Lost Football Grounds

Historic England

Take a trip in time to revisit thirteen football grounds that were once home to football clubs of the English leagues. Photographed by Aerofilms Ltd in the years before and after the Second World War, these images record for posterity a lost football heritage. 

Lost Football Grounds
The late 19th century witnessed the formation of many of the football clubs that we are all familiar with. Over the years many have adapted their ‘home’ grounds to increase capacity or to modernise facilities. Others have made the decision to relocate, to move ‘home’. Football clubs move for a variety of reasons: because existing sites cannot cope with further redevelopment or because a move may lead to increased revenue generation. In some cases, the ground’s owners no longer want a football club on their site. A major influence came in 1989/90 when Lord Justice Taylor's Report on the 1989 Hillsborough disaster included a recommendation for a move to all-seat grounds. The emotions experienced by football fans intrinsically link the event of the match day and place – the ‘home’ of their football team and the community it represents, or the territory of the opposition in an unfamiliar setting. Football clubs and their grounds can play a huge role in creating a ‘sense of place’ and identity. The loss of a ground inevitably affects this until the roots of a new ground become firmly established. Here we go back in time to revisit thirteen football grounds that were once home to football clubs but which are no more. Captured by Aerofilms Ltd in the years before and after the Second World War, these photographs from the Historic England Archive record for posterity a lost football heritage. 
The Old Recreation Ground, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent: Port Vale
By no means Ports Vale's first home, the Old Recreation Ground hosted the Valiants for thirty-seven years from 1913. Vale were lured from their homeland in Burslem to this site in Hanley just three years after the six Potteries towns were brought together to create Stoke-on-Trent. An ambitious plan to move Vale to the 'Wembley of the North' was partially successful as the club returned to Burslem in 1950, albeit to an incomplete Vale Park. The Old Recreation Ground site was used as a car park until it was redeveloped in the 1980s when a multi-storey car park and the Potteries Shopping Centre was built, leaving no trace of the football ground.  

The Old Recreation Ground's record gate came in 1920 when 22,993 watched Port Vale lose 0-3 to city rivals Stoke.

The Vetch Field, Swansea: Swansea Town/Swansea City
Swansea City was known as Swansea Town until 1969. The Vetch Field had been in use as a sports ground before the football club was formed in 1912, prompted by the Southern League extending into South Wales from 1909. The Vetch's first Southern League match was played on a grassless pitch and with no stands or terraces for the 8,000 crowd. The restricted site and awkward layout resulted in the construction of stands that were narrow, short and oddly-shaped. Swansea City finally said goodbye to their HM Prison neighbours in 2005 when the club moved to share the brand new Liberty Stadium with Ospreys rugby union team. Since its demolition, the Vetch has been used as a public space and allotment.

So close were the surrounding streets, some enterprising locals erected platforms in their gardens to watch matches over the Vetch's boundary fence!

Leeds Road, Huddersfield: Huddersfield Town
Leeds Road was home to Huddersfield Town from 1908, the year the club was formed. Shortly after, football's designer in chief, Archibald Leitch, was engaged to reconstruct the site. The pitch was turned ninety degrees and a main stand, a partially-covered terrace and two banks of open terrace built. This Aerofilms photograph shows the upgrading of the concrete steps of the Popular Terrace after the Second World War - a roof was later added. Huddersfield's last match at Leeds Road was played in April 1994 and Town made the short trip over the River Colne to the Alfred MacAlpine Stadium, the new home to both the town's football and rugby league clubs. 'Alf' was awarded RIBA's Building of the Year award in 1995, while the Leeds Road site became home to a retail park.

The Popular or East Terrace undergoes some upgrading in July 1949. A massive roof was added around six years later.

Arsenal Stadium or Highbury, London Borough of Islington: Arsenal
Arsenal controversially moved the ten miles from Plumstead to Islington in 1913, angering Tottenham Hotspur, Clapton Orient and local residents. The enclosed site was the playing field of the London College of Divinity and bounded by houses, gardens and a laundry. Terraces were built using material excavated from the Piccadilly underground line, and a nine-span East Stand erected along the only side of the ground with a street frontage. Redevelopment in the 1930s created an Art Deco styling for the club but the need for greater capacity resulted in the club relocating a short distance to the 60,000 seat Emirates Stadium in 2006. Highbury is not completely 'lost'. Two stands, including the listed East Stand, have been incorporated into the Highbury Stadium Square residential development.

