, but by 1907 public interest was beginning to wane as movie companies shifted their emphasis to fictional productions. The last-known Mitchell and Kenyon production dates to 1913. After Kenyon’s death in 1925, Mitchell stored the films in the basement of his photographic shop, which he now ran with his son John. Mitchell died in 1952, and John continued to run the business until his retirement in 1960

The films were forgotten until 1994, when they were found during renovation work at what was by now a toy shop. They are now preserved at the British Film Institute’s National Film and Television Archive at Berkhamsted, Herts, and in 2005 they were the subject of a three-part BBC series The Lost World of Mitchell & Kenyon presented by historian Dan Cruickshank.

Victoria Park, Hartlepool

It’s not the Nou Camp or the Bernabeu – this is Victoria Park, the home of Hartlepool United FC since 1886.

Founded in 1908 as Hartlepools United, the club originally represented the towns of West Hartlepool and Old Hartlepool. The name was changed to simply Hartlepool FC in 1967 when the two Hartlepools were merged into a single county borough; the ‘United’ was re-instated in 1977.

By whatever name, it is fair to say that Hartlepool United have never set the footballing world alight. The club were founder members of League Division Three North in 1921 and to this day have never competed above the third tier of the English league system. During the era when the Football League was virtually a closed shop, the ‘Monkey Hangers’ set an unwanted record of having to apply for re-election fourteen times. Prior to 1986-87, there was no automatic promotion or relegation to or from the Football League, but the bottom four clubs had to seek re-election. Only occasionally would a member club be voted out in favour of a non-league hopeful.

Hartlepool’s major claim to fame is to have been the first club managed by the legendary Brian Clough. Another manager who enjoyed success at Victoria Park was the former Spurs and England defender Cyril Knowles, whose life was cut tragically short by cancer at the age of 47, and who now has a stand named for him.

As recently as 2013, Hartlepool United were playing League One football, but relegation that season ended their longest-ever period (six years) out of the bottom tier. Unfortunately, the decline continued and a second-from-bottom League Two finish in 2016-17 finally ended the club’s so often charmed life in the Football League.

Terracing at Cathkin Park, Glasgow

Home of Third Lanark AC fifty years after club’s demise

1967 was a good year for Scottish football. Celtic’s Lions of Lisbon became the first British team to lift the European Cup (a year ahead of Manchester United) and – arguably even more important – the national side beat the auld enemy (and reigning world champions) 3-2 at Wembley.

But it was not all good news. 50 years ago today, Third Lanark Athletic Club played out a 5-1 defeat against Dumbarton in the final match of an undistinguished season. They finished 11th out of 20 clubs in the Scottish League Division Two (at that time the Scottish Football League comprised only two divisions), just six years after a third-place finish in the top flight with a tally of 100 goals scored.

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Rare colour photograph of Third Lanark in action at Cathkin Park (image from the Scottish Football Museum).

Founded in 1872 as Third Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers, the Glasgow side were founder members of the Scottish League. They enjoyed considerable success in their early days: a Scottish Cup win in 1889, League Champions in 1903-04, and another Scottish Cup win in 1905. They also won the Glasgow Cup – then considered to be on a par with the Scottish Cup – on four occasions. In 1903 they moved to the second (of three) Hampden Park when Queens Park moved to the present Hampden Park; the ground was renamed New Cathkin Park after the club’s original home (the ‘New’ eventually fell out of use).

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Exterior view of Cathkin Park (image http://www.stadiumguide.com/cathkinpark/)

Although later years did not bring the same level of success, the ‘Hi-Hi’ as they were known (thought to be a reference to hoofed clearances) were force in Scottish football until their decline in the mid-1960s. Relegated to Division Two in 1965 after a disastrous campaign that saw them win just three matches and draw one, they failed to make in impact in the lower tier.

The 5-1 defeat at Dumbarton’s Boghead Park would be Third Lanark’s final competitive match. The club had been mismanaged to the extent that its affairs were subsequently investigated by the Board of Trade; it was deeply in debt; and it was wound up after failing to pay a Glasgow building company for work at Cathkin Park.

Although the stands have long since been demolished, the terracing at Cathkin Park remains to this day as an eerie reminder of times past.

 

 

Iconic mock Tudor facade at Fratton Park, Portsmouth

The mock Tudor facade at Portsmouth FC’s Fratton Park is one of the most iconic features of any football ground in Britain.

The facade is all that remains of a pavilion constructed in 1905 at the Frogmore Road entrance to the stadium, adjoining the south stand. At that time, Pompey were competing in the Southern League and most of Fratton Park was open to the elements.The club has explored many options to relocate from this small, hopelessly-outdated but much-loved stadium, but none have been realised.

Following Pompey’s calamitous decline from FA Cup winners in 2008 to League 2 strugglers just five years later, relocation is unlikely to be a priority in the near future.