5 Historic Football Grounds in England

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

Bramall lane 1933
Bramall Lane in the summer of 1933. This aerial view reveals pitch markings for both cricket and football. A sight screen is positioned in front of the John Street Stand. The stand was designed by legendary football ground architect Archibald Leitch and opened in 1902. © Historic England Archive Aerofilms Collection, ref: EPW041622

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.

Bramall Lane
The cricket pitch at Bramall Lane finally disappeared in 1975. Leitch’s John Street Stand was demolished in 1994. Its replacement was completed in 1996 and includes a small roof gable in homage to Leitch’s predecessor. © Historic England Archive Aerofilms Collection, ref: AFL03_Aerofilms_665445.

1878 – Deepdale, Preston

Preston North End's Deepdale
Preston North End’s Deepdale. Artworks in the coloured seating demarcate the Sir Tom Finney Stand and Bill Shankly Kop. © Historic England Archive Aerofilms Collection, ref: AFL03_Aerofilms_675567.

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 in 1933
This aerial view from 1933 shows the recreation ground at Portman Road and Ipswich Cattle Market. Ipswich Town FC played matches here until 1907 when a new pitch was formed on land just beyond the cricket pitch boundary. © Historic England Archive Aerofilms Collection, ref: EPW041398

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.

Portman Road
Portman Road’s first playing area is now a training pitch. This view shows the ground before the stands behind each goal were redeveloped in the early 2000s. © Historic England Archive Aerofilms Collection, ref: EAC613087

1861 – Field Mill, Mansfield

Field Mill
Mansfield’s Field Mill is named after an 18th-century cotton mill that was situated nearby. The mill pond and adjacent home of the mill owners, Field Mill House, are visible in the top right of the photograph. © Historic England Archive Aerofilms Collection, ref: AFL03_Aerofilms_687954

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

Maidenhead's York Road
This aerial view shows a match being played at Maidenhead’s York Road ground on 10 September 1949. An advertisement for a local car garage decorates the roof of the main stand and a train heads west on the former Great Western Railway mainline. © Historic England Archive Aerofilms Collection, ref: EAW026481

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’.

By Gary Winter.

What have we missed? Let us know some of your favourite old grounds in the comments.

Further Reading

9 responses to 5 Historic Football Grounds in England

    • Historic England says:

      Thanks for spotting that Nick, that’s been corrected.

  1. Mark White says:

    Simon Inglis is the go to for further reading; particularly Football Grounds of Britain, Football Grounds of Europe, Engineering Archie and the ‘Played In’ series; the last two are English Heritage publications

  2. artculturetourism says:

    Thank you for sharing, interesting read. I surprised that 1862 founded Notts County FC isn’t included, probably because the grounds changed from Park Estate 1862-64 to its present day location from 1910 at Meadow Lane, with TB Cricket Ground, Castle Ground in between years. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Notts_County_F.C. 🙂

  3. David Blackburn says:

    Turf Moor, the home of the famous BURNLEY FC, is well worth a look. Fantastic atmosphere, fanatical supporters……and great team, of course !!

  4. Taidhgh O’Regan says:

    Nice article. I would add the work of Stuart Roy Clarke to your reading list.

  5. Alyson says:

    Please could you correct the spelling of Bill Shankly’s name in the Deepdale paragraphs, there is no “E” in his surname.

    Thanks

    • Historic England says:

      Thank you for spotting, this has been updated.

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