From pre-match pints to the highs and lows of end of season dramas, football has been entertaining and uniting people since the 19th century.
Like Theseus’ ship (or Trigger’s broom), the grounds today may not have any original fabric remaining and may have shifted their location a bit. Even so, they are still sources of local pride.
Here we look at some of the oldest football grounds in England:
1862: Bramall Lane, Sheffield
Born in 1854, this sporting venue was actually laid out as a cricket ground. Football didn’t arrive here until 29 December 1862 when Hallam played Sheffield FC, the world’s oldest football club.
Bramall Lane has also hosted lacrosse, tennis, cycling and baseball. In 1878 it was the venue for the world’s first floodlit football match. Five years later Bramall Lane hosted the first England game to be played outside of London. A ‘large crowd of ladies and gentlemen’, accommodated in an improvised stand running the length of the pitch, saw Scotland win 3-2.
All this took place before the formation of Sheffield United in 1889. The Blades were formed to take advantage of the facilities at Bramall Lane, and for the revenue that a resident football club could generate. Success soon followed, with United winning their first League Championship in 1898.
The Blades are one of a handful of clubs to have been crowned champions of each of the top four tiers of English football.
1878: Deepdale, Preston
Like Bramall Lane, Deepdale has cricketing origins. Preston North End Cricket Club moved here in 1875. The club started playing football in 1878 and it soon became the club’s sole pursuit.
Preston North End was the first club to win the double of the Football League First Division and the FA Cup. The club was so successful in the 1888/89 season that it didn’t lose a single game, becoming football’s first ‘Invincibles’.
Between the 1930s and the 1990s, little changed at Deepdale, although the Hillsborough disaster and subsequent Taylor Report impacted massively on the future of the ground. Its modernisation was influenced by the Luigi Ferraris Stadium in Genoa, which had been seen by millions of football fans during the 1990 World Cup.
Deepdale’s modern redevelopment was undertaken in stages, with four new stands built between 1995 and 2008. The club has artistically memorialised two of its heroes, Sir Tom Finney and Bill Shankly in coloured seating within two of the stands.
1884: Portman Road, Ipswich
Portman Road, a council-owned recreation ground, was first used by Ipswich AFC in 1884. The club merged with rugby club Ipswich FC in 1888, forming Ipswich Town FC. Matches were first played on an area adjacent to the current football ground, which at the time was regarded as a bit of a wasteland.
The first game at the site of the new pitch was played in 1907. Unfortunately, Ipswich Town missed out on being the first to play there as their planned opening game was cancelled due to snow.
The club remained amateur until 1936. Before this, Ipswich was the largest town in England not to have a professional team. The club’s slow start ensured that Portman Road remained relatively undeveloped at a time when other clubs were building ambitious new stands that would accommodate generations of fans.
Redevelopment at Portman Road was spurred-on by a proviso in the ground’s lease renewal, resulting in three new stands being built between 1968 and 1984. In 1992 it became the first Premier League ground to have all-seat stands on all four sides.
The financial rewards for reaching the Premier League in 2000 helped to finance the construction of new, two-tiered stands at either end of the ground. They are named after two club legends, Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson, former managers who went on to lead the national team.
1861: Field Mill, Mansfield
Field Mill, home of Mansfield Town, is the oldest ground in the football league. The Stags, however, were late arrivals to Field Mill, turning up in 1919, nearly sixty years after the first football match was played at the ground.
The Greenhalgh family, owners of Field Mill cotton mill, established a cricket club on nearby land. This became known as Field Mill, and in 1861, four Greenhalgh brothers formed the Greenhalgh Football Club. This makes Field Mill the country’s second oldest football ground, it being just one year younger than Hallam FC’s Sandygate in Sheffield.
A succession of clubs played at Field Mill before Mansfield Town arrived and eventually monopolised the ground. The Stags soon built their first stand, utilising materials recycled from Clipstone Army Camp. More recycling took place in 1959 when the club bought the frame of a stand from the recently closed Hurst Park racecourse to create the new West Stand.
After plans to relocate to a new purpose-built ground were scrapped, three new stands were built in rapid time between 1999 and 2001, including the new two-tier Ian Greaves Stand, which replaced the much-loved West Stand.
1871: York Road, Maidenhead
As the home of Maidenhead United since 1871, York Road has been acknowledged by the Football Association and FIFA as the oldest senior football ground in the world to be continually used by the same club.
Maidenhead Football Club was formed in October 1870 and played its first game at the town’s Bond’s Meadow. Early the following year, the club moved to York Road, home of Maidenhead Cricket Club, playing its first fixture there on 16 February 1871. The Magpies have remained there ever since.
While football league success has eluded Maidenhead, the club has a proud history. It was a founding member of the Southern League and competed in the first ever FA Cup. Between 1872 and 1875, the club managed to reach the quarter final of the FA Cup in three successive seasons.
Regardless of its ‘lower-league’ status, Maidenhead’s York Road really is a footballing ground that deserves to be called ‘home’.
What have we missed? Let us know some of your favourite old grounds in the comments.
By Gary Winter