Highbury's terraces are crammed with spectators watching the FA Cup Semi-Final between Aston Villa and Portsmouth. Portsmouth won 1-0. As a neurtral venue Highbury went on to host a total of twelve FA Cup semi-final matches.

The Kursaal, Southend-on-Sea: Southend United
Southend United's current home, Roots Hall, was also the club's first. Between times, one of the Shrimpers' homes was at the seaside resort's Kursaal amusement park. When the club reformed after the First World War it laid a new pitch at the Kursaal and in 1920 built the East Stand, seen here on the right side of the pitch. United left the Kursaal in 1934 and eventually returned to Roots Hall in 1955. Following the closure of the amusement park in 1973 the vast majority of the site was  redeveloped as a housing estate.

Behind the goal at the north end of the ground is the Water Chute, which was erected in 1922. It was originally located at the White City Exhibition, Shepherd's Bush, London.

Roker Park, Sunderland: Sunderland
Roker Park was Sunderland AFC's sixth ground. Previously farmland, the club began developing the site in 1898, opening that September with a Grandstand, the Clock Stand opposite, and open ends behind each goal. Nearest the camera in this view is the Roker End, built in 1911 using reinforced concrete supports, replacing the earlier solid bank of terracing. Opposite is the Fulwell End, which was extended in 1925 and roofed in 1966 for the World Cup. The Grandstand was rebuilt in 1929 as the Main Stand, designed by the renowned engineer Archibald Leitch, who had also been responsible for the Roker End terrace. Opposite is the new Clock Stand, shown here under construction in July 1936. It was opened two months later. An aging ground in a restrictive site led Sunderland to seek a seventh home. After ninety-nine years at Roker Park the club moved to the Stadium of Light, built on the site of the former Monkwearmouth Colliery. The Roker Park site was redeveloped for housing, with the estate being given football and Roker themed street names.

A lone groundsman mows the Roker Park pitch in the summer of 1936. The reinforced concrete structure of the Roker End terrace is clearly visible, while the construction of the new Clock Stand is well under way.

Filbert Street, Leicester: Leicester City
Formed in 1884 as Leicester Fosse, the football club played its first match at Filbert Street in November 1891. After becoming Leicester City in 1919, the 1920s brought significant changes to the ground. Pictured nearest the camera, the Main Stand opened in 1921 and to the right, the two-tier Spion Kop was added in 1927. The Kop terrace's former roof was re-erected at the opposite end of the ground - the Filbert Street End. In the following decade, a roof was added to the Popular Side, the narrow stand opposite the Main Stand. Following the Taylor Report, City considered plans to rotate the ground ninety degrees but these were rejected. Instead, the Main Stand was rebuilt, opening in 1993. Despite this investment, Filbert Street's partly-restrictive site led to the club opting to move to a new ground. Leicester City played its last game at Filbert Street in 2002 before relocating a short distance to the Walkers Stadium, built on the site of the former power station that can be seen at the extreme right of this Aerofilms photograph.

Part of the Main Stand, seen at the bottom of this 1953 Aerofilms photograph, was damaged during the Second World War and not repaired until 1949. This may account for the patchwork effect of the roof and cladding.

Highfield Road, Coventry: Coventry City
Highfield Road opened in September 1899. This Aerofilms photograph was taken in 1953 but shows the ground as it would have looked before the outbreak of the Second World War. At the far end of the ground is the Kop, a mass of terrace constructed using rubble collected when tram lines were laid in the city. A new Main Stand was built in 1936, this image clearly shows how the roof was extended to cover the paddock to the front of the stand the following year. Opposite the Kop is the West Terrace, it was covered in 1927 with a roof acquired from Twickenham rugby ground. Opposite the Main Stand is the barrel-roofed North Stand that was built in 1910. Following the arrival of new manager and former player Jimmy Hill in 1961, the club and ground underwent a minor revolution. During the next seven years the West Terrace roof was replaced and the North Stand and Main Stand rebuilt. The desire for greater capacity led to City's move to the Ricoh Arena in 2005. Highfield Road was demolished and replaced with housing set around a play park on the site of the pitch.

The dark section of terracing at the top-left corner of the Kop was known as the Crow's Nest. It was added in 1938 and survived at Highfield Road until 1981.

Eastville Football and Athletic Ground, Stapleton Hill, Bristol: Bristol Eastville Rovers/Bristol Rovers
Bristol Rovers moved to the Eastville Football and Athletic Ground at Stapleton Hill in 1897. Its location between the River Frome and the Stapleton Gas Works unsurprisingly led to the club's fans being named 'Gasheads'. This Aerofilms photograph from 1926 shows the recently-built (1924) South Stand casting its shadow over the side of the pitch. It survived until 1980 when it was suspiciously destroyed by fire. The desire for extra revenue resulted in greyhound racing being introduced to Eastville in 1932. To facilitate the track sections of the end terraces had to be removed, changing the look of the ground for the remainder of its existence. Financial pressures resulted in Rovers leaving Eastville in 1986, taking up temporary tenancy at Bath City's Twerton Park. Eastville eventually closed in 1997 and the site redeveloped as part of a larger retail park. 

Looking very much like an inter-war football ground, with its stands, paddocks and open terraces tight to the pitch, Eastville was to be transformed around six years later with the addition of a dog track.

Anlaby Road, Kingston Upon Hull: Hull City
Hull City Football Club first played at the Circle Cricket Ground in 1905 but a year later moved to an adjacent football pitch, which became known as Anlaby Road. Closest to the cricket pitch in this 1931 Aerofilms photograph is the 4,000 seat Main Stand, built in 1914. Roofs were added to cover some of the terracing in the 1920s. Due to the ground's restricted access and a possible re-routed railway line, City looked to move from Anlaby Road. In 1930 City purchased land on Boothferry Road, on the site of a former golf course. Financial difficulties and the outbreak of war delayed their move to Boothferry Park until 1946. The club eventually returned to the Circle and Anlaby Road site when it became home to the club's new KC Stadium, which opened in 2002.

In 1930, the year before this Aerofilms photograph was taken, Anlaby Road had hosted a record 32,930 spectators to watch a FA Cup replay against Newcastle United.

Belle View, Doncaster: Doncaster Rovers
Doncaster Rovers moved to a new ground on the edge of Low Pasture, adjacent to the Great North Road, in 1922. To the south and east of the ground was Doncaster Aerodrome. It had been established during the First World War but was in civilian use when this photograph was taken. In order to create the football ground ash was used to lay the pitch and embank three sides of the ground. At the far end of the ground is the Town End, partially covered with the stand that was relocated from the club's previous home, and which survived until it was demolished in 1985. The Popular Side, to the left side of the pitch, suffered from subsidence resulting in the demolition of its cover in 1987. On the opposite side, the Main Stand was destroyed in an arson attack in 1995. Rovers played their last game Belle View in 2006 and moved to the new, multipurpose Keepmoat Stadium. Remnants of the old ground survive as the site has yet to be fully redeveloped. 

Scores of coaches in the car park at Belle Vue indicate a race meeting at nearby Doncaster Racecourse, and quite probably the day of the St Leger classic.

Advertising on the pitched roof of the Popular Terrace is clearly designed to attract the attention of flyers from the neighbouring aerodrome.

Maine Road, Manchester: Manchester City
City moved from the east of Manchester to the south in 1923 after their previous home at Hyde Road proved inadequate. Surrounded by the suburban terraces of Moss Side, the new ground was built on a former brick works and comprised a 10,000 seat main stand and banks of open terracing on the other three sides. In the 1930s and through the 1950s roofs were added and seating replaced some terracing. Later piecemeal reconstruction resulted in Maine Road becoming one of the country's most disjointed looking major football grounds. A move to the City of Manchester Stadium, built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, was favoured over further redevelopment, and City's final game at Maine Road was played in May 2003. Demolition began later that year and the site is now occupied by housing and a school.

When it opened in 1923 Manchester City's Maine Road was the largest club ground in England, with an estimated capacity of 80-90,000.

The massive earth banks that formed the open terraces on three sides of the ground were accessed by steps on the outer slopes or through tunnels - one in each corner with two more in the Kippax Street terrace.

West Ham Stadium, Custom House, London Borough of Newham: Thames Association
Not just a lost football ground, West Ham Stadium also reflects a lost football club. It was built in 1928 as a speculative development to take advantage of the popularity of speedway and greyhound racing. Dubbed the 'Wembley of the Docklands' it was reckoned to have a capacity of around 100-120,000. Its first greyhound race attracted 56,000 spectators and 84,000 speedway fans watched a test versus Australia in 1933. A football club, Thames Association, was specially formed to play there to utilise the stadium on Saturdays. However, with competition from established local clubs, Thames' League career was short lived, with only two seasons spent in Division Three South. The club holds the dubious record for the lowest known attendance for a Saturday Football League match: 469 versus Luton Town on 6 December 1930. The club was dissolved in 1932. West Ham Stadium hosted its last meet in 1972 before being sold for housing.

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